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In philosophy

That department of the science of metaphysics which investigates and explains the nature and essential properties and relations of all beings, as such, or the principles and causes of being. http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontology

In information technology

In Information Technology, a thesaurus represents a database or list of semantically orthogonal topical search keys. In the field of Artificial Intelligence, a thesaurus may sometimes be referred to as an ontology. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thesaurus [Feb 2005]

Rhizome [...]

Positive Ontology

In A Thousand Plateaus, moreso than in any other of their books, Deleuze and Guattari construct what could be called a "positive ontology." Their business here is in simply describing what IS-the is-ness of the universe as it unfolds itself. This ontology is positive in the sense that it rigorously avoids what is not. Unlike many previously advanced Western ontologies, perhaps even every ontology since Plato, Deleuze and Guattari make a conscious choice not to base A Thousand Plateaus on lack, on negation, or on any structure that points to or requires "nothingness" for its existence. Post-Saussurian semiotics, for example, has come to argue that the world is created in and through language, and that language, as a structure, functions through negation. For instance one understands the meaning of "dog" only because one is involved in a symbol system that assures us dog is NOT cat, NOT table, and NOT computer. One can't really "know" the meaning of "dog" in this system; one can only know and say what a thing is not. In semiotics one understands only negation. Semiotics, then, could be called a "negative" ontology, one predicated on the negative. --Alan Taylor [...]

Positive Ontology vs Negative Ontology

Why have I moved the matter towards a discussion of the content of the Vedantic self in relation to the no-self thesis of Buddhism? I have done so in view of the alleged dichotomy between the two systems of thought described in terms of positive ontology (Vedanta) and negative ontology (Buddhism). Vedanta is metaphysically Being-oriented, specifically the Being of Atman or the true individual self, which is ultimately identical with Brahman or the Absolute Reality. Buddhism is metaphysically oriented to Nothingness or Emptiness, known as Sunyata, so much so that Absolute Reality is identified with Absolute Nothingness. What I wonder is whether there can really be any substantive difference of specific content between a metaphysic of Being and a metaphysic of Nothingness, when both systems subscribe to an ultimate reality conceived in equally metaphysically absolutist terms. The metaphysical "sphere" of absolute Being may coincide with that of absolute Nothingness, and there may not be "internal" content-specific difference between the two. --Bijoy H. Boruah, Professor of Philosophy, http://www.katinkahesselink.net/tibet/atmsun.htm, accessed May 2004

Towards a Holistic Ontology

This chapter will investigate the degree of analogy between the Internet and the concept of the rhizome, a "style of thought" introduced by Deleuze and Guattari in the opening passage of A Thousand Plateaus (1987).1 To oversimplify, the rhizome functions through lateral proliferation rather than tree-like vertical extension. It was offered as an alternative to the constricting tree structure and dualism dominant in what Deleuze and Guattari call "state philosophy" [...]

It is important not to see the rhizome in binary opposition to the tree, as Boundas seems to suggest by the title of his chapter "Rhizome Versus Trees" Deleuze and Guattari themselves caution that "the root-tree and canal-rhizome are not two opposed models" The concept of the rhizome was set up precisely to challenge dichotomous branching; yet by placing rhizome against tree, how can we ignore the self-contradictory dualism? How do Deleuze and Guattari propose to get their rocket or line of flight, as it were off the ground? --CHUEN-FERNG KOH http://wwwmcc.murdoch.edu.au/ReadingRoom/VID/jfk/thesis/ch1.htm

What is an ontology?

An ontology defines the terms used to describe and represent an area of knowledge. Ontologies are used by people, databases, and applications that need to share domain information (a domain is just a specific subject area or area of knowledge, like medicine, tool manufacturing, real estate, automobile repair, financial management, etc.). Ontologies include computer-usable definitions of basic concepts in the domain and the relationships among them (note that here and throughout this document, definition is not used in the technical sense understood by logicians). They encode knowledge in a domain and also knowledge that spans domains. In this way, they make that knowledge reusable.

The word ontology has been used to describe artifacts with different degrees of structure. These range from simple taxonomies (such as the Yahoo hierarchy), to metadata schemes (such as the Dublin Core), to logical theories. The Semantic Web needs ontologies with a significant degree of structure. These need to specify descriptions for the following kinds of concepts:

Ontologies are usually expressed in a logic-based language, so that detailed, accurate, consistent, sound, and meaningful distinctions can be made among the classes, properties, and relations. Some ontology tools can perform automated reasoning using the ontologies, and thus provide advanced services to intelligent applications such as: conceptual/semantic search and retrieval, software agents, decision support, speech and natural language understanding, knowledge management, intelligent databases, and electronic commerce.

Ontologies figure prominently in the emerging Semantic Web as a way of representing the semantics of documents and enabling the semantics to be used by web applications and intelligent agents. Ontologies can prove very useful for a community as a way of structuring and defining the meaning of the metadata terms that are currently being collected and standardized. Using ontologies, tomorrow's applications can be "intelligent," in the sense that they can more accurately work at the human conceptual level.

Ontologies are critical for applications that want to search across or merge information from diverse communities. Although XML DTDs and XML Schemas are sufficient for exchanging data between parties who have agreed to definitions beforehand, their lack of semantics prevent machines from reliably performing this task given new XML vocabularies. The same term may be used with (sometimes subtle) different meaning in different contexts, and different terms may be used for items that have the same meaning. RDF and RDF Schema begin to approach this problem by allowing simple semantics to be associated with identifiers. With RDF Schema, one can define classes that may have multiple subclasses and super classes, and can define properties, which may have sub properties, domains, and ranges. In this sense, RDF Schema is a simple ontology language. However, in order to achieve interoperation between numerous, autonomously developed and managed schemas, richer semantics are needed. For example, RDF Schema cannot specify that the Person and Car classes are disjoint, or that a string quartet has exactly four musicians as members.

One of the goals of this document is to specify what is needed in a Web Ontology language. These requirements will be motivated by potential use cases and general design objectives that take into account the difficulties in applying the standard notion of ontologies to the unique environment of the Web.


DMOZ.org [...]


Some IT Terms Really Are Greek

Metadata. The Greek (and Latin) root meta has many meanings, but in academic discussions, the primary use is to indicate a "more comprehensive, transcending" version of a subject. For example, metaphysics and metamathematics are disciplines designed "to deal critically with the original one." Within the IT industry, metadata is basically data about data, a related but slightly altered form of usage. Standard intra- and intercompany metadata has clearly become an increasingly important IT industry concern.

Semantic. "Of or pertaining to meaning, [especially] in language," from semainein, which is "to signify or mean." During the past few years, there has been much talk about the emergence of a "semantic Web," a concept championed by none other than Tim Berners-Lee. Semantic Web applications are intelligent systems where computers can effectively understand the meaning of the information transmitted, unlike HTML-based systems that are mostly concerned with how information is displayed. Semantic understanding will often be required if Web services are to reach their full potential.

Taxonomy. Derived from taxis, meaning "arrangement or order," taxonomies are classification systems. Historically, the term has mostly been used in the life sciences to describe the rigorous classification of species. As with metadata, today's IT usage is slightly different. Whereas each biological species has a unique classification, information taxonomies are often used to organize documents, many of which need to be accessible via multiple paths. Taxonomy software is becoming an increasingly important aspect of enterprise content management, with Applied Semantics, Semio, Autonomy and Verity among the key vendors.

Ontology. This comes from ont-, the present participle of einai, "to be - more as is." To philosophers, ontology is a rarefied "branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being." The term was co-opted by the artificial intelligence community to encompass the systems of knowledge and rules needed for specific AI applications. On the Web, the term applies to the many ongoing efforts to develop topic-specific sets of XML-friendly language, rules and definitions. Essentially, IT ontologies are logical supersets that combine metadata, taxonomies and semantics into formal systems that can be encoded in software, enabling diverse Web applications to truly understand one another.

While all of this might sound like much ado about semantics to many readers, there's an important pattern at work. In the past, IT industry standardization has focused on hardware, software and communications technologies. But now, the standards frontier is shifting to the information itself. This task will require the systematic management of business terms and their usage, employing the sort of logic the ancient philosophers set in motion some 2,500 years ago.

But going forward, these terms shouldn't be Greek to you.

David Moschella is an author and independent consultant. Contact him at dmoschella@earthlink.net.


  1. T.A.Z. the Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism - Hakim Bey [1 book, Amazon US]
    "Chaos never died," declares this collection of post-postmodern "broadsheets of ontological anarchism." "They lied to you, sold you ideas of good and evil, gave you distrust of your body and shame for your prophethood of chaos, invented words of disgust for your molecular love, mesmerized you with inattention, bored you with civilization and all its usurious emotions." Hakim Bey's calls for a response rooted in "poetic terrorism" are definitely not for the philosophically staid or squeamish, advocating "black magic as revolutionary action" and "a congress of weird religions." But his elaboration of the idea of the Temporary Autonomous Zone, intentional communities that live outside the law, offers a captivating notion of hedonist radicalism for the eve of the 21st century. T.A.Z. is provocative, at times obscene, but it also proves that the avant-garde can entertain as well as challenge. --Ron Hogan for amazon.com

  2. Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology - Jean-Paul Sartre [Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    Jean-Paul Sartre, the seminal smarty-pants of mid-century thinking, launched the existentialist fleet with the publication of Being and Nothingness in 1943. Though the book is thick, dense, and unfriendly to careless readers, it is indispensable to those interested in the philosophy of consciousness and free will. Some of his arguments are fallacious, others are unclear, but for the most part Sartre's thoughts penetrate deeply into fundamental philosophical territory. Basing his conception of self-consciousness loosely on Heidegger's "being," Sartre proceeds to sharply delineate between conscious actions ("for themselves") and unconscious ("in themselves"). It is a conscious choice, he claims, to live one's life "authentically" and in a unified fashion, or not--this is the fundamental freedom of our lives. Drawing on history and his own rich imagination for examples, Sartre offers compelling supplements to his more formal arguments. The waiter who detaches himself from his job-role sticks in the reader's memory with greater tenacity than the lengthy discussion of inauthentic life and serves to bring the full force of the argument to life. Even if you're not an angst-addicted poet from North Beach, Being and Nothingness offers you a deep conversation with a brilliant mind--unfortunately, a rare find these days. --Rob Lightner for Amazon.com

  3. Towards the Semantic Web: Ontology-Driven Knowledge Management - John Davies [book, Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    With the current changes driven by the expansion of the World Wide Web, this book uses a different approach from other books on the market: it applies ontologies to electronically available information to improve the quality of knowledge management in large and distributed organizations. Ontologies are formal theories supporting knowledge sharing and reuse. They can be used to explicitly represent semantics of semi-structured information. These enable sophisticated automatic support for acquiring, maintaining and accessing information. Methodology and tools are developed for intelligent access to large volumes of semi-structured and textual information sources in intra- and extra-, and internet-based environments to employ the full power of ontologies in supporting knowledge management from the information client perspective and the information provider.
    The aim of the book is to support efficient and effective knowledge management and focuses on weakly-structured online information sources. It is aimed primarily at researchers in the area of knowledge management and information retrieval and will also be a useful reference for students in computer science at the postgraduate level and for business managers who are aiming to increase the corporations information infrastructure.

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