Objectivity of Artifacts


Nature vs. Art

“Nothing But”

It seems that there is a certain indeterminacy with artifacts that I mentioned in a prior post. This is not simply a matter of signification as such, but also of artifacts as such, because an artifact is what it is in virtue of the creator’s intention as a sign signifies according to author’s intention.

What it means for a mark qua artifact to be a six is that it signifies six. This is within the context of some convention by which the author determines it signification. However, the mark can signify any number of things and contradictory things given the intention of the author. An identically one mark can do this, because there is no intrinsic form to the sign that it signify this or that, but with respect to the author. There is no objective truth of the mark not only signifying six, nine or both but being a six, nine or a perspective dependent sign apart from the author’s intention.

Similarly with artifacts in general. An artifact which is formally the same can be different kinds of things, in virtue of the different extrinsic ends that man puts to it. One and the same object can be a bowl, a helmet, a shovel and a number of other things. Feser’s liana vines can be a hammock or a net, which are specifically different artifacts, but one and the same object. Nothing changes about the thing itself, only the intention of the creator or user.

This is not to say that there is something objective about this or that artifact being what it is. There is an objective sense in which this thing here is a mousetrap, however, it is with respect to creators and users. There is a real relation between this object and the mind and will of creators and users. Indeed, this relation (that is the end imposed upon the object) provenates from the creator and terminates in the object. However, it is grounded in the will and intellect of the creator and not in the thing itself.

However, suppose that an artifact was on the same level as a natural substance. In order for a cat to turn into a dog, something empirically visceral must occur whereby the substance of the cat is destroyed and becomes or is integrated into a dog. An artifact that is a 6 or bowl or mousetrap can become something else merely by an act of will. Nothing needs to be done to the artifact as such, just rotate the 6, put the bowl on your head or clip down a stack of papers with the mousetrap. Now, we can certainly judge these as misuses by turning to the intention of the creator, but there is nothing in the object itself that precludes this or that use, except perhaps how effective or good of an new sort of artifact it is.

Moreover, we can learn what a cat is by observing cats. They have an intrinsic form following from the its intrinsic finality. However, this is not how we learn about artifacts. We learn about artifacts by trying to understand the intention of the creators or by comparing to artifacts that we use. We can guess at what an artifact is based on what it could be useful for, but an artifact can be useful for many thing other than that for which it was created.

So there is an objectivity to artifacts, but it is the objectivity of the creator’s intention for this object. Divorced from that, there is nothing in the object itself which determines what it is.

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3 Responses to Objectivity of Artifacts

  1. Zippy says:

    I’ll ask you the same question I’ve asked Ed Feser: is a virus synthesized in a laboratory from inanimate matter an artifact or a natural substance (since it can only be one or the other)? (This is actually done these days, not infrequently).

    What about a living cell (not done yet, but in my view not impossible)?

    What about a multicellular plant or animal?


  2. Zippy says:

    I’m not being snarky btw. Either conclusion would be interesting. If it is an artifact that means we don’t really have a way to distinguish between artifacts and substantial forms. And if it is a substance that means the metaphysics is empirically falsifiable (and possibly even falsified if viruses are natural substances).

    Or perhaps I just find the whole thing confusing.


  3. Pingback: Objecting to Object’s Objectivity | Infinite Semiosis

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