Olimpia G. Loddo

Assigning functions: Agency and normativity

  • Abstract

Informations and abstract

Keywords: Function; Function Assignment; Agency; Normativity.

The article explores the concept of «function assignment» starting from John R. Searle's distinction between agentive and non-agentive function. The agentive function assignments «mark uses to which we put objects» (e.g. «this stone is a paperweight»); the non-agentive functions are assigned to processes occurring in nature (e.g. «the function of the heart is to pump blood»). Searle thinks that both kinds of function assignments have something to do with normative evaluations. However, the relationship between function assignment and normative evaluations is not clear. The article tries to clarify Searle's distinction between agentive and non-agentive function assignment, investigating the role of the axiological commitment in function assignment. It also highlights that the expression 'function assignment' can refer to acts that are different in kind since they presuppose different kind of agency (physical agency, mental agency and social agency). Finally, the article focuses on the normativity that rules function assignment and distinguishes two kinds of normativity that play an important role in function assignment: axiologically oriented normativity and constitutive normativity". The "axiologically oriented normativity" behind "function assignments allows a teleological representation of a process that exists independently from the observer. Constitutive normativity can establish new patterns of action to fulfil requirements that natural processes had originally been fulfilling. For instance, tissue engineering and the creation of artificial organs presuppose a normativity that creates new system of working for an organ of the human body. Indeed, a non-agentive function (as the one of pumping blood) is assignable to an artificial device. Despite this fact, the non-agentive nature of that function (e.g. to circulate the blood) does not change.

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