Monday, June 25, 2007

Beyond Concepts: Ontology as Reality Representation 

Beyond Concepts: Ontology as Reality Representation (PDF)
by Barry Smith
"Abstract. There is an assumption commonly embraced by ontological engineers, an assumption which has its roots in the discipline of knowledge representation, to the effect that it is concepts which form the subject-matter of ontology. The term ‘concept’ is hereby rarely precisely defined, and the intended role of concepts within ontology is itself subject to a variety of conflicting (and sometimes intrinsically incoherent) interpretations. It seems, however, to be widely accepted that concepts are in some sense the products of human cognition.

The present essay is devoted to the application of ontology in support of research in the natural sciences. It defends the thesis that ontologies developed for such purposes should be understood as having as their subject matter, not concepts, but rather the universals and particulars which exist in reality and are captured in scientific laws. We outline the benefits of a view along these lines by showing how it yields rigorous formal definitions of the foundational relations used in many influential ontologies, illustrating our results by reference to examples drawn from the domain of the life sciences."

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