[Humanist] 30.492 ontology

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Nov 15 07:15:12 CET 2016


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 30, No. 492.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Will Tuladhar Douglas <will at tending.to>                  (160)
        Subject: Re:  30.489 ontology and Ontology

  [2]   From:    Bill Pascoe <bill.pascoe at newcastle.edu.au>               (136)
        Subject: Re:  30.489 ontology and Ontology


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Mon, 14 Nov 2016 07:47:24 +0000
        From: Will Tuladhar Douglas <will at tending.to>
        Subject: Re:  30.489 ontology and Ontology
        In-Reply-To: <20161114063635.B93C57FF9 at digitalhumanities.org>

Dear Tim, Willard and all,

There is yet another domain of knowledge representation with its own working definition of ontology, and that is anthropology and science and technology studies. In recent years, especially after the work of Vivieros de Castro in South America in anthropology and the work of John Law and Helen Verran in science and technology studies, the term ontology is now being used to label potentially noncoherent (that is, radically incommensurable and irreconcilable) ways of knowing-and-being-in the world. This especially engages with questions of relativism, animism and natural resource management by communities that do not accept human exclusivism, either as a precondition for valid knowledge or what Barthes called (in Empire of Signs) the topologically double Western human self with its interior/exterior divide.

All of which folds back into Humanist's work because Helen Verran has done practical work on designing computer systems for the (in)adequate storage of the accumulated knowledge of Australian indigenous communities, with all the challenges of access and representation that one might expect.

Be well,

—WBTD.

- - -- --- ----- -------- -------------
Will Tuladhar Douglas
Senior Lecturer, Environments and Religions	Director, Confucius Institute
Tel: +44(0)1224272812					University of Aberdeen
w.tuladhardouglas at abdn.ac.uk				http://tending.to/garden

> On 14 Nov 2016, at 06:36, Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:
> 
>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 30, No. 489.
>            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
> 
> 
> 
>        Date: Sun, 13 Nov 2016 13:29:21 +0100
>        From: Tim Smithers <tim.smithers at cantab.net>
>        Subject: Re:  30.486 ontology to ontologies?
>        In-Reply-To: <20161112094806.CA1F38216 at digitalhumanities.org>
> 
> 
> Dear Willard,
> 
> I would be careful not to confuse ontology and Ontology.
> 
> Philosophers work on ontology (lower-case 'o'): the
> metaphysics of being; the study of ontic (of that which is)
> choices and decisions and their implications and consequences.
> 
> An Ontology (with capital 'O'--the convention used to make the
> distinction) is a set of concepts or classes, used in some
> domain of knowledge, that attempts to capture and specify
> their properties and the relations between them.  Or, as
> Gruber put it,
> 
>  An ontology defines a set of representational primitives
>  with which to model a domain of knowledge or discourse.
> 
> Ontologies, sometimes (and perhaps better) called
> Terminologies, have become an important part of the practices
> of Knowledge Representation and Knowledge Modelling, Knowledge
> Engineering, and (certain kinds of) Knowledge Management.
> 
> Yes, the term "ontology" did find its way out of philosophy
> into Computer Science and Engineering (via AI, I would say),
> but it did not retain its meaning in the crossing.  It was
> given a different meaning upon its arrival in AI, most often
> remembered with the Gruber definition.
> 
> The (unconfirmed) story of what happened (attributed to
> someone described as being a philosopher) is that one day some
> lost Knowledge Representation-alists happened upon a
> Philosophy Shop.  Through the window, the the KR-alists saw
> some Philosophers doing ontology.  Excited at seeing some
> serious scholars hard at work, and a little envious, the
> KR-alists smashed the window, grabbed what the Philosophers
> were working on, and ran off as fast as their computational
> legs could carry them, never to be seen near a Philosophy Shop
> again.  Not understanding what they had stolen, but having
> heard the Philosophers talking of "ontology," the KR-alists
> decided to call what they had, an Ontology, and discovered
> that they could use it to do better some of the knowledge
> representation jobs they had been stuck on, before they
> dropped their work to go wandering.
> 
> (A story I was told a long time ago by someone I don't
> remember.)
> 
> There's not a complete dislocation between ontology and
> Ontology, as we can see.  They sort of join back-to-back, but
> face in opposite directions: ontology looks into what can be
> said to exist, and the consequences that derive from this;
> Ontology building takes it that knowledge about things exists,
> and looks at how this can be categorised and related.
> 
> Nicolai Hartmann, a philosopher, and proponent of Critical
> Realism, but largely unknown in AI, developed a position that
> can be seen as bridging ontology and Ontologies.  For Hartmann
> 
> ontics was about pre-categorical and pre-objectual
> connections expressed as relations to transcendent acts,
> 
> ontology was about the categorical analysis of entities by
> means of the knowledge categories able to classify them, and
> 
> metaphysics was (the part of ontics and ontology) concerned
> with the residue of being that cannot be rationalised further
> according to categories.
> 
> But Hartmann's philosophy is not "main stream" ontology, and,
> as I say, little known and understood by KR-lists: they remain
> wary of Philosophy Shops.
> 
> Best regards,
> 
> Tim
> 
> ...  who now uses Ontology building tools to build models of
> States of the Art for research and for preparing Critical
> State of the Art reviews.
> 
>> On 12 Nov 2016, at 10:48, Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:
>> 
>> 
>>                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 30, No. 486.
>>           Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>>                      www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>>               Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>> 
>> 
>> 
>>       Date: Sat, 12 Nov 2016 09:07:59 +0000
>>       From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>>       Subject: ontology to ontologies
>> 
>> I'm looking within the long moment of transition from 'ontology' to
>> 'ontologies' for it to be noticed and discussed within computer science 
>> & engineering -- or for a suitable retrospective account. It's clear from 
>> articles by Stephen Michael Kosslyn ("On the ontological status of 
>> visual mental images", 1978), Arne Sølvberg ("Software requirement 
>> definition and data models", 1979) and John McCarthy ("Circumscription: 
>> A form of non-monotonic reasoning", 1980) that by then the singular noun 
>> was crossing from philosophy into computer science. People in the trade 
>> will know that Thomas Gruber defined the term for computer science in 
>> 1993 and 1995. McCarthy, for one, was familiar with the work of the 
>> philosopher Willard Van Orman Quine, who wrote "On what there is" (1948) 
>> and "On ontologies" (1949). But as far as I can tell philosophers were 
>> not and are not interested in what happened to the word in computer 
>> science. Too bad.
>> 
>> The big problem I am considering is the relation between the digital 
>> modelling machine, which in effect demands pluralisation of 'ontology', 
>> and the widespread, in some places very deep, attention to different 
>> ways of thinking and being in the world, or to put the matter another 
>> way, the great difficulty of positing cognitive universals. Alan 
>> Turing's invention of a 'universal' machine became a step in this 
>> direction. But as a good friend said to me awhile ago, there's a great 
>> difference between a few dozen people talking about something and tens 
>> of thousands of people talking about it.
>> 
>> Any clues? Discussion?
>> 
>> Yours,
>> WM
>> -- 
>> Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
>> Humanities, King's College London; Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney
>> University


--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Mon, 14 Nov 2016 12:37:34 +0000
        From: Bill Pascoe <bill.pascoe at newcastle.edu.au>
        Subject: Re:  30.489 ontology and Ontology
        In-Reply-To: <20161114063635.B93C57FF9 at digitalhumanities.org>


Hi,

Yes, as a philosophy major and software developer who was for a moment curious when hearing the word 'ontology' I'd say the reason philosophers are uninterested in ontology in IT is because it's simply a piece of jargon with a different meaning in a different discourse (or 'namespace' as it were). It's something different with the same name that may as well be called anything else. A pig doesn't smell as sweet as a rose because it's called 'Rose'. A very large comprehensive thesaurus is just that, and useful for your software problem, whether you call it an 'ontology' or not - and a big list of associated words has little to do with philosophical inquiry into "what is?" except that philosophers figured out a long time ago that attempts at complete categorisation and one to one representation of objective reality are doomed to failure for many, many, many reasons and so is a relatively uninteresting topic. You may as well wonder why philosophers aren't much interested in polymorphism, associative arrays or class inheritance. If you imagine what they might mean in philosophy, that's kind of interesting but it has little to do with their specific meanings and usefulness in IT.

Kind regards,

Dr Bill Pascoe
eResearch Consultant
Digital Humanities Lab
hri.newcastle.edu.au http://hri.newcastle.edu.au/
Centre for 21st Century Humanities<http://www.newcastle.edu.au/research-and-innovation/centre/centre-for-21st-century-humanities/about-us>

T: 0435 374 677
E: bill.pascoe at newcastle.edu.au

The University of Newcastle (UON)
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Callaghan NSW 2308
Australia


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