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Re: Tech Plenary: agenda Best Practices

From: Christopher Welty <welty@us.ibm.com>
Date: Fri, 5 Mar 2004 04:56:17 -0500
To: Pat Hayes <phayes@ihmc.us>
Cc: public-swbp-wg@w3.org, public-swbp-wg-request@w3.org, schreiber@cs.vu.nl
Message-ID: <OFE28314F8.14826818-ON85256E4E.003420E9-85256E4E.00369811@us.ibm.com>

I don't deny being a philosophical pundit and I enjoy preaching it from on 
high, and I will continue to do so.  Of course people are free to ignore 
it.  The SW best practices working group is not to be confused with the SW 
required practices working group, which in some sense is what webont was 
(webont produced a standard, swbp will not).

BTW, Most of my philosophical ideas concerning ontology have been tested 
in the real world and that's where I get the primary justification and 
motivation to preach it from on high.  When programming languages  were 
first introduced, the world of programming was left open as you seem to 
propose here for OWL, and it created a mess.  THere have always been 
people preaching good programming practices and there have always been 
people who ignored it.  There is nothing about preaching from on high that 
precludes listening or learning (as a teacher I always learned as much 
from my students as they did from me), nor do the particular things I 
preach claim to be solutions to everything.

So, again, I consider it part of our mandate to define some "best" 
practises, not just any practises.  For me, these will be based primarily 
on my real experiences building actual systems that use ontologies, and 
influenced by my somewhat selective knowledge of philosophy.

I can respond to your points about mereology, modal logic, etc. later, 
those are more specific comments.


PS I thoroughly enjoy messages that mix comments like " let the advice be 
severely pragmatic and free from philosophical punditry." and "the first 
two of these both have their intellectual roots in the same strand of 
Polish philosophy from the late 1800s in Warsaw, for some reason."  I 
suggest you embrace your own philosophical punditry, join the brotherhood, 
and preach it from high, low, middle - wherever.  I'm expecting to have 
you as a co-conspirator because I know you can't help yourself either.

Dr. Christopher A. Welty, Knowledge Structures Group
IBM Watson Research Center, 19 Skyline Dr., Hawthorne, NY  10532     USA   
Voice: +1 914.784.7055,  IBM T/L: 863.7055, Fax: +1 914.784.7455
Email: welty@watson.ibm.com, Web: 

Pat Hayes <phayes@ihmc.us>
Sent by: public-swbp-wg-request@w3.org
03/04/2004 01:37 PM
        To:     schreiber@cs.vu.nl, public-swbp-wg@w3.org
        Subject:        Re: Tech Plenary: agenda Best Practices

Sorry if this is too late for the Cannes discussion.

My 'top 3' would be:

1. Tell people how to put RDF/RDFS/OWL onto (or attach it to) a web page 
so that it has some relevance to what is on their web page already (which 
is almost certainly largely HTML). Or at least give them an inkling of an 
idea how to do that and why it might be worth doing. In other words, take 
on the task of the public-rdf-in-xhtml-tf effort and get it done.

2. Get across the idea that the SW will work best when people use one 
another's concepts rather than invent their own, and tell people how to do 
that. The point of having a topic in a Web ontology is to make 
communication easier for agents. We should be thinking of ways to make 
this easier to do: right now there is very little support. Obviously there 
should be ways to find existing concepts and check them out (to find out 
if they are close you the intended meaning one has in mind, or can be 
tweaked so as to be) but we need also to deal with trust issues: like, to 
what extent am I making my ontology hostage to J's ontology if I use J's 
person-concept? Maybe (??) we need to think about a notion of 'meaning 
stability' analogous to the best-practices rules for keeping URIs stable.

3. (Hendler's #2 - explain the mess)


4. Finally, this is a negative suggestion, but I would oppose any attempt 
to tell the world how best to write ontologies; or if we cannot avoid 
doing that, then let the advice be severely pragmatic and free from 
philosophical punditry. There is a lingering (festering?) tendency among 
some folk to want to give instruction from on high to the great unwashed 
on how they should best think and express themselves. Unfortunately this 
advice is similar to most religious doctrine: most of the energy is spent 
in endless debates between rival doctrines, you can find some of it 
somewhere to justify almost any action you want to take anyway, and when 
the rubber meets the road most of it isn't really directly applicable in 
any case without an expert there to interpret it for you.

The idea that mereology is fundamental, as opposed to simply being a 
useful theory of parthood, is one example of a truly bad piece of 
ontological doctrine. (c.f , from http://esw.w3.org/topic/PartWhole :" The 
partOf relation is one of the basic structuring primitives of the 
universe"  Er...nonsense. The relation of PartOf cannot be used to 
"organize the universe", which is why mereology never made it as a serious 
rival to set theory, in spite of Nelson Goodman's strenuous efforts; and 
probably why it plays no role in any of the sciences (Is the magnetism 
part of the magnet?). It also is, arguably, not even a very good model of 
human common-sense intuition, eg people are still arguing about some of 
Plato's examples). Another is the pernicious idea that Clear Thinkers 
*must* make some kind of basic ontological division of the universe into 
two disjoint categories of enduring things and dynamic processes (cf 
ontology.buffalo.edu/smith/articles/SNAP_SPAN.pdf ), and another is the 
slightly barmy idea that modal reasoning is somehow connected with keeping 
your databases up-to-date.

(By the way, it may be of interest to note that the first two of these 
both have their intellectual roots in the same strand of Polish philosophy 
from the late 1800s in Warsaw, for some reason. It is salutary to try 
reading what the founder, Brentano, actually said. But just because 
Brentano (
was confused, there is no reason why the rest of us need to be, a century 

Most of our philosophical ontological ideas have never been seriously 
tested in the real world, and there are almost certainly real, 
hard-to-solve problems out there that we have never thought of before. If 
anything, now that we are asking the planet to do ontology, it might 
behoove us to listen and learn, rather than have the hubris to think we 
can instruct.


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Received on Friday, 5 March 2004 05:28:46 EST

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