GFO Part I Basic Principles
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1.1 Formal Ontology and Information Systems

Formal Ontology is the science that is concerned with the systematic development of axiomatic theories describing forms, modes, and views of being at different levels of abstraction and granularity. Formal ontology combines the methods of mathematical logic with the analyses and principles of philosophy, but also with the methods and principles of other sciences, in particular artificial intelligence, cognitive psychology, and linguistics. Hence, the term Formal Ontology is used here in a sense different from that in philosophy; it is intended to be a research area in computer science, artificial intelligence, and conceptual modelling that is aimed at the development of axiomatically founded theories that are represented by means of a formal language and describe parts of the world.1

At the most general level of abstraction, formal ontology is concerned with those categories that apply to every area of the world. We call this level of description General Ontology, Top Level Ontology, or Foundational Ontology, in contrast to the various Generic, Domain Core or Domain Ontologies, which are applicable to more restricted fields of interest. In the following, we adopt the term foundational ontology and assume that every domain-specific or generic ontology must use such an ontology as a framework and reference system.

Recently, formal ontology has been applied in various areas where the notion of an ontology is used in a very broad sense. A particular ontology is generally understood to be a description of a given domain that can be accepted and reused in all information systems referring to this domain. Sometimes even terminologies are considered as ontologies, but we take a more narrow position. Usually, the backbone of an application ontology is a taxonomy of concepts that is based on the subsumption link.

Robert Hoehndorf 2006-10-18


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