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[ontac-forum] Re: The world may fundamentally be inexplicable

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From: "Gary Berg-Cross" <gary.berg-cross@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 9 Jan 2006 16:36:31 -0500
Message-id: <330E3C69AFABAE45BD91B28F80BE32C96B2F42@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Concerning your response to Barry that the possible reason for his remarks is a “lack of proper perusal and not a lack of insightinto the matter.”  It is possible that this is somewhat true of you also. Or are your comments taking into account such things as Hans Burkhardt & Barry Smith (eds.) - Handbook of Metaphysics and Ontology - Philosophia Verlag, Munich, 1991 or Smith, Barry. 1982. Parts and Moments: Studies in Logic and Formal Ontology. Philosophia Verlag? 
On a more specific note, your long ontological listing on SUBSTANCE, substrate, stuff which Barry commented on to which you responded:
>Very funny, you missed the whole point, this is Aristotle's >ontological lexicon, included as part of the whole systems of >definitions. Don't push  me to believe that you never read of >him. 


Listing these Aristotlean ideas is OK, but as Barry and Christopher Welty discuss in Ontology: Towards a New Synthesis, the growth of ontology in the information science field calls for a something new, something more structured for use in information science. 


Most of us know that Aristotle viewed individual substances as basically a twofold structure: they are composed of matter and form. Form in its turn has a number of different meanings, the most relevant of which is the interpretation of form as essence.


This framework was implicit in your listing but not as clear as it could be and needs to be for a synthesis.  As an example of some structure, the table below (from Boguslaw Wolniewicz - A formal ontology of situations - Studia Logica 41: 381-413 (1982). pp. 381-382.) lists some of A’s substance vocabulary



Aristotle Substance “vocabulary”

1) primary substances (substantiae primae)

2) prime matter (materia prima)

3) form (forma)

4) self-subsistence of primary substances (esse per se)

BTW, Wolniewicz makes an interesting parallelism between Wittgensteinian (previously discussed by John Sowa) and Aristotelian ontologies( In “on Wittgenstein and Aristotle” Boston studies in the philosophy of science. Vol. IV. Edited by Cohen Robert S. and Wartofsky Marx W. Dordrecht: Reidel Publishing Company 1969. pp. 208-210). This seems to be part of people’s intuitive differences on Ontology, so I include  Wolniewicz’s core comparison here.


Aristotle's ontology is an ontology of substances, while Wittgenstein's ontology is an ontology of facts.  For Aristotle whatever exists in the basic sense of the word is a primary substance (as mentioned in the table above). Thus an Aristotelian substance is the denotation of an individual name, whereas for a Wittgensteinian “fact/ atomic fact” is the denotation of a true proposition.  From a Wittgensteinian point of view, Aristotle's substances are NOT things, but hypostases of facts, and thus their names are not logically proper names, but name-like equivalents of propositions. 


My own speculation is that, from an information processing view, relevant to our systems we need to be concerned with propositions (for now, with current levels of processing intelligence in our system), but that these are grounded in ontological analysis – epistemology.

As Roberto Poli has said in his 3 thesis about ontology (from R. Poli, "Ontology for knowledge organization", in R. Green (ed.), Knowledge organization and change, Indeks, Frankfurt, 1996, pp. 313-319) there are some tricky relations here – especially in thesis 2.

THESIS 1. An ontology is not a catalogue of the world, a taxonomy, a terminology or a list of objects, things or whatever else. If anything, an ontology is the general framework (= structure) within which catalogues, taxonomies, terminologies may be given suitable organization. This means that somewhere a boundary must be drawn between ontology and taxonomy.

THESIS 2. An ontology is not reducible to pure cognitive analysis (in philosophical terms, it is not an epistemology or a theory of knowledge). Ontology represents the ‘objective’ side (= on the side of the object), and the theory of knowledge the subjective side (= on the side of the knowing subject) of reality. The two sides are obviously interdependent, but this is not to imply that they are the same (exactly like the front and rear of a coin). In order to conduct ontological analysis, it is necessary to ‘neutralize’, so to speak, the cognitive dimension, that is, to reduce it to the default state. I assume that the default state is the descriptive one, where the dimensions of attention, of interest, etc., are as neutral as possible (= ‘natural’ attitude). It is of course possible to modify the default state and construct ontologies of the other cognitive states as well, but this involves modifications of the central structure.

THESIS 3. There is nothing to prevent the existence of several ontologies, in the plural. In this case too, ontological study is useful because, at the very least, it renders the top categories explicit and therefore enables verification of whether there are reasonable translation strategies and of which categorization can serve best to achieve certain objectives.  (John’s point in other words?)


Gary Berg-Cross


Herndon VA, USA


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