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

From: Marc de Graauw <marc@marcdegraauw.com>
Date: Fri, 21 Sep 2007 14:05:08 +0200
To: "'Pat Hayes'" <phayes@ihmc.us>, "'John Cowan'" <cowan@ccil.org>
Cc: "'Technical Architecture Group WG'" <www-tag@w3.org>
Message-ID: <77A5023AEBF14CC08387C3E29E6290BE@Marc>

Pat Hayes:

| >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?

"A curious thing about the ontological problem is its simplicity. It can be put into three Anglo-Saxon monosyllables:
'What is there?' It can be answered, moreover, in a word - 'Everything' - and everyone will accept this answer as true."

"On What There Is", first sentence.

| 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.

If this is true, it would force us to say: "If we use the phrase {the North Korean A-bomb | the Higgs boson particle |
extra-terrestial life } we do not know whether we are talking about something or not; we may find out in the future
whether we were or not."

I don't think Quine would hold such a radical position. He would probably say we need to replace the everyday word
'unicorn' with some definite description such as 'animals which look like horses and have a single horn on their head',
and would say it makes perfect sense to talk about the redefined 'unicorns', such as when we say 'It is not true that
there exist animals which look like horses and have a single horn on their head'. And he would certainly say that from
the fact we talk about unicorns we cannot infer the existence of unicorns. At least, to me this seems his entire point
in the above-mentioned article.

And to me it seems fine to use a word like 'subject' or 'resource' for all such constructs, existing or not, if we keep
in mind we use 'resource' or 'subject' in a more technical sense and not the everyday English sense.

| 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. 

This is the position Quine attacks: "If Pegasus were not, McX argues, we should not be talking about anything when we
use the word; therefore it would be nonsense to say even that Pegasus is not" from, again, "On What There Is". Which
position Quine of course refutes: "we commit ourselves to an ontology containing Pegasus when we say Pegasus is. But we
do not commit ourselves to an ontology containing Pegasus ... when we say that Pegasus ... is not."

Marc de Graauw

Received on Friday, 21 September 2007 12:05:23 UTC

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