[sc34wg3] Reification or Representation?

Lars Marius Garshol sc34wg3@isotopicmaps.org
Mon, 23 Aug 2004 20:36:34 +0200

* Murray Altheim
| One of the things I've noticed over the past few years is that the
| Topic Map community has (seemingly unwittingly) been delving deeper
| and deeper into epistemological issues surrounding what it is
| exactly that Topic Maps *do*.

Well, I to be fair I think I would say that *part* of the community
has been doing that. Another part of the community has tried to just
define the standards more formally and then move on to supporting
standards like TMCL and TMQL.

| [reification]
| I would suggest that there are a variety of "original" meanings to
| the term, and likely few who actually do understand the term and its
| ramifications. 

After reading Steve's reply I agree with you. This seems to me another
argument for not using this term for the topic-subject relationship,
which is central to all that we're doing.

| I think we should focus on being accurate with our use of language.

Very much agreed.

| Yes, "representation" and "represent" are less scary. They're also
| very misleading, i.e., their ontological commitments are unclear to
| most people. Is it better to use a rather common but erroneous term
| over an unusual but rare one? How many people have a sufficient
| background in semiotics to understand the ontological commitments of
| representation?

I think people understand "representation" well enough to get what we
mean. The precise meaning will be given by the standard anyway; this
is just the single word that encapsulates the precise meaning.
* Lars Marius Garshol
|   c) it leaves us without a term for distinguishing "reification" (in
|      the original sense of the word) from "reification" (in the ISO
|      13250:2000 sense of the word), and we do need such a term.
* Murray Altheim
| Are you prepared to distinguish "representation" from the variety of
| meanings it has? Or do as most do, just leaving people to believe
| what they will?

I'm not sure I understand the question. I'm thinking that we will say
that topics represent subjects, without going any further, except what
TMDM already does.

Note that like Steve Newcomb you've ignored the point I was making. We
*do* need a term for what TMDM calls reification.
| I believe you actually mean that the TMDM will change its choice of
| terms, not the meaning of any given term. We ought not be creating
| new meanings for existing terms.

I don't think TMDM *is* creating new meanings for existing terms. Do
| For me to accept that "representation" does what you want, you'd
| first have to explain in greater detail what it is you believe
| "representation" means, and in greater detail what it is you want to
| say. Sowa heroicly spends a whole book on the subject, and I dare
| say he's not particularly clear.

I'm with you here, but I think the solution is to use a common,
familiar, and much-used term for this and then leave it at that.

| I just think it's unfair to characterize Steve's use of reification
| as somehow "his", [...]

I've retracted that.

| without admitting that your use of representation will not be
| "yours". 

I don't think it is; though to be fair I do think you are right that
it's not particularly well defined. I don't think doing that is a good
idea, either.
| "Representation" requires the concept that there is some canonical
| subject to represent, the platonic idea of a subject, e.g., that
| there is some canonical, platonic concept of "cat". 

Actually, I don't think that's the case. I could argue this many
different ways, but I'm not going to, because I think what I wrote
above is correct, that we shouldn't define this any further than to
simply use the word "represent".

| My own reading would suggest an approach to the issue not as one of
| representation but as one of *expression*, i.e., that these
| "representations" aren't statements of platonic ideals -- regardless
| of their formality -- but simply humans expressing themselves,
| making speech acts. 

This would be much more in line with my thinking, except that in the
cause of automatically generated topic maps there need not be a human
involved at all. That just generalizes what you are saying slightly,

| I'm not suggesting any new term here, just that "reification", if
| thoroughly defined within a framework of a greater epistemology, is
| a more accurate term than "representation", which while perhaps
| friendlier, is also because of its familiarity more misleading.

Okay. I don't agree, but I accept that this is your opinion.

Lars Marius Garshol, Ontopian         <URL: http://www.ontopia.net >
GSM: +47 98 21 55 50                  <URL: http://www.garshol.priv.no >