Volume 5, Issue 3, Spring 2001
Technical Functions as Dispositions
a Critical Assessment
The paper argues that in order to understand the nature of technological knowledge (i.e., knowledge of technical artefacts as distinct from knowledge of natural objects) it is necessary to develop an epistemology of technical functions. This epistemology has to address the problem of the meaning of the notion of function. In the dominant interpretations, functions are considered to be dispositions, comparable to physical dispositions such as fragility and solubility. It is argued that this conception of functions is principally flawed. With the help of Carnap’s analysis of dispositional terms it is shown that there is a fundamental difference between physical dispositional terms and functional dispositional terms. This difference concerns the issue of the normativity; with regard to functional dispositions, it makes sense to construct normative statements of a particular kind, with regard to physical dispositions it does not.