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A Tale of Two Ontologies: a Question of Which is to be Master, That's All

At the Indiana Philosophy Ontology (InPhO) project we have developed techniques for building and maintaining a dynamic representation of the discipline of philosophy: its ideas, thinkers, documents, and institutions (an approach which we believe could also be generalized to other humanities disciplines). Our approach favors specific pragmatic goals that rely on human interpretation rather than complete formal specification. Thus, our "dynamic ontology" approach can be contrasted with a "formal ontology" approach, which aims for a level of explicit definition that is essential to some machine reasoning tasks. This tale of two ontologies argues that the the benefits of dynamic flexibility outweigh the costs of incomplete formalization, especially in the context of humanities computing where skilled interpretation of meaning is a central skill. Ontologies are repositories of meaning that serve as intermediaries between people and machines -- the question is which is to be master, that's all!


Allen is a philosopher interested in evolutionary approaches to animal behavior and cognition (cognitive ethology). He works closely with biologists and psychologists who are dealing with questions about what can legitimately be inferred about the nature of animal cognition from field and laboratory data. He has also published on other topics in the philosophy of mind and philosophy of biology, artificial intelligence and neural networks.

Current projects include a series of papers on animal pain that may lead to a book, a paper on scientific/evolutionary concepts of culture, a book on artificial moral agents, and the capture and analysis of data from web-based logic instructional software to provide context-sensitive feedback to students and to test hypotheses about strategies for teaching and learning logic.

Since 1998 he has been consulting and programming for The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and I am currently its Associate Editor.