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A formal ontological perspective on the behaviors and functions of technical artifacts

  • Stefano Borgo (a1), Massimiliano Carrara (a2), Pawel Garbacz (a3) and Pieter E. Vermaas (a4)


In this paper we present a formal characterization of the engineering concepts of behavior and function of technical artifacts. We capture the meanings that engineers attach to these concepts by formalizing, within the formal ontology DOLCE, the five meanings of artifact behavior and the two meanings of function that Chandrasekaran and Josephson identified in 2000 within the functional representation approach. We begin our formalization by reserving the term “behavior” of a technical artifact as “the specific way in which the artifact occurs in an event.” This general notion is characterized formally, and used to provide definitions of actual behaviors of artifacts, and the physically possible and physically impossible behaviors that rational agents believe that artifacts have. We also define several other notions, for example, input and output behaviors of artifacts, and then show that these ontologically characterized concepts give a general framework in which Chandrasekaran and Josephson's meanings of behavior can be explicitly formalized. Finally we show how Chandrasekaran and Josephson's two meanings of artifact functions, namely, device-centric and environment-centric functions, can be captured in DOLCE via the concepts of behavioral constraint and mode of deployment of an artifact. A more general goal of this work is to show that foundational ontologies are suited to the engineering domain: they can facilitate information sharing and exchange in the various engineering domains by providing concept structures and clarifications that make explicit and precise important engineering notions. The meanings of the terms “behavior” and “function” in domains like designing, redesigning, reverse engineering, product architecture, and engineering knowledge bases are often ambiguous or overloaded. Our results show that foundational ontologies can accommodate the variety of denotations these terms have and can explain their relationships.



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A formal ontological perspective on the behaviors and functions of technical artifacts

  • Stefano Borgo (a1), Massimiliano Carrara (a2), Pawel Garbacz (a3) and Pieter E. Vermaas (a4)


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