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DOLCE is a foundational ontology developed as part of the WonderWeb Foundational Ontologies Library (WFOL).

The development of this library has been guided by the need of a reliable set of foundational ontologies that can serve as
- Starting point for building other ontologies,
- Reference point for easy and rigorous comparisons among different ontological approaches,
- Rigorous basis for analyzing, harmonizing and integrating existing ontologies and metadata standards (by manually mapping them into some general module(s) in the library).

In addition, the WFOL is meant to be minimal (including only the most reusable and widely applicable upper-level categories), rigorous (the ontologies are characterized by means of rich axiomatizations and their formal consequences explored in some detail), and extensively researched (each module in the library undergoes a careful evaluation by experts and consultation with canonical works).

DOLCE (Descriptive Ontology for Linguistic and Cognitive Engineering) is the first module of WFOL and it is not a candidate for a universal standard ontology. Rather, it is intended as a starting point for comparing and elucidating the relationships with the other modules of the library, and also for clarifying the hidden assumptions underlying existing ontologies or linguistic resources such as WordNet.

As reflected by its acronym, DOLCE has a clear cognitive bias, in the sense that it aims at capturing the ontological categories underlying natural language and human commonsense. DOLCE is an ontology that focuses on particulars in the sense that its domain of discourse is restricted to them.

The fundamental ontological distinction between universals and particulars can be informally understood by taking the relation of instantiation as a primitive: particulars are entities which have no instances; universals are entities that can have instances. Properties and relations (corresponding to predicates in a logical language) are usually considered as universals and thus are not classified by this ontology (although they occur in as far as they are needed to classify particulars).

A basic choice adopted by DOLCE is the so-called multiplicative approach: different entities can be co-located in the same space-time. This assumption allows us to make justice of incompatible essential properties. A classical example is the distinction between a vase and its amount of clay: the vase does not survive a radical change in shape or topology while the amount of clay does. DOLCE assumes that the vase and the corresponding amount of clay are two distinct things, yet co-located, so that we can talk of the shape of the vase (but not of the clay) or the mass of the clay (inherited by the vase) without fear of contradictory claims.

Another foundamental feature of DOLCE is the distinction between enduring and perduring entities, i.e. between what philosophers usually call continuants and occurrents. For instance, my copy of the newspaper I bought today is wholly present (and endurant), while some temporal parts of my reading the newspaper is not (a perdurant). The main relation between endurants and perdurants is that of participation: an endurant lives in time by participating in some perdurant(s). Other important notions and relations are characterized in DOLCE, among the notions we recall Qualities, Physical Objects, Social Objects, Events, Processes, Temporal Regions and Spatial Regions; among the relations let us mention Participation, Parthood, and Constitution.

DOLCE has quickly become a standard in formal ontology and, thanks to its availability in several formats (like KIF and OWL) with modules specialized for specific subdomains and connections to natural languages resources (like WordNet), it is used by several researchers around the world (see for more information and a partial list of users). Applications using DOLCE as a formal tool for the semantic integration of data span several areas like computational linguistics, agriculture, medicine, cultural resources, banking and insurance organization, legal documents management, software engineering, knowledge engineering, and mobile robotics.

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