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

To: Christopher Menzel <cmenzel@xxxxxxxx>
Cc: ONTAC-WG General Discussion <ontac-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 07 Jun 2006 11:14:57 -0400
Message-id: <4486ED71.5080606@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Chris,    (01)

I think we agree on three points:    (02)

  1. The formal work in logic and philosophy has focused
     on syntax and model-theoretic semantics.    (03)

  2. The ordinary language philosophers, among them people
     like the later Wittgenstein, Austin, and many others,
     have addressed many issues of pragmatics that have a
     very high amount of overlap with what linguists have
     been doing.    (04)

  3. Many of the formalists have also written articles about
     pragmatic issues, but without using much if any of the
     formalism they developed for the first two branches.    (05)

Perhaps the term "trash heap" was too strong, but to a very
large extent, pragmatics has been treated as something to
be formalized at some indefinite time in the future after
syntax and semantics have been put on a firm foundation.
And as we all know from our own and others' experience,
anything put off until tomorrow gets put off indefinitely.    (06)

CM> ... 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.    (07)

But what I've been trying to say is that there is nothing
about pragmatics that makes it less amenable to formal
foundations than syntax or semantics -- or to flip it,
there is nothing about syntax or semantics that enables
them to be *adequately* formalized without treating
pragmatics as equally fundamental.    (08)

As an example, formal logics have been used in practice,
but only by introducing an extremely limited pragmatics
-- in Wittgenstein's terminology, a single language game
in which the parties who play the game are ignored.  That
approach gives a distorted view of pragmatics that makes
it seem possible to ignore it.  But it's still there,
lurking under the bed where it will chomp off your hand
in the middle of the night.  Better to face it in the day.    (09)

Re Charles Morris:  Peircean scholars have mixed feelings
about him because (1) they are grateful to him for having
popularized Peirce's semiotics, but (2) they're unhappy
that he oversimplified it and brought in a behaviorist
slant that Peirce would have denounced.    (010)

In particular, Morris's approach led to compartmentalizing
the three aspects of language to a degree that CSP would
never condone. With any triad, Peirce insisted that you can't
really understand 1 and 2 unless you understand 3.    (011)

Chomsky, for example, was one of the worst sinners with his
claims for an "autonomous syntax".  To be consistent, he
denounced the view that language should be studied as a
system of communication.  Montague rejected Chomsky's focus
on syntax, but with his Hollywood Semantics (as Geach called
it) he made it nearly impossible to apply that formalism
to any kind of communication.    (012)

JS> Instead, I would suggest the idea of viewing computer
 > networks of any kind and the Internet in particular as
 > a political system.    (013)

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

I would say almost every formal ontology.  Just look at the
issues they consider fundamental:  type/instance, type/subtype,
part/whole, continuant/occurrent, and perhaps a few others.
How many of them list communication, purpose, or intention as
fundamental?  If they even mention those terms, do they use
them throughout to discuss how intention affects granularity
and the choice of boundaries in mereology?  Or the distinction
between continuants and occurrents?  Or the difference between
a set and a society?  Or the choice/determination/construction/
revision of an ontology during the process of communication?    (015)

I strongly believe that all the pragmatic issues can and should
be formalized.  But they're never going to be formalized if they
are treated as something that is tacked on at the end.  Instead,
I would insist on recognizing pragmatics at the beginning, middle,
and end of any process of formalization.    (016)

John    (017)

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