Formal ontology is here understood as the rigorous, axiomatic account of the nature and structure of what exists. While we deliberately avoid any metaphysical implications of the verb ‘to exist’, we share with the broad philosophical area of analytic metaphysics the fundamental notions that, due to their generality, allow us to explain and make explicit our ontological commitment on what exists. Such notions concern the basic kinds of entities (particulars, universals, objects, events, processes, actions, states of affairs, qualities, roles, relationships…), the basic kinds of relations among entities (parthood, identity, connection, dependence, constitution, causality…), the general issues of location, change, persistence and granularity in space and in time.

Note that our approach to applied ontology puts the focus on foundational aspects, therefore a large part of the work presented in the other sections also includes ontological analysis and formal ontology discussions.

Keywords objects, events, processes, action, ontological relations, roles, states of affairs, tropes, change

Main Publications


We are interested in the ways social interaction is carried out in complex organizations and socio-technical systems (e.g. airports, coordination centres, emergency rooms, so-called ‘smart cities’) taking work, and technologically-mediated or aided work in particular, as a paradigmatic case. We pay particular attention to processes of techno-organizational change and innovation. At a more general level, we focus on the details of human action-in-interaction and human-machine interaction, with particular attention to nonverbal and affective aspects, and the role of tools and technologies.

Furthermore, we study the foundational properties – for instance identity, intentionality, persistence through time and change… – of collective and social entities, like roles, organizations, informal groups, norms, etc.

social ontology, ontology of interaction, embodied communication, processes of techno-organizational change and innovation, ontology of organisations, socio-technical systems, workplace studies, ethnomethodology.

Main Publications

  • T. Brower, R. Ferrario, and D. Porello, Hybrid Collective Intentionality, Synthese, 199:3367-3403, 2021.
  • S. Borgo, An Ontological View of Components and Interactions in Behaviorally Adaptive Systems, in Journal of Integrated Design and Process Science, 23(1):17-35, 2019, DOI 10.3233/JID190013.
  • R. Ferrario, C. Masolo, and D. Porello, Organisations and variable embodiments, in Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Formal Ontology in Information Systems, FOIS (S. Borgo, P. Hitzler, and O. Kutz, eds.), pp. 127–140, IOS Press, 2018.
  • C. Bassetti, Airport security contradictions: Interorganizational entanglements and changing work practices, Ethnography, 19(3), pp. 288–311, 2018.
  • T. P. Sales, F. Baião, G. Guizzardi, J. P. A. Almeida, N. Guarino, and J. Mylopoulos, The common ontology of value and risk, in Conceptual Modeling (ER 2018) (J.C. Trujillo, K.C. Davis, X. Du, Z. Li, T.W. Ling, G. Li, M.L. Lee, eds.), pp. 121–135, Springer, 2018.
  • A. Calafiore, G. Boella, S. Borgo, and N. Guarino, Urban Artefacts and Their Social Roles: Towards an Ontology of Social Practices, in 13th International Conference on Spatial Information Theory (COSIT 2017) (E. Clementini, M. Donnelly, M. Yuan, C. Kray, P. Fogliaroni, and A. Ballatore, eds.), vol. 86 of Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics, pp. 6:1–6:13, Schloss Dagstuhl–Leibniz-Zentrum fuer Informatik, 2017.
  • F. Setti, D. Conigliaro, P. Rota, C. Bassetti, N. Conci, N. Sebe, and M. Cristani, The S-HOCK dataset: A new benchmark for spectator crowd analysis, Computer Vision and Image Understanding, 159, pp. 47–58, 2017.
  • B. Andersson, N. Guarino, P. Johannesson, and B. Livieri, Towards an ontology of value ascription, in Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Formal Ontology in Information Systems (FOIS 2016) (R. Ferrario and W. Kuhn, eds.), pp. 331–344, IOS Press, 2016.
  • D. Porello, E. Bottazzi, and R. Ferrario, Group conflict as social contradiction, in Conflict and Multimodal Communication (F. D’Errico, I. Poggi, A. Vinciarelli, and L. Vincze, eds.), pp. 33–52, Springer, 2015.
  • C. Bassetti and E. Bottazzi, Introduction. Rhythm in social interaction, Etnografia e ricerca qualitativa, Rivista quadrimestrale, 3, pp. 367–382, 2015.
  • Setti F, Russell C, Bassetti C, Cristani M, F-Formation Detection: Individuating Free-Standing Conversational Groups in Images, PLOS ONE, 10(5): e0123783, 2015.
  • J. C. Nardi, R. de Almeida Falbo, J. P. A. Almeida, G. Guizzardi, L. F. Pires, M. J. van Sinderen, N. Guarino, and C. Fonseca, A Commitment-Based reference ontology for services, Information systems, 54, pp. 263–288, 2015.
  • D. Porello, E. Bottazzi, and R. Ferrario, The ontology of group agency, in Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Formal Ontology in Information Systems (FOIS 2014) (P. Garbacz and O. Kutz, eds.), pp. 183–196, IOS Press, 2014.
  • E. Bottazzi, R. Ferrario, Preliminaries to a DOLCE Ontology of Organizations, in C. Atkinson, E. Kendall, G. Wagner, G. Guizzardi, M. Spies (Eds.), International Journal of Business Process Integration and ManagementVol. 4, Nr. 4, pp. 225-238.

We are interested in understanding the connection between studies in cognitive sciences and in ontology. We investigate on the one hand the cognitive foundations of ontologies, i.e., the mechanisms behind the conceptualization of the world and the classification process (e.g., connections with theories of concepts and categorization, image schemas, etc.) and on the other hand the ontological foundations of cognitive theories including the ontological analysis of mental entities (e.g., desires, beliefs, intentions), conceptual spaces, prototypes, etc.

Our starting point is that the way agents (humans, non-human animals, cyborgs, artificial agents and robots) interact with the environment – via their cognitive and embodied capabilities – forms and, at the same time, depends on their conceptualization of the world that can be made explicit by means of ontologies.

ontology of mental entities, cognitive foundations of ontologies, ontologies of cognitive theories

Main Publications


We find that design activities are particularly challenging as they require to integrate information about the world (the fragment to be understood and/or modified), about the designer (the knowledge available, the expectations as well as the cognitive capabilities) and about the model (the perspective it takes, what it does or should contain, its envisioned use). No matter whether one designs industrial or administrative processes, devices or social objects, ontology is an essential tool to help understanding and organising the types of information that must be considered in this activity like, depending on the application domain, spatial, material, structural, functional, behavioural, procedural, agentive, cognitive and social information.

enterprise modelling, service science, ontology of economics, ontology and modeling of cyber-physical systems, ontology, design and modeling of processes and products, ontology of function and action, ontology in and for artificial agents and robotics, types and rules in architecture

Main Publications


We aim at exploring the epistemological stance in formal ontology and knowledge representation. In particular, we are interested in two intertwined research directions: (i) the epistemological foundations of ontologies and (ii) the ontology of epistemology. A number of important topics are related to these points, for instance: the representation of empirical data, measurements, and observations together with their provenance and the reliability of the sources of information (both human and artificial, e.g. sensors) in the context in which data have been collected; the ontological analysis of epistemological concepts like argument, explanation, proof or, more generally, of how raw data are elaborated to produce new data; the integration of ontological approaches with machine learning and micro-sociological approaches, in particular in computer vision and sociable robotics.

ontology of empirical data, observations, sensors, and provenance, representation of different perspectives on the same domain (contexts, granularity, resolution, ontological levels), epistemological foundations of ontologies and ontologies of epistemology

Main Publications

  • C. Masolo, A. B. Benevides, and D. Porello, The interplay between models and observations, Applied Ontology, 13, pp. 41–71, 2018.
  • E. Bottazzi, R. Ferrario, and C. Masolo, The mysterious appearance of objects, in Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Formal Ontologies in Information Systems (FOIS 2012) (M. Donnelly and G. Guizzardi, eds.), pp. 59–72, IOS Press, 2012.
  • C. Masolo, Understanding ontological levels, in Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on the Principles of Knowledge Representation and Reasoning (KR 2010) (F. Lin and U. Sattler, eds.), pp. 258–268, AAAI Press, 2010.
  • C. Masolo, Founding properties on measurement, in Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Formal Ontology and Information Systems (FOIS 2010) (A. Galton and R. Mizoguchi, eds.), pp. 89–102, IOS Press, 2010.
  • S. Borgo and C. Masolo, Qualities in possible worlds, in Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Formal Ontology in Information Systems (FOIS-06) (B. Bennett and C. Fellbaum, eds.), pp. 250–261, IOS Press, 2006.

We do research in logics for knowledge representations, cognitive science, and for representing ontological concepts and theories. We work mainly on first-order theories, modal logics, and description logics. We also explore the application and advantages of non-classical logics in knowledge representation, cognitive science, and ontologies.

Overall, the aim is to develop expressive and clear logical systems that are well motivated and robust for modeling ontological and cognitive views.

formal logics for ontology, ontological commitment of logical operators, formalization of an ontology in different logical languages

Main Publications

  • D. Porello, O. Kutz, G. Righetti, N. Troquard, P. Galliani, and C. Masolo, A toothful of concepts: Towards a theory of weighted concept combination, in Proceedings of the 32nd International Workshop on Description Logics (M. Šimkus and G. Weddell, eds.), CEUR vol-2373, 2019.
  • D. Porello, N. Troquard, R. Peñaloza, R. Confalonieri, P. Galliani, and O. Kutz, Two approaches to ontology aggregation based on axiom weakening, in Proceedings of the 27th International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI 2018), pp. 1942–1948, IJCAI Organization, 2018.
  • N. Troquard, R. Confalonieri, P. Galliani, R. Peñaloza, D. Porello and O. Kutz, Repairing Ontologies via Axiom Weakening, in Proceedings of the 32nd {AAAI} Conference on Artificial Intelligence, pp.1981-1988, 2018
  • C. Masolo and D. Porello, A cognitive view of relevant implication, in Proceedings of the 3rd International Workshop on Artificial Intelligence and Cognition (A. Lieto, C. Battaglino, D. P. Radicioni, and M. Sanguinetti, eds.), pp. 40–53, CEUR, 2015.
  • D. Porello and U. Endriss, Ontology Merging as Social Choice: Judgment Aggregation under the Open World Assumption, Journal of Logic and Computation, 24(6), pp. 1229-1249, 2014.
  • S. Borgo, D. Porello, and N. Troquard, Logical operators for ontological modeling, in Proceeding of the 8th International Conference on Formal Ontology in Information Systems (FOIS 2014) (O. Kutz and P. Garbacz, eds.), pp. 23–36, IOS Press, 2014.
We are interested in supporting the adoption of ontologies (including Semantic Web ontologies) in the Digital Humanities by applying theories of formal ontology and methodologies for conceptual analysis which have already proved useful in applied ontology.
ontology for musicology, philology, literature, architecture, performing arts, cultural heritage; representation of partial, contrasting, or hypothetical knowledge; concept drift; digital libraries.
Main Publications

We live in an era in which the rapid development of new technologies, especially digital media, makes it increasingly difficult to identify the rules to be applied in the different fields of society. Great technological innovations, like all great discoveries, do not limit themselves to adding novelty to the existing but shape it, give it new shape and content, creating a new dimension within which even the rules of law take on new content.

We are interested in facing the challenges of contemporary public law (regulatory issues, new jurisprudential trends and practices adopted by the sector Authorities), in an inter-sectoral perspective and according to a markedly international and European approach, through the use of the legal perspective and method compared.


Large language models, AI, smart cities, open data, algorithms, trustworthy AI, transparency, automated decisions, digitalizzation, data protection, Pubblic administration

Main pubblications