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[ontolog-forum] What is the role of an upper level ontology?

To: "'[ontolog-forum] '" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Cc: Ingvar.Johansson@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: John F Sowa <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 14 May 2013 12:00:09 -0400
Message-id: <51925F89.1060301@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Next week, there will be a workshop on the four-category ontology
proposed by the philosopher Jonathan Lowe.  The 4 categories are
the product of two distinctions:  particulars vs. universals, and
kinds (substances) vs. non-substances (properties and relations):    (01)

http://www.dur.ac.uk/philosophy/events/informationsystemsandthefourcategoryontologyws/    (02)

Besides Lowe himself, other speakers at the workshop include
Nicola Guarino (no abstract listed) and Barry Smith, who will
talk about "The six category ontology: BFO and its applications":    (03)

> Like Lowe's 4CO, BFO divides reality into particulars and universals.
> But it replaces 4CO's dichotomy of substantials and non-substantials
> with a trichotomy of independent continuants, dependent continuants,
> and occurrents.    (04)

Another speaker is the chemist Colin Batchelor, who will talk about
"States of affairs, states and energy in a four-category ontology".
He makes a point that could count in favor of a 6CO, such as BFO:    (05)

> Four-category ontologies do not have an obvious place for states
> of affairs. Nonetheless, some states of affairs, for example a whale
>being unsupported 300 metres above the ground, do have causal
> consequences  and any ontology that one intends to use to provide
> an account of scientificgoings-on should be able to handle them.    (06)

More info about the 4CO can be found by any search engine.  One review
that I found especially useful is by the philosopher Ingvar Johansson,
who had subscribed to Ontolog Forum for a couple of years:    (07)

    http://hem.passagen.se/ijohansson/ontology12.pdf    (08)

In a review of a book by Lowe, Johansson makes some favorable comments
about the 4CO.  He also makes some general criticisms that would apply
to a 6CO or to any proposed upper-level ontology (ULO).    (09)

> This review is ... written on the assumption that Lowe’s basic four-partition
> is true to the world. One-category ontologies are views such as ‘only tropes 
> and ‘only universals exist’; two-category ontologies accept the distinction
> between universals and particulars but deny, or regard as ontologically 
> distinctions such as that between kinds and properties. Frege has a 
> ontology with transcendent universals, and Armstrong has one with immanent 
> Mostly, I find Lowe’s criticism of these kinds of ontologies to be to the 
>point.    (010)

This paragraph summarizes some general principles that are important
for the tradeoffs between logic and ontology:    (011)

  1. Frege's two-category ontology is the implicit ontology of the
     "plain vanilla" untyped predicate calculus.  The universals are
     properties and relations expressed by the predicates, and the
     particulars are anything that can be an instance of a variable
     and an arguments of the predicates.    (012)

  2. The universals in any version of logic can be partitioned
     further:  functions are special cases of relations; properties
     are 1-place relations; propositions are 0-place relations.    (013)

  3. A higher-order logic that allows quantification over relations
     blurs the distinction between particulars and universals.
     One way to preserve the distinction is to call relations that
     occur in argument position "abstract particulars".    (014)

  4. A version of predicate calculus with strict typing can be
     used as a syntactic method for recognizing the ontological
     distinction.    (015)

  5. Common Logic has only one domain of quantification, and the
     CL syntax allows any entity to be used as a function or
     relation with any number of arguments.  In that sense,
     one could say that CL has an implicit one-category ontology.    (016)

  6. But any of these logics can be used to represent ontologies
     with any number of categories.  For each category P, a
     monadic predicate P(x) can defined that is true if and
     only if x belongs to category P.    (017)

  7. For example, one could have a monadic predicate Substance(x),
     which is true if and only if x is a substance.  Any of these
     logics, including Common Logic, could specify such predicates.    (018)

To return to Johansson's review, the following quotation on page 3
leads to issues that many ontologies, including Lowe's 4CO and the
6CO of BFO, have not addressed in a fully satisfactory way:    (019)

> There is a serious lack in Lowe’s ontology that I want to spend more
> words on. A lack that makes it impossible for him to deliver what he
> promises in the sub-title, namely _A Metaphysical Foundation for
> Natural Science_...    (020)

The issues that follow the three dots are critical for modern science,
and I won't copy them here.  But those issues (and others) that arise
in modern science must be addressed by any proposal that claims to be
adequate for science and engineering.    (021)

John Sowa    (022)

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