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date: 21 October 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Technical functions of artifacts are commonly distinguished from their social functions and from biological functions of organisms. Schemes for classifying functions often encounter what the author calls the continuum problem—the imperceptible merger of function kinds. This is a special case of a debate about natural kinds in philosophy of science, which has resulted in a turn to an epistemological construal of kinds, in contrast to the traditional, purely ontological construal. The author argues for an epistemic analysis of function kinds along the lines of John Dupré’s (1993) “promiscuous realism.” This provides leverage for asking new and important questions about the epistemic purposes served by our various schemes for classifying artifact functions, and about the epistemic role of technical functions in particular. The author argues that the common classification into technical, social, and biological functions has more disadvantages than it has advantages.

Keywords: artifact, function, technical function, ontology, epistemology, realism, classification, kinds

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