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Re: [ontolog-forum] Spatial Extent of Abstract Entities?

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: John F Sowa <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 25 May 2013 13:22:17 -0400
Message-id: <51A0F349.5030006@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Dear Matthew, William, Ali, Mike, and Rob,    (01)

Before getting into the details, let me repeat the point that a *huge*
number of subtleties in ontology and *confusions* about them can be
clarified by some elementary principles of semiotics.  In particular,
just the most basic sign triad goes a long way toward clarifying them:    (02)

  1. Mark -- anything perceptible by any sense organ with or without
     any special instruments, such as microscopes or telescopes.    (03)

  2. Token -- any mark that has been classified as a sign of something.    (04)

  3. Type -- the general principle (which can be codified in a monadic
     predicate) used to classify a mark as a token of the type.    (05)

>> I believe that habits and social agreements are real (i.e.,
>> I'm happy to use existential quantifiers to refer to them).    (06)

> Yes of course they are.    (07)

Good.  Agreeing on that point is essential.    (08)

> what are the practical implications of limiting existential quantifiers
> to a particular category of the things we talk about?    (09)

I am not limiting anything.  I was just quoting Quine's dictum as
a criterion for determining the implicit assumptions in an ontology.    (010)

> how does it *help* to not let people say, 'there exists a rule,
> there exists a color, there exists a category of binary relations
> called symmetric relations?  (Or, am I mistaken, and this is all OK
> -- but if it IS OK, then what is not OK?).    (011)

I let my quantifiers range over all those things.  Some philosophers, 
such as Quine, don't.  I use Quine's dictum as a criterion for analyzing
ontology, not as a constraint for excluding anything from ontology.    (012)

> Especially for social constructs, we all agree (?) that it is exactly
> the physical representations which keep the social construct "alive"
> or "accessible". Without these physical markings (ID badges, contract),
> and some mental representation in people's heads, or bits on a computer,
> the organization ceases to exist.    (013)

I certainly agree.  But I suggest the word 'sign' instead of the term
'physical representation'.  That immediately allows us to bring in all
the distinctions about signs (marks, tokens, and types).  By analyzing
the signs, we can classify various social organizations and show how
they are related to their members and their activities.    (014)

> The way you detect the existence of an organization is by looking
> through the paperwork. Organizations are socially constructed. They exist
> because we say so. So you have to look for where we said so. Things like
> employment contracts, purchases, sales, etc. That they are socially
> constructed does not mean that what is socially constructed is not physical.    (015)

I agree.  The only point I would add is that the signs can be
expressed in any medium, not just paper. A handshake is sufficient,
but a law court would require a witness for confirmation.    (016)

> John Searle backs this up in detail in his "Making the Social World", which
> describes an ontology of social constructs and justifies their reality.    (017)

> Yes, it is John Searle's view I follow, though my reference is:
> Searle, J.R. The construction of social reality 1995 Penguin Books    (018)

I agree with both of you.  But I would add that Searle could have stated
his arguments more precisely if he had focused on the signs.    (019)

In particular, Searle had a well-publicized debate with Barry Smith
about the nature of social reality.  Searle recognized that their
terminology was so different that they were talking past one another:    (020)

> I think in the end [Barry Smith] makes many useful points, but I also
> believe that he misunderstands me in certain very profound ways. I believe
> his misunderstandings derive from the fact that he approaches this topic
> with a set of concerns that are fundamentally different from mine, and
> in consequence, he tends to take my views as attempts to answer his
> questions rather than attempts to answer my questions.    (021)

Source:  http://ontology.buffalo.edu/smith/articles/searle.PDF    (022)

I believe that both of them could have made their arguments more
precise *and* persuasive if they had stated them in semiotic terms.
If they had, they could determine *exactly* where they disagreed.
In fact, it's conceivable that they might have been able to come
to some kind of common understanding -- or even an agreement.    (023)

> Traffic laws are a different sense of 'laws'. They are social
> constructions, and therefore arbitrary (if only to a degree)
> and fiat.  This distinguishes them from natural/physical laws
> of nature. I would  not put them in the same box.    (024)

For Peirce, semiotics is fundamental.  He was a very strong realist,
who maintained that the universe exists independently of anything
we may think, say, or hypothesize about it.  But he also claimed that
all understanding by "any scientific intelligence" is through signs.
He used the term 'quasi-mind' to avoid the claim that signs require
a human mind to interpret them.    (025)

The category Thirdness includes habits of any kind, whether they are
habits of the universe as a whole or of any part of the universe.
That includes the habits of humans (which include language), animals
(studied in zoosemiotics), or plants (studied in phytosemiotics).    (026)

> But nearly all scientists believe that the laws are as real as anything
> directly observable.  In fact, they would say the observables are the
> results of the operation of the laws.  But they would also admit that
> any human statement of the laws is fallible.    (027)

> have you accumulated primary sources of scientists explicitly stating that?
> That they believe laws are real. Although I've read works by some, I would
> like to see many more.    (028)

I don't have a systematic list.  But Ernst Mach was the only practicing
physicist I am aware of who claimed that the laws were merely summaries
of data.  The logical positivists, who were brainwashed by Mach, made
similar statements.  The psychologists were too insecure to stand up
against such criticism, and many of them succumbed to the behaviorists.    (029)

Fortunately, Einstein stood firm against the "Angst vor der Metaphysik".
He stated that in his autobiography and used that phrase in criticizing
Russell.  He also called Mach a good experimental physicist, but a
"miserable philosopher".  I'll cite more when I come across them.
But I don't believe you'll find many (any?) major physicists who claim
that they are developing a science of "meter reading".    (030)

John    (031)

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