Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 575-587

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

How Artefacts Influence Our Actions

  • Auke J. K. PolsAffiliated withEindhoven University of Technology IPO 1.09 Email author 


Artefacts can influence our actions in several ways. They can be instruments, enabling and facilitating actions, where their presence affects the number and quality of the options for action available to us. They can also influence our actions in a morally more salient way, where their presence changes the likelihood that we will actually perform certain actions. Both kinds of influences are closely related, yet accounts of how they work have been developed largely independently, within different conceptual frameworks and for different purposes. In this paper I account for both kinds of influences within a single framework. Specifically, I develop a descriptive account of how the presence of artefacts affects what we actually do, which is based on a framework commonly used for normative investigations into how the presence of artefacts affects what we can do. This account describes the influence of artefacts on what we actually do in terms of the way facts about those artefacts alter our reasons for action. In developing this account, I will build on Dancy’s (2000a) account of practical reasoning. I will compare my account with two alternatives, those of Latour and Verbeek, and show how my account suggests a specification of their respective key concepts of prescription and invitation. Furthermore, I argue that my account helps us in analysing why the presence of artefacts sometimes fails to influence our actions, contrary to designer expectations or intentions.


Practical reasons Externalism Philosophy of artefacts Philosophy of technology