Integrative Levels Classification project scheme monograph references

« What is it

History and people

Languages and their syntax have always attracted the author of this monograph. In my youth I longly cultivated constructed languages, developed one of them called Aarbad, and later a more sophisticated one called Liva [Gno01], belonging to the little class of logical languages, like Lojban and Livagian. The author of the latter, And Rosta, discussed many interesting properties and solutions of such languages with me and the LangDev mailing list. Ultimately, they share much with the 18th century philosophical language projects [Eco05] the most famous of which is that by John Wilkins [Vic53].

When I began working in libraries, I felt interested in subject indexing languages, and then realized that they are but another kind of artificial languages. The principles of faceted classification introduced by Ranganathan, though unfortunately rarely applicated in libraries, provided powerful and clever ordering devices. I began to play with notations to organize my collection of references on animal communication, or the messages in the Italian wildlife management mailing list, "Vertebrati".

At that time (around 1998), I was also reading the book maybe most relevant to me overall, Konrad Lorenz's "Behind the mirror: a search for a natural history of human knowledge". In the first chapters, it makes reference to the notion of levels of reality, as discussed in Nicolai Hartmann's ontological works (unfortunately only partially translated from German into English; but I had inherited some Italian editions from my grandfather Giulio Gnoli):

"Nel mondo reale in cui viviamo, dice Nicolai Hartmann, incontriamo degli strati, che si differenziano fra di loro per il fatto di possedere o non possedere certe particolari categorie o certi gruppi di categorie dell'essere. [...] Queste connessioni dell'essere si protendono sempre in modo unilaterale di là dalle cesure attraverso le quali i quattro grandi strati in cui si divide l'essere reale – cioè l'organico, l'inorganico, lo psichico e lo spirituale – si differenziano fra di loro. I princìpi dell'essere e le leggi naturali valide per il mondo inorganico si mantengono invariate anche negli strati superiori." [Lor73, 3.2]

I thought that this ontological notion would be suited to found the structure of a classification scheme on an objective principle, instead of the canonical-epistemological principles followed in schemes like Dewey. Thus, the basic idea of combining facets with levels was already there. A short time later, while exploring the works of the Classification Research Group (starting with some hints by Daniele Danesi), I discovered that they had pursued exactly the same project! In spring 2002 I was able to find the book "Classification and information control", where the CRG NATO project was described, and began to read it while assisting my mother, who had to spend one month in the bed after a vertebral fracture.

Next source was Roberto Poli, of which I had found the works on levels of reality in Hartmann's ontology. I visited him in Bolzano and we intensively spoke for some hours of levels, facets, and indexing. After that, we worked together on a paper discussing CRG research on levels [Gno04b], which was the first product of the ILC project.

In the meantime, I began to play with a basic scheme of my own, though following many of the same lines of the CRG NATO project. It was originally an Italian text file in my home computer, but as it quickly took a more definite and developed form, it changed to English, an MS Excel spreadsheet, and eventually a MySQL database at my Mathematics Department in Pavia, to which I had access thanks to the interest of Fulvio Bisi and of the department computer scientist, Gabriele Merli. Gabriele also taught me how to produce Web interfaces to the database through basic PHP instructions, and the ILC web schedules began to develop into the form in which they currently are.

Discussion of this experimental system of classifying was begun with Lorena Zuccolo, together with me one of the first active members in the new Italian chapter of ISKO, the International Society for Knowledge Organization. Lorena was working on a little collection on environment education at LAREA, the Regional Laboratory of Environment Education of Friuli Venezia Giulia, and we tried to apply to it a free classification [Gar64] using rough ILC classmarks, like Ye O "education: society". Later, Marcella Patania planned a similar work with a collection on industrial innovation in the Economics library at Turin University, where she was working, and studied sources of terminology and concepts in the social sciences, including some works of CRG members Barbara Kyle and Douglas Foskett.

Until then, ILC worked only as a free classification, with phase relationships expressed by a blank space, and hence easy to manage by computers. However, I was thinking about the way to apply both levels and facets, and reading more of Derek Austin's remarkable papers in this direction. Thus, to describe this version of the system, I adopted his term freely faceted classification [Aus76]. For the individual system itself, I was hesitating between the names Naturalistic Classification, expressing its foundation in a naturalistic ontology, and Integrative Level Classification, expressing its debt to the notion already applied by the CRG. Lorena advised to use the latter, as naturalistic could have been misunderstood for a system only usable for the natural sciences; this choice was also good as I realized only later that the understanding of "naturalism" in contemporary American philosophy [Dec04] is quite reductionistic, lacking the notion of emergence of novel properties in the higher levels, which is central to level theory. Level was later corrected into Levels by Rick Szostak.

The first occasion to test freely faceted classification occurred in email discussions with Hong Mei, a Chinese student who was doing her PhD at Tohoku University in Japan. She is very interest in classification theory and had already collected much bibliography on faceted classification, so she chose faceted classification itself as the test topic to be classified. This gave birth to her Dandelion Bibliography of Facet Analysis, indexed with ILC faceted classmarks. Mei also found and translated to me some Japanese papers, unknown in the West, discussing classification by levels and the CRG work. Another thesis on the ILC project was later presented by Enzo Cesanelli at the University of Trieste.

Another participant in the project was Viviana Doldi, a mathematician who was finishing her PhD in Pavia, who helped exploring mathematical tools to formalize the relationships between levels, including graph theory, coding theory, and questionnaire theory. Discussions with Viviana were as nice as ranging through a wild variety of speculations. Later, Uta Priss also showed to me some appropriate application of lattice theory.

Information on the project published on the website began to yield precious contacts, as Canadian economist Rick Szostak and French school librarian Philippe Cousson both contacted me through e-mail, on February 19, 2006 and on January 14, 2008 respectively. We thus started stimulating discussions on various aspects of the project, and they eventually became two major collaborators of the ILC project, Rick also sharing the idea, during the 2007 ISKO Spain conference in León, of synthezising in a Manifesto our proposals for better interdisciplinarity in classification. A paper on dependence in ILC was presented in León by Mela Bosch.

Invitation to contribute a special issue of "Axiomathes" was instead the occasion for personally knowing Brian Vickery, an outstanding author in classification literature in his late eighties, and a former member of the Classification Research Group. Discussions with Brian, and his encouraging comments, were very stimulating for going on with experimentation and development in this direction.

Ontological approach »

References cited in this section

Dec04: Naturalism in question / Mario De Caro, David Macarthur : ed's – Harvard university press : Cambridge (Mass') : 2004

Eco95: The search for the perfect language / Umberto Eco — Blackwell : Cambridge (Mass') : 1995

Gar64: Free classifications and faceted classifications: their exploitation with computers / JC Gardin = Classification research : proceedings of the International conference, Elsinore, 1964. p 161-176 — Munksgaard : Copenhagen : 1965

Gno01: Liva : a logical language # 4 / Claudio Gnoli — Yahoo!-Geocities <> : 2001.07-2009? » Internet Archive. Wayback machine

Vic53: The significance of John Wilkins in the history of bibliographical classification / BC Vickery = Libri. 2: 1953. p 326-343


Integrative Levels Classification. The project. History and people / Claudio Gnoli – ISKO Italy : <> : 2008.08.08 - 2011.07.29 -

  Integrative Levels Classification project scheme monograph references