On that “shared” conceptualization and other definitions of an ontology

It’s a topic that never failed to generate a discussion on all 10 instalments of the ontology engineering course I taught from BSc(hons) up to participants studying toward or already having a PhD: those pesky definitions of what an ontology is. To top it off, like I didn’t know, I also got a snarky reviewer’s comment about it on my Stuff ontology paper [1]:

A comment that might be superficial but I cannot help: since an ontology is usually (in Borst’s terms) assumed to be a ‘shared’ conceptualization, I find a little surprising for such a complex model to have been designed by a sole author. While I acknowledge the huge amount of literature carefully analyzed, it still seems that the concrete modeling decisions eventually relied on the background of a single ontologist

Is that bad? Does that make the Stuff Ontology a ‘nontology’? And, by the by, what about all those loner philosophers who write single-author papers on ontology; should that whole field be discarded because most of the ontology insights were “shared” only from paper submission and publication?

Anyway, let’s start from the beginning. There’s the much-criticized definition of an ontology from Gruber that, it seems, only novices seem to keep quoting (to my irritation, indeed):

An ontology is a specification of a conceptualization. [2]

If you wonder why quite a bit has been written about it: try to answer what “specification” really means and how it is specified, and what exactly a “conceptualization” is. The real fun starts with Borst et al.’s [3] and then Studer et al.’s [4] refinement of Gruber’s version, which the reviewer quoted above alluded to:

An ontology is a formal, explicit specification of a shared conceptualization. [4]

At least there’s the “formal” (be it in the sense of logic or formal ontology), and “explicit”, so something is being made explicit and precise. But “shared”? Shared with whom? How? Is a logical theory that not one, but two, people write down an ontology, then? Or one person develops an ontology and then emails it to a few colleagues or puts it online in, say, the open BioPortal ontology repository. Does that count as “shared” then? Or is it only “shared” if at least one other person agrees with it as is (all reviewers of the Stuff Ontology did, btw), or perhaps (most or all of) the ‘conceptualization’ of it but a few axioms would need a bit of tweaking and cleaning up? Do you need at least a group of people to develop an ontology, and if so, how large should that group be, and should that group consist of independent sub-groups that adopt the ontology (and if so, how many endorsers)? Is a lightweight low-hanging-fruit ontology that is used by a large company a real or successful ontology, but a highly axiomatised ontology with a high tangledness that is used by a specialist organization, not? And even if you canvass and get a large group and/or organization to buy into that formal explicit specification, what if they are all wrong on the reality is supposed to represent? Does it still count as an ontology no matter how wrong the conceptualization is, just because it’s formal, explicit, and shared? Is a tailor-made module of, say, the DOLCE ontology not also an ontology, even if the module was made by one person and made available in an online repository like ROMULUS?

Perhaps one shouldn’t start top-down, but bottom-up: take some things and decide (who?) whether it is an ontology or not. Case one: the taxonomy of part-whole relations is a mini-ontology, and although at the start only ‘shared’ with my co-author and published in the Applied Ontology journal [5], it has been used by quite a few researchers for various (and unintended) purposes afterward, notably in NLP (e.g., [6]). An ontology? If so, since when? Case two: Noy et al. converted the representation of the NCI thesaurus into OWL DL [7]. Does changing the serialisation of a multi-authored thesaurus from one format into another make it an ontology? (more on that below.) Case three: a group of 5 people try to represent the subject domain of, say, breast cancer, but it is replete with mistakes both regarding the reality it ought to represent and unintended modelling errors (such as confusing is-a with part-of). Is it still an ontology, albeit a bad one?

It gets more muddled when the representation language is thrown in (as with case 2 above). What if the ontology turns out to be unsatisfiable? From a logic viewpoint, it’s not a theory then (a consistent set of sentences, is), but if it’s formal, explicit, and shared, is it acceptable that those people who developed the artefact simply have an inconsistent conceptualization and that it still counts as an ontology?

Horrocks et al. [8] simplify the whole thing by eliminating the ‘shared’ aspect:

an ontology being equivalent to a Description Logic knowledge base. [8]

However, this generates a set of questions and problems of its own that are practically also problematic. For instance: 1) whether transforming a UML Class Diagram into OWL ‘magically’ makes it an ontology (answer: no); 2) The NCI Thesaurus to OWL (answer: no); or 3) if you used, say, Common Logic to represent it, that then it could not be an ontology because it’s not formalised in Description Logics (answer: it sure can be one).

There are more attempts to give a definition or a description, notably by Nicola Guarino in [9] (a key paper in the field):

An ontology is a logical theory accounting for the intended meaning of a formal vocabulary, i.e. its ontological commitment to a particular conceptualization of the world. The intended models of a logical language using such a vocabulary are constrained by its ontological commitment. An ontology indirectly reflects this commitment (and the underlying conceptualization) by approximating these intended models. [9]

That’s a mouthful, but at least no “shared” in there, either. And, finally, among the many definitions in [10], here’s Barry Smith and cs.’s take on it:

An ONTOLOGY is a representational artifact, comprising a taxonomy as proper part, whose representational units are intended to designate some combination of universals, defined classes, and certain relations between them. [10]

And again, no “shared” either in this definition. Of course, also with Smith’s definition, there are things one can debate about and pose it against Guarino’s definition, like the “universals” vs. “conceptualization” etc., but that’s a story for another time.

So, to sum up: there is that problem on how to interpret “shared”, which is untenable, and one just as well can pick a definition of an ontology from a widely cited paper that doesn’t include that in the definition.

That said, all this doesn’t help my students to grapple with the notion of ‘an ontology’. Examples help, and it would be good if someone, or, say, the International Association for Ontology and its Applications (IAOA) would have a list of “exemplar ontologies” sooner rather than later. (Yes, I have a list, but it still needs to be annotated better). Another aspect that helps explaining it comes is from Guarino’s slides on going “from logical to ontological level” and on good and bad ontologies. This first screenshot (taken from my slides—easier to find) shows there’s “something more” to an ontology than just the logic, with a hint to reasons why (note to my students: more about that later in the course). The second screenshot shows that, yes, we can have the good, bad, and ugly: the yellow oval denotes the intended models (what it should be), and the other ovals denote the various approximations that one may have tried to represent in an ontology. For instance, representing ‘each human has exactly one brain’ is more precise (“good”) than stating ‘each human has at least one brain’ (“less good”) or not saying anything at all about it an ontology of human anatomy (“bad”), and even “worse” it would be if that ontology ware to state ‘each human has exactly two tails’.


Maybe we can’t do better than ‘intuition’ or ‘very wieldy explanation’. If this were a local installation of WordPress, I’d have added a poll on definitions and the subjectivity on the shared-ness factor (though knowing well that science isn’t governed as a democracy). In lieu of that: comments, preferences for one definition or the other, or any better suggestions for definitions are most welcome! (The next instalment of my Ontology Engineering course will start in a few week’s time.)



[1] Keet, C.M. A core ontology of macroscopic stuff. 19th International Conference on Knowledge Engineering and Knowledge Management (EKAW’14). K. Janowicz et al. (Eds.). 24-28 Nov, 2014, Linkoping, Sweden. Springer LNAI vol. 8876, 209-224.

[2] Gruber, T. R. A translation approach to portable ontology specifications. Knowledge Acquisition, 1993, 5(2):199-220.

[3] Borst, W.N., Akkermans, J.M. Engineering Ontologies. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 1997, 46(2-3):365-406.

[4] Studer, R., Benjamins, R., and Fensel, D. Knowledge engineering: Principles and methods. Data & Knowledge Engineering, 1998, 25(1-2):161-198.

[5] Keet, C.M., Artale, A. Representing and Reasoning over a Taxonomy of Part-Whole Relations. Applied Ontology, 2008, 3(1-2):91-110.

[6] Tandon, N., Hariman, C., Urbani, J., Rohrbach, A., Rohrbach, M., Weikum, G.: Commonsense in parts: Mining part-whole relations from the web and image tags. In: Proceedings of the Thirtieth AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence (AAAI’16). pp. 243-250. AAAI Press (2016)

[7] Noy, N.F., de Coronado, S., Solbrig, H., Fragoso, G., Hartel, F.W., Musen, M. Representing the NCI Thesaurus in OWL DL: Modeling tools help modeling languages. Applied Ontology, 2008, 3(3):173-190.

[8] Horrocks, I., Patel-Schneider, P. F., and van Harmelen, F. From SHIQ and RDF to OWL: The making of a web ontology language. Journal of Web Semantics, 2003, 1(1):7.

[9] Guarino, N. (1998). Formal ontology and information systems. In Guarino, N., editor, Proceedings of Formal Ontology in Information Systems (FOIS’98), Frontiers in Artificial intelligence and Applications, pages 3-15. Amsterdam: IOS Press.

[10] Smith, B., Kusnierczyk, W., Schober, D., Ceusters, W. Towards a Reference Terminology for Ontology Research and Development in the Biomedical Domain. KR-MED 2006 “Biomedical Ontology in Action”. November 8, 2006, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

Relations with roles / verbalising object properties in isiZulu

The narratives can be very different for the paper “A model for verbalising relations with roles in multiple languages” that was recently accepted paper at the 20th International Conference on Knowledge Engineering and Knowledge management (EKAW’16), for the paper makes a nice smoothie of the three ingredients of language, logic, and ontology. The natural language part zooms in on isiZulu as use case (possibly losing some ontologist or logician readers), then there are the logics about mapping the Description Logic DLR’s role components with OWL (lose possible interest of the natural language researchers), and a bit of philosophy (and lose most people…). It solves some thorny issues when trying to verbalise complicated verbs that we need for knowledge-to-text natural language generation in isiZulu and some other languages (e.g., German). And it solves the matching of logic-based representations popularised in mainly UML and ORM (that typically uses a logic in the DLR family of Description Logic languages) with the more commonly used OWL. The latter is even implemented as a Protégé plugin.

Let me start with some use-cases that cause problems that need to be solved. It is well-known that natural language renderings of ontologies facilitate communication with domain experts who are expected to model and validate the represented knowledge. This is doable for English, with ACE in the lead, but it isn’t for grammatically richer languages. There, there are complications, such as conjugation of verbs, an article that may be dependent on the preposition, or a preposition may modify the noun. For instance, works for, made by, located in, and is part of are quite common names for object properties in ontologies. They all do have a dependent preposition, however, there are different verb tenses, and the latter has a copulative and noun rather than just a verb. All that goes into the object properties name in an ‘English-based ontology’ and does not really have to be processed further in ontology verbalisation other than beautification. Not so in multiple other languages. For instance, the ‘in’ of located in ends up as affixes to the noun representing the object that the other object is located in. Like, imvilophu ‘envelope’ and emvilophini ‘in the envelope’ (locative underlined). Even something straightforward like a property eats can end up having to be conjugated differently depending on who’s eating: when a human eats, it is udla in isiZulu, but for, say, a dog, it is idla (modification underlined), which is driven by the system of noun classes, of which there are 17 in isiZulu. Many more examples illustrating different issues are described in the paper. To make a long story short, there are gradations in complicating effects, from no effect where a preposition can be squeezed in with the verb in naming an OP, to phonological conditioning, to modifying the article of the noun to modifying the noun. A ‘3rd pers. sg.’ may thus be context-dependent, and notions of prepositions may modify the verb or the noun or the article of the noun, or both. For a setting other than English ontologies (e.g., Greek, German, Lithuanian), a preposition may belong neither to the verb nor to the noun, but instead to the role that the object plays in the relation described by the verb in the sentence. For instance, one obtains yomuntu, rather than the basic noun umuntu, if it plays the role of the whole in a part-whole relation like in ‘heart is part of a human’ (inhliziyo iyingxenye yomuntu).

The question then becomes how to handle such a representation that also has to include roles? This is quite common in conceptual data modelling languages and in the DLR family of DL languages, which is known in ontology as positionalism [2]. Bumping up the role to an element in the representation language—thus, in addition to the relationship—enables one to attach information to it, like whether there is a (deep) preposition associated with it, the tense, or the case. Such role-based annotations can then be used to generate the right element, like einen Betrieb ‘some company’ to adjust the article for the case it goes with in German, or ya+umuntu=yomuntu ‘of a human’, modifying the noun in the object position in the sentence.

To get this working properly, with a solid theoretical foundation, we reused a part of the conceptual modelling languages’ metamodel [3] to create a language model for such annotations, in particular regarding the attributes of the classes in the metamodel. On its own, however, it is rather isolated and not immediately useful for ontologies that we set out to be in need of verbalising. To this end, it links to the ‘OWL way of representing relations’ (ontologically: the so-called standard view), and we separate out the logic-based representation from the readings that one can generate with the structured representation of the knowledge. All in all, the simplified high-level model looks like the picture below.

Simplified diagram in UML Class Diagram notation of the main components (see paper for attributes), linking a section of the metamodel (orange; positionalist commitment) to predicates (green; standard view) and their verbalisation (yellow). (Source: [1])

Simplified diagram in UML Class Diagram notation of the main components (see paper for attributes), linking a section of the metamodel (orange; positionalist commitment) to predicates (green; standard view) and their verbalisation (yellow). (Source: [1])

That much for the conceptual part; more details are described in the paper.

Just a fluffy colourful diagram isn’t enough for a solid implementation, however. To this end, we mapped one of the logics that adhere to positionalism to one of the standard view, being DLR [4] and OWL, respectively. It equally well could have been done for other pairs of languages (e.g., with Common Logic), but these two are more popular in terms of theory and tools.

Having the conceptual and logical foundations in place, we did implement it to see whether it actually can be done and to check whether the theory was sufficient. The Protégé plugin is called iMPALA—it could be an abbreviation for ‘Model for Positionalism And Language Annotation’—that both writes all the non-OWL annotations in a separate XML file and takes care of the renderings in Protégé. It works; yay. Specifically, it handles the interaction between the OWL file, the positionalist elements, and the annotations/attributes, plus the additional feature that one can add new linguistic annotation properties, so as to cater for extensibility. Here are a few screenshots:

OWL’s arbeitetFuer ‘works for’ is linked to the relationship arbeiten.

OWL’s arbeitetFuer ‘works for’ is linked to the relationship arbeiten.

The prey role in the axiom of the impala being eaten by the ibhubesi.

The prey role in the axiom of the impala being eaten by the ibhubesi.

 Annotations of the prey role itself, which is a role in the relationship ukudla.

Annotations of the prey role itself, which is a role in the relationship ukudla.

We did test it a bit, from just the regular feature testing to the African Wildlife ontology that was translated into isiZulu (spoken in South Africa) and a people and pets ontology in ciShona (spoken in Zimbabwe). These details are available in the online supplementary material.

The next step is to tie it all together, being the verbalisation patterns for isiZulu [5,6] and the OWL ontologies to generate full sentences, correctly. This is set to happen soon (provided all the protests don’t mess up the planning too much). If you want to know more details that are not, or not clearly, in the paper, then please have a look at the project page of A Grammar engine for Nguni natural language interfaces (GeNi), or come visit EKAW16 that will be held from 21-23 November in Bologna, Italy, where I will present the paper.



[1] Keet, C.M., Chirema, T. A model for verbalising relations with roles in multiple languages. 20th International Conference on Knowledge Engineering and Knowledge Management EKAW’16). Springer LNAI, 19-23 November 2016, Bologna, Italy. (in print)

[2] Leo, J. Modeling relations. Journal of Philosophical Logic, 2008, 37:353-385.

[3] Keet, C.M., Fillottrani, P.R. An ontology-driven unifying metamodel of UML Class Diagrams, EER, and ORM2. Data & Knowledge Engineering, 2015, 98:30-53.

[4] Calvanese, D., De Giacomo, G. The Description Logics Handbook: Theory, Implementation and Applications, chap. Expressive description logics, pp. 178-218. Cambridge University Press (2003).

[5] Keet, C.M., Khumalo, L. Toward a knowledge-to-text controlled natural language of isiZulu. Language Resources and Evaluation, 2016, in print.

[6] Keet, C.M., Khumalo, L. On the verbalization patterns of part-whole relations in isiZulu. Proceedings of the 9th International Natural Language Generation conference 2016 (INLG’16), Edinburgh, Scotland, Sept 2016. ACL, 174-183.

New OWL files for the (extended) taxonomy of part-whole relations

Once upon a time (surely >6 years ago) I made an OWL file of the taxonomy of part-whole relations [1], which contains several parthood relations and a few meronyic-only ones that in natural language are considered ‘part’ but are not so according to mereology (like participation, membership). Some of these relations were defined with a specific domain and range that was a DOLCE category (it could just as well have been, say, GFO). Looking at it recently, I noticed it was actually a bit scruffy (but I’ll leave it here nonetheless), and more has happened in this area over the years. So, it was time for an update on contents and on design.

For the record on how it’s done and to serve, perhaps, as a comparison exercise on modeling, here’s what I did. First of all, I started over, so as to properly type the relations to DOLCE categories, with the DOLCE IRIs rather than duplicated as DOLCE-category-with-my-IRI. As DOLCE is way too big and slows down reasoning, I made a module of DOLCE, called DOLCEmini, mainly by removing the irrelevant object properties, though re-adding the SOB, APO and NAPO that’s in D18 but not in DOLCE-lite from DLP3791. This reduced the file from DOLCE-lite’s 534 axioms, 37 classes, 70 OPs, in SHI to DOLCEmini’s 388 axioms, 40 classes, 43 OPs, also in SHI, and I changed the ontology IRI to where DOLCEmini will be put online.

Then I created a new ontology, PW.owl, imported DOLCEmini, added the taxonomy of part-whole relations from [1] right under owl:topObjectProperty, with domain and range axioms using the DOLCE categories as in the definitions, under part-whole. This was then extended with the respective inverses under whole-part, all the relevant proper part versions of them (with inverses), transitivity added for all (as the reasoner isn’t doing it [2]) annotations added, and then aligned to some DOLCE properties with equivalences. This makes it to 524 axioms and 79 object properties.

I deprecated subquantityOf (annotated with ‘deprecated’ and subsumed by a new property ‘deprecated’). Several new stuff relations and their inverses were added (such as portions), and annotated them. This made it to the PW ontology of 574 axioms (356 logical axioms) and 92 object properties (effectively, for part-whole relations: 92 – 40 from dolce – 3 for deprecated = 49).

As we made an extension with mereotopology [3] (and also that file wasn’t great, though did the job nevertheless [4]), but one that not everybody may want to put up with, yet a new file was created, PWMT. PWMT imports PW (and thus also DOLCEmini) and was extended with the main mereotopological relations from [3], and relevant annotations were added. I skipped property disjointness axioms, because they don’t go well with transitivity, which I assumed to be more important. This makes PWMT into one of 605 (380 logical) axioms and 103 object properties, with, effectively, for parts: 103 – 40 from dolce – 3 for deprecated – 1 connection = 59 object properties.

That’s a lot of part-whole relations, but fear not. The ‘Foundational Ontology and Reasoner enhanced axiomatiZAtion’ (FORZA) and its tool that incorporates with the Guided ENtity reuse and class Expression geneRATOR (GENERATOR) method [4] describes a usable approach how that can work out well and has a tool for the earlier version of the owl file. FORZA uses an optional decision diagram for the DOLCE categories as well as the automated reasoner so that it can select and propose to you those relations that, if used in an axiom, is guaranteed not to lead to an inconsistency that would be due to the object property hierarchy or its domain and range axioms. (I’ll write more about it in the next post.)

Ah well, even if the OWL files are not used, it was still a useful exercise in design, and at least I’ll have a sample case for next year’s ontology engineering course on ‘before’ and ‘after’ about questionable implementation and (relatively) good implementation without the need to resorting to criticizing other owl files… (hey, even the good and widely used ontologies have a bunch of pitfalls, whose amount is not statistically significantly different from ontologies made by novices [5]).



[1] Keet, C.M., Artale, A. Representing and Reasoning over a Taxonomy of Part-Whole Relations. Applied Ontology, 2008, 3(1-2):91-110.

[2] Keet, C.M. Detecting and Revising Flaws in OWL Object Property Expressions. 18th International Conference on Knowledge Engineering and Knowledge Management (EKAW’12), Oct 8-12, Galway, Ireland. Springer, LNAI 7603, 252-266.

[3] Keet, C.M., Fernandez-Reyes, F.C., Morales-Gonzalez, A. Representing mereotopological relations in OWL ontologies with OntoPartS. 9th Extended Semantic Web Conference (ESWC’12), Simperl et al. (eds.), 27-31 May 2012, Heraklion, Crete, Greece. Springer, LNCS 7295, 240-254.

[4] Keet, C.M., Khan, M.T., Ghidini, C. Ontology Authoring with FORZA. 22nd ACM International Conference on Information and Knowledge Management (CIKM’13). ACM proceedings, pp569-578. Oct. 27 – Nov. 1, 2013, San Francisco, USA.

[5] Keet, C.M., Suarez-Figueroa, M.C., Poveda-Villalon, M. Pitfalls in Ontologies and TIPS to Prevent Them. In: Knowledge Discovery, Knowledge Engineering and Knowledge Management: IC3K 2013 Selected papers. Fred, A., Dietz, J.L.G., Liu, K., Filipe, J. (Eds.). Springer, CCIS 454, pp. 115-131. 2015.

Reblogging 2013: Release of the (beta version of the) foundational ontology library ROMULUS

From the “10 years of keetblog – reblogging: 2013”: also not easy to choose regarding research. Here, then, the first results of Zubeida Khan’s MSc thesis on the foundational ontology library ROMULUS, being the first post of several papers on the theoretical and methodological aspects of it (KCAP’13 poster, KEOD’13 paper, MEDI’13 paper, book chapter, EKAW’14 paper) and her winning the award for best Masters from the CSIR. The journal paper on ROMULUS has just been published last week in the Journal on Data Semantics, in a special issue edited by Alfredo Cuzzocrea.

Release of the (beta version of the) foundational ontology library ROMULUS; April 4


With the increase on ontology development and networked ontologies, both good ontology development and ontology matching for ontology linking and integration are becoming a more pressing issue. Many contributions have been proposed in these areas. One of the ideas to tackle both—supposedly in one fell swoop—is the use of a foundational ontology. A foundational ontology aims to (i) serve as a building block in ontology development by providing the developer with guidance how to model the entities in a domain, and  (ii) serve as a common top-level when integrating different domain ontologies, so that one can identify which entities are equivalent according to their classification in the foundational ontology. Over the years, several foundational ontologies have been developed, such as DOLCE, BFO, GFO, SUMO, and YAMATO, which have been used in domain ontology development. The problem that has arisen now, is how to link domain ontologies that are mapped to different foundational ontologies?

To be able to do this in a structured fashion, the foundational ontologies have to be matched somehow, and ideally have to have some software support for this. As early as 2003, this issue as foreseen already and the idea of a “WonderWeb Foundational Ontologies Library” (WFOL) proposed, so that—in the ideal case—different domain ontologies can to commit to different but systematically related (modules of) foundational ontologies [1]. However, the WFOL remained just an idea because it was not clear how to align those foundational ontologies and, at the time of writing, most foundational ontologies were still under active development, OWL was yet to be standardised, and there was scant stable software infrastructure. Within the Semantic Web setting, the solvability of the implementation issues is within reach yet not realised, but their alignment is still to be carried out systematically (beyond the few partial comparisons in the literature).

We’re trying to solve these theoretical and practical shortcomings through the creation of the first such online library of machine-processable, aligned and merged, foundational ontologies: the Repository of Ontologies for MULtiple USes ROMULUS. This version contains alignments, mappings, and merged ontologies for DOLCE, BFO, and GFO and some modularized versions thereof, as a start. It also has a section on logical inconsistencies; i.e., entities that were aligned manually and/or automatically and seemed to refer to the same thing—e.g., a mathematical set, a temporal region—actually turned out not to be (at least from a logical viewpoint) due to other ‘interfering’ axioms in the ontologies. What one should be doing with those, is a separate issue, but at least it is now clear where the matching problems really are down to the nitty-gritty entity-level.

We performed a small experiment on the evaluation of the mappings (thanks to participants from DERI, Net2 funds, and Aidan Hogan), and we would like to have more feedback on the alignments and mappings. It is one thing that we, or some alignment tool, aligned two entities, another that asserting an equivalence ends up logically consistent (hence mapped) or inconsistent, and yet another what you think of the alignments, especially the ontology engineers. You can participate in the evaluation: you will get a small set of a few alignments at a time, and then you decide whether you agree, partially agree, or disagree with it, are unsure about it, or skip it if you have no clue.

Finally, ROMULUS also has a range of other features, such as ontology selection, a high-level comparison, browsing the ontology through WebProtégé, a verbalization of the axioms, and metadata. It is the first online library of machine-processable, modularised, aligned, and merged foundational ontologies around. A poster/demo paper [2] was accepted at the Seventh International Conference on Knowledge Capture (K-CAP’13), and papers describing details are submitted and in the pipeline. In the meantime, if you have comments and/or suggestions, feel free to contact Zubeida or me.


[1] Masolo, C., Borgo, S., Gangemi, A., Guarino, N., Oltramari, A. Ontology library. WonderWeb Deliverable D18 (ver. 1.0, 31-12-2003). (2003) http://wonderweb.semanticweb.org.

[2] Khan, Z., Keet, C.M. Toward semantic interoperability with aligned foundational ontologies in ROMULUS. Seventh International Conference on Knowledge Capture (K-CAP’13), ACM proceedings. 23-26 June 2013, Banff, Canada. (accepted as poster &demo with short paper)

Reblogging 2011: Essay on the Nonviolent Personality

From the “10 years of keetblog – reblogging: 2011”: of the general interest ones, this was most definitely the one that has taken up most time—not to write the post, but what it talks about: it reports on the Italian->English translation of a booklet “The nonviolent personality”, which took over 2 years to complete. Giuliano Pontara, whom I had the pleasure to finally meet in person in Stockholm last October, wrote the original in Italian. 

Essay on the Nonviolent Personality; March 3


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.

Zubeida Khan awarded with best Master’s thesis from CSIR

Zubeida Khan

I’m delighted to highlight here that Zubeida Khan (Dawood) was awarded with a “Best Master’s Thesis” from the CSIR (South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research), where she was based when she did her Msc (cum laude) from UKZN, with a scholarship from the UKZN/CSIR-Meraka Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research, and yours truly as her supervisor.

Her thesis was about realising that library of foundational ontologies that had been proposed since late 2003 (in that WonderWeb deliverable D18). The concrete library is the online Repository for Ontologies of MULtiple Uses, ROMULUS, which was described briefly in the MEDI’13 paper [1], and she has a CSIR “technology demonstrator” about it (file) that received an overall panel evaluation of 90%. The theoretical foundations principally had to do with aligning and mapping the foundational ontologies that are included in the library, which are, to date, the OWL versions of DOLCE, GFO, and BFO, which has appeared in a KCAP’13 poster [2] and KEOD’13 full paper [3] and an extended version is due to appear in a best-papers-of-KEOD book [4]. In case you want to have more details: check Zubeida’s thesis, and I have a few blog posts that informally introduce the material: the first announcement of ROMULUS and the KCAP poster.

ROMULUS also contains an online and extended version of the foundational ontology recommender ONSET [5] (which was mostly her Bsc(hons) project, and whose integration into ROMULUS was part of her MSc), various documentation and browse and search features, and the new SUGOI tool for automated foundational ontology interchangeability [6].

Zubeida recently started her PhD at UCT with me as advisor, on ontology modularity, but in case you have feedback on the work, suggestions, or perhaps also new mappings to/from your favourite foundational ontology, feel free to contact her (or me)!

p.s.: Engineering news has an item about the awards, and so will CSIR have one.

p.p.s.: The minimum requirements for the award was:
-Published more than one paper in a peer reviewed publication
-Excellent behavioural attributes as attested by fellow team members such as work ethic and developing a good personal and professional relationships and an active contribution as a team member
-Above average performance score
-The studies must have been completed on a record time
-Excellent academic achievement


[1] Khan, Z., Keet, C.M. The foundational ontology library ROMULUS. 3rd International Conference on Model & Data Engineering (MEDI’13). A. Cuzzocrea and S. Maabout (Eds.) September 25-27, 2013, Amantea, Calabria, Italy. Springer LNCS 8216, 200-211.

[2] Khan, Z., Keet, C.M. Toward semantic interoperability with aligned foundational ontologies in ROMULUS. Seventh International Conference on Knowledge Capture (K-CAP’13), ACM proceedings. 23-26 June 2013, Banff, Canada. (poster/demo)

[3] Khan, Z., Keet, C.M. Addressing issues in foundational ontology mediation. 5th International Conference on Knowledge Engineering and Ontology Development (KEOD’13), Vilamoura, Portugal, 19-22 September. Filipe, J. and Dietz, J. (Eds.), SCITEPRESS, pp5-16.

[4] Khan, Z.C., Keet, C.M. Foundational ontology mediation in ROMULUS. invited extended version of the KEOD’13 paper, to be published in Springer CCIS.

[5] Khan, Z., Keet, C.M. ONSET: Automated Foundational Ontology Selection and Explanation. 18th International Conference on Knowledge Engineering and Knowledge Management (EKAW’12), A. ten Teije et al. (Eds.). Oct 8-12, Galway, Ireland. Springer, Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence LNAI 7603, 237-251.

[6] Khan, Z.C., Keet, C.M. Feasibility of automated foundational ontology interchangeability. 19th International Conference on Knowledge Engineering and Knowledge Management (EKAW’14). K. Janowicz et al. (Eds.). 24-28 Nov, 2014, Linkoping, Sweden. Springer LNAI 8876, 225-237.

Considering some stuff—scientifically

Yay, now I can say “I look into stuff” and actually be precise about what I have been working on (and get it published, too!), rather than just oversimplifying into vagaries about some of my research topics. The final title of the paper I settled on is not as funny as proposing a ‘pointless theory’ [1], though: it’s a Core Ontology of Macroscopic Stuff [2], which has been accepted at the 19th International Conference on Knowledge Engineering and Knowledge Management (EKAW’14).

The ‘stuff’, in philosophical terms, are those things that are in natural language indicated typically with mass nouns, being those things you can’t count other than in quantities, like gold, water, whipping cream, agar, milk, and so on. The motivation to look into that was both for practical and theoretical reasons. For instance, you are working in the food industry and thus have to be concerned with traceability of ingredients, so you will have to know which (bulk) ingredients originate from where. Then, if something goes wrong—say, an E. coli infection in a product for consumption—then it would be doable to find the source of the microbial contamination. Most people might not realize what happens in the production process; e.g., some quantity of milk comes from a dairy farm, and in the food processing plant, some components of a portion of the milk is separated into parts (whey separated from the cheese-in-the-making, fat for butter and the remainder buttermilk). To talk about parts and portions of such stuffs requires one to know about those stuffs, and how to model it, so there can be some computerized tracking system for swift responses.

On the theoretical side, philosophers were talking about hypothetical cases of sending molecules of mixtures to Venus and the Moon, which isn’t practically usable, in particular because it was glossing over some important details, like that milk is an emulsion and thus has a ‘minimum portion’ for it to remain an emulsion involving many molecules. Foundational ontologies, which I like for their modeling guidance, didn’t come to the rescue either; e.g., DOLCE has Amount of Matter for stuffs but stops there, BFO has none of it. Domain ontologies for food, but also in other areas, such as ecology and biomedicine, each have their own way of modelling stuff, be this by source, usage, or whatever, making things incompatible because several criteria are used. So, there was quite a gap. The core ontology of macroscopic stuff aims to bridge this gap.

This stuff ontology contains categories of stuff and is formalised in OWL. There are distinctions between pure stuff and mixtures, and differences among the mixtures, e.g., true solutions vs colloids among homogeneous mixtures, and solid heterogeneous mixtures vs. suspension among heterogeneous mixtures, and each one with a set of defining criteria. So, Milk is an Emulsion by its very essence, regardless if you want to assign it a role that it is a beverage (Envo ontology) or an animal-associated habitat (MEO ontology), Blood is a Sol (type of colloid), and (table) Sugar a StructuredPureStuff. A basic alignment of the relations involved is possible with the stuff ontology as well regarding granules, grains, and sub-stuffs (used in cyc and biotop, among others).

The ontology both refines the DOLCE and BFO foundational ontologies and it resolves the main type of interoperability issues with stuffs in domain ontologies, thereby also contributing to better ontology quality. To make the ontology usable, modelling guidelines are provided, with examples of inferences, a decision diagram, outline of a template, and illustrations solving the principal interoperability issues among domain ontologies (scroll down to the last part of the paper). The decision diagram, which also gives an informal idea of what’s in the stuff ontology, is depicted below.

Decision diagram to select the principal kind of stuff (Source: [2])

Decision diagram to select the principal kind of stuff (Source: [2])

You can access the stuff ontology on its own, as well as versions linked to DOLCE and BFO. I’ll be presenting it in Sweden at EKAW late November.

p.s.: come to think of it, maybe I should have called it smugly “a real ontology of substance”… (substance being another term used for stuff/matter)


[1] Borgo S., Guarino N., and Masolo C.. A Pointless Theory of Space Based On Strong Connection and Congruence, in L. Carlucci Aiello, J. Doyle (eds.), in Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Principles of Knowledge Representation and Reasoning (KR’96), Morgan Kaufmann, Cambridge Massachusetts (USA), 5-8 November 1996, pp. 220-229.

[2] Keet, C.M. A Core Ontology of Macroscopic Stuff. 19th International Conference on Knowledge Engineering and Knowledge Management (EKAW’14). 24-28 Nov, 2014, Linkoping, Sweden. Springer LNAI. (accepted)