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Re: Some TAG review of "Cool URIs for the Semantic Web"

From: Pat Hayes <phayes@ihmc.us>
Date: Thu, 20 Sep 2007 13:08:56 -0500
Message-Id: <p06230914c3185c441b63@[10.100.0.19]>
To: John Cowan <cowan@ccil.org>
Cc: Tim Berners-Lee <timbl@w3.org>, Technical Architecture Group WG <www-tag@w3.org>, Susie Stephens <susie.stephens@gmail.com>

>Pat Hayes scripsit:
>
>>  In addition, that final sentence really is ridiculous. "We call all
>>  these things resources."  All WHAT things? It sounds rather as though
>>  you are saying 'We call everything resources.' If that really is what
>>  you mean, I suggest it would be extremely helpful if you would
>>  actually say this, directly. (If it sounds ridiculous; well, I rest
>>  my case.) I would note that there are already many humble words that
>>  can be used for this purpose, such as 'thing' and 'entity'. 
>
>In the Topic Maps tradition, the equivalent term is "subject" (topic
>maps are a generalization of the subject indexes at the back of books),
>and it is defined thus:
>
>	A subject is anything that can be spoken about or conceived
>	of by a human being. In the most generic sense, a subject is
>	anything whatsoever, regardless of whether it exists or has any
>	other specific characteristics, about which anything whatsoever
>	may be asserted by any means whatsoever. In particular, it is
>	anything on which the author of a topic map chooses to discourse.
>
>I think that, with the parochialisms removed, that sentence does very
>well as the definition of "resource" as well.

My point was that to invent new technical terms 
for this idea, so that one is obliged to give 
such ridiculous non-definitions, is poor science 
and poor philosophy, and generally misleading in 
an expository text. I want the TAG to use English 
rather than a fake pseudo-technical terminology 
which in fact does not add any new meanings to 
the world's stock of concepts. (I'd like the 
Topic Maps community to do the same, but feel 
less strongly about them.)

And I'm sorry, but the above is not a definition: 
it is an explanation of why no definition is 
possible. A definition of something distinguishes 
it from things it is not. In this case there is 
nothing it is not. The correct English word to 
use here is not "resource" or "subject" - both of 
which already have particular meanings, which are 
here being explicitly denied - but 'entity' or 
'thing'.

But in fact, neither of these is quite right 
either, since unicorns are not things. (At best 
they might be said to be 'possible things', aka 
possibilia.) What is really being said by such a 
"definition" is not that the referent can be 
anything, since in some cases, according to many 
philosophical analyses, there is no actual being 
referent at all (as in the unicorn case). Rather, 
what these definitions are struggling to say is 
that the name is being used without any regard 
for its referent. It may have one or not: the 
'resource' or 'subject' may exist (and may be 
anything) or not. All this referential talk is 
therefore immaterial to the usage of the name 
which is being said to refer (or "identify"). At 
best, what one could say is that the referent is 
assumed to be something in some possible world, 
but even this is philosophically very debatable 
(see for example 
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/actualism/ for 
some of the issues that arise.)

Pat

>
>--
>Newbies always ask:                             John Cowan
>   "Elements or attributes?                      http://www.ccil.org/~cowan
>Which will serve me best?"                      cowan@ccil.org
>   Those who know roar like lions;
>   Wise hackers smile like tigers. 
>--a tanka, or extended haiku


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Received on Thursday, 20 September 2007 18:09:12 UTC

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