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

Re: Nunciation

From: pat hayes <phayes@ai.uwf.edu>
Date: Fri, 2 Feb 2001 14:05:22 -0600
Message-Id: <v04210118b6a0bf837df7@[]>
To: Jon Awbrey <jawbrey@oakland.edu>
Cc: standard-upper-ontology@ieee.org, www-rdf-logic@w3.org
>Arisbeans, RDF Lodgers, SemioComrades, Stand Up Ontologists,
>I have a sense that the recent questions of Seth Russell and Robert Meersman
>are pointing to a deeper lying qualm about the nature of our discussion here,
>that -- behind, beneath, and beyond the points of a "comment on style" (COS)
>that affect nothing more worthy of note than the character of one individual
>author-ship's peculiar writing affectations -- putting that aside, they cast
>to the fore a complex assortment of issues on which this group has long been
>divided into a host of different camps, to wit, the polyphemic protean topic
>that I will try, this time out, to express in terms of the following queries:
>| Why is it necessary to reflect on signs?

On the whole, it isn't, most of the time. One tends to get more 
things done by using signs than reflecting about them. At times, of 
course, one needs to pay attention to the signs themselves, but one 
can get rather, shall I say, obsessive about this topic, since 
everything that is said about anything is (of course) said with a 
sign, and so if one always pays  attention to the signs and not 
enough to their content, then one is in a constant state of 
sign-tripping, like someone with OCD who can't go outside without 
checking a dozen times to see if his tie is straight. As well as 
getting on everyone else's nerves, the result is a kind of paralysis 
where nothing substantive ever actually gets said or done.

For the SUO there is a deeper reason, however. "Signs", in your 
terminology, refers to a topic in semiology. But - and please forgive 
me for emphasising this point, but it deserves a little emphasis - 
ONTOLOGY IS NOT A SEMIOLOGICAL TOPIC. That is, 'ontology' refers to 
what there IS, not to how people talk about it. It is, right at its 
very heart, fundamentally, about the world, not about signs; and 
still less about human *use* of signs.

>| Why not just talk about the objects alone?

Indeed, why not? In fact, that is almost certainly what language 
evolved to do, viz. to talk about objects; and since the objects (and 
the stuffs and events and all that other material of the World) are 
our Ontological subject matter, why not talk about them, indeed?

>| Why not just use signs without mentioning them?

Every time your finger hits a key, you use a sign. Even to mention a 
sign, you must use another sign. Without using signs, you can only be 
mute. So the force of your question might be better put as : why 
mention signs? Indeed. Allow me to suggest a pragmatic rule: it is 
usually best to use a sign first to see what it does, and to resort 
to mentioning it only as a last resort, if it doesnt do what one 

Pat Hayes

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Received on Friday, 2 February 2001 14:02:25 UTC

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