In computer science and information science, an ontology encompasses a representation, formal naming, and definition of the categories, properties, and relations between the concepts, data, and entities that substantiate one, many, or all domains of discourse. More simply, an ontology is a way of showing the properties of a subject area and how they are related, by defining a set of concepts and categories that represent the subject.
|Related fields and subfields|
Every academic discipline or field creates ontologies to limit complexity and organize data into information and knowledge. Each uses ontological assumptions to frame explicit theories, research and applications. New ontologies may improve problem solving within that domain. Translating research papers within every field is a problem made easier when experts from different countries maintain a controlled vocabulary of jargon between each of their languages.
For instance, the definition and ontology of economics is a primary concern in Marxist economics, but also in other subfields of economics. An example of economics relying on information science occurs in cases where a simulation or model is intended to enable economic decisions, such as determining what capital assets are at risk and by how much (see risk management).
What ontologies in both computer science and philosophy have in common is the attempt to represent entities, ideas and events, with all their interdependent properties and relations, according to a system of categories. In both fields, there is considerable work on problems of ontology engineering (e.g., Quine and Kripke in philosophy, Sowa and Guarino in computer science), and debates concerning to what extent normative ontology is possible (e.g., foundationalism and coherentism in philosophy, BFO and Cyc in artificial intelligence).
Applied ontology is considered a successor to prior work in philosophy, however many current efforts are more concerned with establishing controlled vocabularies of narrow domains than first principles, the existence of fixed essences or whether enduring objects (e.g., perdurantism and endurantism) may be ontologically more primary than processes. Artificial intelligence has retained the most attention regarding applied ontology in subfields like natural language processing within machine translation and knowledge representation, but ontology editors are being used often in a range of fields like education without the intent to contribute to AI.