Is a universal upper ontology feasible?
This Closed Loop project explores the idea that a sealed and universal upper ontology might be possible, based on a closed interpretation of the concept of the infinite, supposing that "all concepts" can be defined as partitions suspended between the boundary values of "the infinite" and "the infinitesimal".
This comment is a response to the Wikipedia article "Arguments for the infeasibility of an upper ontology" at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upper_ontology#Arguments_for_the_infeasibility_of_an_upper_ontology
Historically, many attempts in many societies have been made to impose or define a single set of concepts as more primal, basic, foundational, authoritative, true or rational than all others.
1) Yes, the Closed Loop model is suggesting that a "theory of concepts" might be able to "contain all concepts", and show how all concepts can be derived from a common framework.
- Is it more "primal"? Maybe yes -- perhaps because everything can be derived from it, so in a sense "it got there first"
- Is it more "basic"? Well, it supposedly provides a "common basis" from which to derive concepts
- Is it more "foundational"? If it is valid, it might be, because it is a self-contained structure that does not depend on axioms or presumptions external to itself that cannot be proved, but are taken for granted (like Euclidean geometry) or seen as self-evident
- Is it more "true"? It might be more universal, possibly making it a better fit with descriptions of reality
- Is it more "rational"? Maybe, because it supposedly contains all the elements normally thought of as "rational"
2) The Closed Loop project is not about "imposing" a set of concepts. It is exploring the question of whether the closed loop concept can contain or integrate the primary elements from which all concepts are defined.
It does not imply authoritarianism -- but if successful, it might be suggesting a "best" interpretation in a shared social (global, political) environment, based on a voluntary general ethic of "the whole" -- wholeness in the individual, wholeness in the family or community or city or region or nation, all following a common ideal of One -- as a suggested and plausible "best interpretation"
A common objection to such attempts points out that humans lack the sort of transcendent perspective — or God's eye view — that would be required to achieve this goal.
This project does emerge from a history of comparative theology grounded in the ancient generality of One -- as it might have been defined or understood by Plotinus.
This concept is proposed as an ideal for negotiation, towards which a broad general program for human well-being might be defined. How does your spiritual/religious history understand this idea? How do you recommend achieving it?
Humans are bound by language or culture, and so lack the sort of objective perspective from which to observe the whole terrain of concepts and derive any one standard.
It may be true that we see the world through the lens of language, and it may be that bias easily influences human judgment. But the great philosophers since the beginning of time have given their lives to connecting humanity to "truth".
In this project, we are not trying to define on language and one set of definitions. We are trying to understand the spectrum of language and recognize and empower its capacity for expressing truth -- in a balanced way.
Another objection is the problem of formulating definitions. Top level ontologies are designed to maximize support for interoperability across a large number of terms.
Yes, this project is about understanding and mastering the very concept and principle of "definition" itself. What is the relationship between symbolism representations (words, ideas) and "truth" and "reality"? What is the relationship between logic and rationality and arithmetic and mathematics and truth and reality?
Such ontologies must therefore consist of terms expressing very general concepts, but such concepts are so basic to our understanding that there is no way in which they can be defined, since the very process of definition implies that a less basic (and less well understood) concept is defined in terms of concepts that are more basic and so (ideally) more well understood.
The Closed Loop is a pretty amazing idea. Mathematical philosophy from 100 years ago claims that fundamental paradoxes "prove" that definition systems are inherently flawed or cannot be comprehensive. But the Closed Loop is a new approach -- never heard of, never considered, never previous conceived -- except, perhaps, in a dim way throughout history, as a vague mystical vision n the mind's eye of some philosopher or prophet or priest.
Very general concepts can often only be elucidated, for example by means of examples, or paraphrase.
Good point. Keep the examples flying.
There is no self-evident way of dividing the world up into concepts, and certainly no non-controversial one There is no neutral ground that can serve as a means of translating between specialized (or "lower" or "application-specific") ontologies
Human language itself is already an arbitrary approximation of just one among many possible conceptual maps. To draw any necessary correlation between English words and any number of intellectual concepts, that we might like to represent in our ontologies, is just asking for trouble. (WordNet, for instance, is successful and useful, precisely because it does not pretend to be a general-purpose upper ontology; rather, it is a tool for semantic / syntactic / linguistic disambiguation, which is richly embedded in the particulars and peculiarities of the English language.)
Any hierarchical or topological representation of concepts must begin from some ontological, epistemological, linguistic, cultural, and ultimately pragmatic perspective. Such pragmatism does not allow for the exclusion of politics between persons or groups, indeed it requires they be considered as perhaps more basic primitives than any that are represented.
Those who doubt the feasibility of general purpose ontologies are more inclined to ask “what specific purpose do we have in mind for this conceptual map of entities and what practical difference will this ontology make?”
This is a good question.
This pragmatic philosophical position surrenders all hope of devising the encoded ontology version of “The world is everything that is the case.” (Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus).
Finally, there are objections similar to those against artificial intelligence[from whom?]. Technically, the complex concept acquisition and the social / linguistic interactions of human beings suggest any axiomatic foundation of "most basic" concepts must be cognitive biological or otherwise difficult to characterize since we don't have axioms for such systems.
Ethically, any general-purpose ontology could quickly become an actual tyranny by recruiting adherents into a political program designed to propagate it and its funding means, and possibly defend it by violence. Historically, inconsistent and irrational belief systems have proven capable of commanding obedience to the detriment or harm of persons both inside and outside a society that accepts them. How much more harmful would a consistent rational one be, were it to contain even one or two basic assumptions incompatible with human life?
Sat, Apr 24, 2021