Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

An African Humanist Assessment of Technology and Moral Concerns

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

An African Humanist Assessment of Technology and Moral Concerns

Article excerpt


The roles of moral value in technology have generated lively debate. While some theorists have argued that technology is value neutral; others contend that everything human does is laden with value. To suggest that technology is value neutral means that technology "...has no preference as between the various possible uses to which it can be put" (Feenberg, 2006: 9). That is, technology does not determine the ends to which it can be put. Accordingly, this suggests that value is therefore created only when technology is used. Today, this contention raises the moral question as to whether technology does not have intention, which may be said to be fatal to human well-being and community good. We shall show how a moral issue arises in technology. Then, we shall defend the thesis that the use and design of technology can serve Africa better if the virtues of omoluwabi (well-behaved person) and emi isokan (collective spirit) are invigorated.

The central argument in technology is that it affects humans positively or negatively. Technologies such as nuclear weapon, industrial chemical, automobile, etc. have occasioned the appraisal of their intention as well as effects on humanity. This concern raises the issue whether technology that produces negative effects does not have bad intention underlying it. In the main, we explore the roles of moral concerns in technology, especially on how it affects human well-being and the community good.

To deal with this issue, this paper dissects the term 'technology' and 'value' in the first segment. The second section discusses the moral concerns in technology. The work ends with an assessment of African humanist virtues of a well-behaved person and collective spirit in addressing technological pros and cons in Africa.

Understanding Technology and Value

We are concerned, here with the notions of 'technology' and 'value.' There are diverse meanings of these terms; hence this section explores the possible use they can be put. The meanings of technology would be assessed first, followed by that of value.

First and foremost, the term 'technology' refers to artefacts which are products of human invention. Today, gadgets such as computers, information and communication equipment, cell phones, robot, etc. occur to one's mind when people refer to technology. Accordingly, Stephen J. Kline (2003: 210) notes that, "Perhaps the commonest usage of 'technology' is to denote manufactured articles - things made by humans that do not occur naturally on earth, for example: refrigerators, eyeglasses, atom bombs..."

Despite this fact, the idea of technology is not restricted to artefacts. Indeed, non-physical elements are inclusive in its meanings. In this regard, Clive Beck (1989: 144) notes that, "...technologies are not only 'gadgets' or 'machines' or R & D but should be understood as being a part of the culture and social know-how of a society." Therefore, technology is construed beyond the confines of artefacts.

In recent times, technology has been used to denote 'methodology' or 'know-how'. So, when scholars use the term today, it involves information, processes and procedures for achieving certain tasks. Apparently, technology is needed, which includes the skills for getting things done. The presupposition, here, is that there are certain underlying goals that designers of technologies aim at, which may be for good or bad end. This implies that notwithstanding the conception of technology as artefacts, its meaning also includes "knowledge, technique, know-how, or methodology in the usual sense of these words" (Kline, ibid, 211). For this reason, Martin Heidegger (2003: 252) stresses that, "The manufacture and utilization of equipment, tools, and machines, the manufactured and used things themselves, and the needs and ends that they serve, all belong to what technology is." As the foregoing suggests, one's ability to apply tools forms a crucial part of what technology is. …

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