The threat of thinking things into existence

In Luis R. G. Oliveira & Kevin Corcoran (eds.), Common Sense Metaphysics: Essays in Honor of Lynne Rudder Baker. New York, NY: Routledge. pp. 113-136 (2020)
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According to the account of artifacts developed by Lynne Rudder Baker, artifacts have a certain “proper function” essentially. The proper function of an artifact is the purpose or use intended for the artifact by its “author(s)”, viz., the artifact’s designer(s) and/or producer(s). Baker’s account therefore traces the essences of artifacts back indirectly to the intentions of an artifact’s original author (e.g., its inventor, maker, producer or designer). Like other “author-intention-based” accounts (e.g., those defended by Amie Thomasson, Simon Evnine, and others), Baker’s treatment, or so I have argued, is subject to the concern that, when stated in its most general form, human creative intentions are not nearly as powerful and discriminating as proponents of author-intention-based accounts make them out to be (see Kathrin Koslicki, Form, Matter, Substance, Oxford University Press, 2018, Chapter 8). When Baker responds to a version of this objection launched against her account by Theodore Sider and Dean Zimmerman, she proposes that we cannot simply think things into existence for which “our conventions and practices do not have a place” (Lynne Rudder Baker, The Metaphysics of Everyday Life: An Essay in Practical Realism, 2007, p. 44). For example, I cannot, according to Baker, make up the word, “bonangle”, apply it to a piece of driftwood and thereby succeed in bringing into existence a new artifact, viz., a bonangle, merely by thinking to myself “It would be nice if the world contained bonangles; I hereby make that piece of driftwood a bonangle”. In order for this response to be effective, however, more needs to be said about how our conventions and practices support the creation of some artifacts and artifact kinds, while disallowing the attempted creation of others. In this paper, I examine the effectiveness of Baker’s response in addressing the challenges posed by the inclusion of artifacts in Baker’s practical realist ontology.

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Kathrin Koslicki
Université de Neuchâtel


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