An Ontology of Production, Products and By-Products

The starting hypothesis of this project is that there exists an important category of entities, widely used in the sciences but rarely studied as such, which we call products and by-products. This category includes cities, books, screwdrivers, waste, contractual claims, medicines, nations, pdf documents, money, laws, acquired skills and NFTs, but not revolutions, global warming, promises, atoms, tennis games, inflation, or eclipses.

Though manifold, this category is unified by the fact that the entities in question are continuant outcomes of human actions. “Continuant” here contrasts with “occurrent”,  and denotes entities that persist through time without having temporal parts (e.g., an earlier or later half). Continuants, so understood, include material objects but also capacities, legal obligations, or institutions, all of which arguably lack temporal parts. Not all continuants are products or by-products: fermions or wild animals, for example, need not be outcomes of human actions. The category of human products and by-products, while broad, is therefore not all-encompassing.

This project will have a significant impact within philosophy by defending a novel conception of human-produced continuants which moves away from the prevailing emphasis on individual and collective intentions, and instead assigns a central role to the capacities of agents and their products. Our research promises to yield important new insights concerning a wide range of phenomena which may otherwise appear disconnected, including: material and immaterial (e.g., digital) artifacts; economic goods; as well as human and machine capacities.

Full project description


Primary investigators: Prof. Kathrin Koslicki & Prof. Olivier Massin

The project is funded by the SNSF.