Representing concepts in formal ontologies. Compositionality vs. typicality effects

Marcello Frixione, Antonio Lieto



The problem of concept representation is relevant for many subfields of cognitive research, including psychology and philosophy, as well as artificial intelligence. In particular, in recent years it has received a great deal of attention within the field of knowledge representation, due to its relevance for both knowledge engineering as well as ontology-based technologies. However, the notion of a concept itself turns out to be highly disputed and problematic. In our opinion, one of the causes of this state of affairs is that the notion of a concept is, to some extent, heterogeneous, and encompasses different cognitive phenomena. This results in a strain between conflicting requirements, such as compositionality, on the one hand and the need to represent prototypical information on the other. In some ways artificial intelligence research shows traces of this situation. In this paper, we propose an analysis of this current state of affairs. Since it is our opinion that a mature methodology with which to approach knowledge representation and knowledge engineering should also take advantage of the empirical results of cognitive psychology concerning human abilities, we outline some proposals for concept representation in formal ontologies, which take into account suggestions from psychological research. Our basic assumption is that knowledge representation systems whose design takes into account evidence from experimental psychology (and which, therefore, are more similar to the human way of organizing and processing information) may therefore give better results in many applications (e.g. in the fields of information retrieval and semantic web).


concept representation; formal ontologies; prototypical effects; compositionality

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