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characters with overly sexualized bodies, as trophies, or objects for sex and abuse by male

characters (Sarkeesian 2013; 2016).

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It might be objected that in these cases, values are embodied not in the artifacts, but only

in their expressive content. A sign, so this objection goes, is a neutral instrument that may be

used for delivering different messages; the value of safety is embodied only in the “danger”

message, not the material artifact. Similarly, the sexist values are in the content of the video

games rather than the computer hardware that runs them.5

This objection, however, wrongly assumes that content and the material means that

stores, processes, or delivers it are sharply separable from each other. But content cannot be

expressed without material means such as painted letters shaped in certain ways, or data

physically stored in a magnetic medium or a solid-state drive. Second, in a “danger” road sign,

for example, the value of safety is not merely in its message. Material features such as its shape

and its reflection of the lights of passing cars are also ways in which it embodies the value of

safety. Only a danger sign with certain physical properties embeds the value of safety. A flashing

sign that distracts drivers from the danger from which it is supposed to warn them, or an

unreadable sign does not embed safety. Similarly, current graphic cards have native hardware

support for certain mathematical calculations needed to efficiently produce certain graphical

effects. These effects are impossible to produce without such native hardware support (Adobe

2017). It has been claimed that Apple iPhone XS automatically recognizes when a selfie is taken,

and processes the image in a value-laden way to look more attractive, e.g., by blurring age

wrinkles and skin deformities (Pierini 2018). These photo enhancements are done by a custom

image signal processor with an embedded neural engine on the phone’s A12 processor (Fingas

2018). Since Apple is not transparent about its algorithms and hardware, it is hard to know what

exactly goes on in this case. But supposing that some native hardware abilities have no useful

 

 

 

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uses other than enhancing selfies, then the graphic card may be said to embody social and

aesthetic values.

I therefore suggest the following principle:

(Values-Principle) if a certain function is value-laden, and certain physical features of an artifact are required to effectively perform it, and the existence of these features in the artifact has no other reasonable justification, then the artifact may be said to embody the respective values.6

Another rationale that Pitt (2014: 94) gives for values’ being empirically unidentifiable is

that the same material object may mean different things to different people. If values are

embedded in it, whose values are they? Pitt asks: if the Virginia Tech football stadium instantiates

values, as some say, are they the university president’s values, who sees it as a symbol of prestige,

the football players’ values, who see it as a step to a professional career in football, or the

students’, who see it as standing for all that is good about Virginia Tech?

An analogy with social facts helps counter Pitt’s argument. As Searle (1995) argues, social

facts are objective although their subsistence depends on subjects’ beliefs. That this paper is a

five-dollar bill depends on people’s sharing a belief that it is. Yet it is still an objective fact in two

senses. First, it is not just someone’s subjective opinion that this is a five-dollar bill. Second, it is

a five-dollar bill even if some people do not believe so. Analogously, a cross in a church or the US

flag over the White House embed religious or national values, respectively, even if some

individuals have idiosyncratic interpretations of their symbolic meaning. That the Virginia Tech

stadium is less clear-cut does not show that artifacts cannot embody values. Moreover, a

plausible subjective interpretation is constrained by physical features of the artifact. Had the

university not valued football, a different design (especially scale) of a stadium would have been

built. A dingy set of a dozen bleachers is not flexible to all possible interpretations.7

 

 

 

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Another consideration that Pitt provides for VNT2 is that values allegedly embedded in

artifacts may not promote the goals associated with them. For example,

if the university acquires its prestige by acting so as to develop a good football team at the expense of high academic standards or supporting faculty research, then it is not clear that the stadium embodies a good value (2014: 95).

Similarly, if because of the low overpasses, bus designers saw an opportunity to sell lower, more

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