Outcome of the empirical assessment on the use of foundational ontologies in ontology development

In an earlier post, I described briefly an experiment I had carried out with 52 (novice) ontology developers who had developed 18 ontologies, 1/3 of whom had use a foundational ontology voluntarily, and whose ontologies were better than those who did not use a foundational ontology in domain ontology development. It being the first empirical experiment on this matter, the slightly shorter version of the tech report mentioned in that earlier blog post has been accepted as full paper at the 8th Extended Semantic Web Conference (ESWC’11).

The informal summary with some details were already introduced in the earlier post, so I will include only the abstract of the paper The use of foundational ontologies in ontology development: an empirical assessment here:

There is an assumption that ontology developers will use a top-down approach by using a foundational ontology, because it purportedly speeds up ontology development and improves quality and interoperability of the domain ontology. Informal assessment of these assumptions reveals ambiguous results that are not only open to different interpretations but also such that foundational ontology usage is not foreseen in most methodologies. Therefore, we investigated these assumptions in a controlled experiment. After a lecture about DOLCE, BFO, and part-whole relations, one-third chose to start domain ontology development with an OWLized foundational ontology. On average, those who commenced with a foundational ontology added more new classes and class axioms, and significantly less object properties than those who started from scratch. No ontology contained errors regarding part-of vs. is-a.

The comprehensive results show that the ‘cost’ incurred spending time getting acquainted with a foundational ontology compared to starting from scratch was more than made up for in size, understandability, and interoperability already within the limited time frame of the experiment.

The last thing has not been said about it though. E.g., is 1/3 few or a lot? It remains unclear why the participants preferred reusing DOLCE over BFO, and what the outcome will be if also much larger ontologies, such as Cyc or SUMO, were to be added to the options in a controlled experiment. Also, it may be interesting to see similar experiments with other lecturers and other types of participants, such as with non-computing domain experts with experience in modeling, or a longer time period than used for this experiment. Further, only preliminary suggestions were made how one may want to include the use of foundational ontologies in ontology development, which should be done both at the high-level steps in the development process—none includes something about that now—as well as methods for the actual modeling, where only OntoSpec makes a first attempt in that direction.


[1] Keet, C.M. The use of foundational ontologies in ontology development: an empirical assessment. 8th Extended Semantic Web Conference (ESWC’11). Heraklion, Crete, Greece, 29 May – 2 June 2011. Springer LNCS (in print).

Essay on the Nonviolent Personality

La personalità nonviolenta—the nonviolent personality—is the title of a booklet I stumbled upon in a bookshop in Trento in spring 2004 whilst being in the city for my internship at the Laboratory for Applied Ontology. The title immediately raises the question: what, then, actually does constitute a nonviolent personality? The author of the booklet, Giuliano Pontara, since recently an emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Stockholm, aims to contribute to answer this question that certainly does not have simple answer.

The booklet itself is out of print (having been published in 1996) and, moreover, written in Italian, which most people in the world cannot understand. However, in my opinion at least, Pontara’s proposed answer certainly deserves a wider audience, contemplation, and further investigation. So I set out to translate it into English and put it online for free. That took a while to accomplish, and the last year was certainly the most interesting one with multiple email exchanges with Giuliano Pontara about the finer details of the semantics of the words and sentences in both the Italian original and the English translation. Now here it is: The Nonviolent Personality [pdf, 1.7MB] (low bandwidth version [pdf, 287KB]).

So what is it about? Here is the new back flap summary of the booklet:

At the beginning of the new century, the culture of peace finds itself facing many and difficult challenges. This booklet surveys some of these challenges and the characteristics that a mature culture of peace should have in order to respond to them. Particularly, it investigates what type of person is more apt to be a carrier of such a mature culture of peace: the nonviolent personality. Finally, it addresses the question regarding the factors that in the educative process tend to impede and favour, respectively, the development of moral subjects equipped with a nonviolent personality.

The original Italian version was written by Giuliano Pontara, emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Stockholm, and published in 1996, but its message is certainly not outdated and perhaps even more important in the current climate. Why this is so, and why it is useful to have a more widely accessible version of the booklet available, is motivated in the introduction by Maria Keet, Senior Lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

A slightly longer description

The first chapter of the book, having been written in the mid-nineties, discusses the then-current political situation in the world. Pontara describes the post-Cold War situation, touches upon separatism, nationalism, fundamentalism, exploitation and totalitarian capitalism (among other challenges). This includes the “cow-boy ethics” and the return of the Nazi mentality, the latter not being about Arian supremacy, but the glorification of force (and violence in general) and contempt for ‘the weak’, the might-is-right adagio, and that cow-boy ethics has been elevated to prime principle of conducting international politics. You can analyse and decide yourself if the shoe fits for a particular country’s culture and politics, be it then or now. After this rather gloomy first chapter, the first step toward a positive outlook is described in Chapter 2, which looks at several basic features of a mature culture of peace.

The core of the booklet is Chapter 3, which commences with listing ten characteristics of a nonviolent personality:

  • Rejection of violence
  • The capability to identify violence
  • The capability to have empathy
  • Refusal of authority
  • Trust in others
  • The disposition to communicate
  • Mildness
  • Courage
  • Self-sacrifice
  • Patience

These characteristics are discussed in detail in the remainder of the chapter. Read it if you want to know what is meant with these characteristics, and why.

Chapter 4 considers education at school, at home, and through other influences (such as the TV), describing both the problems in the present systems and what can to be done to change it. For example, educating students to develop a critical moral conscience, analyse, and to be able to think for oneself (as opposed to rote-learning in a degree-factory), not taking a dualistic approach but facilitating creative constructive solutions instead, and creating an atmosphere that prevents the numbing of conscience, the weakness of the senses, consumerism, and conformism of the mass-media. Also some suggestions for class activities are suggested, but note that education does not end there: it is a continuous process in life.

The English writing style may not be perfect (the spelling and grammar checkers do not complain though); either way, it tries to strike a balance between the writing style of the original and readability of the English text. And no, the translation was not done with Google translate or a similar feature, but manually and there are some notes on the translation at the end of the new booklet. Other changes or additions compared to the Italian original are the new foreword by Pontara and introduction by me, an index, bibliography in alphabetical order and several Italian translations in the original have been substituted with the original English reference, and there are biographical sketches. I did the editing and typesetting in Latex, so it looks nice and presentable.

Last, but not least:
Creative Commons License
The Nonviolent Personality by Maria Keet is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.