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Re: [ontolog-forum] Truth

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: John F Sowa <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 30 Jun 2012 10:47:18 -0400
Message-id: <4FEF1176.4050305@xxxxxxxxxxx>
In the note I posted at 4 am this morning, I was about to comment
on a remark by Chris Menzel about quotations, but I hit the send
button and went to bed before I finished it.  In any case, my only
comment to Chris was that I agreed with him.    (01)

But I also wanted to make a few more remarks about some of the words
we should avoid in an introductory course on ontology.  It's OK to
mention such words briefly.  But I would not tell students that they
should use them when they develop an ontology.    (02)

  1. Universals and particulars.  These two words were coined by the
     Scholastic logicians to describe the difference between categories
     (universals) and individuals in a category (particulars).    (03)

  2. The Scholastic tradition builds on and extends related discussions
     by Aristotle and other philosophers.  Our modern logics continue
     that same tradition.  But when we teach beginners how to write an
     ontology using a modern logic, I suggest that we adopt and adapt
     the same principles, but not the same words:  relate the words
     in ordinary language directly to the words used to describe the
     logic.  The words 'relation' and 'predicate' have just as long
     a history as 'universal', and they're also used in modern logic.    (04)

  3. More advanced historical treatments can go into the history of the
     subject and discuss all the fine points.  But beginning students
     should not be subjected to every nuance of every philosophical
     debate.  In the slides I presented at SemTech 2012, I discussed
     a lot of history.  I tried to draw parallels that show how the
     ideas developed, but I also avoided issues that are still being
     debated by professional philosophers:    (05)

     http://www.jfsowa.com/talks/kdptut.pdf    (06)

  4. The word 'trope' is used in literary discussions for a figurative
     or metaphorical use of a word or expression.  Those issues have been
     discussed in great detail for centuries.  Aristotle's book _Poetics_
     is the founding text for most of that discussion.  Linguists and
     professional ontologists should study such issues, but they go far
     beyond what is needed to teach beginning students.    (07)

  5. In discussing ontology, some modern philosophers have adopted the
     word 'trope' in a more specialized sense.  Following is a comment
     from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:  "The appeal of
     tropes for philosophers is as an ontological basis free of the
     postulation of supposedly obscure abstract entities such as
     propositions and universals.  (To be sure, there is no dearth
     of those who find tropes more obscure.)"    (08)

     Source:  http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/tropes/    (09)

     Anybody who thinks that such terms belong in an introductory course
     should read this article, consider how they would teach them to
     beginners, and ask themselves what the students would do with them.    (010)

  6. Note that the primary reason for the word 'trope' is to replace
     abstract entities such as propositions and instances of happiness.
     Some logicians, such as Quine, don't like them.  Other eminent
     logicians, such as Alonzo Church, like them.  I have found that
     students have no trouble understanding words like 'happiness'
     or 'proposition'.  They can write consistent statements in logic
     that refer to and reason about such things.  I despair of teaching
     them about tropes.    (011)

  7. The idea of allowing abstract entities such as happiness and
     proposition into an ontology is logically sound, linguistically
     sound, and pedagogically sound.  I don't care if Quine didn't like
     the idea.  There are many other things he didn't like, such as
     modal logic or Peirce's graphs.  Abstract entities have a clean,
     simple, and direct mapping to and from words in ordinary language.    (012)

Summary:  When teaching beginning students how to map an informal
description in ordinary language to any formal logic, keep the
terminology as clean and simple as possible.  Don't introduce
obscure philosophical terms that have been and continue to be
debated among professional philosophers.    (013)

John    (014)

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