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Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology

Volume 10, Issue 1, Fall 2006

Technology and Normativity

Francoise Longy
Pages 66-78

Function and Probability
The Making of Artefacts

The existence of dysfunctions precludes the possibility of identifying the function to do F with the capacity to do F. Nevertheless, we continuously infer capacities from functions. For this and other reasons stated in the first part of this article, I propose a new theory of functions (of the etiological sort), applying to organisms as well as to artefacts, in which to have some determinate probability P to do F (i.e. a probabilistic capacity to do F) is a necessary condition for having the function to do F. The main objective of this paper is to justify the legitimacy of this condition when considering artefacts. I begin by distinguishing “perspectival probabilities”, which reflect a pragmatic interest or an arbitrary state of knowledge, from “objective probabilities”, which depend on some objective feature of the envisaged items. I show that objective probabilities are not necessarily based on physical constitution. I then explain why we should distinguish between considering an object as a physical body and considering it as an artefact, and why the probability of dysfunction to be taken into account is one relative to the object as member of an artefact category. After clarifying how an artefact category can be defined if it is not defined in physical terms, I establish the objectivity of the probability of dysfunction under consideration by showing how it is causally determined by objective factors regulating the production of items of a definite artefact type. I focus on the case of industrially produced artefacts where the objective factors determining the probability of dysfunction can be best seen.

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