Fiat or Bona Fide Boundary—A Matter of Granular Perspective


Background: Distinguishing bona fide (i.e. natural) and fiat (i.e. artificial) physical boundaries plays a key role for distinguishing natural from artificial material entities and is thus relevant to any scientific formal foundational top-level ontology, as for instance the Basic Formal Ontology (BFO). In BFO, the distinction is essential for demarcating two foundational categories of material entity: object and fiat object part. The commonly used basis for demarcating bona fide from fiat boundary refers to two criteria: (i) intrinsic qualities of the boundary bearers (i.e. spatial/physical discontinuity, qualitative heterogeneity) and (ii) mind-independent existence of the boundary. The resulting distinction of bona fide and fiat boundaries is considered to be categorial and exhaustive. Methodology/Principal Findings: By referring to various examples from biology, we demonstrate that the hitherto used distinction of boundaries is not categorial: (i) spatial/physical discontinuity is a matter of scale and the differentiation of bona fide and fiat boundaries is thus granularity-dependent, and (ii) this differentiation is not absolute, but comes in degrees. By reducing the demarcation criteria to mind-independence and by also considering dispositions and historical relations of the bearers of boundaries, instead of only considering their spatio-structural properties, we demonstrate with various examples that spatio-structurally fiat boundaries can nevertheless be mind-independent and in this sense bona fide. Conclusions/Significance: We argue that the ontological status of a given boundary is perspective-dependent and that th

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