Per­haps, then, one should adopt a deon­to­lo­gi­cal approach and con­sider the inten­ti­ons of the desi­gner or the prin­ci­ples of the design act in terms of con­sis­ten­cy and uni­ver­sa­liza­bi­li­ty. Inde­ed, as some­thing less than full-bodi­ed action, desig­ning might well be com­pared to having an inten­ti­on. Alt­hough many of its par­ti­cu­lar maxims may be open to serious chall­enge, it is dif­fi­cult to see how the design pro­cess as a who­le should not be inher­ent­ly uni­ver­sa­lizable. Cri­ti­cisms of modern tech­no­lo­gi­cal design often focus on the inher­ent con­sis­ten­cy, the right­ness and wrong­ness, of various design maxims. But wit­hout the design pro­cess as a who­le, how could one pos­si­bly address the pro­blems inher­ent in the desi­gned techno-lifeworld?

Nevert­hel­ess, as making in minia­tu­re, design is some­thing more than an inten­ti­on. In howe­ver dimi­nis­hed a form, it is still phy­si­cal acti­vi­ty. It is thus a busyn­ess that, as such, does not encou­ra­ge inner self-exami­na­ti­on. Moreo­ver, as phy­si­cal acti­vi­ty, design is some­thing that always has imme­dia­te phy­si­cal consequences—even if they are, as it were, quite small, even minu­te. Its inner prin­ci­ple is the lin­king tog­e­ther of phy­si­cal mate­ri­als and ener­gies in func­tion­al units to meet pre­de­ter­mi­ned func­tion­al spe­ci­fi­ca­ti­ons, some­thing to be work­ed out through modeln and test­ing. Design is inher­ent­ly tip­ped toward action, is imma­nent acti­vi­ty, a proto-pragmatism.

Con­sider, then, an ethics of con­se­quen­tia­lism, which would refer the moral cha­rac­ter of action to the good­ness or bad­ness of its results. But the desig­ning of an air­foil or a struc­tu­re has no imme­dia­te soci­al­ly signi­fi­cant con­se­quen­ces. How could one cal­cu­la­te cos­ts and uti­li­ties except in the most indi­rect terms? Pro­ba­b­ly most such desig­ning leads nowhe­re, sin­ce the majo­ri­ty of designs never ser­ve as a basis for full-sca­le con­s­truc­tion. Design is more like a self-con­tai­ned game. Its full-sca­le con­se­quen­ces, wha­te­ver they may be, occur only at secon­da­ry or ter­tia­ry removes—once the design ser­ves as a basis for con­s­truc­tion. A con­se­quen­tia­list judgment of desig­ning rea­di­ly strikes any desi­gner as an abs­tract, far-fet­ched focu­sing on remo­te results that an inde­fi­ni­te num­ber of con­tin­gent varia­bles may alter.

The­re are two fur­ther points that can be made about the dif­fi­cul­ties of con­se­quen­tia­lism. As Han­nah Are­ndt has noted with regard to human action,[21] and as Hans Jonas has argued with regard to modern tech­no­lo­gy,[22] the remo­te con­se­quen­ces of acti­vi­ties are inher­ent­ly dif­fi­cult to pre­dict. John Stuart Mill, anti­ci­pa­ting such an argu­ment, repli­es that the remo­te and unpre­dic­ta­ble cha­rac­ter of con­se­quen­ces can be miti­ga­ted by expe­ri­ence.[23] In more recent lan­guage, the dif­fi­cul­ties of “act uti­li­ta­ria­nism” can be met with “rule uti­li­ta­ria­nism” groun­ded on com­mon expe­ri­ence.[24] Human beings can learn that tel­ling lies even­tual­ly has bad con­se­quen­ces most of the time. The pro­blem with any appeal to expe­ri­ence in the case of modern design acts, howe­ver, is that inso­far as designs are uni­que, their con­se­quen­ces are also con­ti­nuous­ly new. Prin­ci­pled chan­ge under­mi­nes the miti­ga­ting power of his­to­ri­cal expe­ri­ence. (Could this account for the modern resis­tance to any reduc­tion in the pace of tech­no­lo­gi­cal chan­ge, and that con­ti­nuous­ly rene­wed opti­mism about design trans­for­ma­ti­ons that makes it so dif­fi­cult to learn from fai­led expe­ri­ence and expectations?)

Yet the appar­ent­ly diver­se mate­ri­al pro­ducts groun­ded in the new way of life defi­ned by the prin­ci­pled pur­su­it of tech­no­lo­gi­cal inno­va­ti­on through design do exhi­bit cer­tain com­mon fea­tures. Albert Borg­mann has lin­ked the­se tog­e­ther in what he terms the “device para­digm.” Devices are to be con­tras­ted with things. A thing, such as the fire-bea­ring hearth, ent­ails bodi­ly and social enga­ge­ment. A device, such as a cen­tral hea­ting unit, “pro­cu­res mere warmth and dis­bur­dens us of all other ele­ments.” “Tech­no­lo­gi­cal devices … have the func­tion of pro­cu­ring or making available a com­mo­di­ty such as warmth, trans­por­ta­ti­on, or food … wit­hout bur­de­ning us in any way [by making them] com­mer­ci­al­ly pre­sent, instanta­neous­ly, ubi­qui­tous­ly, safe­ly, and easi­ly.”[25] The pro­ducts of modern design are typi­cal­ly com­mo­di­ties that fit the device para­digm. Inde­ed, modern desig­ning might even be descri­bed as “devi­sing,” the pro­cess of making pre­sent devices.