1. I think there are no objectively existing material substantial mere artifacts.  But for short, I will sometimes say that there are “no artifacts”, and call this “artifactual nihilism”. 
    1. “Objectively existing” excludes socially constituted “objects”. 
    2. “Material” excludes Koonsian artifacts identified with certain token social practices. 
    3. “Substantial” excludes the case of a token thought of mine, which is an artifact, but is an accident of me. 
    4. “Mere” excludes the case where an artifact happens to coincide with a non-artifactual substance.  After all, it might be argued that an animal bred for a purpose is an artifact—but it is not a mere artifact (at least on views on which animals are substances).  If God exists, then we are artifacts, but not mere artifacts.  And then there is the earring which consists of a single particle—perhaps it is an artifact but not a mere artifact.
  2. The following imply or make plausible artifactual nihilism:
    1. Any theory on which a substance cannot be a part of a substance:

                                                              i.      Aristotelian theories

                                                            ii.      Micro compositional nihilism (nothing is a proper part; the substances are microscopic things)

                                                          iii.      Macro compositional nihilism (nothing is a proper part; the substances are macroscopic things)

                                                          iv.      Parmenideanism (there can only be one thing)

    1. van Inwagen
    2. Merricks
  1. Artifactual nihilism gives rise to an incredulous stare objection to these theories.  Thus, it would be good if defenders of these theories could make the stare less incredulous or even independently argue for artifactual nihilism.
  2. I assume that either all material things that we would ordinarily call “mere artifacts” are such that they would exist under their common sense conditions (the conditions under which common sense says they would exist), or none of them are.  A view where tables exist but there are no computers is implausible.  
  3. Making the stare less incredulous: We treat a lot of things substantively in our language, as if they were objectively existing re-identifiable substantial beings, but which aren’t, except on a messy ontology (like universalism).  If the best science showed that artifacts were like the following items, we wouldn’t see that as a good reason to disbelieve the science.  For instance:
    1. Holes

                                                              i.      Chess-board covered with mud.  Pieces are holes in the mud, moved by inserting a template the shape of the piece, and then shifting it slowly, so that the mud re-forms behind the template.  (Pieces must be small to allow castling and knights to jump over pieces.)

                                                            ii.      World filled with a medium, with laws of physics giving neat dynamical laws for the holes.  Can easily imagine the holes being thought of as things.  Imagine now that philosophers and physicists in that world come to the conclusion that the holes don’t exist.  Should common-sense really rise up against them?

    1. Waves

                                                              i.      It’s really easy to imagine a world where waves are owned, manipulated, etc.  They would be thought of as artifacts.

    1. Shadows and spots of light (Leibniz talks of rainbows; think of the indicator on a sundial)
    2. Literary works

                                                              i.      Too type-like to be substantial, but creatable.

  1. Problems with objectively existing material substantial mere artifacts:
    1. Violation of necessary conditions for substancehood:

                                                              i.      Loneliness: x is a substance only if it is metaphysically possible that only x and its parts exist.

I.       But theists also need to reject Loneliness.  (Interestingly, theists seem overrepresented among artifactual nihilists.)

                                                            ii.      Truthmaker I (for nominalists): x is a substance only if all the parts of the truthmaker of “x exists” (where x is a proper name) are parts of x.  But a part of what it is for an artifact exist is for some social practice to exist or someone to have an intention.

                                                          iii.      Truthmaker II (for Platonists): x is a substance only if all the parts of the truthmaker of “x exists” (where x is a proper name) are parts of x, or are necessary beings, or are token relations between x and one or more necessary beings.

    1. Mind-dependence

                                                              i.      As long as we perform the physical motions, with the same tools, operating on the same material ingredients, and getting the same chancy microphysical events, the same extra-bodily objectively existing material objects come into existence (barring miracles).  I.e., the mind affects the physical world only through the body (barring miracles).  But how many artifacts come to exist depends on what we had in mind when we made what we made:

I.       Unconsciously kneading clay into a cup shape, and then accidentally knocking it into the fire.

II.    Trying to make a ball versus trying to make a chair, and in both cases ending up with something ball-shaped.

III. Making a loveseat versus making two armless chairs temporarily joined together.

                                                            ii.      Creation of objects without the relevant kind of physical interaction:

I.       I find on my property a stump that looks like a chair.  I don’t touch it, but I take a picture of it, and sell it on ebay as a chair.  You buy it, pick it up, and use it as a chair.  Surely, I sold you a chair.  By picking out the stump visually and treating it as a chair, I made it into a chair.  (If not, when did it become a chair?  Only when you sat on it?  Surely not—chairs leave the factory as chairs, even if no one tests them.)  I did this, however, without any physical interaction with the chair.

A.    Further question: If the chair came into existence simultaneously with some mental action that was not relevantly causally related to the chair or the stump, which reference frame is the “simultaneously” relative to?  (Surely it doesn’t affect when the chair comes into existence whether I am on a merry-go-round when I am thinking about it.)  Maybe: chair comes into existence as soon as light can travel from me-thinking to the chair.  But why should light travel matter here?

II.    If it is insisted that the use is necessary, note that use does not imply any relevant causal input from me.  On my land, lightning strikes some sand, creating some lenses.  A hurricane blows the lenses into a conveniently shaped hollow log, which happens to be pitched up at a 45 degree angle.  I then look at the stars through the log, using it as a telescope.  It is surely my telescope at this point.  But while it has relevantly causally affected  me (focusing light into my eyes), I haven’t causally affected it.  So I can create objects without causally affecting them.  That is absurd.  And when did the telescope come into existence?  When the light reached my eyes, or earlier?  If earlier, then it became a telescope without any relevant causal interaction in either direction.  If when it reached my eyes, then I cannot say that the telescope focused the light into my eyes, which is also absurd.

    1. Arbitrariness of persistence conditions: the ship of Theseus or replacing the CPU in a computer or turning off a computer.  We are contented to let positive law or insurance contract settle persistence condition questions for artifacts.  Suppose I take a piece of paper, and half-absentmindedly make something out of it.  What are its persistence conditions?  Who knows!  But it is an artifact.  The flexibility in persistence conditions matches the case of holes, waves, shadows, spots of light and literary works.
    2. Violation of Humean anti-causal principle: any material object that can exist can exist without a cause.

                                                              i.      One might think that modal universalism would allow an artifactual realist to uphold the anti-causal principle.  But this is false.  On modal universalism, a chair might be collocated with an object that satisfies the anti-causal principle, but it does not itself satisfy it.

                                                            ii.      The only problem with this argument is that the anti-causal principle is false. :-)

    1. Violation of the Humean thesis that any object could co-exist with any arrangement of matter outside of it, and an odd way to cease to be: A statue of Hermes made up of sand floating in space.  The statue will cease to exist as more sand is added, even though nothing has causally interacted with the statue (suppose there is no gravity, say).  This is true not only of statues.  A watch could, perhaps, be made by vaporizing bits of a chunk of spring steel.  And then it could be destroyed by putting them back. 
    2. The tasks done by artifacts can often by done by less controversially non-substantial things.  We can imagine gradually replacing an artifact by such.  Gradually replace a chess piece with a holographic pattern of light.  If we can gradually replace a marble chess piece with a gold one, why not gradually replace it with a holographic pattern of light?  But a substance cannot survive as a non-substance!

                                                              i.      What if light is a material thing?  Well, replace a flat Chinese Chess piece with a shadow, then.

    1. Assume there are no souls.  Make an artifact out of multiple people.  Is the artifact thinking?

                                                              i.      Maximality: Yes.  But that’s the wrong answer, since then it is immoral to take the artifact apart, which is absurd.

                                                            ii.      Minimality: No.  That’s the right answer, but then make an artifact out of my head.  By minimalism, it will be thinking, and I won’t be.  Which is absurd.

  1. What should we say about tables and chairs?
    1. They simply don’t exist. 

                                                              i.      Then in all honesty we had better stop talking about them.

    1. They exist not as material objects, but as token practices.  (Koons)

                                                              i.      Possible problem: The practice involving the Titanic can come into existence before the Titanic is built and persist even after it is destroyed.

    1. Some sentences affirming the existence of tables and chairs hold in virtue of propositions whose truthmakers do not include tables and chairs (e.g., sentences about the arrangement of matter).  Sentences about re-identification of tables and chairs are not taken very seriously by ordinary language, and can be said to hold in virtue of propositions about the arrangement of matter and social practices.  We say here exactly what we would say about waves and voids.  On this view, the ordinary sentence “There are tables and chairs” is true.  But there are no tables and chairs as parts of any truthmaker of it.