Via Barry Smith, Ontology. You think it’s going to be critical but it’s not. This supports my stance of Ontological Pluralism.
“The newly fashionable usage of ‘ontology’ as meaning just ‘conceptual model’ is by now firmly entrenched in many information systems circles. Gruber is to be given credit for having crystallized the new sense of the term by relating it to the technical definition of ‘conceptualization’ introduced by Genesereth and Nilsson in their (1987). In his (1993) Gruber defines an ontology as ‘the specification of a conceptualization’. Genesereth and Nilsson conceive conceptualisations as extensional entities (they are defined in terms of sets of relations), and they have accordingly been criticized on the grounds that this extensional understanding makes conceptualizations too remote from natural language, where intensional contexts predominate (see Guarino, Introduction to 1998). For present purposes, however, we can ignore these issues, since we shall gain a sufficiently precise understanding of the nature of ‘ontology’, as Gruber conceives it, if we rely simply on the account of conceptualizations which he himself gives in passages such as the following:
A conceptualization is an abstract, simplified view of the world that we wish to represent for some purpose. Every knowledge base, knowledge-based system, or knowledge-level agent is committed to some conceptualization, explicitly or implicitly. (Gruber 1995)
The idea is as follows. As we engage with the world from day to day we participate in rituals and we tell stories. We use information systems, databases, specialized languages, and scientific instruments. We buy insurance, negotiate traffic, invest in bond derivatives, make supplications to the gods of our ancestors. Each of these ways of behaving involves, we can say, a certain conceptualization. What this means is that it involves a system of concepts in terms of which the corresponding universe of discourse is divided up into objects, processes and relations in different sorts of ways. Thus in a religious ritual setting we might use concepts such as salvation and purification; in a scientific setting we might use concepts such as virus and nitrous oxide; in a story-telling setting we might use concepts such as: leprechaun and dragon. Such conceptualizations are often tacit; that is, they are often not thematized in any systematic way. But tools can be developed to specify and to clarify the concepts involved and to establish their logical structure, and in this way we are able to render explicit the underlying taxonomy. We get very close to the use of the term ‘ontology’ in Gruber’s sense if we define an ontology as the result of such clarification – as, precisely, the specification of a conceptualization in the intuitive sense described in the above.
Ontology thus concerns itself not at all with the question of ontological realism, that is with the question whether its conceptualizations are true of some independently existing reality. Rather, it is a strictly pragmatic enterprise. It starts with conceptualizations, and goes from there to the description of corresponding domains of objects (also called ‘concepts’ or ‘classes’), but the latter are nothing more than nodes in or elements of data models devised with specific practical purposes in mind. “