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[ontolog-forum] Agents, Actions, Events, and Processes

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: John F Sowa <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Thu, 14 Jun 2012 10:15:09 -0400
Message-id: <4FD9F1ED.8040806@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Ed and Leo,    (01)

Your two notes arrived on May 31, while I was on an airplane.
I've changed the title of the thread, since the topic of
agents and actions is important and deserves its own title.    (02)

> There is no need to reinvent the agent/action ontology.  SUMO, for example,
> has a semantic take on the basic  linguistic idea:  An action is a "gerund"
> -- a thing that is the action.  So an action is modeled as a class denoted
> by a verb.  An action has an "agent" property, just as the verb has a 
> in any simple sentence denoting an instance of the action.  An action may
> have a "patient" property, which is the "direct object" of the verb, if it is
> transitive, in simple sentences denoting instances of the action.  Adverbial
> phrases are unary predicates that modify the action (simple adverbs) or
> predicates/properties that relate the action thing to some other thing
> (prepositional phrases), and in each case the predicate determines the term
> for the related thing.  It is useful to standardize predicates for time and 
>place.    (03)

That is a good, succinct summary of an approach that has been common
in AI since the 1960s.  I would add that it is important to distinguish
the *intention* of the agent, which distinguishes an action from an
event that does not involve an animate agent (human, animal, or robot).    (04)

For more on intentionality, see the brief summary in the slide below
and the next few slides of that presentation.    (05)

> The typical handling of events in linguistics and NLP is a (Donald) 
>Davidsonian one,
> as Ed remarks. Which typically means that every predicate contains an event 
> There are many variations of this approach, and so usually these are called
> neo-Davisonian. In addition, thematic roles (properties indicating 
> in the event, such as agent, theme, affected entity, location, time, 
> etc.) are used, and the lambda calculus is also used, to handle both 
> and adjuncts in the sentence.    (06)

Actually, the practice in AI and linguistics was well established before
Donald D. wrote his widely cited paper on the topic.  Davidson deserves
credit for informing the analytic philosophers, most of whom don't study
the history of their own subject.    (07)

Although Frege had a universal quantifier before Peirce, he did not
give it a name.  Peirce introduced the terms 'existential quantifier'
and 'universal quantifier' a few years later, when he introduced the
algebraic notation for predicate calculus.    (08)

Peirce used quantifiers to refer to actions and events.  He explicitly
said that a sentence with the verb 'give' involves four entities:  the
giver, the gift, the recipient, and the act of giving.    (09)

Whitehead not only recognized events as entities that deserve their
own quantifier, he made events the *primary* entities in his ontology.
He treated objects as occurrences that remain sufficiently stable
that they can be recognized at repeated encounters.    (010)

Davidson, by the way, took the last course that Whitehead taught at
Harvard before he retired.  He took that course as an undergraduate,
and it inspired him to continue for a PhD in philosophy.  But for
his dissertation, he got Quine as his thesis adviser.  And Willard
Van Orman Q. had ZERO sympathy for quantifying over events.  Note
his book _Word and Object_, which completely avoids any mention
of actions or events.  Q. had an extremely static view of ontology.    (011)

Note that Davidson did not write his paper about quantifying over
events until *after* he had tenure and didn't have to worry about
censure from the anti-event philosophers.  As late as the 1990s.
Strawson was extremely negative about quantifying over events.    (012)

> Also in recent years, Discourse Representation Theory (DRT) and
> so-called dynamic semantics, have extended these formalisms.    (013)

Yes.  And by the way, I told Hans Kamp that the structure of
nested contexts in Peirce's existential graphs was isomorphic
to the DRS nesting.  Kamp acknowledged that point in one of
his publications.    (014)

______________________________________________________________    (015)

Source:  Slide 72 of http://www.jfsowa.com/talks/kdptut.pdf    (016)

Intentionality    (017)

Meaning in the universe arose with the first living things:    (018)

● Philosopher Franz Brentano: Intentionality is “the directedness
of thought toward some object, real or imagined.”    (019)

● Biologist Lynn Margulis: “The growth, reproduction, and communication
of these moving, alliance-forming bacteria become isomorphic with our
thought, with our happiness, our sensitivities and stimulations.”    (020)

● A bacterium swimming upstream in a glucose gradient marks the
beginning of goal-directed intentionality.    (021)

Without life, there is no meaning in the universe.    (022)

Meaning, intention, purpose, and value originate with life.    (023)

Aristotle, the biologist, used the term telos or final aitia.    (024)

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