Artefact Kinds pp 167-190 | Cite as

On What Is Made: Instruments, Products and Natural Kinds of Artefacts

  • Wybo Houkes
  • Pieter E. Vermaas
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 365)


Debates in the metaphysics of artefacts typically start from the observation that technical artefacts result from intentional production and then focus immediately on the issue whether this ‘mind-dependence’ undermines claims that artefacts exist or come in natural or real kinds. We aim to add sophistication to debates on the latter issue by approaching it through an analysis of contemporary engineering and in continuity with discussions in the metaphysics of science. We first reconstruct which productive activities are involved in contemporary artefact production. From this reconstruction, we derive two general classification systems for artefacts – which we call the ‘instrument’ and ‘product’ systems. Then, we adopt from discussions in the metaphysics of science three conditions for classifications to correspond to natural kinds. For each of these three conditions, we discuss which conception or aspect of mind-independence it embodies and to what extent our two classification systems meet it. We conclude that the instrument system is mind-dependent in all ways and the product system only in some. Finally, we identify two options for finding natural classifications of artefacts and develop the second as one that establishes continuity between the metaphysics of science and engineering. This second option leads to a classification system that can correspond to natural kinds and that incorporates the product classes of technical artefacts extensionally.


Action-theoretical analysis of engineering Artefact classification Artefact kinds Artefacts and mind-dependence Making and metaphysics 



Our thanks go to Maarten Franssen, Peter Kroes and Thomas Reydon for their comments on an earlier draft of this chapter. Research by Wybo Houkes and research by Pieter Vermaas were supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy & EthicsEindhoven University of TechnologyEindhovenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Section of PhilosophyDelft University of TechnologyDelftThe Netherlands

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