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RE: Stipulative Ontologies

From: John Black <JohnBlack@deltek.com>
Date: Tue, 6 Apr 2004 12:20:17 -0400
Message-ID: <D3C8F903E7CC024C9DA6D900A60725D9053937F8@DLTKVMX1.ads.deltek.com>
To: "Bijan Parsia" <bparsia@isr.umd.edu>
Cc: <public-sw-meaning@w3c.org>

> From: Bijan Parsia [mailto:bparsia@isr.umd.edu]
> Sent: Monday, April 05, 2004 9:02 PM
> On Apr 5, 2004, at 8:24 PM, John Black wrote:
> > A consideration, relevant to these discussions, is the degree of
> > control desired by the author over the meaning of a semantic web 
> > document.
> And the degree of control possible.
> Plus, the degree of control *other* people have over *my* 
> document, if 
> I use "their" URIs.

Control over meaning is possible and frequent.  For example, """In the 
following triple, let x = "JohnBlack"; let y = "is"; and let z = "correct".
Here is the triple: :x :y :z. """  My meaning for x, y, and z is clear, 
unambiguous, and undisputable due to the stipulative definitions I provided.  
It would be silly for you to come along and say, """I dispute that what
you meant by x was "JohnBlack", In fact, what you meant by x was 
"BijanParsia"! """  Of course, the truth value of the overall triple is 
debatable, in either case, but *my* meaning is under *my* control.
> > 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.
> All of an OWL ontology is, save for comments, stipulative. 
> I'm not sure 
> what you mean by lexical.

Is the RDF version of Wordnet, http://www.cogsci.princeton.edu/~wn/, "a 
lexical database for the english language." an example?  
A lexical definition reports on the way a term is used.  It describes 
the meanings of terms as found in existing statements.  The difference 
between descriptive definitions and stipulative definitions is the 
difference between describing and prescribing meaning.  I can see many 
uses cases of ontologies being lexical, trying to capture some existing 
terminology and formalize it in owl.  But I can also see many use cases for 
the opposite, stipulative ontologies, where new terms are created or 
existing terms are appropriated and their meaning, in the context of the 
authors statements, is stipulated.  
> > 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.
> Of terms, sure. Owned by the author, no. At least, if you take that 
> literally, it's not only not done, but highly undesirable.
> You couldn't use *anyone* else's URIs in your ontology!
Perhaps we could say authorship, and compare it to citation.  I can 
quote your paper, but I should put it in quotes and include a citation 
so my readers can look it up and read for themselves what you meant.
This respect for your meaning, by citing your entire paper, does not 
prevent me from using quotes from your paper.  In fact, it makes it 
more valuable.  I don't have to redo all your definitions, propositions, 
or arguments.  I can use your conclusions and cite the rest. 

> > Others
> Methodological point: Who are these "users"? If you are referring to 
> debates on the list, it would help to point to threads or mention 
> names.
I will look for these.  

> > 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.
> Not me. Stipulations can evolve.
> [snip]
> > 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.
> One thing I've held out for is the propriety of is a document author 
> being allowed to stipulate the meaning of *all* the URIs in her 
> ontology (well, at least ones that aren't part of the syntax 
> of OWL or 
> RDF).

This distinction is perfect.  The meanings of the key words of the syntax 
are stipulative, and it would be pointless to dispute the meanings defined 
for them, if we are to use RDF or OWL as so defined.  Their value is due 
to everyone's acceptance of the stipulated meanings.  On the other hand, 
to the extent that everyone's meaning was always stipulative, there could 
be no dispute over meanings.  For it is pointless to dispute stipulative 
definitions, they cannot be wrong, by definition.

To use a programming language example, rather than natural language,
If we were to use OWL to define a programming language with an ontology, 
we would need the ability to define the keywords stipulatively.

> > 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.
> It will inhibit me disagreeing with your stipulations, or overriding 
> your (from my perspective) erroneous stipulations.

One's stipulative definitions are not disputable, nor can they be wrong.
> I don't think you've hit on the key to any debate on this list that I 
> am aware of. Again, perhaps a pointer or some names of players would 
> help clarify?

During many debates, you** have used the freedom to dispute the meaning 
of an authors URI as the concluding argument against proposals for 
controlling the meaning of a URI an author wants to establish for it.  
In particular, you just did so above when you said such a facility would 
"""...inhibit me from disagreeing with your stipulations...""".  I'm saying
that to the extent I use stipulative definitions it is pointless to dispute 
them.  The meaning of my URI so defined is just what I say it is in the 
context of my statements and the statements of all who accept my stipulated 
> Cheers,
> Bijan Parsia.

**If you really feel your position is being misrepresented, I apologize, and I 
will look for particular citations to refer to, or stand corrected.

John Black.
Received on Tuesday, 6 April 2004 12:21:30 UTC

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