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Re: [Dbpedia-discussion] Using DBpedia resources as skos:Concepts?

From: Pat Hayes <phayes@ihmc.us>
Date: Fri, 6 Nov 2009 10:40:49 -0600
Cc: Alexandre Passant <alexandre.passant@deri.org>, Richard Cyganiak <richard@cyganiak.de>, dbpedia-discussion@lists.sourceforge.net, SKOS <public-esw-thes@w3.org>
Message-Id: <F95A42E5-3B6C-4AD6-A607-3BCFD4E1E110@ihmc.us>
To: Leonard Will <L.Will@willpowerinfo.co.uk>

On Nov 5, 2009, at 2:25 PM, Leonard Will wrote:

> On Thu, 5 Nov 2009 at 13:52:45, Pat Hayes <phayes@ihmc.us> wrote
>> On Nov 4, 2009, at 6:43 AM, Leonard Will wrote:
>>> From the point of view of thesaurus standards, "concept" is used  
>>> with a very general meaning - "unit of thought" - which was  
>>> introduced to distinguish between that and the various different  
>>> "terms" that may be used to label it. A concept is defined by its  
>>> scope note, if present, and/or by its various terms and  
>>> relationships.
>>> In a thesaurus, concepts are divided into several disjoint facets,  
>>> such as people, objects, activities, disciplines, places, times,  
>>> and "abstract concepts" such as "peace", "friendship",  
>>> "intellectual property" and so on.
>> I have to say, I find this extremely puzzling. Taking the second  
>> paragraph at face value, so that 'people' means actual living  
>> people, etc.,. then none of these real things are in what I would  
>> understand the category "unit of thought" to be. Both that opaque  
>> phrase and the word "concept" are usually understood to have some  
>> kind of psychological connection. The concept of an object is not  
>> the object itself, precisely because the concept, but not the  
>> object, can indeed be the stuff of a thought: a concept is an idea  
>> of a thing, not the actual thing. One cannot burn a concept, or  
>> make love to it, or kill it. One cannot usually even observe it.  
>> One can however learn it, or form it mentally, or fail to  
>> understand it: none of which can be done to physical things. And  
>> even if one slurs the use/mention distinction (a bad idea, but even  
>> if) so that this is understood to refer to the object of a thought,  
>> the thing the thought is *about*, it still is a very odd notion.  
>> Most things in the universe have never been thought about. There  
>> are surely objects that have never been thought about and never  
>> will be thought about (a particular grain of sand on a beach during  
>> the fall of Carthage) so which cannot ever be a "unit of thought"  
>> even in this broken sense of being the referent (rather than the  
>> content) of a thought.
>> BTW, there is yet another problem with the phrase "unit of  
>> thought", which is its presumption that thoughts can be divided  
>> into "units". But let us leave that issue aside, as the other is  
>> more pressing.
>> There seems to be a problem in the very heart of the SKOS design.  
>> Is it talking about things, or about concepts of things? Y'all  
>> really need to get this straight before proceeding.
>> Pat Hayes
> As so often in this field, as in philosophy, this problem boils down  
> to "it depends what you mean by ..."
> As I said above, the word "concept" is used in this context with a  
> very general meaning. Perhaps "unit of thought" does not express it  
> well. We really use to mean "something that can be thought about",  
> or "something that can be talked or written about in a  
> 'document'" (where again "document" is to be interpreted very  
> broadly as any resource for containing or communicating information).

The appropriate word for this is "thing", or "entity" if you want to  
sound more latinate and less anglo-saxon. Absolutely anything  
whatever, real or imaginary, large or small, concrete or abstract, can  
be thought about or referred to. There is no need to invent a new  
usage for this, and it only creates confusion to re-label it with a  
word which means something else. The W3C uses "resource" to mean  
absolutely anything, for murky historical reasons. This has created  
lots of confusion, but it has the merit at least of being so obscure  
that it is unambiguous in actual use. However, to use the word  
"concept" is disastrous, since it already has a meaning which is at  
odds with your intended meaning. The concept of a thought is not  
(usually) the object of the thought, what the thought is about. When I  
think about my father, I am not thinking about the concept of  
fatherhood, nor even about my concept of my father.

> As you can certainly think about grains or sand, the fall of  
> Carthage, or Mrs Obama, these fall within our definition of "concept".

You COULD have thought about that grain, if you had been close enough  
to it to individuate it from the others on that ancient beach. But  
now, you cannot. It has entirely escaped the clutches of being a topic  
of any possible thought. So it is not a unit of thought. It WAS a  
POSSIBLE unit of thought, maybe, but that isn't what you said. And no  
matter how much you try to twist the definition, there is Goedel  
waiting to bite you.

> Perhaps some other word could be found to express this better and  
> avoid confusion with a narrower definition such as "abstract  
> concept", but the word "concept" is widely used in the thesaurus  
> literature, in order to make a distinction between the thing that is  
> thought about and the words that may be used to label it.

Then the thesauraus literature is horribly confused.  You just used  
the perfect word. Why not simply say, the thing that the word refers  
to. For short, the referent. Don't mention thoughts: they only get in  
the way here. (And they are a left-over residue of the Ogden/Richards  
idea of how words get their meanings, by the way, which became  
obsolete and vacuous when modern cognitive science started to analyze  
it in the 1970s) Concepts are an entirely orthogonal notion. Very few  
referents are concepts: most of the world's business is conducted in  
language which never mentions concepts at all.

> My view of this is from the approach of the library / thesaurus /  
> knowledge organisation community and the ISO thesaurus standard  
> working party, and I cannot say definitively that the SKOS  
> interpretation is the same - there have been some erudite  
> discussions here about the difference between a thing and our  
> thoughts about the thing, but from a practical point of view of  
> applying indexing terms to resources these seem unnecessary.

Use/mention distinctions are unnecessary? Dear God, I give up. O brave  
new Web, that has such people in it.


> Leonard Will
> -- 
> Willpower Information     (Partners: Dr Leonard D Will, Sheena E Will)
> Information Management Consultants            Tel: +44 (0)20 8372 0092
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> ENFIELD                                Sheena.Will@Willpowerinfo.co.uk
> EN2 7BQ, UK                            http://www.willpowerinfo.co.uk/

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Received on Friday, 6 November 2009 16:41:55 UTC

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