3. Technological Artifacts in Philosophy

3.1 Technological artifacts and categorization: function theories

Technological artifacts are often taken as objects with functions, as (made) means to ends (this approach has been criticized, as we discuss below). The philosophical tradition of function theory analyzes this concept of function, in part to distinguish types of technological artifacts. Functions are not the only features by which technological artifacts are categorized (see Mitcham 1994: ch. 7) but they are of particular interest because of the relation they establish between technological artifacts and human intentionality, and as part of an ongoing discussion in metaphysics about taking functions as nominal or real essences of technological artifacts (e.g. Baker 2004, Elder 2004, Thomasson 2003, Wiggins 2001: ch. 3). The analysis of functions originated to a large extent in philosophy of biology, in which analyses of biological functions were generalized to include also artifact functions. One can distinguish three approaches. In the first, fitting analyses of technological artifacts in terms of intentions of individual agents, functions are the capacities or purposes for which agents make or select artifacts (e.g. Neander 1991). In the second approach, fitting the evolutionary account of technological artifacts, functions are those capacities for which artifacts are reproduced over time (e.g. Millikan 1984, 1993). And finally Robert Cummins’s (1975) approach, compatible ...

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