Toward an alternative notion of information systems ontologies: Information engineering as a hermeneutic enterprise

Frederico T. Fonseca, James E. Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


In this paper we discuss the construction of information systems ontologies. We summarize and discuss Barry Smith's review (2003a) of the field in the paper, "Ontology." In that essay Smith concludes with a plea for ontologies that reflect the categories of current scientific theories because they represent our best knowledge of the world. In this context, we develop an argument for a hermeneutic approach to ontologies - one compatible with the orientation introduced into information science by Winograd and Flores (1986) and later developed by many others. To do this, we argue that the literature in the philosophy and history of science supports a hermeneutic interpretation of the nature and growth of science. This, given Smith's argument, shows the relevance of hermeneutics to the creation of information system ontologies. The problems associated with understanding and creating information systems ontologies are addressed fruitfully only if one begins by acknowledging that databases are mechanisms for communication involving judgments and interpretations by intelligent and knowledgeable users. The main contributions of this paper are our conclusions that (a) information system ontologies should take into consideration a perspective of the philosophy and history of science, and (b) hermeneutics as construed by Gadamer (1975, 1979) constitutes a place from which we can understand the tasks of information ontologists and database users.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)46-57
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Software
  • Information Systems
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Artificial Intelligence


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