Pieter Vermaas Research and Publications



Design for values

Design research

Functions and philosophy

Functions and engineering

Functions and applied ontology

Quantum mechanics

Functions and philosophy publications

directly to the publications
The 2010 Technical Functions monograph, authored together with Wybo Houkes, (Eindhoven University of Technology), presents the ICE theory of technical functions. This account advances an intentionalist perspective on technical functions that integrates elements from causal-role and etiological analyses in the philosophical literature on (primarily biological) functions. The ICE theory is defined relative to an action-theoretical analysis of the use and design of technical artefacts. This action-theoretical analysis fixes key concepts in technology and aims to stay close to engineering by giving meanings of these concepts that are similar or disambiguating the meanings engineers endorse. The ICE theory itself is however not presenting a concept of function that stays close to engineering; engineers use different concepts of function, and typically do so side-by-side without any rivalry (see the 2011 Applied Ontology, 2013 Philosophy and Technology and 2013 Artificial Intelligence for Engineering Design, Analysis and Manufacturing papers ). Hence, accounts that sets out a single primary concept of function, as the ICE theory does, cannot be taken as conceptual analysis of engineering usages of function. Criteria for evaluating the ICE theory are rather conceptual precision, consistency, and usefulness and viability to analyse theoretical and philosophical questions about technology. One of these questions is how functional descriptions of technical artefacts relate the intentional nature of technical artefacts their structural nature (the philosophical research on functions has its origin in the Dual Nature of Technical Artefacts programme (see Home) at Delft University of Technology).

The argument for the need for a separate account of functions for the technical domain was first presented in the 2003 BJPS paper. Application of the ICE theory to the biological domain is discussed in the 2010 Technical Functions monograph and the 2013 Functions as Epistemic Highlighters chapter. An analysis of how separate accounts for technical and biological functions may be combined, for describing biotechnology, for instance, is given in the 2012 Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences paper with Ana Cuevas-Badallo (University of Salamanca).

Houkes, W., and P.E. Vermaas (2010) Technical Functions: On the Use and Design of Artefacts, vol. 1 of Philosophy of Engineering and Technology (Dordrecht: Springer).[link]

Vermaas, P.E. (2016) An Engineering Turn in Conceptual Analysis, in M. Franssen, P.E. Vermaas, P. Kroes and A. Meijers (eds.) Philosophy of Technology after the Empirical Turn (Dordrecht: Springer), pp. 269-282.[link]

Vermaas, P.E. (2013) On the Co-Existence of Engineering Meanings of Function: Four Responses and Their Methodological Implications, Artificial Intelligence for Engineering Design, Analysis and Manufacturing 27, 191-202.[link]

Vermaas, P.E., M. Carrara, S. Borgo and P. Garbacz (2013) The Design Stance and Its Artefacts, Synthese 190, 1131-1152.[pdf]

Vermaas, P.E., and W. Houkes (2013) Functions as Epistemic Highlighters: An Engineering Account of Technical, Biological and Other Functions, in P. Huneman (ed.) Functions: Selection and Mechanisms (Dordrecht: Springer), pp. 213-231.[link]

Vermaas, P.E., D. van Eck and P. Kroes (2013) The Conceptual Elusiveness of Engineering Functions: A Philosophical Analysis, Philosophy and Technology 26, 159-185.[link]

Weber, E., T.A.C. Reydon, M. Boon, W. Houkes and P.E. Vermaas (2013) The ICE-Theory of Technical Functions: Houkes, Wybo, and Vermaas, Pieter E.: Technical Functions. On the Use and Design of Artefacts, Dordrecht: Springer, 2010, viii+175pp, €99,95 HB, Metascience 22, 23-44.[link]

Carrara, M., P. Garbacz and P.E. Vermaas (2011) If Engineering Function is a Family Resemblance Concept: Assessing Three Formalization Strategies, Applied Ontology 6, 141-163.[link]

Cuevas-Badallo, A., and P.E. Vermaas (2011) A Functional Abc for Biotechnology and the Dissemination of Its Progeny, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 42, 261-269.[link]

Vermaas, P.E. (2010) Focussing Philosophy of Engineering: Analyses of Technical Functions and Beyond, in I. van de Poel and D.E. Goldberg (eds.) Philosophy and Engineering: An Emerging Agenda (Dordrecht: Springer), pp. 61-73.[link]

Houkes, W., and P.E. Vermaas (2010) Théories des Fonctions Techniques: Combinaisons Sophistiquées de Trois Archétypes, in J. Gayon and A. de Ricqlès (eds.) Les Fonctions: Des Organismes aux Artefacts (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France), pp. 381-403.[pdf]

Vermaas, P.E. (2009) On Unification: Taking Technical Functions as Objective (and Biological Functions as Subjective), in U. Krohs and P. Kroes (eds.) Functions in Biological and Artificial Worlds: Comparative Philosophical Perspectives, Vienna Series in Theoretical Biology (Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press), pp. 69-87.[pdf]

Vermaas, P.E., and P. Garbacz (2009) Functional Decompositions and Mereology in Engineering, in A.W.M. Meijers (ed.) Philosophy of Technology and Engineering Sciences (Amsterdam: Elsevier), pp. 235-271.[pdf]

Vermaas, P.E. (2006) The Physical Connection: Engineering Function Ascriptions to Technical Artefacts and their Components, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 37, 62-75.[link]

Vermaas, P.E., and W. Houkes (2006) Technical Functions: A Drawbridge between the Intentional and Structural Nature of Technical Artefacts, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 37, 5-18.[link]

Vermaas, P.E., and W. Houkes (2006) Use Plans and Artefact Functions: An Intentionalist Approach to Artefacts and their Use, in A. Costall and O. Dreier (eds.) Doing Things with Things: The Design and Use of Everyday Objects (Aldershot: Ashgate), pp. 29-48.[link]

Houkes, W., and P.E. Vermaas (2004) Actions versus Functions: A Plea For an Alternative Metaphysics of Artifacts, Monist 87, 52-71.[pdf]

Vermaas, P.E., and W. Houkes (2003) Ascribing Functions to Technical Artefacts: A Challenge to Etiological Accounts of Functions, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 54, 261-289.[link]