I am designing self-evolving and self-learning cognitive architecture (that is how the Artificial General intelligence is being implemented) with the seed intelligence approach, that is why I am using ontologies extensively to seed this initial intelligence (for letting to evolve further in their own manner). I am using Reinforcement-Learning/Belief-Desire-Action paradigm. So - I have domain ontologies which I am trying to express (lable) as states and actions and I have planning mechanisms. That is fine - agent observes the world, recognizes it as a system of state and actions (transitions among states that can be initiated by the agent).

But my experience is - that lot of human actions are not actions per se on the external world. Instead - they are actions to design/create tools/instruments with whom the actions can be performed. E.g. computer programming is creation software as tool. Medicine is creation of drugs and medical devices as tools with whom to exert action over body. Law automation - tools to do legal reasoning and activities. Algorithms - tools to do actions in the domain of mathematics.

So - everywhere we are looking - we are not thinking about direction actions on the world, but we are thinking about design and creation of tools: apparently - tools have their own ontologies (ontologies or tools, ontologies of part of tools, e.g. there are ontologies of software elements) and tools should have the ontologies of capabilities of tools. And we should have ontologies/philosophies how direct human actions or how actions with other tools are used to create another tools. Aren't this theory of metaaction, if such theory exists?

For me it is critically important to grasp the general notions of tools/instruments/(Bacon would said organon, Descartes would say method - but they though this about the intellectual tools, ideas as instruments). Of course, I am sane man and I can list all those notions myself, but I fell that there should be philosophers who have done some thinking about tools/instruments.

I am actively searching such themes as philosophy of engineering, technology, design, but the results or very grounded. There are good branches of philosophy of action and agency (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/action/, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/agency/) and I would be happy to have similar level of abstraction for the philosophy of tools/instruments.

Anyway - use of tools is the important feature to be human, so - how philosophy can avoid it?

My question is reference request - I would be happy get any keywords, terms, names of philosophers who have done thinking about tools/instruments (both - tools for ideas and tools for real actions in the real world). My guess is that there is such branch of philosophy but it just uses different keywords and that is why Google gives nothing for me when I am searching "philsophy of tools".

My big program is to use philosophy as the guiding lamp for gathering seed intelligence for cognitive architecture. I am myself a computer science student and programmer. I will be very happy if someone from the domain of philosophy would share his/her knowledge and ideas for the development of practical Artificial (General) Intelligence and in such manner the jobs could be automated and the exploitation of humanity can be ended and everyone will be able to enjoy creative activities, like, doing philosophy. Besides, automation can be of big help in times of bad epidemics. Hope, that my question will unite folks.

  • OK, obviously plato.stanford.edu/entries/technology especially its Chapter 2, can be the answer. It uses term 'artifact' for which I used the term 'tool/instrument'.
    – TomR
    Commented Mar 21, 2020 at 1:44
  • Tools are dead labor. The whole “built” environment is dead labor. It’s not just that Soylent Green is people, everything is pretty much people.
    – Gordon
    Commented Mar 21, 2020 at 4:21
  • 1
    Surprisingly, Heidegger did a lot of reflection on the role of tools in human life in his opus Sein und Zeit, which attracted attention of modern AI researchers. You may find section 3 of Dreyfus's Heideggerian AI an interesting read. Take also a look at embodied cognition generally.
    – Conifold
    Commented Mar 21, 2020 at 8:07
  • 1
    I found a good read to be The Culture of Technology by Arnold Pacey which strives to define technology much more broadly than tools per se. I would also argue that you need to watch your language when you say the "I" builds tools to act on the body; the former is a phenomonological and thus abstract ontological entity, and the latter is a physical and objective one.
    – J D
    Commented Mar 21, 2020 at 23:14
  • 1
    That is to say, that when the I creates tools and those tools affect the body,, then the I is creating an affect on the universe, as the body is constructed from matter and is subject to the fundamental forces just like any other matter of the universe. Also, if you're interested in AGI, then get yourself a copy of AGI
    – J D
    Commented Mar 21, 2020 at 23:14

1 Answer 1


In answer to your request. Michael Harrington: [The] Twilight of Capitalism. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1977.

A good book. Terrible timing. Ronald Reagan came in in 1981!

This title may seem unpromising, but If my memory serves (it may not), you will find this issue of tools covered in the book. Sraffa is mentioned.

I guarantee it will help your research be complete if nothing else. I have only seen the book in paperback in libraries and the glue was bad so gently lift it from the shelf if found.

I was listening to an old computer science professor tonight (on YouTube) mention that Turing could use a soldering iron. We should not forget the blood, sweat and tears that even got us to the soldering iron.

Michael Harrington: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Harrington

PS Quote. “Should be automated and the exploitation of humanity can be ended and everyone will be able to enjoy creative activities, like, doing philosophy”

Let me give a story here. In the 70s I remember sitting in my car on the way to work, and listening to a radio program about the 4 day work week. Yes, possible if we assume a steady state GDP.

But often technology is just used to expand GDP, and further enslave the worker. Anyway, I never got my 4 day work week.

You might also enjoy this great book. Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization (1956 or 1957) https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eros_and_Civilization

At the exact same time as Marcuse’s book, we begin to have a good understanding of man-made climate change. Of all people here I provide Edward Teller’s Wikipedia!! Scroll down please to Global Climate Change (1959) https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Teller

So in a way, Marcuse’s hope was dashed, but it is still a very good book.

Teller was a great proponent of nuclear everything. Anyway he was probably right on nuclear power. It can be made very efficient and we will probably need to distill a lot of water from seawater in the future.

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