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Comment on "Meaning and the Semantic Web"

From: John Black <JohnBlack@deltek.com>
Date: Tue, 4 May 2004 21:31:17 -0400
Message-ID: <D3C8F903E7CC024C9DA6D900A60725D90539387D@DLTKVMX1.ads.deltek.com>
To: <public-sw-meaning@w3.org>

Bijan, Peter,

In your poster paper, "Meaning and the Semantic Web",
 you make the following statement:

"One might think that our account of meaning thus results in complete
anarchy in the Semantic Web. Even if so, we believe we have
embraced only those portions of anarchy that are necessary to prevent
totalitarianism, for any proposal for Semantic Web meaning
that cuts off easy access to disagreements will inevitably end up
stultifying the Semantic Web."

I am finding this reference to totalitarianism hard to accept.

In the first place, if you mean it literally, and a typical definition 
of totalitarianism reads like this, "Of, relating to, being, or imposing 
a form of government in which the political authority exercises absolute 
and centralized control over all aspects of life, the individual is 
subordinated to the state, and opposing political and cultural 
expression is suppressed: "A totalitarian regime crushes all autonomous 
institutions in its drive to seize the human soul" (Arthur M. 
Schlesinger, Jr.)." 
Please explain how any of the proposals that have been discussed 
could lead to this?

In the second place, hoping that you mean this loosely and 
metaphorically, even given one of the many proposals for fixing 
the meaning of URIs, assuming they could work, what would prevent 
you from creating an entirely new set of URIs with which to use to 
make whatever contrary statements you desired?  Why is it *necessary* 
for you to use anyone else's URIs at all?  If you are free to 
create any URIs you may possibly need, with whatever meaning you may 
wish to associate with them, in order to state whatever it is you want 
to state, how can you then say that another set of URIs forms a 
totalitarianism?  For I have never seen any proposal that requires 
that there be only one URI for any referent, but only proposals that 
any URI have only one referent.  So there can be many URIs for any
referent.  So if you want to dissent, you can always create a new URI.

The model theory seems to allow for this:
"There are several aspects of meaning in RDF which are ignored by this 
semantics; in particular, it treats URI references as simple names, 
ignoring aspects of meaning encoded in particular URI forms [RFC 2396]..."
http://www.w3.org/TR/rdf-mt/  Thus you can create any *possible web* you 
want, in order to say anything you want, and this would be true even if 
all *actual web* URIs were somehow given fixed meanings, wouldn't it?
This hardly seems a prescription for totalitarianism.  

John Black
Senior Software Architect,
Time & Expense Collection Group,
Enterprise Systems Division,
Deltek Systems, Inc. www.deltek.com
Office: 703-885-9656
Mobile: 434-825-3765
Received on Tuesday, 4 May 2004 21:31:33 UTC

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