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Re: [ontolog-forum] Laws: physical and social

To: "[ontolog-forum] " <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "Obrst, Leo J." <lobrst@xxxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 3 Jun 2013 20:52:22 +0000
Message-id: <FDFBC56B2482EE48850DB651ADF7FEB01F1CF6AF@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
John,    (01)

Some comments below.    (02)

Leo    (03)

>-----Original Message-----
>From: ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:ontolog-forum-
>bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of John F Sowa
>Sent: Sunday, June 02, 2013 8:12 AM
>To: '[ontolog-forum] '
>Subject: [ontolog-forum] Laws: physical and social
>In various notes to Ontolog Forum, I emphasized the importance of laws
>(both physical and social) as a foundation for ontology.  I won't go
>into all the details, but I'd like to make a few comments:
>  1. Laws of physics provide a more fundamental explanation of many
>     properties than the notions of "disposition" or "tendency".
>     Physicists, for example, would explain why glass is fragile
>     along the following lines:
>     "Look at the structure of the material and how the atoms and
>     molecules are linked to one another.  Given that structure
>     and the laws of quantum mechanics, you can predict that under
>     certain conditions, something made of steel will bend, and
>     something of the same shape but made of glass will break."
>  2. Many people have found the term 'disposition' to be useful in
>     defining terms in an ontology.  I have no objection to using
>     those terms to simplify an explanation.  But I would *not*
>     treat dispositions as fundamental.  The word 'disposition' is
>     just a shorthand way of saying that there exists a law that
>     makes a certain kind of prediction.    (04)

Actually, physical laws are not as straightforwardly characterizable as you 
think. There are arguments for using dispositions in fact to characterize laws. 
As far as I can currently tell, the dispositionalists (and especially the 
dispositional essentialists [1, but see also 2-5]) have a reasonable argument 
against the strict categorical realism of Humean metaphysics. I think you had 
remarked before that you would not weigh in on either (or a spectrum of 
eithers) side of this argument, to avoid misleading beginning ontologists and 
ontological engineers about something still argued about by the metaphysicians, 
but here you clearly have staked a position. I myself do not yet know enough 
(I've only come around to the dispositional view the past two years), and so 
would advise others to not yet freely use predispositions in their engineering 
ontologies, but also to not yet count them out. Personally, I think at the 
level of our current typical engineering ontologies, the decision may not 
matter much.    (05)

[1] Ellis, B. & Lierse, C. 1994. Dispositional Essentialism, Australasian 
Journal of Philosophy 72: 27-45.
[2] Bird, A. 2007. Nature's Metaphysics: Laws and Properties, Oxford: Oxford 
University Press.
[3] Molnar, G. 2003. Powers: A Study in Metaphysics, Oxford: Oxford University 
[4] Carroll, John W. 2010. Laws of Nature. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 
[5] Choi, Sungho; Fara, Michael. 2012. Dispositions. Stanford Encyclopedia of 
Philosophy.    (06)

>  3. For the social sciences, the interactions are far more complex
>     than in physics.  But there are regularities that can be used to
>     make predictions that have a high probability of being correct.
>     For example:
>     a) If you go to a store and pay the asking price for an item,
>        the sales clerk will take the money and give you the item.
>     b) If you drive on a highway and stay on the designated side
>        of the road, other drivers will stay on their side and
>        avoid hitting you or your car.
>     c) If you work for a company and repeatedly fail to do what
>        your manager asks you to do, you will be fired.
>For reasoning about social interactions, the laws aren't as strict
>as the laws of physics, but game theory has proved to be useful.
>Following is a survey article from the _Scientific American_:
>The economics of fair play
>Following is an influential book on the subject:
>    Axelrod, Robert (1984) _The Evolution of Cooperation_,
>    New York: Basic Books. Revised edition, Perseus Books, 2006.
>It's significant that Richard Dawkins, who wrote the book
>_The Selfish Gene_, wrote a highly favorable forward to the
>revised edition of Axelrod's book.
>I'm happy to see that Dawkins endorses Axelrod's book, but
>I remain skeptical about the memes that Dawkins proposes.
>For more info about related issues, see Axelrod's home page:
>    http://www-personal.umich.edu/~axe/
>I followed some of those links to a review of Daniel Dennet's
>book, _Darwin's Dangerous Idea_ by H. Allen Orr:
>    http://bostonreview.net/BR21.3/Orr.html
> From the concluding section of the review:
>> Although he has produced a provocative and intermittently
>> entertaining book, Dennett's chief claim is unconvincing.
>> Darwinism may have little to tell us outside of biology.
>I strongly agree with that last line.  I also agree with
>Orr's criticisms of Dennet's version of memes.
>In summary, I believe that laws of nature and social behavior
>are a better foundation for ontology than dispositions.  I
>would also recommend game theory as a useful methodology
>for reasoning about social behavior.
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