The Metaphysics of Malfunction

Techne 13 (2):82-92 (2009)
Abstract
Any artefact – a hammer, a telescope, an artificial hip – may malfunction. Conceptually speaking, artefacts have an inherent normative aspect. I argue that the normativity of artefacts should be understood as part of reality, and not just “in our concepts.” I first set out Deflationary Views of artefacts, according to which there are no artefactual properties, just artefactual concepts. According to my contrasting view – the Constitution View – there are artefactual properties that things in the world really have. For example, there is a property of being a telephone per se; we apply our concept telephone to things that have that property. Things that have the property of being a telephone are constituted by, but not identical to, aggregates of particles. To be an artefact, an object must have an intended function, among other things. Telephones – in virtue of being the kind of objects that they are – are always subject to malfunction. And malfunctions, when they occur, are just as much part of the world as telephones are. The example of artefacts shows that what is in the world – what really exists – need not be “mind-independent” nor independent of our concepts
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