Artifacts and affordances: from designed properties to possibilities for action

AI and Society 2:1-10 (2021)
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In this paper I critically evaluate the value neutrality thesis regarding technology, and find it wanting. I then introduce the various ways in which artifacts can come to influence moral value, and our evaluation of moral situations and actions. Here, following van de Poel and Kroes, I introduce the idea of value sensitive design. Specifically, I show how by virtue of their designed properties, artifacts may come to embody values. Such accounts, however, have several shortcomings. In agreement with Michael Klenk, I raise epistemic and metaphysical issues with respect to designed properties embodying value. The concept of an affordance, borrowed from ecological psychology, provides a more philosophically fruitful grounding to the potential way(s) in which artifacts might embody values. This is due to the way in which it incorporates key insights from perception more generally, and how we go about determining possibilities for action in our environment specifically. The affordance account as it is presented by Klenk, however, is insufficient. I therefore argue that we understand affordances based on whether they are meaningful, and, secondly, that we grade them based on their force.

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Fabio Tollon
University of Edinburgh


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