Optimality vs. intent : limitations of Dennett's artifact hermeneutics

K. Vaesen, M. Amerongen, van

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Dennett has argued that when people interpret artifacts and other designed objects (such as biological items) they rely on optimality considerations, rather than on designer's intentions. On his view, we infer an item's function by finding out what it is best at; and such functional attribution is more reliable than when we depend on the intention it was developed with. This paper examines research in cognitive psychology and archaeology, and argues that Dennett's account is implausible. We conclude that, quite in contrast to Dennett, intentional considerations play a crucial role in artifact hermeneutics, and even stronger, are necessary for the sake of simplicity and precision. Finally, we question Dennett's contention that the interpretation of artifacts is the same project as the interpretation of any other designed entity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)779-797
Number of pages19
JournalPhilosophical Psychology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2008


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