Ontology with Human Subjects Testing:
An Empirical Investigation of Geographic Categories

Barry Smith and David Mark

(American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 58: 2, April 1999, 245–272.)

Ontology, since Aristotle, has been conceived as a sort of highly general physics, a science of the types of entities in reality, of the objects, properties, categories and relations which make up the world. At the same time ontology has been for some two thousand years a speculative enterprise. It has rested methodologically on introspection and on the construction and analysis of elaborate world-models and of abstract formal-ontological theories. In the work of Quine and others this ontological theorizing in abstract fashion about the world was supplemented by the study, based on the use of logical methods, of the ontological commitments or presuppositions embodied in scientific theories. In recent years both types of ontological study have found application in the world of information systems, for example in the construction of frameworks for knowledge representation and in database design and translation. As ontology is in this way drawn closer to the domain of real-world applications, the question arises as to whether it is possible to use empirical methods in studying ontological theories. More specifically: can we use empirical methods to test the ontological theories embodied in human cognition? In what follows we set forth the outlines of a framework for the formulation and testing of such theories as they relate to the specific domain of geographic objects and categories.

PDF file