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2010-03-08
A course in Practical Ontology
I have somewhat arbitrarily chosen this thread for this particular posting.  It would be better off perhaps in some thread devoted to teaching, curricula, or related areas; but there don't seem to be any fora appropriate to that at the moment (well, the subtitle of this site does say "research").  In any event ...

I have recently developed a course in "practical ontology" that I will begin to give at North Carolina State University in the fall of 2010.  Initially, this course will have both a traditional classroom variant and a "distance learning" variant.  My intention is not to draw any distinction between these two manifestations of the course, making all material in each available in the other.  Accordingly, for example, the classroom sessions will be video recorded and put on the web for use by the DL students.  The DL part of the course will be taught through the use of pretty sophisticated "virtual classroom" technology, but will allow participation of students in both a synchronous and asynchronous manner.

A reasonably thorough description of the course may be found at http://www4.ncsu.edu/~ghmerril/PracticalOntology/, and there is a link there on the "about the course" page to the detailed syllabus for the course.  This includes a tentative (but pretty firm, at this point) course schedule with reading list and brief descriptions of assignments.  This course site will soon be updated by the inclusion of a brief introductory video, but the site is otherwise complete at this point.  Note that the course will be offered as both an upper-level undergraduate course and a graduate course.   It will also be offered as a Philosophy course and as a Logic course (a distinction made formally at NC State).

I am hoping to attract a rather broad range of students -- from traditional undergraduate students in philosophy through professional scientists and informaticists (who might view the course as a "training course" or as a compressed introduction to the philosophical foundations of ontologies in science).

I invite comments on this enterprise:  constructive, destructive, or simply rude.  It is an unusual course, and a particularly unusual course for a philosophy department.  Parts of it will of necessity be somewhat "shallow" or definitely "one sided".  But it has some fairly specific goals, which I at least think I have been clear about in the course description and syllabus.  I truly am looking for feedback from a variety of perspectives.

One thing I am not completely comfortable with is the choice of an example of an "ontological problem" or "ontological analysis" with which to begin the course.  For several reasons I have chosen David and Stephie Lewis's "Holes".  However, I would welcome other suggestions, and might well change my mind even at this point.  In addition, other suggestions might be pressed into service as topics for some of the assignments.

2011-01-28
A course in Practical Ontology
Reply to Gary Merrill

This sounds really promising. I have an MA in philosophy and an MSc in Information and Library Studies. My masters dissertation focussed on the ontological and epistemological views of W.V. Quine and how this related to the category ontology present in Wikipedia. I found it a really exciting area of study and I found some compelling conclusions.

However, having finished the dissertation I can't find any research opportunities that fit the bill. I want to further my research into applying ontological theory to Web2.0 technologies. However, Information academics seem reluctant to tackle philosophical issues, and philosophy academics seem reluctant to discuss practical applications (perhaps it is seen as diluting the profession?).

There has to be an avenue for those traversing the rocky road in between the two!?... hasn't there?







 

2011-01-29
A course in Practical Ontology
Reply to Kyle Brady
Well, yes there is.  I would go into more detail at this point, but a paper of mine specifically addressing this issue is about to appear in the next issue of Topoi.  The title of this is "Ontology, Ontologies, and Science", and it provides both an argument for the direct participation of philosophical ontologists in science and some considerations and guidelines for those who are interested in moving in that direction.  Since this will be appearing shortly, I don't think it would be appropriate for me to make it available in a public manner prior to that.  But if you're interested, let me know and I can email you a draft.

A couple of comments ...

First, I would not be concerned particularly with Web2.0 technologies.  The important contributions that a philosophical ontologist can make to science are not at the implementation level but at a more theoretical or design/architecture level.  And they should not be thought of as confined to the web.

Second, I'm not sure what you mean by "information academics", but in my experience scientists (i.e., not IT people or "knowledge management" people or "information science" people) are now seriously concerned with learning about ontology and ontologies and how best to construct them.  As an example, I am at least tangentially involved in the Hymenoptera Anatomy Ontology which is being developed by a bunch of entomologists and is related to other projects related to the Encyclopedia of Life.  So there are ample opportunities to start playing in the scientific domain -- and to be welcomed by scientists.

2011-02-02
A course in Practical Ontology
Reply to Gary Merrill
That sounds like a really interesting article, addressing the exact question I’ve been asking myself recently. I’m interested if you address the specifics of certain ontological theories? I ask because I am particularly interested in Quine’s ontological theories. Either way I’d be really grateful to receive a draft copy, it sounds like it will help me to get some direction and context for my own research. I am writing an article at the moment about the evolution of encyclopaedia and the relation to Quine’s epistemological/ontological holism.

Just to clarify, by information academics I meant those from the information management and information and library fields, and I must stress I was generalising. The reason I said it was due to frustration on my part when researching for my MSc that there was an overwhelming amount of literature on ontologies from the IT sector. It just seemed that ontological theorising is largely justified by practical applications in databases, websites etc.

This is why I am so glad to hear of your research since it is, if I understand correctly, trying to address this imbalance and instead create more crossover between different sectors.

2011-02-02
A course in Practical Ontology
Reply to Kyle Brady
Information management and information and library fields?  Yikes!!  Run away quick!  Those are the areas in which ratio between understanding ontology and talking about ontology is the lowest.  They thrive on use/mention errors among others.

I will send you a draft of my paper to your k.brady2 rgu account unless you give me another address.

2011-02-05
A course in Practical Ontology
Reply to Gary Merrill
That would be great thanks, I look forward to reading it!

I know what you mean about the IM and Library fields, I really had to push to focus on a philosopher and not the Dewey Decimal System. I was also luck I suppose, I had a great supervisor who was really interested in philosophy (albeit Continental philosophy).