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2009-08-16
Artifacts and individuations conditions

On the Individuation of Artifacts.

Artifacts are concrete particulars with certain structure and function. The proper function of an artifact is a property of it; of course, this isn’t a perceptual property but a functional one; e.g. . Functional properties of artifacts are intrinsically associated with their design, i.e., with their structure. Functional properties and structural properties are constitutive of artifacts; there’s no artifacts lacking proper functions and/or structure. Imagine an object looking like a book but that, actually, is a chest. In one sense, this is a book that cannot be read; in other sense, this is a chest that looks likes a book. If we take into account its functional properties we are facing a chest; if we take into account its external visual perceptual properties (appearance) we are facing a book. How should we call this object? ‘book’ or ‘chest’?

If we know structural properties of such an object we could find that this is a chest looking (visually) like a book. To call this object ‘book’ depends on our ignorance with respect to the complete catalogue of structural properties, i.e., those that make it be a chest (i.e. those that make possible that we can perform certain proper function with it). Constitutive properties of artifacts (i.e. those with which we individuate them as artifacts and no merely as objects) are structural and functional ones.

Furthermore, we individuate an object, a, by specifying their properties, F, G, H, J…. Therefore, if we find that some of their structural, say F and H, properties are man-made properties (e.g. shapes, volumes, union of parts etc.), then, we will ascribe a inferred functions to a.  Two options: (i) If a is taken to be a token falling in the extension of the sortal predicate ‘artifact’, then, F, G, J and H are individuating properties of a; (ii) if a is taken to be the extension of the sortal predicate ‘animal’, then, F and H are not individuating properties. What is it a? It depends on how we have fixed the reference of our sortal terms. Here we are not individuating a, rather we are specifying the extension of a given sortal.

We don’t need words to perceptually recognize a. In general, the way a looks is (under normal conditions) how a actually is. So, we sensorily individuate objects (e.g. their borders, surfaces, parts and so on) and we know the way they look. This is another way to know what is it a. In exploring the properties of a we can find man-made properties or natural properties (F, G, J and H). From this view, if F, G, J and H contribute to individuate a then they are all constitutive properties of this concrete particular. We know what a particular concrete is without words. Sortal predicates don’t individuate concrete particular entities, but they pick out sets of properties that must be instantiated to falling in their extension.

In conclusion, what a particular concrete entity is depends, primarily, on sensory knowledge. Which sortal predicate can we use to refer to it depends on the nature of their properties. Return to the chest/book example. Such object has volumetric, visual, tactile etc. properties depending on our accurate (complete) perceptual monitoring. If monitoring is accurate, thus, I can use the sortal predicate ‘artifact’ but if our perceptual monitoring is merely visual, thus, I can use the sortal predicate ‘book’. Concrete particular entities fall under the extension of a sortal term depending on how we perceptually monitor them.

** Editor's note: subject line has been de-capitalized **