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

From: John Cowan <cowan@ccil.org>
Date: Thu, 20 Sep 2007 16:11:06 -0400
To: Pat Hayes <phayes@ihmc.us>
Cc: John Cowan <cowan@ccil.org>, Tim Berners-Lee <timbl@w3.org>, Technical Architecture Group WG <www-tag@w3.org>, Susie Stephens <susie.stephens@gmail.com>
Message-ID: <20070920201106.GO26549@mercury.ccil.org>

Pat Hayes scripsit:

> 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.

I know.  Isn't that wonderful?

Ray Smullyan, my favorite philosopher, quotes one of his favorite
philosophers, Chi Po (not the real painter, but a fictional version of
him in a book by Oscar Mandel, and why not?)  The sorcerer Bu Fu says to
the child Chi Po  "You have merely painted what is!  The real secret is to
paint what isn't".  Chi Po, puzzled, "But what is there that there isn't?"

Or as W.v.O. Quine, one of my other favorite philosophers, puts it,
the subject matter of ontology is simple: it asks the question "What is
there?" and replies "Everything!"

> 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 as you now know, "thing" is too narrow a term.

> 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.)

There are no such things as unicorns (I'm fairly sure), but unicorns
are the *subjects* of quite a lot of talk.  And that's what the term
"subject", and its definition, serve to do: they keep us firmly grounded
in the world of what we think about and talk about, not on the world of
objects that we say (perhaps on sufficient grounds, perhaps not) exist.
In the beginning was the word.

> Rather, what these definitions are struggling to say is that the name
> is being used without any regard for its referent.

Not at all.  The referent of the word "unicorn" is unicorns.  When I
talk of unicorns, I am not talking of nothing, just because there are
no unicorns -- any more than when I talk of having a heart (physical,
non-metaphorical) I am talking of having a liver, even though {X|X has
a heart} and {X|X has a liver} turn out to be the same sets.

-- 
John Cowan  cowan@ccil.org   http://ccil.org/~cowan
It's the old, old story.  Droid meets droid.  Droid becomes chameleon.
Droid loses chameleon, chameleon becomes blob, droid gets blob back
again.  It's a classic tale.  --Kryten, Red Dwarf
Received on Thursday, 20 September 2007 20:11:23 UTC

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