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Issue #pfps-14 Social Meaning in Concepts and Abstract Syntax

From: Brian McBride <bwm@hplb.hpl.hp.com>
Date: Fri, 28 Feb 2003 21:38:06 +0000
Message-Id: <>
To: Graham Klyne <GK@ninebynine.org>, Bijan Parsia <bparsia@isis.unc.edu>
Cc: www-rdf-comments@w3.org

At 13:03 25/02/2003 +0000, Graham Klyne wrote:
>Thank you for your comments.  I think your preference here is clear 
>enough, without paraphrasing:
>>Section 4 of Concepts and Abstract should be struck.
>This issue has already been raised, and is subject to some debate, and, 
>without prejudicing the outcome of our debate, I'm pretty sure there will 
>be some big changes.
>Brian:  do we need to raise a separate issue for this, or can we tag it 
>onto an existing one?  (Your call.)

I think this is another expression of concern over the social meaning 
issue.  I've added a link to this thread under that issue:



>At 12:02 AM 2/22/03 -0500, Bijan Parsia wrote:
>>Section 4 of Concepts and Abstract should be struck.
>>I have a general argument for this, as well as some specific ones.
>>The general one is that specifying the interaction between "social" and 
>>formal meaning, heck, just specifying much of anything about social 
>>meaning is an INCREDIBLY hard task. So either this section is vacuous 
>>(i.e., it doesn't really specify anything and thus can be ignored) or 
>>it's dangerously underthought and underspecified.
>>This is aside from the fact that the W3C is probably, by ordinary social 
>>conventions, the wrong authority to be specifying "social" meaning. For 
>>         """Human publishers of RDF content commit themselves to the 
>> mechanically-inferred social obligations."""
>>Does this mean, "Hey there, by the laws of the US and most countries of 
>>the world, if you publish RDF on your website, then you're committed to 
>>the mechanically-inferred social obligations"? If so, it's merely 
>>informative (and, in fact, probably false). If it's intended to *make it 
>>so*, then where do you get this authority?
>>Goodness, have any lawyers looked at this?
>>I mean, the fact that you have written "mechanically-inferred" is 
>>*itself* scarily sloppy. After all, that's reasonably interpreted as *any 
>>inference drawn by a program*, regardless of whether its using RDF(S) 
>>entailment or not!
>>Detailed comments:
>>***Section 4:
>>"""There are two aspects to the meaning of an RDF graph. There is the 
>>formal meaning as determined by the RDF semantics [RDF-SEMANTICS]. This 
>>determines, with mathematical precision, the conclusions that can 
>>logically be drawn from an RDF graph."""
>>Do you mean that only RDF(S) entailments can be logically drawn from an 
>>RDF graph? That's wrong, as with an OWL reasoner I can draw more 
>>conclusions. And, if we interpret logically strongly, e.g., as 
>>"reasonable" (distinct from formal) then I can logically draw *all sorts* 
>>of conclusions from an RDF graph that aren't sanctioned by the Semantics.
>>"""There is also the social meaning of the graph. It is the social 
>>meaning that affects what it means to people and how it interacts with 
>>human social institutions such as our systems of law."""
>>To the exclusion of the formal meaning? Yet 4.4 explicitly connects them. 
>>Indeed, if correct, 4.4 establishes a certain social meaning of an RDF 
>>graph (which includes the social meaning of the formal implications of 
>>the *formal* meaning of the RDF graph).
>>***Section 4.1:
>>"""RDF/XML expressions, i.e. encodings of RDF graphs, can be used to make 
>>claims or assertions about the 'real' world. Such expressions are said to 
>>be asserted."""
>>I'm scared that you use scare quotes for 'real'. I just don't know how to 
>>interpret that. Further more, this section doesn't say HOW one asserts 
>>with RDF expression. Also, it's reasonable to say that only RDF/XML 
>>expression can be used to make claims or assertions. But presumably the 
>>*graphs* are the primary carriers of meaning?
>>The second paragraph makes more claims about unasserted graphs with no 
>>specification of when graphs are asserted and *how one fixes the meaning 
>>of the asserted graph*. I mean *fix* it, to a *specific* grounded 
>>***Section 4.2:
>>"""When an RDF graph is asserted in the Web, its publisher is saying 
>>something about their view of the world. """
>>Again, how do I assert a graph (or *not* assert) a graph "in" the Web? 
>>Also, in general if *I* assert something, I'm typically saying something 
>>about *the world*, not my view of it. Also, a publisher may not be, and 
>>may *typically* not be the asserter. Indeed, what is it to be the 
>>*publisher*, in this context? The ISP? The web hosting company? The 
>>author of the document?
>>"""Such an assertion should be understood to carry the same social import 
>>and responsibilities as an assertion in any other format. """
>>Well, with HTML, I'm not committed to the mechanically-inferred 
>>conclusions of the HTML dom tree. So....?
>>"RDF has a formal semantics which provides a dependable basis for 
>>reasoning about the meaning of an RDF expression. In particular, it 
>>supports rigorously defined notions of entailment which provide a basis 
>>for defining reliable rules of inference in RDF data."
>>Hmm. A formal semantics does make it easier to reason about the *formal* 
>>meaning of an RDF expression. It also makes it easier to reason *with* 
>>that expression (which I take the second sentence to express). It doesn't 
>>help with social meaning, though, contrary to 4.4:
>>"""The meaning of an RDF document includes the social meaning, the formal 
>>meaning, and the social meaning of the formal entailments. The assertion 
>>of an RDF graph G, when G logically entails G', includes the implicit 
>>assertion of G'. The implied assertion of G' should be interpreted using 
>>the same social conventions that are reasonably used to interpret the 
>>assertion of G."""
>>My reaction to this is, "Wow, that's *CRAZY*!!!!" I do not exaggerate. 
>>There's also a bunch of inconsistency in that section, for example:
>>4.2: """Such an assertion should be understood to carry the same social 
>>import and responsibilities as an assertion in any other format."""
>>But the normal social import and responsibilities of an assertion in HTML 
>>is *not* the social import and responsibilities of the *formal* 
>>entailments (especially not the FOL entailments of an RDF regimentation 
>>of) that HTML. (For one, I'd rather be committed to the relevant 
>>implications of my statments.) Plus, consider the common social meaning 
>>of Moore's paradox: "I don't believe it's raining".
>>""""A combination of social (e.g. legal) and technical machinery 
>>(protocols, file formats, publication frameworks) provide the contexts 
>>that fix the intended meanings of the vocabulary of some piece of RDF, 
>>and which distinguish assertions from other uses (e.g. citations, denials 
>>or illustrations)."""
>>Well, in a *normative specification*, I would expect this combination to 
>>be spelt out. It isn't.
>>Plus, *intended* meanings, by their nature *ALWAYS* can come unstuck from 
>>the conventions and formal/techincal structures of the meaning carrying 
>>expression. How does speaker's meaning (vs. sentence meaning) come into 
>>play. If I *intended* to refer to John when I say Mary, what have I done 
>>from the RDF point of view?
>>There's a large philosophical literature on this. At best, you can hope 
>>to fix the *sentence* meaning.
>>"""The social machinery includes the form of publication: publishing some 
>>unqualified statements on one's World Wide Web home page would generally 
>>be taken as an assertion of those statements. """
>>Generally. And if not so taken? Is it *correct* to so take? On what 
>>ground? In which juristiction? How is this normative?
>>"""But publishing the same statements with a qualification, such as "here 
>>are some common myths", or as part of a rebuttal, would likely not be 
>>construed as an assertion of the truth of those statements. Similar 
>>considerations apply to the publication of assertions expressed in RDF."""
>>Be construed. By whom? Speaking as someone who's *often* misread (e.g., 
>>as asserting things I explicitly deny), what other people *construe* of 
>>what I assert is very far from determinative of what I assert.
>>"""An RDF graph may contain "defining information" that is opaque to 
>>logical reasoners. This information may be used by human interpreters of 
>>RDF information, or programmers writing software to perform specialized 
>>forms of deduction in the Semantic Web."""
>>Again with the scare quotes. Scare quotes are used to indicate that the 
>>enclose words are not being used in their normal sense. But there's no 
>>vague, much less precise, definition of "defining information". And I'm a 
>>logical reasoner, will this information be opaque to me? (Well, if in 
>>German, yes, but *all* human reasoners?)
>>""The social conventions surrounding use of RDF assume that any RDF URI 
>>reference gains its meaning from some defining individual, organization 
>>or context. This applies most notably to RDF predicate URI references."""
>>Actually I presume that people do the presuming. And are these social 
>>conventions true in all societies? Are you reporting, or specifying?
>>""""Thus, the choice of terms used in published RDF is significant in 
>>determining its meaning, through reference to definitions asserted by the 
>>defining authorities for those terms."""
>>How does this fit in with my ability to use any URI in my ontology, 
>>making any defining assertions I like about it?
>>""""However, even when a URI reference can be dereferenced as an RDF/XML 
>>document, it's use within an asserted RDF graph does not implicitly 
>>assert the contents of the referenced document.""""
>>So it's formal meaning isn't fixed IN ANY WAY by the "authority"? And the 
>>social meaning?
>>"""Human publishers of RDF content commit themselves to the 
>>mechanically-inferred social obligations.""""
>>I discussed this above. It's also unclear what the mechanically-inferred 
>>*social obligations* are (as opposed to the mechanically inferred *formal 
>>"""The meaning of an RDF document includes the social meaning, the formal 
>>meaning, and the social meaning of the formal entailments. The assertion 
>>of an RDF graph G, when G logically entails G', includes the implicit 
>>assertion of G'. The implied assertion of G' should be interpreted using 
>>the same social conventions that are reasonably used to interpret the 
>>assertion of G."""
>>Oh, this might fix it. But what if the social meaning of the set of 
>>explicit assertions is different from the set of those of the set of 
>>implicit assertion? heck, if people general work with a relevance logic 
>>(more likely than RDF entailment), then you *explicitly* don't always 
>>endorse/believe P & ~P even if you assert/believe each conjunct separately.
>>Finally, if I assert a contradiction (which I can do, *even in rdf*), am 
>>I thereby commmited to the social meaning of EVERYTHING?
>>Oops, out of time.
>>Bijan Parsia.
>Graham Klyne
Received on Friday, 28 February 2003 16:37:04 GMT

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