A taxonomy of cognitive artifacts: Function, information, and categories

Review of Philosophy and Psychology 4 (3):465-481 (2013)
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Abstract

The goal of this paper is to develop a systematic taxonomy of cognitive artifacts, i.e., human-made, physical objects that functionally contribute to performing a cognitive task. First, I identify the target domain by conceptualizing the category of cognitive artifacts as a functional kind: a kind of artifact that is defined purely by its function. Next, on the basis of their informational properties, I develop a set of related subcategories in which cognitive artifacts with similar properties can be grouped. In this taxonomy, I distinguish between three taxa, those of family, genus, and species. The family includes all cognitive artifacts without further specifying their informational properties. Two genera are then distinguished: representational and non-representational (or ecological) cognitive artifacts. These genera are further divided into species. In case of representational artifacts, these species are iconic, indexical, or symbolic. In case of ecological artifacts, these species are spatial or structural. Within species, token artifacts are identified. The proposed taxonomy is an important first step towards a better understanding of the range and variety of cognitive artifacts and is a helpful point of departure, both for conceptualizing how different artifacts augment or impair cognitive performance and how they transform and are integrated into our cognitive system and practices.

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Richard Heersmink
Tilburg University

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