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Re: [Dbpedia-discussion] Using DBpedia resources as skos:Concepts?

From: Leonard Will <L.Will@willpowerinfo.co.uk>
Date: Thu, 5 Nov 2009 20:25:25 +0000
Message-ID: <B91Q1eI1Sz8KFAwX@mail.willpowerinfo.co.uk>
To: Pat Hayes <phayes@ihmc.us>
Cc: Alexandre Passant <alexandre.passant@deri.org>, Richard Cyganiak <richard@cyganiak.de>, dbpedia-discussion@lists.sourceforge.net, SKOS <public-esw-thes@w3.org>
On Thu, 5 Nov 2009 at 13:52:45, Pat Hayes <phayes@ihmc.us> wrote
>
>On Nov 4, 2009, at 6:43 AM, Leonard Will wrote:
>
>> From the point of view of thesaurus standards, "concept" is used 
>>with a very general meaning - "unit of thought" - which was 
>>introduced to distinguish between that and the various different 
>>"terms" that may be used to label it. A concept is defined by its 
>>scope note, if present, and/or by its various terms and relationships.
>>
>> In a thesaurus, concepts are divided into several disjoint facets, 
>>such as people, objects, activities, disciplines, places, times, and 
>>"abstract concepts" such as "peace", "friendship", "intellectual 
>>property" and so on.
>
>I have to say, I find this extremely puzzling. Taking the second 
>paragraph at face value, so that 'people' means actual living people, 
>etc.,. then none of these real things are in what I would understand 
>the category "unit of thought" to be. Both that opaque phrase and the 
>word "concept" are usually understood to have some kind of 
>psychological connection. The concept of an object is not the object 
>itself, precisely because the concept, but not the object, can indeed 
>be the stuff of a thought: a concept is an idea of a thing, not the 
>actual thing. One cannot burn a concept, or make love to it, or kill 
>it. One cannot usually even observe it. One can however learn it, or 
>form it mentally, or fail to understand it: none of which can be done 
>to physical things. And even if one slurs the use/mention distinction 
>(a bad idea, but even if) so that this is understood to refer to the 
>object of a thought, the thing the thought is *about*, it still is a 
>very odd notion. Most things in the universe have never been thought 
>about. There are surely objects that have never been thought about and 
>never will be thought about (a particular grain of sand on a beach 
>during the fall of Carthage) so which cannot ever be a "unit of 
>thought" even in this broken sense of being the referent (rather than 
>the content) of a thought.
>
>BTW, there is yet another problem with the phrase "unit of thought", 
>which is its presumption that thoughts can be divided into "units". 
>But let us leave that issue aside, as the other is more pressing.
>
>There seems to be a problem in the very heart of the SKOS design. Is 
>it talking about things, or about concepts of things? Y'all really 
>need to get this straight before proceeding.
>
>Pat Hayes
>
As so often in this field, as in philosophy, this problem boils down to 
"it depends what you mean by ..."

As I said above, the word "concept" is used in this context with a very 
general meaning. Perhaps "unit of thought" does not express it well. We 
really use to mean "something that can be thought about", or "something 
that can be talked or written about in a 'document'" (where again 
"document" is to be interpreted very broadly as any resource for 
containing or communicating information).

As you can certainly think about grains or sand, the fall of Carthage, 
or Mrs Obama, these fall within our definition of "concept". Perhaps 
some other word could be found to express this better and avoid 
confusion with a narrower definition such as "abstract concept", but the 
word "concept" is widely used in the thesaurus literature, in order to 
make a distinction between the thing that is thought about and the words 
that may be used to label it.

My view of this is from the approach of the library / thesaurus / 
knowledge organisation community and the ISO thesaurus standard working 
party, and I cannot say definitively that the SKOS interpretation is the 
same - there have been some erudite discussions here about the 
difference between a thing and our thoughts about the thing, but from a 
practical point of view of applying indexing terms to resources these 
seem unnecessary.

Leonard Will
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Received on Thursday, 5 November 2009 20:26:11 GMT

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