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Abstract Artifacts


Say 'abstract objects' and the typical metaphysician thinks, 'numbers, sets, relations.' But what about a symphony? Or a novel? These abstract artifacts (i.e., created abstracta), unlike eternal abstracta, are brought into existence. Other examples include poems, plays, films, corporations, languages, words, and games. The literature tends to neglect these artifacts and focus on eternal abstracta. Because of this peculiar focus, we've missed out on all sorts of

interesting ramifications that abstract objects have for our metaphysics and philosophy of language. I remedy this lacuna by developing a theory of abstract artifacts and showing that this view has important ramifications for debates about causation, debates about vague existence, and related issues.

First, I argue that abstract artifacts are causally efficacious. They can be affected and--more surprisingly--they affect other things. A paradigm case involves the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. I argue it caused many Americans to support abolition. This conclusion counters the dominant view that abstracta are causally inert. I provide an original theory of object-causation that reduces it to event-causation and supports my conclusion.

Next, I present an original problem for the view that there are abstract artifacts. I argue it commits supervaluationists and epistemicists about vagueness to the controversial view that `exists' is vague. Some philosophers might take this problem as a reason to deny that there exist any abstract artifacts. Others, such as myself, will take this problem as a reason to accept that `exists' is vague.

Next, I present an original theory of abstract artifacts, on which they stand in extrinsic relations to the sorts of things that the literature often takes to be constitutive of, part of, or even identical to them. For instance, on my account, a symphony has a tonal structure, but this structure is neither part of, nor constitutive of, nor identical to the symphony. My theory accounts for the ways in which abstract artifacts change (for instance, when a corporation loses its employees or when a novel is revised). The theory also provides a unified account of many abstracta (including all of the artifacts mentioned above). In light of these advantages, the theory is a plausible alternative to current views of abstract artifacts.

Last, I apply some of the insights gained about abstract artifacts to concrete

artifacts (e.g., statues, tables, chairs, and buildings). Some Aristotelian views of concrete artifacts conflict with `exists' being precise. Once we accept that `exists' is vague, these views become more plausible.

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