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meaning of rdf: conceptual model

From: Brian McBride <bwm@hplb.hpl.hp.com>
Date: Sun, 02 Mar 2003 10:40:54 +0000
Message-Id: <>
To: RDF Core <w3c-rdfcore-wg@w3.org>, Tim Berners-Lee <timbl@w3.org>, Bijan Parsia <bparsia@isis.unc.edu>

I believe that the differences of view on what we can say about social 
meaning derive from different conceptual models of the nature of meaning 
and that a useful step would be to make those models explicit.  I'm 
probably the last person to attempt such a thing, but by including mine, 
perhaps I illustrate the sort of thing I have in mind.

I strongly urge that we stay away from the term, 'meaning'.  It is too 
philosophical in nature.  Folks are concerned about two practical, 
pragmatic things:

   o the behaviour of machines
   o the behaviour of societies

We should talk about those.

o Triples are syntactic - they are langauge.

o Model Theory defines structure of interpretations that relate statements 
in a language to a world, places some constraints on such interpretations 
and defines truth preserving transformations on syntax.  This is what the 
RDF model theory does for (sets of) RDF triples.

o An interpretation assigns a truth value to (sets of) RDF triples.

o A system, such as a machine, is permitted (in some cases expected) to 
apply truth preserving transformations in carrying out its processing of 
RDF triples.

o A society may, in effect, agree on further semantic restrictions on 
interpretations, e.g. the world is the 'real world' and on the 
interpretation of symbols, i.e. on what constitutes a definition of the 
interpretation of that symbol.  An interpretation conforming to such social 
restrictions might be called a social interpretation (I just know some 
folks will hate that term, but I can't think of anything better).

o Social interpretation is determined by the social institutions of a 
society - often, ultimately by a system of law.  Social interpretation is 
usually not mathematically precise, evolves over time and cannot be 
precisely processed by an algorithm (is that shooting a member of the class 
law:crime?).  It is usually described in natural language.

o There is some relationship between social interpretations and formal 
model theoretic interpretations.  This relationship is determined by 
society.  A social interpretation which conflicted with the constraints on 
interpretations defined in the RDF model theory would be a very bad thing 
for the adoption of RDF.

o The directors goal is to cause societies to create a social 
interpretation of RDF.

o The W3C do not have the power to determine any society's social 
interpretation of RDF, but they can encourage a society to develop one and 
suggest what it should be.  It is up to the society to accept, reject or 
amend that suggestion.

Within this framework I reach the following conclusions:

   o I disagree with the assertion that social interpretation is a bad 
thing because it cannot be mathematically/philosophically precise.  If that 
was a requirement, society would have no notion of law and there would be 
no American constitution.

   o I disagree with the assertion that any formal language can have no 
social interpretation.  A society is free to define a social interpretation 
for any language it chooses.

   o The creation of social interpretation will be done through society's 
Received on Sunday, 2 March 2003 05:40:05 UTC

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