Edited by Nurbay Irmak (Bogazici University)
About this topic

One can divide the debates over the ontology of artifacts into two different questions: the existential question and the question about the nature of artifacts. The existential question is simply the question whether there are artifacts, or whether artifacts are among the constituents of reality. The following questions on the nature of artifacts are important to settle the existential question. Are artifacts mind-independent entities, and if not, does that make them less ‘real’ than natural kinds? Do artifacts have essential properties like their intended functions or the material that they are made out of? The answers to these questions are also significant for our theory of reference for artifactual kind terms. 

Key works For negative answers to the existential question on the grounds of parsimony, causal adequacy, and other metaphysical principles/virtues see van Inwagen 1990Merricks 2001, and Sider 2001. Wiggins 2001, Baker 2007, Thomasson 2007, Elder 2004 and more recently Korman 2010 provide a very different kind of defenses for the existence of artifacts. For a discussion on the theory of reference for artifactual kind terms see Kornblith 1980, Schwartz 1977 and Thomasson 2003.
Introductions Hilpinen 2011 provides a very nice introduction to the philosophical problems surrounding artifacts, including ontological questions mentioned above. See also Korman 2011, though the scope of his article is wider than artifacts. Margolis & Laurence 2007 is a good collection for different theories of artifacts. 
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  1. The Non-Physicalness of Material Objects.U. W. E. Aleixner - 2009 - In Ludger Honnefelder, Benedikt Schick & Edmund Runggaldier (eds.), Unity and Time in Metaphysics. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 46.
  2. Identity and Becoming.Robert Allen - 2000 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 38 (4):527-548.
    A material object is constituted by a sum of parts all of which are essential to the sum but some of which seem inessential to the object itself. Such object/sum of parts pairs include my body/its torso and appendages and my desk/its top, drawers, and legs. In these instances, we are dealing with objects and their components. But, fundamentally, we may also speak, as Locke does, of an object and its constitutive matter—a “mass of particles”—or even of that aggregate and (...)
  3. Artefacts and Change.Keith Arnold - 1973 - Dissertation, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  4. On the Twofold Nature of Artefacts - Discussion.LR Baker - unknown
  5. On the Twofold Nature of Artefacts.Lynne Baker - 2006 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 37 (1):132-136.
  6. Shrinking Difference—Response to Replies.Lynne Rudder Baker - unknown
    Amie Thomasson and I are in agreement about artifacts, in particular about the existential dependence of artifacts on human intentions. Thomasson says, “Since the very idea of an artifact is of something mind-dependent in certain ways, accepting mindindependence as an across-the-board criterion for existence gives us no reason to deny the existence of artifacts; it merely begs the question against them.” I agree entirely.
  7. The Metaphysics of Malfunction.Lynne Rudder Baker - 2009 - Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology 13 (2):82-92.
    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. (...)
  8. The Shrinking Difference Between Artifacts and Natural Objects.Lynne Rudder Baker - 2008 - American Philosophical Association Newsletter on Philosophy and Computers.
    Artifacts are objects intentionally made to serve a given purpose; natural objects come into being without human intervention. I shall argue that this difference does not signal any ontological deficiency in artifacts qua artifacts. After sketching my view of artifacts as ordinary objects, I’ll argue that ways of demarcating genuine substances do not draw a line with artifacts on one side and natural objects on the other. Finally, I’ll suggest that philosophers have downgraded artifacts because they think of metaphysics as (...)
  9. The Metaphysics of Everyday Life: An Essay in Practical Realism.Lynne Rudder Baker - 2007 - Cambridge University Press.
    Lynne Rudder Baker presents and defends a unique account of the material world: the Constitution View. In contrast to leading metaphysical views that take everyday things to be either non-existent or reducible to micro-objects, the Constitution View construes familiar things as irreducible parts of reality. Although they are ultimately constituted by microphysical particles, everyday objects are neither identical to, nor reducible to, the aggregates of microphysical particles that constitute them. The result is genuine ontological diversity: people, bacteria, donkeys, mountains and (...)
  10. On the Twofold Nature of Artefacts: As Response to Wybo Houkes and Anthonie Meijers, “The Ontology of Artefacts: The Hard Problem”.Lynne Rudder Baker - 2006 - Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science 37:132-136.
    “Form follows function,” the slogan of modernist architecture, could well be a slogan of artefacts generally. Since the choice of material for a tool is guided by the function of the tool, we may be tempted to think that having a functional nature distinguishes artefacts from natural objects. But that would be a mistake. Certain natural objects—especially biological entities like mammalian hearts—have functional natures too.
  11. The Ontology of Artifacts.Lynne Rudder Baker - 2004 - Philosophical Explorations 7 (2):99 – 111.
    Beginning with Aristotle, philosophers have taken artifacts to be ontologically deficient. This paper proposes a theory of artifacts, according to which artifacts are ontologically on a par with other material objects. I formulate a nonreductive theory that regards artifacts as constituted by - but not identical to - aggregates of particles. After setting out the theory, I rebut a number of arguments that disparage the ontological status of artifacts.
  12. ¿ Para qué sirve un ballestrinque? Reflexiones sobre el funcionamiento de artefactos y organismos en un mundo sin funciones.Sergio Balari & Guillermo Lorenzo - 2010 - Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy 29 (3):57-76.
  13. What Use a Clove Hitch? Reflections on the Operation of Artifacts and Bodies in a World Without Function.Sergio Balari & Guillermo Lorenzo - 2010 - Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy 29 (3):57-76.
  14. “This is Not Art” — Should We Go Revisionist About Works of Art?Tibor Bárány - 2013 - Proceedings of the European Society for Aesthetics 5:86-99.
    To propose a revisionist ontology of art one has to hold that our everyday intuitions about the identity and persistence conditions of various kinds of artworks can be massively mistaken. In my presentation I defend this view: our everyday intuitions about the nature of art can be (and sometimes are) mistaken. First I reconstruct an influential argument of Amie L. Thomasson (2004; 2005; 2006; 2007a; 2007b) against the fallibility of our intuitive judgments about the identity and persistence conditions of various (...)
  15. Identities of Artefacts.Christoph Baumberger & Georg Brun - 2012 - Theoria 78 (1):47-74.
    In non-philosophical discourse, “identity” is often used when the specific character of artefacts is described or evaluated. We argue that this usage of “identity” can be explicated as referring to the symbol properties of artefacts as they are conceptualized in the symbol theory of Goodman and Elgin. This explication is backed by an analysis of various uses of “identity”. The explicandum clearly differs from the concepts of numerical identity, qualitative identity and essence, but it has a range of similarities with (...)
  16. Wearable Artefacts as Research Vehicles.Laura Beloff - 2010 - Technoetic Arts 8 (1):47-53.
  17. Saving the Ship.John Biro - 2017 - European Journal of Analytic Philosophy 13 (2):43-54.
    In defending the startling claim that that there are no artifacts, indeed, no inanimate material objects of the familiar sort, Peter van Inwagen has argued that truths about such putative objects can be paraphrased as truths that do not make essential reference to them and that we should endorse only the ontological commitments of the paraphrase. In this note I argue that the paraphrases van Inwagen recommends cannot meet his condition. Read one way, they lose us some truths. Read another, (...)
  18. Embodied Semiotic Artefacts: On the Role of the Skin as a Semiotic Niche.Breno Bitarello & João Queiroz - 2014 - Technoetic Arts 12 (1):75-90.
    The skin can be described as a niche structured by semiotic artefacts (tattoos) that work as symbolic–indexical devices (dicisigns). New biocompatible technologies responsive to organic and environmental variations change the role of the skin as a semiotic niche. New devices are transforming the skin into a niche of interactive interfaces. In this article we introduce a variety of techno-scientific artefacts, which are readily available, and their main characteristics. We are interested in the recent proliferation of devices based on biotechnologies that (...)
  19. Water as an Artifact Kind.Paul Bloom - 2007 - In Eric Margolis & Stephen Laurence (eds.), Creations of the Mind: Theories of Artifacts and Their Representaion. Oxford University Press. pp. 150--156.
  20. Young Children Are Sensitive to How an Object Was Created When Deciding What to Name It.Paul Bloom - 2000 - Cognition 76 (2):91-103.
  21. Intention, History, and Artifact Concepts.Paul Bloom - 1996 - Cognition 60 (1):1-29.
  22. On the Ontology of Functions.Stefano Borgo, Riichiro Mizoguchi & Barry Smith - 2011 - Applied Ontology 6 (2):99-104.
    This special issue of Applied Ontology is devoted to the foundation, the comparison and the application of functional theories in all areas, with particular attention to the biological and engineering domains. It includes theoretical and technical contributions related to the description, characterization, and application of functions.
  23. Why No Platonistic Ideas of Artefacts?Sarah Broadie - 2007 - In Dominic Scott (ed.), Maieusis: Essays in Ancient Philosophy in Honour of Myles Burnyeat. Oxford University Press.
  24. Aquinas's Ontology of the Material World: Change, Hylomorphism, and Material Objects.Jeffrey E. Brower - 2014 - Oxford University Press.
    Jeffrey E. Brower presents and explains the hylomorphic conception of the material world developed by Thomas Aquinas, according to which material objects are composed of both matter and form. In addition to presenting and explaining Aquinas's views, Brower seeks wherever possible to bring them into dialogue with the best recent literature on related topics. Along the way, he highlights the contribution that Aquinas's views make to a host of contemporary metaphysical debates, including the nature of change, composition, material constitution, the (...)
  25. Preserving the Principle of One Object to a Place: A Novel Account of the Relations Among Objects, Sorts, Sortals, and Persistence Conditions.Michael B. Burke - 1994 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 54 (3):591-624.
    This article offers a novel, conservative account of material constitution, one that incorporates sortal essentialism and features a theory of dominant sortals. It avoids coinciding objects, temporal parts, relativizations of identity, mereological essentialism, anti-essentialism, denials of the reality of the objects of our ordinary ontology, and other departures from the metaphysic implicit in ordinary ways of thinking. Defenses of the account against important objections are found in Burke 1997, 2003, and 2004, as well as in the often neglected six paragraphs (...)
  26. Cohabitation, Stuff and Intermittent Existence.Michael B. Burke - 1980 - Mind 89 (355):391-405.
    I aim to show that there are cases in which an ordinary material object exists intermittently. Afterwards there are a few words about the consequences of acknowledging such cases, but what is of more interest is the route by which the conclusion is reached. When deciding among competing descriptions of the cases considered, I have tried to reduce to a minimum the role of intuitive judgment, and I have based several arguments on "metaphysical principles," two of which I have defended.
  27. Handbook of Mereology.Hans Burkhardt, Johanna Seibt, Guido Imaguire & Stamatios Gerogiorgakis (eds.) - 2017 - Munich: Philosophia.
    The present volume is the first comprehensive reference work for research on part-whole relations. The Handbook of Mereology offers a wide scope, inclusive presentation of contemporary research on part-whole relations that draws out systematic, historical, and interdisciplinary trajectories, shows the subject’s fertility, and inspires future explorations. In particular, we want to impress that mereology is much more than the study of axiomatised systems. The relationship between part and whole is a basic schema of cognitive organisation that operates not only at (...)
  28. Errol G. Katayama, Aristotle on Artifacts: A Metaphysical Puzzle Reviewed By.Jeffrey Carr - 2000 - Philosophy in Review 20 (3):193-194.
  29. Errol G. Katayama, Aristotle on Artifacts: A Metaphysical Puzzle. [REVIEW]Jeffrey Carr - 2000 - Philosophy in Review 20:193-194.
  30. Artifact Categorization. Trends and Problems.Massimiliano Carrara & Daria Mingardo - 2013 - Review of Philosophy and Psychology 4 (3):351-373.
    The general question (G) How do we categorize artifacts? can be subject to three different readings: an ontological, an epistemic and a semantic one. According to the ontological reading, asking (G) is equivalent to asking in virtue of what properties, if any, a certain artifact is an instance of some artifact kind: (O) What is it for an artifact a to belong to kind K? According to the epistemic reading, when we ask (G) we are investigating what properties of the (...)
  31. Ontology for Information Systems: Artefacts as a Case Study. [REVIEW]Massimiliano Carrara & Marzia Soavi - 2008 - Mind and Society 7 (2):143-156.
    The goal of the paper is to analyse some specific features of a very central concept for top-level ontologies for information systems: i.e. the concept of artefact. Specifically, we analyse the relation to be a copy of that is strongly linked to the notion of artefact and—as we will demonstrate—could be useful to distinguish artefacts from objects of other kinds. Firstly, we outline some intuitive and commonsensical reasons for the need of a clarification of the notion of artefact in ontologies (...)
  32. Salmon on Artifact Origins and Lost Possibilities.William R. Carter - 1983 - Philosophical Review 92 (2):223-231.
  33. Speech and Writing as Artifacts.Hiram Caton - 1969 - Philosophy and Rhetoric 2 (1):19 - 36.
  34. Artifacts, Essence and Reference.Mahasweta Chaudhury - 1990 - Indian Philosophical Quarterly 17 (1):63.
  35. Conceptual Art, Ideas, and Ontology.Wesley D. Cray - 2014 - Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 72 (3):235-245.
    Peter Goldie and Elisabeth Schellekens have recently articulated the Idea Idea, the thesis that “in conceptual art, there is no physical medium: the medium is the idea.” But what is an idea, and in the case of works such as Duchamp's Fountain, how does the idea relate to the urinal? In answering these questions, it becomes apparent that the Idea Idea should be rejected. After showing this, I offer a new ontology of conceptual art, according to which such artworks are (...)
  36. What is an Artifact?Robert P. Crease - 1998 - Philosophy Today 42 (9999):160-168.
  37. Art and Artifacts of Polynesia.Anne D'alleva & Hurst Gallery - 1990
  38. Creations of the Mind: Theories of Artifacts and Their Representation • by Eric Margolis and Stephen Laurence.David Davies - 2009 - Analysis 69 (1):171-172.
    This collection of 16 original articles by prominent theorists from a variety of disciplines provides an excellent insight into current thinking about artifacts. The four sections address issues concerning the metaphysics of artifacts, the nature and cognitive development of artifact concepts, and the place of artifacts in evolutionary history. The most overtly philosophical contributions are in the first two sections. Metaphysical issues addressed include the ‘mind-dependence’ of artifacts and the bearing of this on their ‘real’ existence, and the distinction between (...)
  39. The Metaphysics of Art Restoration.Rafael De Clercq - 2013 - British Journal of Aesthetics 53 (3):261-275.
    Art restorations often give rise to controversy, and the reason does not always seem to be a lack of skill or dedication on the side of the restorer. Rather, in some of the most famous cases, the reason seems to be a lack of agreement on basic principles. In particular, there seems to be a lack of agreement on how the following two questions are to be answered. First, what is art restoration supposed to achieve, in other words, what is (...)
  40. The Aesthetic Peculiarity of Multifunctional Artefacts.Rafael De Clercq - 2005 - British Journal of Aesthetics 45 (4):412-425.
    Echoing a distinction made by David Wiggins in his discussion of the relation of identity, this paper investigates whether aesthetic adjectives such as ‘beautiful’ are sortal-relative or merely sortal-dependent. The hypothesis guiding the paper is that aesthetic adjectives, though probably sortal-dependent in general, are sortal-relative only when used to characterize multifunctional artefacts. This means that multifunctional artefacts should be unique in allowing the following situation to occur: for some object x there are sortals K and K' such that x is (...)
  41. Artefactual Intelligence: The Development and Use of Cognitively Congenial Artefacts.David de Léon - unknown
    How can tools help structure tasks to make them cognitively easier to perform? How do artefacts, and our strategies for using them, develop over time in cognitively beneficial ways? These are two of the main questions that are explored in the five papers collected in this thesis. The first paper details an ethnographic study conducted on people cooking in their homes. The study is a first pass over the issues and focuses, in particular, on how people handle timing constraints, use (...)
  42. Artifact and Tool Categorization.Sara Dellantonio, Claudio Mulatti & Remo Job - 2013 - Review of Philosophy and Psychology 4 (3):407-418.
    This study addresses the issue of artifact kinds from a psychological and cognitive perspective. The primary interest of the investigation lies in understanding how artifacts are categorized and what are the properties people rely on for their identification. According to a classical philosophical definition artifacts form an autonomous class of instances including all and only those objects that do not exist in nature, but are artificial, in the sense that they are made by an artĭfex. This definition suggests that artifacts (...)
  43. Artifacts and Constituents.Arda Denkel - 1995 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 55 (2):311-322.
  44. Artifacts, Natural Objects, and Works of Art.Daniel Devereux - 1977 - Analysis 37 (3):134 - 136.
  45. Some Issues in the Theory of Artifacts.Randall R. Dipert - 1995 - The Monist 78 (2):119-135.
  46. Art, Artifacts, and Regarded Intentions.Randall R. Dipert - 1986 - American Philosophical Quarterly 23 (4):401 - 408.
  47. Adventures in the Metaontology of Art: Local Descriptivism, Artefacts and Dreamcatchers.Julian Dodd - 2013 - Philosophical Studies 165 (3):1047-1068.
    Descriptivism in the ontology of art is the thesis that the correct ontological proposal for a kind of artwork cannot show the nascent ontological conception of such things embedded in our critical and appreciative practices to be substantially mistaken. Descriptivists believe that the kinds of revisionary art ontological proposals propounded by Nelson Goodman, Gregory Currie, Mark Sagoff, and me are methodologically misconceived. In this paper I examine the case that has been made for a local form of descriptivism in the (...)
  48. Cellular Dimensions and Cell Dynamics, or the Difficulty Over Capturing Time and Space in the Era of Electron Microscopy.Ariane Dröscher - 2011 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 42 (4):395-402.
    The introduction of electron microscopy profoundly altered biomedical research, providing a tool for a more detailed but at the same time a spatially and temporally more restricted visual analysis. Examining the case study of Golgi apparatus research in the 1950s and 1960s, it will be shown how microscopists handled these challenges, and how these confrontations modified the general concept of cellular organization. This will also shed light on the artifact debate and on the question of scientific realism in the field (...)
  49. Art, Artifacts, and Intentions.Marcia M. Eaton - 1969 - American Philosophical Quarterly 6 (2):165 - 169.
  50. Artefacts as Mere Illustrations of a Worldview.Terence Rajivan Edward - 2017 - Symposion. Theoretical and Applied Inquiries in Philosophy and Social Sciences 4 (2):241-244.
    This paper responds to an argument against a kind of anthropology. According to the argument, if the aim of anthropology is to describe the different worldviews of different groups, then anthropologists should only refer to material artefacts in order to illustrate a worldview; but the interest of artefacts to anthropology goes beyond mere illustration. This argument has been endorsed by key members of the ontological movement in anthropology, who found at least one of its premises in Marilyn Strathern’s writing.
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