Colloquium: human diversity and the ‘appropriateness’ of technical artefacts

Ilse Oosterlaken, TU Delft, Netherlands
15.30-17.00, room a3.100 of TPM building, TU Delft.

Abstract of paper:
Human beings differ very much from one another, both in their personal characteristics and circumstances. Within political philosophy and ethics this has been emphasized by the capability approach of Nussbaum and Sen, within engineering design by social design movements like universal/inclusive design. Not only is is fruitful to connect these different domains, they also both invoke questions about technical artefacts and normativity. In order to explicate this connection and shed some light on these questions, I will turn to philosophy of technology. More in particular, I will build on work of Houkes and Vermaas about the nature of technical artefacts and of engineering design and on connected work of Franssen about artefacts and normativity. User characteristics and circumstances have been given an explicit place there. Yet, so I will argue, the implications have not been fully driven through. Human diversity makes normative statements like ‘this is an inappropriate bicycle’ of great importance, but Franssen leaves them unmentioned. I will analyze their meaning and argue that they should be distinguished from statements like ‘this is a good bicycle’. Normativity is in this paper mainly limited to the context of individual, instrumental rationality. I will, however, also briefly explore how inappropriateness may be at the basis of moral judgments about artefacts, more in particular concerning social injustice. It is to such injustices that both the capability approach and universal/inclusive design have been responding, each in their own way.

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