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Re: issues to be resolved before last call

From: Lynn Andrea Stein <las@olin.edu>
Date: Fri, 17 Jan 2003 09:07:03 -0500
Cc: www-webont-wg@w3.org
To: "Peter F. Patel-Schneider" <pfps@research.bell-labs.com>
Message-Id: <F3EE78FA-2A24-11D7-A3BA-0003935484F2@olin.edu>

Thank you, Peter, for clarifying something that I have long known but 
not been able to really wrap my head around:

>
> Issues with RDF Concepts:
>
> 1/ The notion of social meaning has no place in the specification of a
>    formal system.
>
>    PROPOSED RESOLUTION:  Social meaning, as defined in the RDF Concepts
>    document, has no effect whatsoever on the meaning of OWL ontologies.
>
>    NB:  I view this as an extremely serious issue.
>
>

I believe that this is precisely the distinction between a formal 
system and a social system.  In your proposed resolution, the word 
"meaning" is used twice with two different senses.  By "the meaning of 
OWL ontologies", I take it you intend something like denotational 
semantics (though I don't mean to rule out an axiomatic encoding; I 
just intend "what the term refers to").  But by "social meaning..." I 
take RDF to intend something I'd call "effective semantics", i.e., 
"what work the term can do in the world".  So, for example, an ontology 
may formally mean one thing but the courts may (in practice, perhaps 
even incorrectly) use it as the basis for making a distinct legal 
ruling.  The legal ruling may be at odds with the "meaning" in your 
sense of the ontology, but it then becomes part of the "effective 
semantics" or "social meaning" of the ontology.

If, as I suspect may happen, the WebOnt WG goes with the formal notion 
of "meaning", I think that it is important to clarify that this is the 
kind of meaning we're talking about and that actual (if incorrect) 
usage in the world is outside the scope of the formal specification.  
(In fact, the formal specification is giving meaning to the notion of 
"correct usage".  But "correct" is sometimes different from "effective" 
in the philosophical and pragmatic senses.)

This isn't necessarily the approach I'd take, but I think it's likely 
to be the pragmatic solution to where we are.  I appreciate Peter's 
phrasing it succinctly and, at least for me, really highlighting the 
issue.  I'm fine with the proposed resolution *provided* the 
distinction between meaning-in-Peter's-sense (and of course with a long 
and glorious history!) and effectiveness/pragmatic utility is made.

Lynn
Received on Friday, 17 January 2003 09:07:03 GMT

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