Philosophy of Technology

“In addition to man’s ageless obligation to meet the threat of things, he bears for the first time the responsibility of prime agent in the threatening disposition of things. Hence nothing is more natural than the passage from the objects to the ethics of technology, from the things made to the duties of their makers and users.” Hans Jonas, The Imperative of Responsibility.

DESCRIPTION: We marvel at the technology that is available to us as we design our buildings. Both the process of design and its end product—the building—benefit from the latest technological developments. Could we even dream of creating these wonders without the latest tools and coolest new products? Half of what architects do is technological (assuming that the other half is aesthetic). We are taught how to use technology and have learned the lessons well—we can build anything. But the corollary question of “Ought we build it?” is seldom addressed and we do not even possess the tools to answer this query. This course will provide the background to make an informed ethical decision.

GOALS: To examine historical and contemporary philosophical ideas regarding technology and its effect on man and on the environment. Not just to accept and use them, but to critically analyze technical elements of the built environment. By the end of the course for each student to arrive at a personal philosophy and ethic regarding the use of technology.

METHOD: Using seminar method, not lectures, to discuss the assigned topic for the week. Examples of architectural, planning and historic preservation technology will be used to illustrate concepts. Students will be expected to make the connections from the general theme of technology to that of how the particular reading impacts architecture, preservation and planning. Students must come to each class fully prepared; they must be able to complete each week\’s assignment prior to class.

READING: For each week\’s class there will be a series of readings, many of them from the textbook and others from online sources. These will cover a wide range of viewpoints on the subject.

THEME: Each year a different sector of the philosophy of technology is explored in some depth. For Spring 2016, we will examine “the great reversal” – how over the past 2500 years we have relinquished our deep-rooted intellectual and practical capabilities and good judgment (or phronesis as the Greeks called it) to presently allowing technology (or techne as the Greeks called it) to rule our lives. We will confront the imminent threat of technology and propose methods for preparing ourselves to think and act outside the boundaries of our contemporary all-consuming technological/informatics society. Beginning with Aristotle we will then move through the Enlightenment to the 20th century, comparing essentialism, as so powerfully propounded by Martin Heidegger and Jacques Ellul, with constructivism, as championed by Hannah Arendt, Andrew Feenberg and others.

Some of the issues that will be questioned are:
– Is technology neutral?
– Is technology autonomous?
– Is technology determinate?
– Is there a hope of transcending the thought and action boundaries of modern technology?

STUDENT\’S RESPONSIBILITIES: Do all readings before each class session and attend all classes so that seminar method can be successful; attendance will be recorded. Come to each class with questions prepared, based on the readings and the topic of the week’s class. Write a number of short papers (approximately two three-page and one four-page papers) and one final paper. There will not be exams.