Are humans artifacts?

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In the beginning of the SEP article on artifacts, the following is said straight away:

An artifact may be defined as an object that has been intentionally made or produced for a certain purpose.

Does this apply to humans? I'm not referring to any hypothetical intelligent designer. What I mean is that out of all animals, only humans (at least normal ones) seem to conceive children with an intention (e.g. with an intention of having another loved one, etc.) and not just because they desperately want to reproduce.

user132181

Posted 2014-09-16T19:09:17.903

Reputation: 1 067

One could say that Darwin supports this view. I believe the metaphor is that "life is a river of genes flowing through geological time where organisms are mere temporary bodies". – Nick – 2014-09-16T19:29:39.370

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It may apply to some humans, such as little George Mountbatten-Windsor :)

– Drux – 2014-09-16T19:31:47.580

@NickR please, read the edit. I hope it clarifies matters :-) – user132181 – 2014-09-16T19:40:06.177

1Well, @NickR, Darwin certainly didn't know about genes, so that's someone else's metaphor! – ChristopherE – 2014-09-17T18:25:28.027

1@ChristopherE Yes, it is a contemporary metaphor. I probably read it in one of the books by Richard Dawkins. – Nick – 2014-09-17T18:29:28.970

Answers

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Are humans artifacts?

Short answer: No.

Longer Answer:

UPDATED ANSWER FROM THE COMMENTS

To say that you are a creation of your parents, and then go on to describe how a table or a cabinet is created by a designer/maker, would be to change the meaning of 'create' partway through. If I push a snowball off a mountain, it may or may not gather speed and pick up snow to become a cartoonishly huge boulder by the time it reaches the bottom. Regardless of what happens, I haven't 'created' anything in the usual sense, even though I initiated the series of events that led to the formation of the giant snowball. Similar for having sex - kicking off the chain of chemical reactions that results in a new human being, whether by accident or by intent, is categorically different from deliberately making something for a specific purpose.

Also, coming back around to your original definition, artifacts need to meet at least three criteria:

  1. An artifact is an object
  2. That has been intentionally made
  3. For a certain purpose
[1]: Are humans objects? Under normal circumstances, 'object' would refer to something inanimate, so I would say no.[2]: Can a human be intentionally made? Perhaps: While I would say no, this point is the most open to quibbling. However, if any one of these three criteria fail, humans cannot be classed as artifacts, so let's move on. [3]: Can a human be made for a certain purpose? Here I would say no - human beings get to define their purpose, they don't have to accept an imposed purpose. There's a reason we cheer for the Rebellion taking on the Empire, after all.

Since humans fail to meet all criteria by most interpretations, and at minimum fail to meet criteria [3], we are in no danger of being artifacts.


ORIGINAL ANSWER

Your quoted definition and subsequent question hinge on the answer to one specific (unstated) question: Are humans designed? If humans are the products of deliberate design, either humans are artifacts or (if we're sufficiently uncomfortable with that classification) the definition of artifacts needs to be revisited/revised. If humans are not designed, we cannot be artifacts.

Fortunately for our egos, all evidence points to human beings being a current result of evolution, not of design (intelligent or otherwise). Intelligent Design Creationists have put a lot of money and effort into spreading misinformation, and a full takedown of all their claims would be to create an entire website dedicated to cataloging and rebutting ID claims. Such an undertaking is beyond the scope of a stackexchange.com answer, but fortunately others have already taken the time and effort to do most of the work for us already.

With your edit, you add:

What I mean is that out of all animals, only humans (at least normal ones) seem to conceive children with an intention (e.g. with an intention of having another loved one, etc.) and not just because they desperately want to reproduce.

Until technology reaches the point where we can directly guide the reproduction process and make engineer changes or aesthetic improvements, the intent to have a child does not make the child 'designed' and ergo not an artifact. Intent to have a child or not, none of us have any control over the messy, biological processes of genetic recombination and development that leads to the birth of a new human being, but I can see this becoming an issue that could be revisited as technology marches on.

Dave B

Posted 2014-09-16T19:09:17.903

Reputation: 915

I wasn't saying you can literally design your future child, but only create one with an intention. No sane person will deny that you are a creation of your parents. Do you agree? – user132181 – 2014-09-16T20:03:34.230

2To say that you are a creation of your parents, and then go on to describe how a table or a cabinet is created by a designer/maker, would be to change the meaning of 'create' partway through.

If I push a snowball off a mountain, it may or may not gather speed and pick up snow to become a cartoonishly huge boulder by the time it reaches the bottom. Regardless of what happens, I haven't 'created' anything in the usual sense, even though I initiated the series of events that led to the formation of the giant snowball. [cont'd] – Dave B – 2014-09-16T20:18:30.220

2Similar for having sex - kicking off the chain of chemical reactions that results in a new human being, whether by accident or by intent, is categorically different from deliberately making something for a specific purpose. – Dave B – 2014-09-16T20:20:09.887

I'd argue that humans do have some control over their offspring, chiefly by selecting specific partners over other ones. Whether this is enough of an "art" to call children "artifacts" I do not know ...

– Drux – 2014-09-16T20:22:50.807

I see it now. You should just delete all the text from your current answer and replace it with your comments :-) – user132181 – 2014-09-16T20:23:03.970

1Actually, coming back around to your original question: [a]: Are humans objects? Under normal circumstances, 'object' would refer to something inanimate, so no. [b]: Can a human be intentionally made? Perhaps: While I would say no, this point is the most open to quibbling, see above. [c]: Can a human be made for a specific purpose? Here I would say no - human beings get to define their purpose, they don't have to accept an imposed purpose. So do humans meet requirements [a] & [b] & [c]? No, ergo no danger of being artifacts. :) – Dave B – 2014-09-16T20:25:12.307

What about a guy who wants to be like Arnold Schwarzenegger? He takes a non-artefact (himself) and shapes it for that certain purpose? You assume that a human is either at the moment of conception an artefact or it is never. How about becoming one? Like a stone can become a knife or a lump of clay can become a jar? – Einer – 2014-09-17T16:41:52.687

@Einer: I hadn't considered the possibility of a self-made artifact! While the clay and the rock need something/someone else to act on it, allowing living beings opens up the possibility of admitting the self-made. I guess it comes down to the requirement [1] - Are we implicitly referring to inanimate objects, or to any noun? – Dave B – 2014-09-17T18:17:13.137

@DaveB If it hinges on [1] I don't want to put up a fight. To me it's the most irrelevant part of the definition so I might as-well say that you are right. But I don't ;-) "object of desire" ideally refers to an animate object. 'Object' is one of the most abstract concepts I know. It's like 'entity': It refers to nothing in particular but fills a syntactical void. If you want to use a predicate, you need a bearer of that predicate. That's what the author of that definition looked for, when he called it 'an object'. But if that's what it boils down to, I don't mind! – Einer – 2014-09-17T18:51:17.647

1@Einer: I wasn't saying that to be verbally combative, just recognizing that what I thought was the most solid objection wasn't as solid as I had thought, and that the fall-back rebuttal would be the fuzziest of the three. Excellent counterpoint. :) – Dave B – 2014-09-17T19:37:41.543

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Yes and no. At the time of birth we are given a lot of properties no-one intended us to have, and even if someone wanted us to have blond hair and we turn out to have blond hair, no-one intentionally designed us to have blond hair (with increasing possibilities of genetic manipulation this might change one day). This applies to almost all of our anatomy, down to the fact that I have two eyes and ten toes: None of that was designed intentionally.

After birth however people start designing us. Some of them encourage us to play with cars instead of dolls, others cut our hair, send us to play soccer, show us books and movies. Appearance and character are actively and intentionally designed. Even as an adult I'm actively shaping me. Maybe grow a beard, pierce an ear, hold diet, work out, dye my hair. All of that I do purposefully.

So we are both: Part artifact part natural object. This is not that confusing, considering that 'artifact' is vague: How much work do I have to put in an natural object to turn it into an artifact? If I rip off the twigs of a branch is it an artifact already? If I sand it and polish it? If I add a little spike to it's end? Well at some point I have created a cane, which surely is an artifact, but when turned it into one? So whether or not we are artifacts depends on where you draw the line in this vague area.

Personally I consider myself to be an artifact since my parents and me put a hell of a lot work into me. A newborn is probably an object of nature. But it all depends on where you draw the line!

Einer

Posted 2014-09-16T19:09:17.903

Reputation: 1 192

I really like this answer, thanks for writing it. – user132181 – 2014-09-17T10:02:00.710

@user132181 Thanks! I like your question! – Einer – 2014-09-17T10:34:29.710

Abraham Lincoln: "Every man over forty is responsible for his face." – Drux – 2014-09-17T10:40:09.440

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The cited article goes on to say that

an artifact has necessarily a maker or an author

With that, there is little chance that there is a definite answer to your question because it is tied to religious questions that are famously disputed since time immemorial.

Drux

Posted 2014-09-16T19:09:17.903

Reputation: 1 644

Just made an edit to the question. Sorry for misleading :-( – user132181 – 2014-09-16T19:42:50.700

1@user132181 Yep, it overlapped with this answer. Perhaps my earlier comment now comes closer to an answer to the new question :) – Drux – 2014-09-16T19:44:03.803