Ontology: Concepts, Languages, and the World(s)

invited talk by Jari Palomäki

Tampere University of Technology/Pori
Department of Information Technology
Pohjoisranta, P.O.Box 300, FI-28101 Pori, Finland
jari.palomaki ( at ) tut.fi

Jari Palomäki is a Docent in theoretical philosophy at the University of Tampere and at the Technical University of Tampere. He has studied philosophy and mathematics at the University of Turku, and has made his doctoral dissertation about concepts and concept theory at the University of Tampere in 1994. Since then he has done research on the philosophical foundations of conceptual modelling and has been a visiting researcher e.g. at the Technical University of Denmark, Czech Academy of Sciences, and the University of Toulouse. He has also worked at the Department of Information Technology at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand. Presently he works as a Senior Researcher at the Technical University of Tampere/Pori unit.


In the field of information systems the word "ontology" has nowadays at least three different meanings. Firstly it may mean a conceptual model, or a conceptualized knowledge representation. Secondly it may mean a vocabulary or a dictionary containing the basic terms used in conceptualization, i.e., a language. Finally, and in its original philosophical meaning, ontology is a part of metaphysics concerning the universe of discourse and the ultimate building blocks of the world.

For example, the following definition has gained some agreement among the information system community: "An ontology is a formal explicit specification of a shared conceptualization for a domain of interest," (T. R. Gruber: "A Translation Approach to Portable Ontology Specifications,"" Knowledge Acquisition, 5(2), 1993, 199-220). In this definition the word "ontology" means a (formal) language, although the two other possible meanings for ontology are present as well. Moreover, from the philosophical point of view all the three components, i.e. concepts, languages, and the world(s), have different ontological statuses. It is shown how different ontological commitments affect the way we are modeling the world(s) when creating an information system.

Last changed February 18, 2008 13:36 EET by local organizers, balt2008(at)cs.ioc.ee