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Re: [ontac-forum] Semantics (1, 2, and 3), Ontology and Semiotics

To: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Cc: ONTAC-WG General Discussion <ontac-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Christopher Menzel <cmenzel@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 06 Jun 2006 13:28:52 -0500
Message-id: <4485C964.9000104@xxxxxxxx>
Arun and Chris,
> The issues that Arun raised are very broad, but I think that
> all of them can be reduced to three fundamental points:
>  1. Purpose is central to everything that people (and computer
>     systems designed by people) do.  More generally, purpose
>     is central to everything that any living organism does.
>     Without a clear notion of purpose, reasoning systems
>     (human or computer) churn endlessly on irrelevant details.    (01)

Can't argue with you on that point.    (02)

>   2. In the 1930s, Charles Morris modified and renamed one of
>     Peirce's triads with the labels Syntax, Semantics, and
>     Pragmatics.    (03)

You're the expert.    (04)

>   3. With the attitude that "two out of three ain't bad", logicians,
>     linguists, and philosophers focused on the first two, and
>     relegated everything that might be purposeful to pragmatics,
>     which promptly became the trash heap of hard problems that
>     people ignore.    (05)

John, as is often the case, I agree with about 99% of what you say
(well, maybe more like 87.5% ;-), but then you throw out something
bizarre.  I don't want to debate the history of 20th century philosophy
and philosophical logic with you, but to say that linguists and
philosophers have focused only on syntax and semantics with the attitude
that "two out of three ain't bad" is just, well, let me keep the
temperature down and simply say DEMONSTRABLY FALSE.  In linguistics,
there is a HUGE body of research into the "purposeful" pragmatics of
language.  Check out the literature in sociolinguistics and discourse
theory, for example, where pragmatics is king.  As for philosophers, I
think you slander even the more formally inclined of the bunch
(including Montague, though I won't argue the point), but I have to
believe that your injudicious comment above was simply the product of
haste, for I *know* you are well-acquainted with the "ordinary language"
school of 20th century philosophy represented by, notably, Strawson,
later Wittgenstein (to the extent that he is representative of anything
other than himself), Austin, and Searle, not to mention the more
coherent continental philosophers like Habermas and Foucault. As with
the sociolinguists, for these philosophers, the various aspects of
pragmatics  --  social context, presupposition, power relationships,
performativity, intention, nuance -- are THE most important elements of
language use.  Far from casting them on a trash heap to be ignored,
these philosophers have done almost all their work amidst the "hard
problems" of language, representation, and meaning.  I WILL grant you,
however, that these philosophers have perhaps been ignored much more
than they should have been by the knowledge representation community.    (06)

> As I said in my previous notes, I agree with Chris that model theory
> is good, logic is good, axioms are good, precise definitions are good,
> and lots of other things that philosophers, logicians, and computer
> scientists have been doing for the past century are good.
> But without a clear focus on purpose, all that good stuff is, to put
> it bluntly, *purposeless* .  It can't give us any help in determining
> what we should be doing or why.    (07)

I don't know how many times I have agreed with you on this point.  I
have, once again, only tried to clarify the role, and stress the
importance, of formal foundations in ontology.  Otherwise put, I've
really been arguing the flip side of your position, namely that focusing
on pragmatics to the *exclusion* of formal foundations is dangerous as
focusing on the latter to the exclusion of the former.    (08)

> AM> My conjecture is to see if the notion of "mind as political system"
> > is perhaps a more useful fundamental starting point from which to
> > design a process model.
> I think that would be a much better starting point than the currently
> popular "mind as a theorem prover" model of Cyc and most of the
> formal ontology proposals.    (09)

I very much like Arun's metaphor, and I really appreciate his original
and provocative thinking, but I am less clear on how it plays out in the
construction of useful ontologies.  As for "mind as theorem prover",
it's not clear to me that that is the Cyc metaphor.  Indeed, I'm not
sure there is a driving metaphor there so much as a straightforward
pragmatic methodology: humans reason on propositions, sentences express
propositions, computers can model human reasoning by processing
sentences, so let's write out as many interesting sentences as we can
for computers to process.  One doesn't have to assume thereby that the
mind is simply a theorem prover.  Once can simply see Cyc and ontology
representation and reasoning generally as an attempt to capture one
useful aspect of human mentality.    (010)

> My suggestion would be to drop the word "mind", which leads to too
> many distracting issues.    (011)

I'm down with that.    (012)

> Instead, I would suggest the idea of
> viewing computer networks of any kind and the Internet in particular
> as a political system.  Each module in the network, which may be
> of any size, always communicates with other modules for a purpose.
> The focus of network design should be on the purpose of each
> communication.  Any attempt to design systems of any kind, including
> ontologies, without focusing on purpose is a total waste of time
> and money.    (013)

Sounds good.  Can you give an example of a system or ontology in which
purpose was *not* focused upon?    (014)

-chris    (015)

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