Ontology goes postmodern in ICT
Kroeze, Jan H.
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This paper investigates the move from philosophical ontology to information systems ontologies. Ontology has traditionally been (and still is) a philosophical discipline that studies the nature of existence. In a certain time and philosophical era, there usually was only one correct or current ontology. The plural of this word did not exist, which explains the fact that academics who were trained in philosophy are often startled when they hear the plural of the word ontology for the first time. Yet, in the world of information systems, many practitioners use the plural as one of the most natural things to do. Although the term ontology has been borrowed by Information Systems from philosophy, it has been given a slightly different meaning. However, the two uses of the word are still historically and logically related. The author believes that the shift – from singular to plural – was made possible by the postmodern era that we live in. Like reality, knowledge and understanding have become fluid. Software development, too, did not escape the philosophical shift from modernism to postmodernism. Indeed, one may also regard the creation of information systems ontologies in a positive way as the endeavours of academics to embrace the multifaceted nature of reality by representing subsets of it. On the other hand, the danger of formal ontologies is that, although they are meant to mirror and capture reality, ontology-based software could create hyperrealities that become more real than reality because it is typical of postmodernism that real life phenomena are replaced by representations.