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Re: what matters is what's said, not what's meant

From: Graham Klyne <GK@ninebynine.org>
Date: Thu, 09 Oct 2003 10:58:15 +0100
Message-Id: <>
To: public-sw-meaning@w3.org

At 22:03 08/10/03 -0400, Peter F. Patel-Schneider wrote:
>To pick on my favourite example, if I want to discuss a particular invoice
>and I don't disagree with the statements about that invoice made by the
>creator of that invoice, say for example to claim that the invoice is
>invalid in some way, then I almost always want to consent to these

Maybe this is key:  what are the statements to which, loosely speaking, we 
can all assent?

I've been reading some Quine recently.  In his essay Epistemology 
Naturalized [1] (and elsewhere, I think) he argues for a grounding of 
language in "observational sentences", being "the sentences on which all 
members of the community will agree under uniform stimulation".

This begs some question of what is the community concerned, which I'll not 
go into here, other than to note that this is discussed in the 
aforementioned essay.

Also, in the same series of essays [1], Quine offers potent arguments that 
the denotation of individual terms are arbitrary, and that there are many 
different interpretations that yield some given set of truths.  This is, I 
think, a common territory for Model Theoretic semantics.

This feels to me like an important toe-hold for SWeb meaning, though I 
can't claim to see where it leads.

It does suggest to me (and I think others here may have said this before) 
that trying to nail down some universal agreement on what URIs identify is 
not going to get us anywhere.  But maybe we can establish some basis for 
arriving at consensus about the truth of some statements?  The model 
theoretic semantics can then tell us if some given (but arbitrary) 
interpretation of URIs used is a model of statements presumed-true, without 
insisting that any such interpretation is the One True Way.

For example, within a framework of agreed truths, we may find that some 
folks are most happy to model the web using REST concepts, and that all 
URIs yield representations; in some cases you may have to squint a bit to 
make this viewpoint work (mailto, telnet UTIs are sometimes-cited 
examples).  Others may choose to model URIs as some kind of 
protocol-element-description structure, and use different denotations for 
them.  But common ground is that the various frameworks support those 
truths on which the community agrees.

So what are these truths?  For starters, we have a few in the RDF semantics 
specification, but they don't get us very far with real-world 
applications.  Beyond that, what are the RDF statements that correspond to 
Quine's "observational sentences"?  I think it's going to be difficult to 
answer this without some recourse to the social context in which they are 
used, and the community of which all members are expected to agree about 
such truths.


[1] W. V. Quine, "Epistemology Naturalized" in Ontological Relativity and 
Other Essays, Columbia Univeristy Press NY, 1969.

Graham Klyne
Received on Thursday, 9 October 2003 06:31:26 UTC

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