, Volume 190, Issue 6, pp 1131–1152 | Cite as

The design stance and its artefacts

  • Pieter E. VermaasEmail author
  • Massimiliano Carrara
  • Stefano Borgo
  • Pawel Garbacz
Open Access


In this paper we disambiguate the design stance as proposed by Daniel C. Dennett, focusing on its application to technical artefacts. Analysing Dennett’s work and developing his approach towards interpreting entities, we show that there are two ways of spelling out the design stance, one that presuppose also adopting Dennett’s intentional stance for describing a designing agent, and a second that does not. We argue against taking one of these ways as giving the correct formulation of the design stance in Dennett’s approach, but propose to replace Dennett’s original design stance by two design stances: an intentional designer stance that incorporates the intentional stance, and a teleological design stance that does not. Our arguments focus on descriptions of technical artefacts: drawing on research in engineering, cognitive psychology and archaeology we show that both design stances are used for describing technical artefacts. A first consequence of this disambiguation is that a design stance, in terms of interpretative assumptions and in terms of the pragmatic considerations for adopting it, stops to be a stance that comes hierarchically between the physical stance and the intentional stance. A second consequence is that a new distinction can be made between types of entities in Dennett’s approach. We call entities to which the intentional designer stance is applied tools and entities to which the teleological design stance is applied instruments, leading to a differentiated understanding of, in particular, technical artefacts.


Design stance Technical artefact Daniel C. Dennett Engineering Cognitive psychology Archaeology Classes of artefacts Instrument Tool 



We are grateful for helpful comments by Nathan Crilly, Krist Vaesen and two reviewers on earlier drafts of this paper. This work has been developed in part within the Marie Curie EuJoint project (IRSES 247503). Research by Pieter Vermaas was supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).

Open Access

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pieter E. Vermaas
    • 1
    Email author
  • Massimiliano Carrara
    • 2
  • Stefano Borgo
    • 3
    • 4
  • Pawel Garbacz
    • 5
  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentDelft University of TechnologyDelftThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of PaduaPaduaItaly
  3. 3.Laboratory for Applied OntologyISTC-CNRTrentoItaly
  4. 4.KRDBFree University of BolzanoBolzanoItaly
  5. 5.Department of PhilosophyJohn Paul II Catholic University of LublinLublinPoland

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