In this paper, we describe the conceptual elusiveness of the notion of function as used in engineering practice. We argue that it should be accepted as an ambiguous notion, and then review philosophical argumentations in which engineering functions occur in order to identify the consequences of this ambiguity. Function is a key notion in engineering, yet is used by engineers systematically in a variety of meanings. First, we demonstrate that this ambiguous use is rational for engineers by considering the role (...) of functions in design methods and by analysing the ambiguity in terms of Kuhn’s notion of methodological incommensurability. Second, we discuss ontological and mereological analyses of engineering functions and describe a proof that subfunctions cannot formally be taken as parts of the functions they decompose. Engineering functions figure sometimes in philosophical work and are then typically taken as having an unambiguous, well-defined meaning. Finally, we therefore revisit work in philosophy of technology on the dual nature of technical artefacts, in philosophy of science on functional and mechanistic explanations, and in philosophy of biology on biological functions, and explore the consequences of the fact that engineering function is an ambiguous notion. It is argued that one of these consequences may be that also the notion of biological function has an ambiguous meaning. (shrink)
In this paper we raise the question whether technological artifacts can properly speaking be trusted or said to be trustworthy. First, we set out some prevalent accounts of trust and trustworthiness and explain how they compare with the engineer’s notion of reliability. We distinguish between pure rational-choice accounts of trust, which do not differ in principle from mere judgments of reliability, and what we call “motivation-attributing” accounts of trust, which attribute specific motivations to trustworthy entities. Then we consider some examples (...) of technological entities that are, at first glance, best suited to serve as the objects of trust: intelligent systems that interact with users, and complex socio-technical systems. We conclude that the motivation-attributing concept of trustworthiness cannot be straightforwardly applied to these entities. Any applicable notion of trustworthy technology would have to depart significantly from the full-blown notion of trustworthiness associated with interpersonal trust. (shrink)
There has been considerable work on practical reasoning in artificial intelligence and also in philosophy. Typically, such reasoning includes premises regarding means–end relations. A clear semantics for such relations is needed in order to evaluate proposed syllogisms. In this paper, we provide a formal semantics for means–end relations, in particular for necessary and sufficient means–end relations. Our semantics includes a non-monotonic conditional operator, so that related practical reasoning is naturally defeasible. This work is primarily an exercise in conceptual analysis, aimed (...) at clarifying and eventually evaluating existing theories of practical reasoning (pending a similar analysis regarding desires, intentions and other relevant concepts). (shrink)
The paper argues that in order to understand the nature of technological knowledge (i.e., knowledge of technical artefacts as distinct from knowledge of natural objects) it is necessary to develop an epistemology of technical functions. This epistemology has to address the problem of the meaning of the notion of function. In the dominant interpretations, functions are considered to be dispositions, comparable to physical dispositions such as fragility and solubility. It is argued that this conception of functions is principally flawed. With (...) the help of Carnap’s analysis of dispositional terms it is shown that there is a fundamental difference between physical dispositional terms and functional dispositional terms. This difference concerns the issue of the normativity; with regard to functional dispositions, it makes sense to construct normative statements of a particular kind, with regard to physical dispositions it does not. (shrink)
Hacking has maintained that in experiments phenomena are created, not discovered, and that scientific entities are tools for doing. These claims undermine the distinction between the natural and the artificial: phenomena and scientific entities become artifacts. Hacking's view raises the question whether the distinction between the natural and the artificial has to be given up. The paper argues 1) that phenomena are created, but in a sense that does not undermine the distinction between the natural and the (...) artificial, 2) that scientific entities are used as tools instead of being tools, and 3) that Hacking's view on experiments may be reconciled with the traditional view provided the concept of nature be reinterpreted. (shrink)
Structural analogies between physical laws have received considerable attention from philosospheres of science. This paper, however, focusses on structural analogies between physical systems; this type of analogy plays an important role in the physical and technological sciences. A formal, set-theoretic description of structural analogies between physical systems is presented, and it is shown that a structural analogy between systems does not require a structural analogy with regard to the laws involved, nor conversely.