Workshop on Artifacts: Semantics and Metaphysics. PAPER ABSTRACTS

Workshop on Artifacts: Semantics and Metaphysics.


Massimiliano Carrara (U. Padova) & Daria Mingardo (U. Padova):'A Plea for Kind Equality'.Abstract. The orthodox view on artifact kinds, taken for example by David Wiggins [2001], is the one rejecting that artifact kinds are real kinds. This rejection is related to a generally shared Aristotelian anti-realistic conception of artifacts – metaphysically there are not such things as cars and tables because cars and tables do not have their own essences or principles of activity. This position is usually coupled with the opposite stance about natural kinds: natural kinds are real kinds, because they have identity criteria that isolate the essences of these kinds of objects.This metaphysical distinction between natural kinds and artifactual kinds is usually taken to be (variously) related to analogous distinctions at a logical, epistemological and semantical level. Thus, it is said that while natural kinds have formally adequate identity criteria, artifactual kinds do not; that while people can be either ignorant or in error about the nature of natural kinds, the same cannot happen for artifactual kinds, as their nature (if any) depends on human intentions; and that if there are reasons to treat natural kind terms as directly referential expressions, these reasons lack in the case of artifactual kind terms, that are therefore to be treated as descriptive expressions. Our aim is to contrast this general tendency. More specifically, we will argue that either (a) the objections against realism about artifactual kinds are weak or (b) such objections work against realism about natural kinds as well. In the same vein, we will argue that either (a) the objections against a directly referential treatment of artifactual kind terms are weak or (b) such objections work against a directly referential treatment of natural kind terms as well. References: Wiggins, D. 2001. Sameness and substance renewed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Michael Devitt (CUNY) (with Wesley Buckwalter and Kate Devitt): 'Are artifactual kind terms descriptive?'. Abstract. We assume that a simple description theories of artifactual kind terms might require for reference that speakers associate a description of (a), function (‘pencil’ refers to a writing implement), (b), an intrinsic physical property (‘pencil’ refers to something with a graphite core), or (c), a maker (‘Ipad’ refers to something made by Apple). (Complex theories require some combination of (a) to (c).) Theories of sorts (a) to (c)are to be tested against usage along lines proposed in “Experimental Semantics” (M. Devitt 2011). The results will be presented. The possibility that subjects used implicit “scare quotes” will be discussed.

Luis Fernández Moreno (U. Complutense de Madrid): 'A Comparison of the Semantics of Natural Kind Terms and Artifactual Terms'. Abstract.The aim of this paper is to carry out a comparison of the semantics of natural kind terms and artifactual terms. On accomplishing that comparison I rely on Putnam’s semantics on both sorts of terms as put forward in his classical paper “The meaning of ‘meaning’”. As it is well known, one of Putnam’s main aims in that paper is to criticize the “traditional theory of meaning” on natural kind terms, which includes a reference theory, and to propose an alternative view of the semantics of such terms. Nevertheless, towards the middle of that paper, in the section “Other words”, he extends the semantics of natural kind terms to other sorts of expressions, mainly other sorts of general terms, including especially artifactual terms (and socio-legal terms that I will leave aside). Putnam holds that the semantics of natural kind terms is the same as that of artifactual terms. He mentions three features shared by both sorts of terms. Firstly, their reference or extension is determined by the nature of the paradigmatic members of their respective kinds. Secondly, they contain an indexical component and therefore are rigid designators. Thirdly, the traditional theory of meaning does not apply to either of both sorts of terms, and thus there are not analytical characterizations of any of them. In my paper, I concentrate on everyday artifactual terms, the only ones mentioned by Putnam, and I argue in favour of a descriptive-causal theory of reference for natural kind terms and artifactual terms, for reference fixing as well as for reference borrowing. Concerning the meaning of natural kind terms, I accept part of Putnam’s view, but with the difference that I do not regard the extension of natural kind terms as a part of their meaning; thus, the meaning of a natural kind term is only given by its syntactic markers, its semantic markers and its stereotype. Therefore, I accept that the meaning of a natural kind term does not determine its extension. I apply to artifactual terms a similar view, but in the case of this sort of terms their meaning does determine their extension. Regarding the latter sort of terms I claim that the inclusive disjunction of the properties included in the cluster that constitutes the meaning of an artifactual term is analytically associated with the term.

Diego Marconi (U. Torino): "Pencils have a point. Against general externalism about artifactual words". Abstract. Externalism about artifactual words requires that (a) members of an artifactual word's extension share a common nature, i.e. a set of necessary features, and (b) that possession of such features determines the word's extension independently of whether the linguistic community is aware of them (ignorance) or can accurately describe them (error). However, many common artifactual words appear to be so used that features that are universally shared among members of their extensions are hard to come by, and even fewer can be plausibly regarded as necessary; morevoer, it is highly doubtful that a speaker could manage to refer to kind A while being utterly ignorant of the role the As play in the A-producing community, and it is no less doubtful that an artifactual word that was used to refer to certain objects would keep referring to them (and be regarded as having referred to them) once it has been shown that the associated description is utterly false of such objects; the reason being that we could easily make things that do fit the associated description. Against generalized externalism, it is suggested that artifactual words come in (at least) three different semantic varieties: a few have an externalist semantics, others have an internalist semantics, still others have neither but rather behave as "family names" in Wittgenstein's sense.

Jesus Vega (U. Autónoma de Madrid): 'Wittgensteinian Reflections on the Nature of Artifacts'. Abstract. This paper has a twofold aim: first, to criticize Thomasson’s views on the nature of the artifacts because it falls prey of the Wittgensteinian privacy challenge; second, to propose a Wittgensteinian view on the nature of artifacts that adequately answers the challenge. Regarding Thomasson’s view, I will argue as follows: Thomasson’s account of the nature of artifacts relies on the idea that the concepts of the makers determine the metaphysical nature of the kind they belong to, insofar as their intentions are satisfied. This core idea should be applied to cases of creation of new artifactual kinds. It is recognized by Thomasson herself that this account has individualistic assumptions that allow for a private creating/making of artifacts. There could be private artifacts. In the paper, I will try to characterize what a private artifact is in contrast with public artifacts. I will argue then that the model she provides to comply with the creation requirement is committed to a divine model of making which at its turn assumes a “private language”. In God’s creation, it is possible a private grasp of what a thing is, in the sense that God has given to itself the rules that determine the course of events (and so God can anticipate them). Artifacts as created/made by human makers cannot be private artifacts; what they are cannot be fully determined by the intentions of a maker modeled in God’s terms. Talking about the identity of the artifact has sense only within a normative framework of practices and a network of other artifacts. The second part of the paper will be devoted to introduce the essential claims of a Wittgensteinian proposal on the nature of artifacts: i) Artifacts are not identified essentially in terms of belonging to a real or nominal kind; natural and robust groupings of artifacts are made on the basis of relations of family-resemblance. ii) Artifacts are classified on the basis of their relations with other objects, artifacts, and people interacting with them iii) Artifacts form a holistic network of mutual interdependences; artifacts do not come alone; they are “delineated” relationally on the basis of the constraints and the possibilities that become visible through these relations iv) Artifacts are structures that provide significations to the agents that interact with them in virtue of being inserted into a space of shared practices v) Functions and normative judgments about the good-working of artifacts are fixed within the space of shared practices where a system of classification and recognition for the artifacts has been established.  vi) Artifacts cannot be understood but against a background of shared practices and a form of life. In the realm of artifacts, not every understanding is grounded in an act of interpretation. vii) New artifacts grow against this background as derives of meaning. The dynamic characterization of artifacts allows accounting for the creation requirement in a more appropriate way.