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Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology

Volume 10, Issue 1, Fall 2006

Technology and Normativity

Marcel Scheele
Pages 53-65

Social Norms in Artefact Use
proper functions and action theory

The use of artefacts by human agents is subject to human standards or norms of conduct. Many of those norms are provided by the social context in which artefacts are used. Others are provided by the proper functions of the artefacts. This article argues for a general framework in which norms that are provided by proper functions are related to norms provided by the (more general) social context of use. Departing from the concept, developed by Joseph Raz, of “exclusionary reasons” it is argued that proper functions provide “institutional reasons” for use. Proper use of artefacts (use according to the proper function) is embedded in the normative structures of social institutions. These social normative structures are complementary to traditional norms of practical rationality and are a kind of second-order reasons: exclusionary reasons. It is argued that proper functions of artefacts provide institutional reasons, which are up to a certain extent similar to exclusionary reasons. The most notable difference concerns the fact that proper functions not so much exclude other types of use, but rather place that use (and the user) in particular social structures with particular rights and obligations. An institutional reason not only gives a reason for action, it also provides reasons for evaluating actions according to such reasons positively (and other negatively). The upshot of the analysis is that it provides an additional tool for understanding and evaluating the use of artefacts.

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