Thinking about Technology: Foundations of the Philosophy of Technology

Thinking about Technology: Foundations of the Philosophy of Technology

Thinking about Technology: Foundations of the Philosophy of Technology

Thinking about Technology: Foundations of the Philosophy of Technology

Excerpt

It almost goes without saying that technology is a pervasive feature of contemporary culture. In this book I will be arguing, among other things, that technology is more than that; it is a defining feature of the--human condition. It is, therefore, the job of philosophy, the form of inquiry best suited to focusing our thinking about the "big" questions, to make sense of technology and to help us understand its workings as well as its impacts on our lives and values.

Unfortunately, the kind of attention that contemporary philosophers usually give to matters of technology consists primarily of social criticism. Post-World War II philosophical treatments of technology have been primarily negative, taking the form of critical denunciations of the negative effects of technology on human values and on human life. On the whole, social criticism is a perfectly respectable aspect of philosophical work. Most social criticism of technology comes in one of three forms: (a) critiques based primarily on ideological considerations, e.g., Marxists or Earth-Firsters; (b) critiques based on projections of the consequences of not rejecting a technology or developing a new technological project, e.g., huge dams or nuclear reactors; (c) a combination of (a) and (b). In what follows I will have something to say about each form of social criticism. Briefly, with respect to (a), I argue that ideological critiques contribute little to rational consideration of the merits or demerits of a technology. With respect to (b), I am most concerned to argue that we need to assess our epistemological assumptions (about, for example, the reliability of forecasting techniques used to predict the consequences of specific technological innovations or changes) before we go on to use various claims generated in the context of those assumptions as the basis for a critical assessment of the merits of the technology in question. On a more fundamental level, the level with which I am most concerned, we need to know how to evaluate, for example, a technological explanation, before we go on to use that explanation as the basis for a critical assessment of the merits . . .

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