Philosophy of technology

Last updated

The philosophy of technology is a sub-field of philosophy that studies the nature of technology and its social effects.

Philosophy Study of general and fundamental questions

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust? Do humans have free will?

Technology making, modification, usage, and knowledge of tools, machines, techniques, crafts, systems, and methods of organization

Technology is the collection of techniques, skills, methods, and processes used in the production of goods or services or in the accomplishment of objectives, such as scientific investigation. Technology can be the knowledge of techniques, processes, and the like, or it can be embedded in machines to allow for operation without detailed knowledge of their workings. Systems applying technology by taking an input, changing it according to the system's use, and then producing an outcome are referred to as technology systems or technological systems.


Philosophical discussion of questions relating to technology (or its Greek ancestor techne ) dates back to the very dawn of Western philosophy. [1] The phrase "philosophy of technology" was first used in the late 19th century by German-born philosopher and geographer Ernst Kapp, who published a book titled "Grundlinien einer Philosophie der Technik". [2] [3]

"Techne" is a term, etymologically derived from the Greek word τέχνη, that is often translated as "craftsmanship", "craft", or "art".

Western philosophy philosophy of the Western world

Western philosophy is the philosophical thought and work of the Western world. Historically, the term refers to the philosophical thinking of Western culture, beginning with Greek philosophy of the pre-Socratics such as Thales and Pythagoras, and eventually covering a large area of the globe. The word philosophy itself originated from the Ancient Greek philosophía (φιλοσοφία), literally, "the love of wisdom".

Ernst Kapp German philosopher

Ernst Christian Kapp was a German philosopher of technology and geographer, he was also a follower of Carl Ritter.


Greek philosophy

The western term 'technology' comes from the Greek term techne (τέχνη) (art, or craft knowledge) and philosophical views on technology can be traced to the very roots of Western philosophy. A common theme in the Greek view of techne is that it arises as an imitation of nature (for example, weaving developed out of watching spiders). Greek philosophers such as Heraclitus and Democritus endorsed this view. [1] In his Physics, Aristotle agreed that this imitation was often the case, but also argued that techne can go beyond nature and complete "what nature cannot bring to a finish." [4] Aristotle also argued that nature (physis) and techne are ontologically distinct because natural things have an inner principle of generation and motion, as well as an inner teleological final cause. While techne is shaped by an outside cause and an outside telos (goal or end) which shapes it. [5] Natural things strive for some end and reproduce themselves, while techne does not. In Plato's Timaeus, the world is depicted as being the work of a divine craftsman (Demiurge) who created the world in accordance with eternal forms as an artisan makes things using blueprints. Moreover, Plato argues in the Laws, that what a craftsman does is imitate this divine craftsman.

Heraclitus pre-Socratic Greek philosopher

Heraclitus of Ephesus was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, and a native of the city of Ephesus, then part of the Persian Empire. He was of distinguished parentage. Little is known about his early life and education, but he regarded himself as self-taught and a pioneer of wisdom. From the lonely life he led, and still more from the apparently riddled and allegedly paradoxical nature of his philosophy and his stress upon the heedless unconsciousness of humankind, he was called "The Obscure" and the "Weeping Philosopher".

Democritus Ancient Greek philosopher, pupil of Leucippus, founder of the atomic theory

Democritus was an Ancient Greek pre-Socratic philosopher primarily remembered today for his formulation of an atomic theory of the universe.

<i>Physics</i> (Aristotle) treatise by Aristotle

The Physics is a named text, written in ancient Greek, collated from a collection of surviving manuscripts known as the Corpus Aristotelicum, attributed to the 4th-century BC philosopher Aristotle.

Middle ages to 19th century

Sir Francis Bacon Francis Bacon, Viscount St Alban from NPG (2).jpg
Sir Francis Bacon

During the period of the Roman empire and late antiquity authors produced practical works such as Vitruvius' De Architectura (1st century BC) and Agricola's De Re Metallica (1556). Medieval Scholastic philosophy generally upheld the traditional view of technology as imitation of nature. During the Renaissance, Francis Bacon became one of the first modern authors to reflect on the impact of technology on society. In his utopian work New Atlantis (1627), Bacon put forth an optimistic worldview in which a fictional institution (Salomon's House) uses natural philosophy and technology to extend man's power over nature - for the betterment of society, through works which improve living conditions. The goal of this fictional foundation is "...the knowledge of causes, and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of human empire, to the effecting of all things possible".[ citation needed ]

Vitruvius Roman writer, architect and engineer

Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, commonly known as Vitruvius, was a Roman author, architect, civil engineer and military engineer during the 1st century BC, known for his multi-volume work entitled De architectura. His discussion of perfect proportion in architecture and the human body led to the famous Renaissance drawing by Leonardo da Vinci of Vitruvian Man.

Georgius Agricola German mineralogist

Georgius Agricola was a German Humanist scholar, mineralogist and metallurgist. Born in the small town of Glauchau, in the Electorate of Saxony of the Holy Roman Empire, he was broadly educated, but took a particular interest in the mining and refining of metals. He is well known for his pioneering work De re metallica libri XII, that was published in 1556, one year after his death. This 12-volume work is a comprehensive and systematic study, classification and methodical guide on all available factual and practical aspects, that are of concern for mining, the mining sciences and metallurgy, investigated and researched in its natural environment by means of direct observation. Unrivalled in its complexity and accuracy, it served as the standard reference work for two centuries. Agricola stated in the preface, that he will exclude all those things which I have not myself seen, or have not read or heard of.[...].That which I have neither seen, nor carefully considered after reading or hearing of, I have not written about. He thereby refuses to rely on abstruse methods through philosophical considerations and instead submits his work to the strict principles of the modern scientific method, centuries before its time. As a scholar of the Renaissance he was committed to a universal approach towards learning and research and published over 40 complete scholarly works during his professional life on a wide range of subjects and disciplines, such as pedagogy, medicine, metrology, mercantilism, pharmacy, philosophy, geology, history and many more. His innovative and comprehensive scholarly work, based on new and precise methods of production and control is remarkable and has earned him international admiration to this day.

<i>De re metallica</i> literary work of Georgius Agricola

De re metallica is a book cataloguing the state of the art of mining, refining, and smelting metals, published a year posthumously in 1556 due to a delay in preparing woodcuts for the text. The author was Georg Bauer, whose pen name was the Latinized Georgius Agricola. The book remained the authoritative text on mining for 180 years after its publication. It was also an important chemistry text for the period and is significant in the history of chemistry.

19th century

The native German philosopher and geographer Ernst Kapp, who was based in Texas, published the fundamental book "Grundlinien einer Philosophie der Technik" in 1877. [3] Kapp was deeply inspired by the philosophy of Hegel and regarded technique as a projection of human organs. In the European context, Kapp is referred to as the founder of the philosophy of technology.

Texas State of the United States of America

Texas is the second largest state in the United States by both area and population. Geographically located in the South Central region of the country, Texas shares borders with the U.S. states of Louisiana to the east, Arkansas to the northeast, Oklahoma to the north, New Mexico to the west, and the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas to the southwest, and has a coastline with the Gulf of Mexico to the southeast.

Another, more materialistic position on technology which became very influential in the 20th-century philosophy of technology was centered on the ideas of Benjamin Franklin and Karl Marx.[ citation needed ]

Benjamin Franklin American polymath and a Founding Father of the United States

Benjamin Franklin was an American polymath and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, Freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, humorist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. As a scientist, he was a major figure in the American Enlightenment and the history of physics for his discoveries and theories regarding electricity. As an inventor, he is known for the lightning rod, bifocals, and the Franklin stove, among other inventions. He founded many civic organizations, including the Library Company, Philadelphia's first fire department and the University of Pennsylvania.

Karl Marx Revolutionary socialist

Karl Marx was a German philosopher, economist, historian, sociologist, political theorist, journalist and socialist revolutionary.

20th century to present

Five early prominent 20th-century philosophers to directly address the effects of modern technology on humanity were John Dewey, Martin Heidegger, Herbert Marcuse, Günther Anders and Hannah Arendt. They all saw technology as central to modern life, although Heidegger, Anders, [6] Arendt [7] and Marcuse were more ambivalent and critical than Dewey. The problem for Heidegger was the hidden nature of technology's essence, Gestell or Enframing which posed for humans what he called its greatest danger and thus its greatest possibility. Heidegger's major work on technology is found in The Question Concerning Technology .

Contemporary philosophers with an interest in technology include Jean Baudrillard, Albert Borgmann, Andrew Feenberg, Langdon Winner, Donna Haraway, Avital Ronell, Brian Holmes, Don Ihde, Bruno Latour, Paul Levinson, Ernesto Mayz Vallenilla, Carl Mitcham, Leo Marx, Gilbert Simondon, Lewis Mumford, Jacques Ellul, Bernard Stiegler, Paul Virilio, Günter Ropohl, Nicole C. Karafyllis, Richard Sennett, Álvaro Vieira Pinto and George Grant.

While a number of important individual works were published in the second half of the twentieth century, Paul Durbin has identified two books published at the turn of the century as marking the development of the philosophy of technology as an academic subdiscipline with canonical texts. [8] Those were Technology and the Good Life (2000), edited by Eric Higgs, Andrew Light, and David Strong and American Philosophy of Technology (2001) by Hans Achterhuis. Several collected volumes with topics in philosophy of technology have come out over the past decade and the journals Techne: Research in Philosophy and Technology (the journal of the Society for Philosophy and Technology, published by the Philosophy Documentation Center) and Philosophy & Technology (Springer) publish exclusively works in philosophy of technology. Philosophers of technology reflect broadly and work in the area and include interest on diverse topics of geoengineering, internet data and privacy, our understandings of internet cats, technological function and epistemology of technology, computer ethics, biotechnology and its implications, transcendence in space, and technological ethics more broadly.

Technology and neutrality

Technological determinism is the idea that "features of technology [determines] its use and the role of a progressive society was to adapt to [and benefit from] technological change." [9] The alternative perspective would be social determinism which looks upon society being at fault for the "development and deployment" [10] of technologies. Lelia Green used recent gun massacres such as the Port Arthur Massacre and the Dunblane Massacre to selectively show technological determinism and social determinism. According to Green, a technology can be thought of as a neutral entity only when the sociocultural context and issues circulating the specific technology are removed. It will be then visible to us that there lies a relationship of social groups and power provided through the possession of technologies.

See also

Related Research Articles

Phenomenology is the philosophical study of the structures of experience and consciousness. As a philosophical movement it was founded in the early years of the 20th century by Edmund Husserl and was later expanded upon by a circle of his followers at the universities of Göttingen and Munich in Germany. It then spread to France, the United States, and elsewhere, often in contexts far removed from Husserl's early work.

Praxis is the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, embodied, or realized. "Praxis" may also refer to the act of engaging, applying, exercising, realizing, or practicing ideas. This has been a recurrent topic in the field of philosophy, discussed in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Francis Bacon, Immanuel Kant, Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci, Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, Paulo Freire, Ludwig von Mises, and many others. It has meaning in the political, educational, spiritual and medical realms.

Phronesis is an Ancient Greek word for a type of wisdom or intelligence. It is more specifically a type of wisdom relevant to practical action, implying both good judgement and excellence of character and habits, or practical virtue. Phronesis was a common topic of discussion in ancient Greek philosophy.

A telos is an end or purpose, in a fairly constrained sense used by philosophers such as Aristotle. It is the root of the term "teleology", roughly the study of purposiveness, or the study of objects with a view to their aims, purposes, or intentions. Teleology figures centrally in Aristotle's biology and in his theory of causes. It is central to some philosophical theories of history, such as those of Hegel and Marx.

Neo-Luddism or new Luddism is a philosophy opposing many forms of modern technology. The word Luddite is generally used as a derogatory term applied to people showing technophobic leanings. The name is based on the historical legacy of the English Luddites, who were active between 1811 and 1816.

Don Ihde American philosopher

Don Ihde is an American philosopher of science and technology, and a postphenomenologist. In 1979 he wrote what is often identified as the first North American work on philosophy of technology, Technics and Praxis. Ihde is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. In 2013 Ihde received the Golden Eurydice Award. Ihde is the author of twenty-two original books and the editor of many others. Recent examples include Acoustic Technics (2015); Husserl's Missing Technologies (2016); Embodied Technics (2010); Heidegger's Technologies: Postphenomenological Perspectives (2010); Postphenomenology and Technoscience also in Spanish, Hebrew and forthcoming Portuguese; Chasing Technoscience (2003), edited with Evan Selinger; Bodies in Technology (2001); Expanding Hermeneutics: Visualism in Science (1998); and Postphenomenology (1993). Ihde lectures and gives seminars internationally and some of his books and articles have appeared in a dozen languages.

In the philosophy of technology, the device paradigm is the way "technological devices" are perceived and consumed in modern society, according to Albert Borgmann. It explains the intimate relationship between people, things and technological devices, defining most economic relations and also shapes social and moral relations in general.

Gilbert Simondon was a French philosopher best known for his theory of individuation, a major source of inspiration for Gilles Deleuze and Bernard Stiegler.

Andrew Feenberg Canadian philosopher

Andrew Feenberg is an American philosopher. He holds the Canada Research Chair in the Philosophy of Technology in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. His main interests are philosophy of technology, continental philosophy, critique of technology and science and technology studies.

Democratic rationalization is term used by Andrew Feenberg in his article "Subversive Rationalization: Technology, Power and Democracy with technology." Feenberg argues against the idea of technological determinism citing flaws in its two fundamental theses.

Criticism of technology is an analysis of adverse impacts of industrial and digital technologies. It is argued that, in all advanced industrial societies, technology becomes a means of domination, control, and exploitation, or more generally something which threatens the survival of humanity. Some of the technology opposed by critics includes everyday household products, such as refrigerators, computers, and medication.

Lelia Green is an professor at the School of Arts and Humanities at Edith Cowan University, Perth. Green is the author of Technoculture: From Alphabet to Cybersex and the editor of Framing Technology: Society, Choice and Change, and also on the editorial board of the Australia Journal of Communication and Media International Australia Incorporating Culture and Policy.

<i>The Question Concerning Technology</i> book by Martin Heidegger

The Question Concerning Technology is a work by Martin Heidegger, in which the author discusses the essence of technology. Heidegger originally published the text in 1954, in Vorträge und Aufsätze.

Günter Ropohl was a German philosopher of technology.

Reification (Marxism)

In Marxism, reification is the process by which social relations are perceived as inherent attributes of the people involved in them, or attributes of some product of the relation, such as a traded commodity.

<i>Karl Marxs Theory of History: A Defence</i> book by Gerald Cohen

Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence is a 1978 book by G. A. Cohen, the culmination of his attempts to reformulate Karl Marx's doctrines of alienation, exploitation, and historical materialism. Cohen, who interprets Marxism as a scientific theory of history, applies the techniques of analytic philosophy to the elucidation and defence of Marx's materialist conception of history.

Technological determinism is a reductionist theory that assumes that a society's technology determines the development of its social structure and cultural values. Technological determinism tries to understand how technology has had an impact on human action and thought. Changes in technology are the primary source for changes in society. The term is believed to have originated from Thorstein Veblen (1857–1929), an American sociologist and economist. The most radical technological determinist in the United States in the 20th century was most likely Clarence Ayres who was a follower of Thorstein Veblen and John Dewey. William Ogburn was also known for his radical technological determinism.


  1. 1 2 Franssen, Maarten; Lokhorst, Gert-Jan; van de Poel, Ibo; Zalta, Edward N., Ed. (Spring 2010). "Philosophy of Technology". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy . Retrieved May 15, 2014.
  2. Marquit, Erwin (1995). "Philosophy of Technology" . Retrieved 25 September 2015. Section 2, paragraph 10. Published in vol. 13 of the Encyclopedia of Applied Physics (entry “Technology, Philosophy of”), pp. 417–29. VCH Publishers, Weinheim, Germany, 1995.
  3. 1 2
    • Ernst Kapp: Grundlinien einer Philosophie der Technik. Zur Entstehungsgeschichte der Cultur aus neuen Gesichtspunkten (Braunschweig/Brunswick 1877, Reprint Düsseldorf 1978, Engl. Translation Chicago 1978).
  4. Aristotle, Physics II.8, 199a15
  5. Aristotle, Physics II
    1. The Outdatedness of Human Beings 1. On the Soul in the Era of the Second Industrial Revolution. 1956 # The Outdatedness of Human Beings 2. On the Destruction of Life in the Era of the Third Industrial Revolution.
  6. Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, 1958.
  7. Techné Vol 7 No 1
  8. Green, Lelia (2001). Technoculture. Crows Nest, Australia: Allen & Unwin. p. 2.
  9. Green, Lelia (2001). Technoculture. Crows Nest, Australia: Allen & Unwin. p. 3.

Further reading