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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 16:16:00 -0500
Message-Id: <p0623091ec318900a3dff@[]>
To: John Cowan <cowan@ccil.org>
Cc: John Cowan <cowan@ccil.org>, Technical Architecture Group WG <www-tag@w3.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!"

Quine is one of my heroes also. Do you have a citation for the above?

>>  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.

Then let us be honest about this. When I am thinking of unicorns, 
there is in fact nothing I am thinking *about*. There are concepts of 
unicorns, thoughts of unicorns, and so on; and even (if one is 
willing to stretch ones ontology this far, which in fact I am, though 
many are not) *possible* unicorns; but there are no unicorns. It is 
impossible to talk *about* unicorns. The use of unicorn-talk (as 
Quine might have put it) is either non-referential, or must be 
understood as referring to something else.

>  > 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.

No, it is not, since (as you have agreed) there are no unicorns to be 
such referents. You really cannot have it both ways. In order to talk 
about unicorns, you have to admit them into some kind of at least 
logical existence. For authorities, if you wish, go to Quine and 
Wittgenstein. What you are referring to by the use of "unicorn" might 
be possible unicorns, or ideas of unicorns, or legendary unicorns, or 
unicorns in an imaginary world: but most assuredly not unicorns.

>When I
>talk of unicorns, I am not talking of nothing, just because there are
>no unicorns

Perhaps not, but you are definitely not talking about unicorns. And 
its often important to know what exactly you *are* talking about.

>-- 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.

? That wouldn't follow at all. At best, strict extensionalism would 
tell you that liver-havers (things that have livers) are the same 
things as heart-havers. Which of course they are.


>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

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Received on Thursday, 20 September 2007 21:16:14 UTC

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