Justification Based Explanation in Ontologies

  • Matthew Horridge

Student thesis: Phd


The Web Ontology Language, OWL, is the latest standard in logic based ontology languages. It is built upon the foundations of highly expressive Description Logics, which are fragments of First Order Logic. These logical foundations mean that it is possible to compute what is entailed by an OWL ontology. The reasons for entailments can range from fairly simple localised reasons through to highly non-obvious reasons. In both cases, without tool support that provides explanations for entailments, it can be very difficult or impossible to understand why an entailment holds. In the OWL world, justifications, which are minimal entailing subsets of ontologies, have emerged as the dominant form of explanation.This thesis investigates justification based explanation techniques. The core of the thesis is devoted to defining and analysing Laconic and Precise Justifications. These are fine-grained justifications whose axioms do not contain any superfluous parts. Optimised algorithms for computing these justifications are presented, and an extensive empirical investigation shows that these algorithms perform well on state of the art, large and expressive bio-medical ontologies. The investigation also highlights the prevalence of superfluity in real ontologies, along with the related phenomena of justification masking. The practicality of computing Laconic Justifications coupled with the prevalence of non-laconic justifications in the wild indicates that Laconic and Precise justifications are likely to be useful in practice.The work presented in this thesis should be of interest to researchers in the area of knowledge representation and reasoning, and developers of reasoners and ontology editors, who wish to incorporate explanation generation techniques into their systems.
Date of Award31 Dec 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorUli Sattler (Supervisor) & Bijan Parsia (Supervisor)


  • Justifications
  • Ontologies
  • Explanation

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