In philosophy, "any ontology then must give an account of which words refer to entities, which do not, why, and what categories result." In the 20th century "various schools of subjectivism, objectivism and relativism all tried" and failed to characterize some solid base or ideal list of what is real - locating this in the pronoun, object or verb.

See the article on being and being/doing/going for a more general philosophical view. This article will concentrate on technical views.

of e-government

Most directly relevant to open politics itself is the definition used in e-government. The US Federal Enterprise Architecture views ontology simply as a directed graph, that is:

"A semantic model in which relationships (associations between items) are explicitly named and differentiated is called an ontology." In other words, ontology relies on typed links, and strong typing determines the strength of the ontology itself:

"Both conceptual models and logical theories can be considered ontologies, the former a weaker ontology and the latter a stronger ontology. Because the relationships are specified, there is no longer a need for a strict structure that encompasses or defines the relationships. The model essentially becomes a network of connections with each connection having an association independent of any other connection."

versus taxonomy

"Unlike a taxonomy or thesaurus, which is commonly shown as a "tree," an ontology typically takes the form of a "graph," i.e., a network with branches across nodes (representing other relationships) and with some child nodes having links from multiple parents. This connective variability provides tremendous flexibility in dealing with concepts, because many conceptual domains cannot be expressed adequately with either a taxonomy or a thesaurus. Too many anomalies and contradictions occur, thereby forcing unsustainable compromises. Moreover, moving between unlike concepts often requires brittle connective mechanisms that are difficult to maintain or expand."

This "moving between unlike concepts" relies on metaphors to establish "what is the same" in a given context. Rhetoric, tradition, and sometimes even issue/position/argument play a role in deciding which metaphors are appropriate.

Particularly complex are temporal logics - trying to infer a date range is difficult if not impossible using taxonomies alone. If associations can be defined independent of an ordered relationship structure then it it possible to include a "date" or "date range" association between named concepts like "Battle of Gettysburg" and "July 1-3, 1863." Or in the terms preferred at openpolitics.ca, 1863-07-01_-03.

Inference about date ranges are possible via the ability to "walk" any associations within an ontology of a concept having to do with dates. None of this implies some magical artificial intelligence that allows machines to comprehend human mumblings or even coherent writing that does not follow naming conventions. Without strict conventions, any such inference will fail.

A machine can solve well-defined problems by performing well-defined operations on existing well-defined data with proper and exact names:

The open politics web therefore relies on these conventions absolutely, e.g. for user names.

software usage

In software engineering and database design, the range of directed graph structures is broader than any one conceptual domain, but ontology still refers narrowly to an "attempt to formulate an exhaustive and rigorous conceptual schema within a given domain, typically a hierarchical data structure containing all the relevant entities and their relationships and rules (theorems, regulations) within that domain..."

"A foundation ontology is a core glossary in whose terms everything else must be described, like the 2000 words of English required by Longman's dictionary to define the 4000 most common English idioms. It serves as core ontology for computer programs and users both, influencing their view of data and events."

upper ontology

A controversial issue is the specifying of upper ontology - "while there is not one single true upper ontology, there are in fact several good ones that may be created." In the context of representative democracy this might for instance be defined by political party internal discourses, e.g. Green Party of Canada Living Platform. "The benefits of standardization for communication and sharing suggest that practical system implementors should consider adopting a common upper ontology." For Canadian users of Living Platform itself the living ontology is how we do this.


Accordingly to Craig Hubley a leader is someone who defines an ontology which a manager enforces. Management being about path of least resistance, it is disastrous to permit management decisions to alter core glossary.

activity and reflexivity

An active ontology or reflexive ontology are very much more difficult to specify than an ordinary one. To the degree all human command verbs are implied by political decisions, all command verbs of any technology used to relay such decisions must be fully defined. To the degree self-claims and self-reference are involved, ontologies are more reflexive. It is generally not possible to achive higher levels of process maturity without considering these problems directly.

Refer link GFDL corpusen: wikipedia: ontology (computer science)

general reference (philosophy, theology)

Any ethical tradition has an embedded or implied ontology to support ethical choices and define axioms in its moral code - which eventually become legal codes in a secular society. It is impossible therefore to avoid understanding these to create even such a simple artifact as a political wiki, Living Agenda protocol, Living Platform. The living ontology that underpins these is not independent of the social contexts they reflect.

For more on aspects of the "study of being" relevant to open politics itself see being/doing/going and a separate article on being. Refer link en: wikipedia: ontology - a GFDL corpus article.