W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > www-rdf-logic@w3.org > April 2001

Re: A plea for peace. was: RE: DAML+OIL (March 2001) released: a correction

From: pat hayes <phayes@ai.uwf.edu>
Date: Mon, 9 Apr 2001 11:45:23 -0500
Message-Id: <v04210105b6f79333cf90@[]>
To: Aaron Swartz <aswartz@swartzfam.com>
Cc: www-rdf-logic@w3.org
>pat hayes <phayes@ai.uwf.edu> wrote:
> >> No, of course not. As you say this is unlikely. While I sense that you are
> >> trolling, I feel it is worthwhile to respond. No one ever said 
>things would
> >> have a One True Name. Instead, we merely have a system for giving all
> >> objects names
> > All objects? There are objects which have no name in any human
> > language.
>That doesn't prevent you from giving them one.

That doesnt prevent it, but there might well be circumstances which 
do prevent you from giving them one. Obviously we can, and often do, 
refer to things that we cannot possibly give a name to (since we 
cannot identify them), eg as when we say that a beach contains 
hundreds of billions of grains of sand, each consisting largely of 
silica. It is (literally) impossible to give a name to every grain. 
(Similarly leaves of a tree, bacteria in a Petri dish, stars in a 
remote galaxy, hydrogen atoms, etc. etc. .)

>Do not confuse a system *for* giving all objects names, (as in a naming
>system with the ability (that *can*) name all objects) with a system that
>*does* provide these names.

I am not making that confusion. I might respond, do not confuse 
giving a name to something with referring to that thing.

> >> in a relatively distributed and at times decentralized manner.
> >> URIs allow people to give things names,
> > No; NAMES allow people to give things names. Do you seriously think
> > that people didn't give things names before the Web came along?
>Of course, but often these names were meant multiple things or slightly
>different things to different people. There is no authority to define the
>"meaning" of a word. However, it is clear who defines the meaning of a URI
>-- its "owner".

Ah, that is an interesting claim. Is it so clear? First, if the 
"owner" is a human being, then maybe one could claim this; but even 
then, how does anyone else find out what meaning the "owner" had in 
mind (barring telepathy)? And how do we know that the "owner" had a 
single clear idea in mind? The owner may be confused about the 
meaning, and if the word is part of a piece of natural language text 
(eg inside HTML) then it is just as vague and nuanced in its meaning 
as any other word in natural language. Just putting stuff on a web 
page doesn't make it magically precise or unambiguous. And in any 
case, what if the "owner" is, say, a refrigerator, or a file system? 
Your use of scare quotes suggests that you are aware of such cases.

> >> and often provide ways to find out what they mean.
> > URL's provide a way to find out where some bytes are located. After
> > that, as far as I can see we are all on our own. None of this
> > provides a way to find out what anything MEANS, nor indeed could it
> > possibly do so.
>Well, since in many cases those bytes are authoritative for the definition,
>I believe that this can define the meaning (or at least as close as we can
>get without getting into deep philosophical arguments on the nature of

Tough luck; these are deep philosophical waters. Hacking and 
philosophy of language come nose to nose here.

> This may not be a rigorously mathematical system, I admit, but it
>has worked well enough for the millions of users of the Web.

Sigh. This discussion seems to to constantly be going around this 
particular loop, which is starting to get frustrating.

Yes, of course. It works for the millions of HUMAN users of the Web. 
This is not surprising, since names (not URI's, just plain names) 
have worked for the hundreds of millions of human beings who have 
been using language since before the Neolithic. (The Web hasnt added 
anything to the human use of language; it has just enabled us all to 
listen to more of it.) But this entire discussion on RDF is about how 
to arrange things so that SOFTWARE AGENTS can use information on the 
web, not human beings.

Pat Hayes

>[ Aaron Swartz | me@aaronsw.com | http://www.aaronsw.com ]

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Received on Monday, 9 April 2001 14:43:17 UTC

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