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

RE: Stipulative Ontologies

From: John Black <JohnBlack@deltek.com>
Date: Tue, 6 Apr 2004 15:54:51 -0400
Message-ID: <D3C8F903E7CC024C9DA6D900A60725D9053937FA@DLTKVMX1.ads.deltek.com>
To: "Pat Hayes" <phayes@ihmc.us>
Cc: <public-sw-meaning@w3c.org>

> From: Pat Hayes [mailto:phayes@ihmc.us]
> Sent: Tuesday, April 06, 2004 1:22 PM
> To: John Black
> >  > 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.
> But you didn't, and it isn't.

Yes I did, and I have.  I said my meaning for x, y, and z is clear.  I 
did not say I had defined "correct". It is you who has overreacted to the 
english meanings of the strings, all I said was z = "correct".

> What exactly do you mean by "correct", 
> for example? (Do you have a correctness ontology somewhere?)  And is 
> there only one John Black on the entire planet? So which of them are 
> you referring to?  etc..
> More generally, setting out to define OWL meanings by reference to 
> English words is hopeless. It is impossible to capture the full 
> meaning of any English word in any piece of OWL; but on the other 
> hand, the precision of meaning that can be achieved by OWL exceeds 
> that of the most careful English statement. Formalisms like OWL treat 
> URI meanings like very thin needles, whereas English words are like 
> wide, flexible plastic sheets. They are just incomparable.

But how then does one thread this tiny, little needle?  The way you are 
describing it there is almost no way to get meaning into the system at all.  
I'm not talking about the meaning *preserving* inferential machinery.  What 
I'm talking about is how do you put the meaning into the URIs and how do you 
get it out.  How does one encode a URI with meaning so that it can be used 
at all?  And how does one decode it on the other end?  Obviously, you can't. 
Meanings happen to intelligent agents when they encounter a symbol and 
know what the intention of the sender of it was, by some sort of prior 
agreement, and so interpret that symbol correctly.  And this hardly seems 
incomparable to natural language.  What else in the universe could be 
more similar?  
> >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.
> You intended meaning may indeed be under your control (though I bet I 
> can produce doubt in your mind by a bit of Socratic questioning), but 
> your intentions are kind of irrelevant since you can't transmit them 
> over a Web. What you can transmit is OWL, and the meaning of THAT is 
> determined by the OWL model theory. That's all that you have. Now try 
> doing some stipulation.

No, I use OWL to transmit my intentions, and it has nothing to do 
with english or natural language or even OWL for that matter.  If I send you 
a Java class file, coded to carry out my intentions on your machine, and you 
have a Java virtual machine, which can interpret it, then my meaning has 
been transmitted.  There is nothing mysterious about that.  When I use 
OWL, my meaning is NOT determined by the model theory any more than the 
behavior of my Java class is determined by the Java language specification.

> >  > > 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?
> No. Wordnet is a network of English words, not an ontology. Nothing 
> in Wordnet tells you what any of the words *mean*.  Of course, being 
> an native English speaker, you kind of know what they mean, but OWL 
> isn't designed for native English speakers.
> >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.
> Look, NONE of these metaphors are relevant. The entire business of 
> handling formal ontologies and asking about their meaning is quite 
> unlike the business of communication between speakers of a natural 
> language.

Yes, they are ALL relevant.  You make working with ontologies sound like 
some mysterious black art.  If using an ontology is that hard, what use is 
it?  And again, what else in the universe is more similar?

> If its like anything, it would be more like a kind of 
> primitive telepathy but between intellects about the size of a 
> dormouse.
Right, and that is because the meaningful uses of intelligent agents is 
initiated by humans, and in the end, it is still humans that 
interpret the final results for their meaning.  In a way, it seems to 
me that all meaning is social.  Who is ready to come out and say 
that their agent really "understands" the meaning of the RDF it parses?
Isn't the truth still that all of our agents are far less capable than 
even a dormouse of interpreting the meaning of anything?  So who 
here is doing the semantic work of the semantic web?

> >
> >>  > 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
> Not in the same sense as a stipulative legal text in English. The OWL 
> keywords have a meaning provided by a model theory. The nearest 
> English equivalents would be the closed-class function words (is, 
> and, not, and so on)  and the grammatical auxiliaries such as the 
> 'will' for future tense. These are usually considered to be immune 
> from stipulative definition.
> >, 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.
> But, critically, they can be incomplete. Ontology sharing depends on 
> this observation. English doesn't offer a good analogy to this.
> >
> >To use a programming language example, rather than natural language,
> >If we were to use OWL to define a programming language with 
> an ontology,
> I doubt if that would be possible. For example, there is no way to 
> specify a minimal fixedpoint operator (needed for the meaning of 
> recursion or iteration) in OWL.
> >
> >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
> >definitions.
> You are here presuming a social setting in which the stipulative 
> definition has a certain role. But this social setting is not 
> applicable to web ontology traffic, so your point loses its force.

Yes I am presuming a social setting, and rightly so, in my opinion, so
my point doesn't lose it's force.  I don't think we are at a point of 
letting our agents loose to go their own way, inventing OWL all 
by themselves.  We still give it meaning and we interpret the meaning 
so given it.  (Us humans I mean).  

> It 
> is always possible for one agent to disagree with another. The  Web, 
> however, unlike English, provides a way to follow any name to its 
> source, which allows readers to determine which sources are more 
> definitive than others. If English were like this, we could all, just 
> by reading a word, know everything that its inventor wished us to 
> know about the meaning he had in mind. In this case, the entire 
> apparatus of stipulative definitions would be largely unnecessary: 
> rather than set out to attach a special meaning to an existing word, 
> one would just use a new word.    English of course is not like this, 
> so we have a different way to share meanings which depends on 
> flexible social agreements which at times need to be explicitly 
> denied or over-ridden. However, to repeat, the semantic web is not 
> like a bunch of people talking in English.

And I too will repeat, I can't think of anything that is more similar, 
in spite of how immensely far we have to go.

> Pat Hayes
> >
> >>  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.
> -- 
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Received on Tuesday, 6 April 2004 15:56:19 UTC

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