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Re: Refers Or Denotes?

From: Henry Story <henry.story@bblfish.net>
Date: Wed, 13 Feb 2013 16:26:21 +0100
Cc: "Pat Hayes" <phayes@ihmc.us>, "public-philoweb@w3.org" <public-philoweb@w3.org>, "public-rdf-comments@w3.org" <public-rdf-comments@w3.org>, "public-webid Group" <public-webid@w3.org>
Message-Id: <1628893D-4442-478F-B01D-7967F2566077@bblfish.net>
To: "Adrian Pohl" <pohl@hbz-nrw.de>

On 13 Feb 2013, at 15:23, "Adrian Pohl" <pohl@hbz-nrw.de> wrote:

> Are "denote" and "refer to" really used synonymously in philosophy? As
> far as I remember, "refer to" is used only with reference to proper
> names while "denote" is also used regarding the extension of a predicate
> (in RDF that would be the relation between an rdfs:Class and its
> instances). Thus, in the context of WebID I'd prefer using "refer to".
> Or does a predicate refer to the objects in its extension?

Adrian you seem to be in agreement with Alexandre Monnin who replied
to this thread ( but the mail only made it to the philoweb list )

Traditionally, reference is understood as the relation between a name and  
a referent while denotation is used for the objects that satisfy a concept  
(Frege's Wertverlauf, corresponding to "extensions", though this term  
itself has a long history!).

It would be interesting to know if someone ever wrote up a history of these

Of course the big change in the RDF semantics is that there is no distinction
syntactically between URIs that refer to predicates and URIs that refer to 
objects. As Christopher Menzel explained in his very interesting talk
"Common Logic an Evolutionary Tale" 
the fundamental change that came out of the work on CL and of which 
as I understand RDF is an example is that RDF semantics does not
make a syntactic distinction between URIs that serve as predicates
and URIs that server as object referents. They are just URIs, and one
can write:

  rdf:type rdf:type rdf:type .

In section 1.2 "URI references, Resources and Literals" it says
The semantics treats all RDF names as expressions which denote. The things denoted are called 'resources', following [RFC 2396], but no assumptions are made here about the nature of resources; 'resource' is treated here as synonymous with 'entity', i.e. as a generic term for anything in the universe of discourse.

Essentially there are two domains: the domain of all things IR, and the subdomain
of properties IP. The IS function maps URIs to those things functionally. And
IEXT maps those subset of things that are in IP to the set of pairs as explained

A mapping IEXT from IP into the powerset of IR x IR i.e. the set of sets of pairs <x,y> with x and y in IR .

From there one can build up the truth value of a triple 

if E is a ground triple s p o. then I(E) = true if

s, p and o are in V, I(p) is in IP and <I(s),I(o)> is in IEXT(I(p))

otherwise I(E)= false.

So if one wanted to keep the distinction between denotes and refers that
Alexander and you were thinking of ( if one could find an article that
showed this clearly) then one could perhaps see that "refers" is the relation
IS from URIs to objects in I, and "denotes" the function from URI refering to
objects in IP to their IEXT: Ie the relation between p and IEXT(I(p)). 

I wonder if that would make sense.

( Not that I am proposing the WGs to rework their specs for this on this 
basis alone)


> - Adrian
>>>> On 13.2.2013 at 14:23, Henry Story <henry.story@bblfish.net> wrote:
>> On 13 Feb 2013, at 02:35, Pat Hayes <phayes@ihmc.us> wrote:
>>> Henry, my previous reply was whisked off as a personal note before I
>> realized that a more official WG reply was needed. You will get the
> more 
>> official one soon. It will not differ in essential content. We will
> try to 
>> make it clear, in the new RDF specs being written, that 'denotes' and
> 'refers 
>> to' are being used interchangeably to mean the same thing. 
>> Ok, thanks. That helps. 
>> I have updated section 4 of our spec to use the language, and to show
> the 
>> synonymy relation between 
>> denotes and refers, which seems to be accepted practice in the
> philosphy 
>> literature. The illustration here shows this clearly now: 
> https://dvcs.w3.org/hg/WebID/raw-file/tip/spec/identity-respec.html#overview
>> Here is some backing for this:
>> Frege's foundational "Über Sinn und Bedeutung" seems to mostly have
> been 
>> translated as "Sense and Reference" but also as "Sense and
> Denotation"
>> Prof. Robert Brandom in "Making it Explicit" always uses "referers
> to" and 
>> puts "denotes" in parenthesis right after.
>> Gareth Evans who wrote the 500 page book "The Varieties of Reference"
> used 
>> both terms in his article "The causal theory of names" 
>> http://spruce.flint.umich.edu/~simoncu/325/evans.pdf
>>> However, Kingsley does bring up an excellent point, which is that we
> do need 
>> to carefully distinguish denote/refer-to, on the one hand, from the
>> terminology of "identify" on the other. What is identified may not be
> what is 
>> referred to, and vice versa; and IRIs may refer even when they don't
> identify 
>> anything. 
>> Looking this up here:
>> http://www.w3.org/TR/webarch/#identification
>> Do you say that because they use the term, indirect identification
> too?
>>  http://www.w3.org/TR/webarch/#indirect-identification
>> This is indeed the type of vagueness we are trying to be very careful
> to 
>> avoid.
>> I moved the text the following text from talk of identify to
> distinguishing.
> https://dvcs.w3.org/hg/WebID/raw-file/tip/spec/identity-respec.html#overview
>> For example:
>> [[
>> The WebID Profile URI - "http://www.w3.org/People/Berners-Lee/card" -
> denotes 
>> the document describing the person (or more generally any agent) who
> is the 
>> referent of the WebID URI. 
>> The WebID Profile gives the sense of the WebID: its RDF Graph
> contains a 
>> Concise Bounded Description of the WebID such that this subgraph
> forms a 
>> definite description of the referent of the WebID, that is, a
> description 
>> that distinguishes the referent of that WebID from all other things
> in the 
>> world.
>> The document can for example contain relations to another document
> depicting 
>> the WebID referent. Or it can related the WebID to Principals used by
>> different authentication protocols. ( More information on WebID and
> other 
>> authentication protocols can be found on the WebID Identity
> Interoperability 
>> page ).
>> ]]
>> Though I think "identify" has a role too, especially when one is
> relating 
>> two names via what when made explicit turns out to be an owl:sameAs 
>> description.
>>> Pat
>>> On Feb 12, 2013, at 2:58 PM, Henry Story wrote:
>>>> A question that came up on the WebID mailing list. We'd just like
> some 
>> clarification 
>>>> for the use of denotes, as the issue has come up there.
>>>> On 11 Feb 2013, at 21:37, Kingsley Idehen <kidehen@openlinksw.com>
> wrote:
>>>>> Henry / Andrei,
>>>>> I current see [ in 
>> https://dvcs.w3.org/hg/WebID/raw-file/tip/spec/identity-respec.html
> ]
>>>>> "A WebID is an HTTP URI which *refers* to an Agent (Person,
> Organization, 
>> Group, Device, etc.)."
>>>>> But in the context of RDF based Linked Data, the RDF workgroup
> (after 
>> serious thought on this matter) [1] has opted to use what would
> equate to:
>>>>> A WebID is an HTTP URI which *denotes* an Agent (Person,
> Organization, 
>> Group, Device, etc.).
>>>>> The more we stick to definitions and terminology being used across
> other W3C 
>> groups the easier things will be (on the appreciation and adoption
> front)  
>> for WebID, over the long haul.
>>>>> Links:
>>>>> 1.
> http://www.w3.org/TR/2013/WD-rdf11-concepts-20130115/#resources-and-statements
>> .
>>>>> 2. http://www.w3.org/TR/2013/WD-rdf11-concepts-20130115/ -- latest
> RDF 1.1 
>> Concepts and Abstract Syntax edition .
>>>> I am not sure why "denotes" is being taken up by the RDF group
> nowadays, 
>> when most philosophy books and logic books tend to use the word
> "refer". Most 
>> engineers use the word refer too on a daily basis. 
>>>> In fact it is quite clear from the RDF concepts text that the two
> words are 
>> near synonymous, since what an IRI denotes is called its referent:
>>>> [[
>>>> Any IRI or literal denotes some thing in the universe of discourse.
> These 
>> things are called resources. Anything can be a resource, including
> physical 
>> things, documents, abstract concepts, numbers and strings; the term
> is 
>> synonymous with “entity”. The resource denoted by an IRI is
> called its 
>> referent, 
>>>> ]]
>>>> I am ok with denotes. But we can also use referent according to
> that text. 
>> So I don't think this is a very settled matter - given furthermore
> that the 
>> above is not yet a final spec. 
>>>> I would like to know why this decision is being made though. Is
> that just an 
>> aesthetic statement, or is there more behind it?
>>>> Henry
>>>>> -- 
>>>>> Regards,
>>>>> Kingsley Idehen	
>>>>> Founder & CEO
>>>>> OpenLink Software
>>>>> Company Web: http://www.openlinksw.com
>>>>> Personal Weblog: http://www.openlinksw.com/blog/~kidehen
>>>>> Twitter/Identi.ca handle: @kidehen
>>>>> Google+ Profile:
> https://plus.google.com/112399767740508618350/about
>>>>> LinkedIn Profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/kidehen
>>>> Social Web Architect
>>>> http://bblfish.net/
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Received on Wednesday, 13 February 2013 15:26:58 UTC

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