Erkenntnis 79 (6):1367-1389 (2014)

Abstract
Current philosophical theorizing about technical functions is mainly focused on specifying conditions under which agents are justified in ascribing functions to technical artifacts. Yet, assessing the precise explanatory relevance of such function ascriptions is, by and large, a neglected topic in the philosophy of technical artifacts and technical functions. We assess the explanatory utility of ascriptions of technical functions in the following three explanation-seeking contexts: why was artifact x produced?, why does artifact x not have the expected capacity to ϕ?, how does artifact x realize its capacity to ϕ? We argue that while function ascriptions serve a mere heuristic role in the first context, they have substantial explanatory leverage in the second and third context. In addition, we assess the relevance of function ascriptions in the context of engineering redesign. Here, function ascriptions also play a relevant role: they enable normative statements of the sort that component b functions better than component a. We unpack these claims by considering philosophical theories of technical functions, in particular the ICE theory, and engineering work on function ascription and explanation. We close the paper by relating our analysis to current debates on the explanatory power of mechanistic vis-à-vis functional explanations
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DOI 10.1007/s10670-014-9605-1
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References found in this work BETA

Thinking About Mechanisms.Peter Machamer, Lindley Darden & Carl F. Craver - 2000 - Philosophy of Science 67 (1):1-25.
Functional Analysis.Robert Cummins - 1975 - Journal of Philosophy 72 (November):741-64.

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Citations of this work BETA

Mechanistic Abstraction.Worth Boone & Gualtiero Piccinini - 2016 - Philosophy of Science 83 (5):686-697.
Mechanistic Explanation in Engineering Science.Dingmar van Eck - 2015 - European Journal for Philosophy of Science 5 (3):349-375.

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