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[ontac-forum] Upper ontology - what (if anything) should go in there?

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From: "Catherine Legg" <clegg@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 23 May 2006 16:22:28 +1200
Message-id: <9F7EB7E74D368A44B531F39501357F32518A09@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>

To Pat (Cassidy) – I had the same thoughts as you wrt the suggestion that one might

substitute a mapping between upper ontologies for an upper ontology proper – that for this to be effective it would have to be a de facto meta-upper ontology. One thing my time working on CYC really brought home to me was what a holistic entity such an elaborate and richly axiomatised ontology is (by which I mean that a small change, such as a new assertion, particularly at the upper level, has the potential to alter any number of inferences in previously unanticipated ways). Thus I don’t see how any kind of ‘mapping’ is going to account for the semantics of a system of such complexity without reproducing some kind of structure of equal complexity.


To John – you outline a very plausible series of criteria for non-inclusion in an upper ontology (criteria reproduced below). However, my concern is that you are going to end up with an empty set!! I don’t see how you can simultaneously claim to be taking on board Quine’s criticisms of Carnap (i.e. effectively destroying the concept of an analytic truth) AND claim that you are committed to upper ontologies which contain only analytic truths. I just don’t get it.


Give me an example of something you _would_ put in there J







[…]Following are some kinds of axioms that should

*not* be in the upper levels:


  1. Any axioms that make empirical claims that might be

     falsified by future experiments or any claims that are

     known to be false in detail, but which may be useful

     approximations for many purposes.  For example, the upper

     levels should be neutral with respect to a Newtonian view

     vs. any more modern theory of physics because for many

     practical purposes a Newtonian description is accurate

     within the granularity of the usual measuring instruments.


  2. Any axioms that require, prefer, or rule out one kind of

     representation over another, such as a four dimensional

     vs. a (3+1) dimensional description of space and time.


  3. Any axioms that rule out exceptional cases that may be rare,

     but possible.  For example, it should not say that a tiger

     has four legs, because some tigers might be born with more

     than four and some might lose a leg.  In fact, there might

     be quadriplegic tigers that get around in some prosthetic



  4. Any axioms that imply a vase and the clay it consists of

     are or are not identical, because many respectable theories

     make different claims in that regard.  They should also

     avoid all claims about whether a child is identical or not

     identical to the adult at some later stage of life -- because

     some theories say yes, others say no, and other treat the

     question as context-dependent (i.e., identical for inheritance

     issues, but not identical for employment).  In fact, the

     entire issue of identity claims is so full of conflicting

     philosophical positions that the upper levels should *not*

     make any identity claims of any kind.


  5. Any axioms that imply physical objects and processes are

     disjoint.  Some theories say they must be disjoint, others

     say they may overlap, and others say that object and process

     descriptions are complementary ways of describing the same



  6. Any axioms about artifacts that may be falsified by developments

     in technology.  For example, the attached phone.gif example is

     taken from a dictionary published in 1969, but very few of the

     features depicted are common in the telephones manufactured

     today.  However, the definition in that dictionary is still

     true:  "an instrument for reproducing sounds at a distance."


  7. Any axioms that distinguish essential properties from accidental

     properties.  This issue has been debated since the time of Plato

     and Aristotle.  The traditional definition of Human is Rational

     Animal, and the ability to laugh was considered an accidental

     property.  However, many philosophers have claimed that the

     ability to laugh is just as characteristic of humans and more

     easily defined than the ability to reason.  Today, genes are

     considered more fundamental to what is "essential", but that

     makes it harder to distinguish humans from chimps and bonobos.

     A truly neutral upper level should avoid any commitment to what

     is considered essential vs. what is considered accidental.


When you start to analyze the issue, the number of possible conflicts becomes so large, that the safest position with regard to any axiom in the upper levels is very short:  When in doubt, leave it out.


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