Issue 504: Formulate the philosophical underpinnings of crm and its relation to reality and the objectivity of observations.

Starting Date: 
Working Group: 

In the 47th joint meeting of the CIDOC CRM SIG and ISO/TC46/SC4/WG9; 40th FRBR - CIDOC CRM Harmonization meeting; the sig, during the discussion on issue 386, decided to open a new issue on  how to formulate the philosophical underpinnings of crm and its relation to reality and the objectivity of observations, even though the SIG has already delved in that topic –as part of the changes made in the introduction (Reality, Knowledge Bases and CIDOC CRM). But it would be nice to explore some more, even if we don’t get concrete results.

June 2020

Post by Martin Doerr (9 June 2021)

Dear All,

Here my introduction for issue 504, Philosophical Underpinnings of the CRM ,for the next meeting:

"The new official edition of the CIDOC CRM, version 7.1.1, contains a compact section with title "Reality, Knowledge Bases and CIDOC CRM". This section outlines philosophical underpinnings of the CIDOC CRM, as they emerged from addressing requirement from the community, both in terms of understanding and in terms of creating a model adequate to the scientific attitude of the user community. This paragraph does however not refer to relevant philosophical literature and theories, and does not go into further details of interest.

Therefore this issue should lead to a small working group, which will first define the philosophical question of interest, then assess priorities, collect references and finally select relevant positions supporting the way the model addresses the scientific attitude of the user community and the description of their subject matters. It should further identify counterpositions that may be popular in ontology engineering but are incompatible with the methods applied for building and using the CRM.

Since the most general topic of the CRM can be seen as the attempt to constrain and reconstruct possible pasts from evidence at our hands, and to come to a scientific agreement of reasonable and well-justified alternatives, the relationship to reality and what can be said about it, is central.

Topics of fundamental importance are, among others: reality and (numeric) identity of particulars; the concept of observer-independent reality and its relation to modelling constructs; comparability of reality with alternative modeling constructs (conceptualizations); limitations of propositional logic to describe aspects of reality (such as waves and clouds), and how facts in terms of propositional logic can relate to alternative ways of description (such as functions).

Problematic is the popular "constructivist stance" many ontologists refer to, because it ignores the "evidential constraints" Alison Wiley describes, the idea that observer independent reality limits reasonable conceptualization by empirical contradictions.

Therefore we assume that the current "scientific realism" is a better base for the CRM, however it deals with categorical knowledge produced by natural sciences and not really with the concept of historical reality of past facts in cultural, social and natural history, including geology, paleontology, biological evolution etc.

But there are also more practical issues, such as the meaning of "scientific discourse", disciplinary practices, research bias by the very model itself, and others.





Post by Francesco Beretta (Jan 6, 2022) 

Part of a discussion via the sig list that stems from the proposal to introduce properties assigning generic outcomes to activities, which can inform issue 504

Dear Martin, and (indirectly) Rob and George,

Thank you for your comments.

The point is: why care at all about building CRMsoc if everything is already present in CRMbase? And, furthermore, are we sure that we have a well grounded foundational analysis of social facts in CRMbase? Especially as we know that it's grounded in the epistemic view of classical physic (I mean not quantic)?  Isn't this a somehow different domain of discourse from social life as such? And shouldn't we take car not to model a domain without taking into account the paradigms of the disciplines studying the domain under consideration, i.e. social life?

A 'speech act' is the appellation by social philosophers of what I would call a social event from the perspective of social sciences. It can happen, of course, via a click on a website, and then it's the buyer moving the finger which is the physical,human event tht provides the setting of the acquisition speech act/social event. crm:E8 Acquisition is clearly a subclass of speech act/social event insofar as ownership is not a physical state but a social connotation added by some humans, collectively, to a physical thing. In the perspective of CRMsoc, the change in ownership, i.e. an acquisition is therefore a speech act/social event.

To come back to the specific topic, I used the example of negotiation not in a metaphysic sense but just as an example on a Saturday market. The crm:E7 Activity of type 'Negotiation about the price' of this sausage happens in time and space, but the change of ownership of the physical human made thing —once the price is set— happens just in human minds, and our there presents dogs of course still hope to receive a bit of the sausage but do not know, as non humans, what property means.

So, just for the sake of the example, and not 'deterministically' a negotiation can end in a sale or not. There are two 'events', the negociation and the sale. The type of the first event is 'negotiation' and (to use Rob's propery identifier) the 'triggered_activity_of_type' is 'acquisition' or 'non purchasing' as a E55_Type .

If we take a more physical event, an attempt of assassination of a minister, we could know who was trying the bring this activity to an end, and who was the target of the attack, but the 'oucome type' would be 'failed'.

-- Activity 'one' (of type 'one') /triggered/ (also a missing, useful property) Activity or event two (of type two).

-- [shortcut] Activity 'one' triggered activity/event of type two

The substance is in the causal sequence (as the content of the available information).

All the best


Post by Martin Doerr (Jan 7, 2022)

Part of a discussion via the sig list that stems from the proposal to introduce properties assigning generic outcomes to activities, which can inform issue 504

Please see issue 504.



Dear Francesco,

Please let us not confuse everything. The CRM is in no ways grounded in physics. It is grounded in the scholarly views of museum curators and a set of other disciplines dealing with historical facts of the past in careful collaborations over 25 years. Please study the history of the CRM, beginning from the Smithsonian in Washington. The CRM is compatible with GIS systems, physics, biology and othersciences, but does not describe their theories, but exclusively particular facts of the past. It includes social constructs already, and no no ways excludes social disciplines.

The only real bias of the CRM is purely technological and inevitable: Information integration via machines based on binary logic, as a means to link context-free identifiable individuals from human provided data, which form a small but important subset of historical data, which the a collaborative empirical result of the work of the CRM-SIG. This determines the modelling principles of the CRM.

If you introduce other functions or principles of modeling, we have first to understand their new epistemic function in the scientific discourse, and understand if and how binary logic based machines etc, may be able to process them epistemically correctly for the intended purpose. If you introduce other functions or principles of modeling, the model will necessarily be different from the CRM itself and possibly incompatible.

This *cannot* be discussed vi a e-mail exchange, it is too complex. Any such attempt would increase the already existing confusion of epistemic and  technological insights and necessities. We have to organize vitual face-to-face meetings for that purpose.

My previous messages where *solely* about the word "outcome" and its polysemy. I perfectly understand the word. I only tried to make the CRM audience aware of the ontological methodologic questions necessary to reveal the polysemy of this word and enable choosing the senses that can be modelled adequately. I also tried, without success, to make you aware of the extreme context dependency of any such word. If this has been misunderstood, we need to discuss this *face-to-face *with enough time. The necessary explanations and disambiguations definitely exceed my writing capacities.

Looking forward to a substantial face-to-face discussion and resolution of any misunderstanding,

Best wishes,



Post by Francesco Beretta (Jan 6, 2022) 

Part of a discussion via the sig list that stems from the proposal to introduce properties assigning generic outcomes to activities, which can inform issue 504

Dear Martin, 

thank you for taking of your time to discuss my statement below about the foundational perspectives of the CRM. Allow me please, in turn, to restate, with all due respect, the distinctions that we should introduce if we want to remove any misunderstanding. It would indeed be a pity to "confuse everything".

I must confess that it is almost impossible not to think that the level of factuality modelled by CRMbase is the one of the happenings in the physical world, and this from the point of view of the spatio-temporal relations of classical (Galilean or Newtonian) physics.

Of course the domain of discourse of the CRM is the one of cultural heritage and history but considered from the perspective of space-time relations of entities, i.e. of events happening in time and the physical space, as the foundational stance.

As a matter of fact all events in CRMbase are subclasses of crm:E4 Period : "This class comprises sets of coherent phenomena or cultural manifestations occurring in time and space." And, as we all know, it is precisely the crm:E4 Period class that introduces the two properties establishing a relationship of events to space (crm:P8 took place on or within → crm:E18 Physical Thing ; crm:P7 took place at → crm:E53 Place) .

Furthermore, crm:E4 Period is at the same time a subclass of E2 Temporal Entity, the class providing the time-span projection and the temporal relationships, _*and* of_ E92 Spacetime Volume, last being defined as comprising "4-dimensional point sets (volumes) in physical spacetime (in contrast to mathematical models of it, or the models of quantum mechanics) regardless their true geometric forms. They may derive their identity from being the extent of a material phenomenon or from being the interpretation of an expression defining an extent in spacetime." Space-time (physical, not mathematical) is thus central in the foundational view of the CRM.

In addition, crm:E52 Time-Span is defined as "abstract temporal extent, in the sense of Galilean physics" and crm:E53 Place as an "extent in space, in particular on the surface of the earth, in the pure sense of physics: independent from temporal phenomena and matter". Both are conceived as projections of physical phenomena into reference systems.

Finally, we can read in literature that the choice of not having phases or states, in the CRM, but just events "was inspired by considerations of modern physics, which considers Events as complex interactions with non-negligible temporal extent, leading into phases of stability with fuzzy (if any) temporal boundaries." This explains why "The CRM encourages the description of transitions rather than the states or situations in between them". Doerr Martin, Hunter Jane and Lagoze Carl, Towards a Core Ontology for Information Integration. /Journal of Digital Information/ 4 (1), 2003, 5.1 About Situations and Events (

With all this said (respectively before our eyes), it would be almost impossible, for an informed observer, not to think that classical physics provides the foundational perpective, or the fundamental insight that establishes the essential ontological categories of the CRM events and its analsys of the domain of discourse of "the scholarly views of museum curators and a set of other disciplines dealing with historical facts of the past". And that these facts are considered under the perspective of their spatio-temporal extent and characteristics.

I do not criticise this choice at all or discuss it at all as it can be considered as entirely appropriate in order to establish a ground ontology aimed at integrating factual information about cultural heritage physical objects.

Concerning conceptual objects, even the crm:E65 Creation class, producing instances of the crm:E28 Conceptual Object class, is to be considered in this view —insofar as it is a subclass of crm:E4 Period— as an event happening in space and time, as the substratum of the intellectual event happening in the mind of the artist or poet. The same applies to social events, such as the crm:E66 Formation of a group or crm:E8 Acquisition of a physical thing: it this their projection in physical reality that is considered, in application of the applied foundational view, not their social dimension and the analysis of what happens in the minds of the participants.

Thus, the point I was making, and that started our exchanges, is that if we want to model social events or phenomena *as such*, like acquisitions and ownership, joining groups and memberships, shared opinions in social networks and radicalisations, etc., i.e. as phenomena in human minds, individually or collectively, we need an extension of CRM applying a different and complementary foundational perspective.

As a matter of fact, social philosophy, social psychology and social sciences generally consider —as a standard view— that this kind of social phenomena happen in the minds and the social space as a collective space of the activities of individual human minds and as a result of individual, shared and/or collective intentionality (cf. e.g. Gallotti Mattia and Michael John (éds.), /Perspectives on Social Ontology and Social Cognition/, Dordrecht, Springer Netherlands, 2014 or Sammut Gordon et al. (éds.), /The Cambridge Handbook of Social Representations/, Cambridge, University Press, 2015).

In the CRMsoc extensions that George and myself are developing, and already proposed and will propose to discussion to the next SIG, we therefore propose to adopt the foundational perspecive of a phenomenology of social phenomena compatible with standard approaches both in social philosophy and in social sciences as an effort to carefully distinguish the physical and the social space and to add a well grounded layer of social events and states ontop of the events in the physical world that is consistent with CRMbase and its focus.

Therefore, in my perspective, "the speech act/social event is *not* identical to the crm:E8 Acquisition" (see below), the latter being the projection or setting in the physical world of the former which happens in the minds of the participants and the social space – and is not seen by our dogs. According to the distinction of foundational approaches, and the epistemological layering, the same human happening can be split into distinct physical and social events (in an appropriate extension) and this allows to capture the complexity of the happening, from different perspectives, as shown in the examples brought into the discussion by Rob and George : an archeological expedition (as social and physical endeavour) ended with 'came home empty handed' (or no death after a murder attempt): this is a specifically individual and social failure in relation to a personal/social project or plan, or an expectation by the funding agency, but not a physical event.

I consider that we should have an open discussion on ways of modelling social phenomena, and try to find a common vision in the SIG, in order to produce extensions of the CRM grounded in scientific standards that are not the same in different domains of discourse, and disciplines. And, indeed, it will be a pleasure for me to resume in the next future our exchanges, as in the past, in preparation for the next SIG.

I also kindly ask to have this post as a new issue on foundational perspectives and stances in CRM base and extentions.

All the best


Post by Martin Doerr (Jan 10, 2022)

Part of a discussion via the sig list that stems from the proposal to introduce properties assigning generic outcomes to activities, which can inform issue 504

Please see issue 504.



Post by Francesco Beretta (Jan 16, 2022) 

Part of a discussion via the sig list that stems from the proposal to introduce properties assigning generic outcomes to activities, which can inform issue 504

Dear Martin, 

thank you for the hint and reminder.

I would then kindly ask the issues-managers to add this email to issue 504 concerning : "Formulate the philosophical underpinnings of CRM and its relation to reality and the objectivity of observations. "