W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > public-sw-meaning@w3.org > April 2004

Stipulative Ontologies

From: John Black <JohnBlack@deltek.com>
Date: Mon, 5 Apr 2004 20:24:52 -0400
Message-ID: <D3C8F903E7CC024C9DA6D900A60725D9057C2609@DLTKVMX1.ads.deltek.com>
To: <public-sw-meaning@w3c.org>

A consideration, relevant to these discussions, is the degree of 
control desired by the author over the meaning of a semantic web document.  
It seems to me desirable to add a feature, or to create an application 
that allows an author to publish how much of an ontology should be treated 
as stipulative and how much as lexical or descriptive.

I believe the lack of this is at the heart of some of the debate on this list.
I think that some users of RDF assumed that by default most ontologies would 
be taken as stipulative definitions of terms (URIs) owned by the author.  
Others saw that much of natural language was based on uses that could only 
later be formalized into descriptive definitions instead.  They were afraid 
that we were headed down a road requiring software to treat all ontologies as 
stipulative, and thus missing the chance to create terms that could evolve 
naturally.

As an example of what I mean by the use of stipulative definitions, consider 
RFC 2119, http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2119.txt.  This is surely one of the most 
commonly cited RFCs.  Its sole purpose is to fix the meaning of certain terms 
when those terms are used in other documents.  It makes explicit a high degree 
of commitment to a particular interpretation of the terms used. See from that 
document the following section:

  "Authors who follow these guidelines should incorporate this phrase 
   near the beginning of their document:

      The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL
      NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED",  "MAY", and
      "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in
      RFC 2119."

Stipulative definitions are used quite often in statutory law, contracts,
programming languages, and standards documents.  They are used, it seems,
wherever the advantages of reduction of ambiguity and increased 
precision are desired.  They have disadvantages as well, and certainly 
need not be used everywhere.

I believe we can formalize and thus automate the specification of the degree 
of stipulation we desire over our ontologies and thus meet the needs of both 
those who think that the author/owner of URIs should be able to stipulate 
the meaning intended by publication of those URIs in certain contexts and 
those who think the meaning of URIs should be free in all contexts to evolve 
naturally towards whatever future they may have.

Having the explicit facility to do this will not inhibit either goal.

John Black
Received on Monday, 5 April 2004 20:25:09 GMT

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