The ontology of the state for geopolitical theory and the semantic web
Robinson, Edward Heath
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Michael Mann (1997 , p. 60) wrote, "The state is undeniably a messy concept," but in the years since he made this observation, little seems to have been done to clean it up. This dissertation seeks to use ontology-based methods to answer three major research questions concerning states: (1) what are states? (2) how they can act in the world? and (3) how they can be forcibly eliminated? These questions are addressed through the lens of social realism and in the context of a descriptive ontology designed for use in semantic web applications, namely the Descriptive Ontology for Linguistic and Cognitive Engineering (DOLCE). Thus, the subject is not only approached from a philosophical perspective, which is concerned with the kinds and nature of entities in the world and the relationships between them, but also from the information science perspective which is concerned with "specifying and clarifying the concepts employed in given domains" (in this case political geography) in order to "facilitate reusability of data and information gathered on the basis of different conceptualizations" (Smith & Mark, 2003, pp. 414–415). The dissertation is structured so that the issue of what states are is addressed first (with brief remarks concerning how states come into existence), then how states can act in the world, and concludes with how they might be destroyed through the military operations of a foreign power. The first section addresses the question, "What are states?" It has been proposed by some scholars that states are organizations and a recent preliminary ontology of organizations even uses the State of Italy as an example of an organization that fits that ontological structure. Assuming that Bottazzi and Ferrario’s ontology of organizations is at least substantively correct, then if states are organizations, then they should meet the criteria for organizations set forth in their ontology. This dissertation shows that they do not, in no small part because states can survive the destruction of their organizational structures. Instead, it is proposed that (a) states are the objective legal persons of international law, (b) they are brought into existence when a certain set of conditions are satisfied, and (c) that this new entity is independent of any preexisting entities. This understanding eliminates the problems that arise when states are considered organizations. The section also incorporates states as legal persons into DOLCE. Because the first section argues that states are nonphysical objects, the second section addresses the question, "How can states take action in the world?" This question is not addressed in an ultimate metaphysical sense, but within the context of DOLCE, where the so-called common sense and the surface structure of natural language are assumed to have ontological relevance. Beyond merely offering a solution to how states can act in the world, the proposed method applies more generally to members of DOLCE’s category Agentive Social Object . This dissertation presents a system that recognizes the agentivity of both physical and social objects, but that also recognizes the different natures of their agentivity. In this way, a system could simultaneously, and in a noncontradictory manner, handle statements and queries where both nonphysical social agents and physical agents can take action. In section three, consideration is given to how states can cease to exist, a topic seldom studied in political theory. State extinction can occur voluntarily or involuntary. This section focuses on the involuntary aspect and specifically addresses the question, "How can states be extinguished by physical actions, specifically military action by a foreign power?" In order to answer this question, five case studies are considered: (1) the successful extinction of Hyderabad by India c. 1948–1949, (2) the successful extinction of the Republic of Vietnam in 1976 following the fall of Saigon in 1975, (3) the attempted destruction of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990, (4) the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, and (5) the 2003 invasion of Iraq, both led by the United States. This section concludes that states are not directly extinguished by such physical actions, but rather by intentional declaratory acts that have the potential to be effective in certain situations that can be brought about by military force.