Re: [ontac-forum] Re: Semantic Layers (Was Interpretation of RDF reification)


I just want to comment on some seemingly minor points from
a couple of your notes that hide a very big elephant:

CM> ... more or less standard treatments [of extensional,
 > intensional, pragmatic and modal approaches]

CM> I rather admire Bunge's work, especially his emphasis
 > on the construction of rigorous formal theories but, for
 > good or ill, he has not been terribly influential, and
 > his ideas are somewhat outside the mainstream.

The words "standard" and "mainstream" suggest that there is
some degree of consensus.  Unfortunately, whatever consensus
exists is highly fragmented and people who subscribe to one
fragment never cite and seldom read the works of people who
subscribe to a different fragment.

As you well know, many highly influential people, such
as Quine from the formal perspective and the lexical
semanticists from the informal perspective, say that none
of these attempts to formalize modality, intentionality,
etc., are likely to capture what people say in ordinary
language.  Quine also claims that none of them are likely
to be of any use for scientific language.  For a summary
of Quine's mature views on the subject, see his 1981 book
_Theories and Things_ .

I'd also like to throw some other quotations into the pot
from people who deserve considerable respect on the basis
of their many years of research on related issues.

In his book _Beyond Analytic Philosophy_, Hao Wang (1986),
a former PhD student of Quine's and a former assistant to
Kurt Goedel, characterized Quine's approach as "logical

    Quine merrily reduces mind to body, physical objects to
    (some of) the place-times, place-times to sets of sets of
    numbers, and numbers to sets. Hence, we arrive at a purified
    ontology which consists of sets only.... I believe I am not
    alone in feeling uncomfortable about these reductions.  What
    common and garden consequences can we draw from such grand
    reductions? What hitherto concealed information do we get from
    them?  Rather than being overwhelmed by the result, one is
    inclined to question the significance of the enterprise itself.

In support of his views, Want quoted a personal letter from
C. I. Lewis, the founder of the modern systems of modal logic,
about the state of philosophy in 1960:

     It is so easy... to get impressive 'results' by replacing the
     vaguer concepts which convey real meaning by virtue of common
     usage by pseudo precise concepts which are manipulable by
     'exact' methods  the trouble being that nobody any longer
     knows whether anything actual or of practical import is being

Barbara Partee, who has probably done more to promote Montague's
ideas among linguists than anyone else, has admitted that the
formal semanticists have not even begun to come to grips with
the work of the lexical semanticists, which is much more relevant
to defining the kinds of words and concepts that people actually
use, both in ordinary language and in scientific treatises:

    In Montague's formal semantics the simple predicates of the
    language of intensional logic (IL), like love, like, kiss,
    see, etc., are regarded as symbols (similar to the "labels"
    of [predicate calculus]) which could have many possible
    interpretations in many different models, their "real meanings"
    being regarded as their interpretations in the "intended model".

    Formal semantics does not pretend to give a complete
    characterization of this "intended model", neither in terms
    of the model structure representing the "worlds" nor in terms
    of the assignments of interpretations to the lexical constants.
    The present formalizations of model-theoretic semantics are
    undoubtedly still rather primitive compared to what is needed
    to capture many important semantic properties of natural
    languages.... There are other approaches to semantics that
    are concerned with other aspects of natural language, perhaps
    even cognitively "deeper" in some sense, but which we presently
    lack the tools to adequately formalize.

This excerpt is from Lecture 4 of a course she presented in 2005:

And, of course, you can't ignore the logician Peter Geach, who
dismissed Montague's work as "Hollywood semantics".

I have some sympathy with all of the above, but I'm not completely
convinced by any of them.  At this point, I would not bestow the
term "standard" or "mainstream" on any of these approaches, and I
would definitely *not* recommend that any of them be adopted as
the foundation for any "standard" ontology.  But I would say that
any of them might be used in an optional module in some ontology,
if they proved to be useful for some particular problem.


Received on Friday, 31 March 2006 23:53:25 UTC