A philosophical theory about the nature of human creations, especially art works

Artifacts, Art Works, and Agency

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Randall R. Dipert

"Dipert has broken entirely new ground here: this work is at the cutting edge. Dipert is not afraid to take stands on important and difficult philosophical questions."
Peter Kivy, Rutgers University

In this first book-length philosophical study of artifacts, Randall Dipert develops a theory of what artifacts are and applies it extensively to one of the most complex and intriguing kinds of artifacts, art works. He defines agents, intentions, and actions, using these notions to clarify what it is for an agent to "make" something. From this starting point, he develops a full theory of artifacts and other artificial things—and especially a theory of art works and performances of art works as artifacts. He proposes a theory of nature and of the value of nature as what is essentially non-artificial.

Believing that a developed philosophy of mind is necessary for a developed aesthetics and philosophy of art, Dipert relies upon classical and contemporary research on agency, on actions and intentions, and on the Intentionalist theory of mental objects of Bretano and Meinong. He considers physical entities, thoughts, utterances, and performances as artifacts. This vast category encompasses everyday household objects and tools, streets and edifices, as well as communicative and artistic artifacts.

Especially with regard to artistic artifacts, Dipert proposes a theory of expression and communication as actions and extensively discusses the problems of interpreting and recognizing actions, artifacts, and art works.




1. Introduction
The Breadth of the Topic: Artificial and Natural • The Utility of a Theory of Artifacts • The (Non-)history of Theories of Artifacts • The Definition of “Artifact”: First Attempt • Philosophical Presuppositions

2. Instruments, Tools, and Artifacts
Instruments: Things Intentionally Used • Tools: Intentionally Modified Instruments • Artifacts Proper: Objects Intended to Be Recognized as Tools • Artificial Things of All Sorts

3. Agents, Intentions, and Action
Main Questions in Action Theory for the Theory of Artifacts • The “Historical” Nature of Action-Theoretic Concepts • Structural and Historical Criteria for Action • Contemplating States, Activities, and Agents • Fully Intentional Actions, Half-Intentional Ones: Habits • Other Unconscious Influences on Actions • Plans: Low-, Middle-, and High-Level Intentions

4. Recognizing Actions and Artifacts: The Conceptualization and Attribution of Action-Theoretic
Notions • The Underdetermination and Lack of Justification for Many Attributions of Agency • The Conceptualization and Attribution of Action: A Single Case • Attributing Plans and Purposes to Agents • Recognizing Intentional Features in Events • Recognizing Intentional Properties in Instruments and Tools

5. Recognizing and Interpreting Artifacts
Underdetermination for Artifacts • “Indicative” Actions and Artifactual Properties • Goals and Methodologies in the Interpretation of Artifacts • The Rationality of Historical Inquiry for Finding Best the Present Function • Hesitations About the Efficacy of Historical Inquiry • Another, Political, Reason for the Disutility of Historical Inquiry • General Rules of Cognition and Their Rationality

6. Communicative, Expressive, Artistic, and Other Artifacts
Communicative and Expressive Artifacts • Classifying Artifacts: General Issues • “Ordinary” Useful Artifacts • Art Works • Conceiving of Objects as Art Works • Being an Art Work • An Alternative Definition of Art Work

7. Toward a Metaphysics of Artifacts: Individuation, Identity Through Time, and Group Agency
Deterioration and Restoration of Artifacts • Indirect Creation and Group Agency • The Individuation of Artifacts and Physical Objects • Peculiar Properties: Historical and “External” Properties of Things • “External” Properties and Relations

8. Evaluating Artifacts
Five Dimensions of Artifactual Value • The Details of Functional Failure: Deficiencies in the Means-Ends Hierarchy • Types of Failure in a Deliberative History • High-, Middle-, and Low-Level Intentions Behind Artifacts • A Mundane Example: A “Good" Chair • Evaluation of Agent and Interpreter

9. Art Works as Artifacts: Special Considerations
Artifactual and Action-Theoretic Reflections on Art Works • The Sensuous Versus the Abstract in Art • Are Art Works Platonic Complexes of Intentions? • The Identity and Individuation of Art Works • Purposes of Art Works: Their Essential Obscurity • Specifying the Purposes of Art: As Much as We Can Say

10. The Purposes of Art Works
Emotional Expression and Communication as Artistic Purposes • The Complex and Subtle Content of Artistic Articulation • Obscurity, Success, and Artistic Evaluation • Purposes of Art Other Than Expression • Art Works as Historical and Cultural Objects

11. Performance Art Works
Performances as Artifacts • Artistic Performances • Three Puzzles About Artistic Performance • Performance as an Action-Theoretic Concept • The Normative Aspects of Performance • Applying the Philosophical Theory to Performances • A Final Example of the Authenticity Problem: J. S. Bach • Expanding the Issue of Authenticity

12. Natural and Artificial: The Fateful and Obscure Contrast
Theories of Nature • The Crudity of the Contemporary Conception of Nature: An Ecological-Philosophical Paradox • The Complementarity of Nature and the Artificial World • Saving the Experience of the "Natural" • Purposes of Agents, Purposes in Artifacts, Purposes in Nature • The Uses of Nature: Interpretation-Free Zone and Nature as Artifact • A Second Purpose of Nature: Otherworldly Agents



About the Author(s)

Randall R. Dipert is Professor of Philosophy at the College at Fredonia, State University of New York.

Subject Categories

Philosophy and Ethics

In the series

The Arts and Their Philosophies, edited by Joseph Margolis.

The volumes in The Arts and Their Philosophies, edited by Joseph Margolis, include: overviews of such well-defined sub-disciplines as the philosophy of music, film, and literature; studies of important figures, schools, and movements; monographs on such topics as postmodernism, texts and interpretation, reference in fiction, and the methodology of art history; explorations of the intersection of the arts and other disciplines, such as feminism and interpretation, art and politics; and translations of major works.



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