The ontology of artefacts : the hard problem

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We examine to what extent an adequate ontology of technical artefacts can be based on existing general accounts of the relation between higher-order objects and their material basis. We consider two of these accounts: supervenience and constitution. We take as our starting point the thesis that artefacts have a ‘dual nature’, that is, that they are both material bodies and functional objects. We present two criteria for an adequate ontology of artefacts, ‘Underdetermination’ (UD) and ‘Realizability Constraints’ (RC), which address aspects of the dual nature thesis. Assessing supervenience accounts, we find them either wanting with respect to these criteria or insufficiently informative. Next, we argue that a recent application of Lynne Rudder Baker’s constitution view to artefacts cannot (yet) meet our criteria, although the broader view leaves room for improvement. Based on our evaluation of the most promising candidates, we conclude that so far general metaphysical views fail to address the most salient features of artefacts. Although they can account for the fact that artefacts have a ‘dual nature’, they do not offer the conceptual resources needed to describe the relation between these natures; this relation raises a hard problem in metaphysics. Keywords: Metaphysics; Artefact; Supervenience; Constitution; Underdetermination
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)118-131
Number of pages14
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2006


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