Philosophy of Technology

Zero net energy.  Parametric design.  Wood skyscrapers.  3-D printing of exotic structures.  What marvels technology brings us!

We acknowledge that we live in the age of technology and as builders of the environment, we wield a tremendous amount of technological power.  What guides us in the application of this power?  Ultimately the answer to this question is grounded in the study of ethics.  The theme of Philosophy of Technology for the Spring 2018 semester will be to trace the development of this relatively new “Philosophy of . . . “ and the ethical outfall of its classical and modern philosophical advocates, using examples of architecture and planning as much as possible.

The story begins with Aristotle and the Greek techné, perhaps a far cry from today’s technology but still relevant.  Then the initially optimistic 19th century philosophers, best illustrated by the Marxian dream of technology enabling production to change the world’s economic and social systems.  But the conflicts with capitalism and the build-up of the great industrial/military machines of the first half of the 20th century converted whatever positive thoughts into a bleak, dystopian vision of technology.     

Heidegger’s highly original inversion of technology and science, where he places the former as being primary to the latter, exploded on the scene of Western philosophy mid-century and attempted to explain the vast changes occasioned by modernity.  Heidegger’s students – Hans Jonas, Hannah Arendt, Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer – all expanded his dystopian view of 20th century technology along with others such as Jacques Ellul and Lewis Mumford.  Standing alone perhaps is the American John Dewey, proclaiming the great technological benefits about to accrue to us.

And now a new third wave of philosophers of technology confronts the information age and the many ethical dilemmas raised by companion issues of biotechnology, genetic engineering, climate change and resource depletion.  These 21st c. writers have found reasons for optimism, for putting to our use the best that technology has to offer. 

Is technological power and the manipulation of information/data at the root of the great worldwide disparity in the just distribution of goods?  We will examine this question as well as the philosophical principles of Pragmatism and further will contrast Utilitarianism with Contract Theory in terms of the role of technological responsibility in each.  Philosophers including Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, William James and John Rawls will be consulted as well as the new voices of the 21st Century. 

The course format will be a weekly seminar with papers submitted periodically as student deliverables.  There are no exams.