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The Pragmatic Roots of Context - Bruce Edmonds

1. Introduction

Frequently at workshops and conferences on context, one finds that the emphasis is on drawing distinctions between different types of context and illustrating how little each type has to do with the others*1. If this trend continues it will quickly become impossible to use the term "context" at all. Now it is certainly the case that naively conflating different usages of the term can cause confusion, but I wish to claim that there is a good reason that we use the same term for these different entities. The reason, I claim, is that context arises from a study of the pragmatics of learning and applying knowledge. These roots of context explain why and how the different types of context and approaches to studying them arise. This account centers on the transference of knowledge between learning and application. If this is the case, then accounts of context which capture either only context-dependent learning or only context-dependent inference will be inadequate.

This paper is structured as follows: section 2 is about the causal structure of complex systems showing the inevitability of the selection of important factors in any model we construct; this motivates the account of context as an abstraction of the features that are not explicitly included in the model but used in the recognition of its applicability in section 3; section 4 relates how the choice between concentrating on the actual heuristics used by an agent and on the external regularities that they exploit lead to the familiar `internal' and `external' approaches to context; the account also explains why different sources of commonality will result in the different types of context encountered in different fields (section 5); section 6 traces two possible methodologies for the investigation of context (`top-down' and `bottom-up') noting the present bias towards `top-down' studies; in order to show the viability of `bottom-up' studies taking the `internal' approach to modelling context a simulation study is described in section 7; I conclude in section 8.

The Pragmatic Roots of Context - Bruce Edmonds - 31 MAR 99
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