Biomimetic design (including biomimicry, biomimetics, and others) consists in taking inspiration from nature to create innovative technologies. Biomimetic technologies are typically considered more sustainable than their counterparts, since they imitate the circular and multifunctional aspects of natural processes and organisms. Such “biomimetic promise”, however, is complicated by a series of conceptual and normative ambiguities, that have been only partly addressed (Dicks & Blok, 2019; Mathews, 2019).
The field of biomimicry is characterized by a plurality of approaches that are not always in mutual agreement with respect to their design goals and methods. These disagreements are informed by different ontological assumptions about nature, imitation, and technology, which in turn influence whether and how sustainability is considered in biomimetic design.
Biomimicry is also epistemologically ambiguous because it is not yet clear to what extent biomimetic approaches are actually learning from nature, rather than projecting human, technological categories upon nature.
Additionally, biomimicry is ethically ambiguous because biomimetic technologies, by reproducing nature-like artefacts, systems and environments, could go as far as replacing non-artificial nature, rather than contributing to the harmonious integration of socioeconomic and ecological processes.
Lastly, biomimicry’s claims about learning from nature involve viewing nature as source of both technical and ethical insight. This raises the question about what kinds of norms and values, if any, could be derived from nature without incurring into a naturalistic fallacy. In this way the study contributes to the investigation of the philosophical and ethical ambiguities of biomimicry.
The aim of the project is to provide philosophical clarifications of the conceptual and normative ambiguities at stake in biomimetic design contributing to philosophical reflections on the relation between technology and nature.
The project lies at the intersection of philosophy of technology, environmental philosophy and philosophy of biology. This theoretical approach is empirically informed by close engagement with biomimetic design practitioners, scientists and engineers.