GFO Part I Basic Principles
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1 Introduction

Research in ontology has in recent years become increasingly widespread in the field of information systems science. Ontologies provide formal specifications and computationally tractable standardized definitions of terms used to represent knowledge of specific domains in ways designed to maximize intercommunicability with other domains. The importance of ontologies has been recognized in fields as diverse as e-commerce, enterprise and information integration, qualitative modeling of physical systems, natural language processing, knowledge engineering, database design, medical information science, geographic information science, and intelligent information access. In each of these fields a common ontology is needed in order to provide a unifying framework for communication.

GFO (General Formal Ontology) is a component of ISFO (Integrated System of Foundational Ontologies), and ISFO is a part of an Integrated Framework for the Development and Application of Ontologies (IFDAO) whose predecessor was the GOL-project that was launched in 1999 as a collaborative research effort of the Institute of Medical Informatics, Statistics and Epidemiology (IMISE) and the Institute of Informatics (IfI) at the University of Leipzig. Besides ISFO the system IFDAO includes the subsequently developed modules: a Library of Ontology Languages, and a System of Development Tools. This system of tools supports the development of domain oriented and generic ontologies.

GFO exhibits a three-layered meta-ontological architecture consisting of an abstract top level, an abstract core level, and a basic level. Primarily, the foundational ontology GFO:

  • includes objects (3D entities) as well as processes (4D entities) and both are integrated into one coherent framework,
  • includes levels of reality,
  • is designed to support interoperability by principles of ontological mapping and reduction,
  • is presented by a set of formal axioms which might be added by meta-logical links to domain specific ontologies,
  • is intended to be the basis for a novel theory of ontological modelling which combines declarative specifications (theories) with algorithmic procedures,

  • contains several novel ontological modules, in particular, a module for functions and a module for roles,

  • is designed for applications, firstly in medical, biological, and biomedical areas, but also in the fields of economics and sociology.

We envision GFO to be a foundational ontology which is expressive enough to contain several other foundational ontologies as special cases. But, GFO is not intended to be the ultimate result of a foundational ontology; one may doubt whether a final and uniquely determined top level ontology can ever be achieved. For this reason, GFO is merely a component of the evolutionary system ISFO, which leaves room for modifications, revisions, and adaptions that are triggered by the historical state of our knowledge, and the applications in nature and society.

The present report is the first one of a series of GFO-reports that are planned to cover all relevant topics related to GFO, from basic research to the applications in several areas. Part I (Basic Principles) sets forth the logical and philosophical basic assumptions and methods, and presents a conceptual account of the General Formal Ontology (GFO) in some detail. The forthcoming Part II (Axiomatics and Ontology Languages) presents a full axiomatization of GFO, as well as a library of ontology languages, and several tools for meta-logical analyses of formal axioms. In Part III (Applications) several applications of GFO are collected and presented. These include ontologically founded semantic wikis and tools for ontology development as well as applications in several domains as in biology, medicine, biomedicine, and economy. Finally, in Part IV (GFO Problem Book) a number of open problems is collected, and several topics for further research are presented and discussed.

Robert Hoehndorf 2006-10-18


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