Getting Real: Ockham on the Human Contribution to the Nature and Production of Artifacts

Philosophies 7 (5):90 (2022)
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Abstract

Given his known predilection for ontological parsimony, Ockham’s ontology of artifacts is unsurprisingly reductionist: artifacts are nothing over and above their existing and appropriately ordered parts. However, the case of artifacts is notable in that they are real objects that human artisans produce by bringing about a real change: they spatially rearrange existing natural thing(s) or their parts for the sake of some end. This article argues that the human contribution to the nature and production of artifacts is two-fold: (1) the artisan’s cognitive grasp of her expertise and her decision to deploy that expertise are the two efficient causes necessary to explain the existence of an artifact, and (2) the purpose that the artisan had in mind when she decided to make an artifact fixes the function(s) of the artifact such that an artisan’s purpose is the final cause necessary to explain what an artifact is. Artifacts indeed exist, owing what they are and that they are to intelligent and volitional human activity, which Ockham never denies. The article submits that a myopic focus on Ockham’s indisputable reductionism does not exhaust what is metaphysically interesting and relevant about artifacts.

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