KR Ontology

John F. Sowa

Abstract:  The KR ontology is a formal ontology based on Whithead's process philosophy and Peirce's semiotic that has been designed to serve as a foundation for knowledge representation in databases, knowledge bases, and natural language processing. The version presented on this web site is based on axioms and definitions given in the book Knowledge Representation by John F. Sowa. The complete system, however, is a work in progress whose further development depends on ongoing research in logic, linguistics, philosophy, and empirical studies in every branch of science and technology.

Signs and Processes

As Heraclitus said, panta rei, everything is in flux. But what gives that flux its form is the logoV, the words or signs that enable us to perceive patterns in the flux, remember them, talk about them, and take action upon them even while we ourselves are part of the flux we are acting in and on. Modern physics is essentially a theory of flux in which the ultimate building blocks of matter maintain some semblance of stability only because of conservation laws of energy, momentum, spin, charge, and exotic notions like charm and strangeness. Meanwhile, the concepts and language of everyday life are derived from experience with objects and processes that are measured and classified by comparisons with the human body, its parts, and its typical movements. Yet despite the vast differences in sizes, speeds, and time scale, the languages and counting systems of our stone-age ancestors have been successfully adapted to describe, analyze, and predict the behavior of everything from subatomic particles to clusters of galaxies that span the universe.

Two philosophers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries lived through the revolutionary developments in science that made the old systems obsolete: Charles Sanders Peirce and Alfred North Whitehead. Both of them were pioneers in the development of symbolic logic who also made significant research contributions to the mathematics and physics of their day. Yet they responded to the revolutionary changes that surrounded them by developing systems of ontology that make room for the full range of human experience, thought, and language. The KR ontology is based on Whitehead's process philosophy as a theory of the flux and Peirce's semeiotic as a theory of the logos. Together, those two approaches provide a foundation for a systematic characterization of the universe and its expression in human language ranging from everyday speech to the most advanced theories of science and engineering.

The following papers summarize the KR ontology. The first one presents a lattice of the top-level categories, and the other papers develop subcategories beneath the top level. All references cited in these papers are listed in the combined bibliography.


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