Philosophy of technology

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

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]


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.

Middle ages to 19th century

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

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.

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.

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


  1. ^ a b 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. ^ a b * 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
  6. ^ # 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.
  7. ^ Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, 1958.
  8. ^ Techné Vol 7 No 1
  9. ^ Green, Lelia (2001). Technoculture. Crows Nest, Australia: Allen & Unwin. p. 2.
  10. ^ Green, Lelia (2001). Technoculture. Crows Nest, Australia: Allen & Unwin. p. 3.

Further reading

  • Vallor, Shannon. (2016). Technology and the Virtues. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0190498511
  • Joseph Agassi (1985) Technology: Philosophical and Social Aspects, Episteme, Dordrecht: Kluwer. ISBN 90-277-2044-4.
  • Hans Achterhuis (2001) American Philosophy of Technology Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-33903-4
  • Jan Kyrre Berg Olsen and Evan Selinger (2006) Philosophy of Technology: 5 Questions. New York: Automatic Press / VIP. website
  • Jan Kyrre Berg Olsen, Stig Andur Pedersen and Vincent F. Hendricks (2009) A Companion to the Philosophy of Technology. Wiley-Blackwell. [1] ISBN 978-1-4051-4601-2
  • Borgmann, Albert (1984) Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-06628-8
  • Drengson, A. (1995). The Practice of Technology: Exploring Technology, Ecophilosophy, and Spiritual Disciplines for Vital Links, State University of New York Press, ISBN 079142670X.
  • Dusek, V. (2006). Philosophy of Technology: An Introduction, Wiley-Blackwell, ISBN 1405111631.
  • Ellul, Jacques (1964), The Technological Society. Vintage Books.
  • Michael Eldred (2000) 'Capital and Technology: Marx and Heidegger', Left Curve No.24, May 2000 ISSN 0160-1857 (Ver. 3.0 2010). Original German edition Kapital und Technik: Marx und Heidegger, Roell Verlag, Dettelbach, 2000 117 pp. ISBN 3-89754-171-8.
  • Michael Eldred (2009) 'Critiquing Feenberg on Heidegger's Aristotle and the Question Concerning Technology'.
  • Feenberg, Andrew (1999) Questioning Technology. Routledge Press. ISBN 978-0-415-19754-0
  • Ferre, F. (1995). Philosophy of Technology, University of Georgia Press, ISBN 0820317616.
  • Green, Lelia (2001) Technoculture: From Alphabet to Cybersex. Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest pp 1–2
  • Heidegger, Martin (1977) The Question Concerning Technology. Harper and Row.
  • Hickman, Larry (1992) John Dewey's Pragmatic Technology. Indiana University Press.
  • Eric Higgs, Andrew Light and David Strong. (2000). Technology and the Good Life. Chicago University Press.
  • Christoph Hubig, Alois Huning, Günter Ropohl (2000) Nachdenken über Technik. Die Klassiker der Technikphilosophie. Berlin: edition sigma. 2nd ed. 2001.
  • Huesemann, M.H., and J.A. Huesemann (2011).Technofix: Why Technology Won’t Save Us or the Environment, New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, British Columbia, Canada, ISBN 0865717044, 464 pp.
  • Ihde, D. (1998). Philosophy of Technology, Paragon House, ISBN 1557782733.
  • Pitt, Joseph C. (2000). Thinking About Technology. Seven Bridges Press.
  • David M. Kaplan, ed. (2004) Readings in the Philosophy of Technology. Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Manuel de Landa War in the Age of Intelligent Machines. (1991). Zone Books. ISBN 978-0-942299-75-5.
  • Levinson, Paul (1988) Mind at Large: Knowing in the Technological Age. JAI Press.
  • Lyotard, Jean-François (1984) The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. University of Minnesota Press.
  • McLuhan, Marshall.
    • The Gutenberg Galaxy. (1962). Mentor
    • Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. (1964). McGraw Hill.
  • Nechvatal, Joseph (2009) Towards an Immersive Intelligence: Essays on the Work of Art in the Age of Computer Technology and Virtual Reality (1993–2006). Edgewise Press.
  • Nechvatal, Joseph (2009) Immersive Ideals / Critical Distances. LAP Lambert Academic Publishing.
  • Nye, David. (2006). Technology Matters. The MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-64067-1
  • Marshall Poe. (2011) A History of Communications. Cambridge University Press. New York, NY. ISBN 978-1-107-00435-1
  • Scharff, Robert C. and Val Dusek eds. (2003). Philosophy of Technology: The Technological Condition. An Anthology. Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 978-0-631-22219-4
  • Seemann, Kurt. (2003). Basic Principles in Holistic Technology Education. Journal of Technology Education, V14.No.2.
  • Shaw, Jeffrey M. (2014). Illusions of Freedom: Thomas Merton and Jacques Ellul on Technology and the Human Condition. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock. ISBN 978-1625640581.
  • Simondon, Gilbert.
    • Du mode d'existence des objets techniques. (1958). (in French)
    • L'individu et sa genèse physico-biologique (l'individuation à la lumière des notions de forme et d'information), (1964). Paris PUF (in French)
  • Stiegler, Bernard, (1998). Technics and Time, 1: The Fault of Epimetheus. Stanford University Press.
  • Winner, Langdon. (1977). Autonomous Technology. MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-23078-0
  • Anthonie Meijers, ed. (2009). Philosophy of technology and engineering sciences. Handbook of the Philosophy of Science. 9. Elsevier. ISBN 978-0-444-51667-1.

External links



Andrew Feenberg

Andrew Feenberg (born 1943) 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.


In the arts, bricolage (French for "DIY" or "do-it-yourself projects") is the construction or creation of a work from a diverse range of things that happen to be available, or a work created by mixed media.

The term bricolage has also been used in many other fields, including anthropology, philosophy, critical theory, education, computer software, and business.

Criticism of technology

Criticism of technology is an analysis of adverse impacts of industrial and digital technologies. It is argued that, in all advanced industrial societies (not necessarily only capitalist ones), 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.

Device paradigm

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.The concept of the device paradigm is a critical response to the Heidegger's notion of Gestell. It has been widely endorsed by philosophers of technology, including Hubert Dreyfus, Andrew Feenberg, and Eric Higgs, as well as environmental philosopher David Strong.


Dispositif is a term used by the French intellectual Michel Foucault, generally to refer to the various institutional, physical, and administrative mechanisms and knowledge structures which enhance and maintain the exercise of power within the social body.


Gestell (or sometimes Ge-stell) is a German word used by twentieth-century German philosopher Martin Heidegger to describe what lies behind or beneath modern technology. Heidegger introduced the term in 1954 in The Question Concerning Technology, a text based on the lecture "The Framework" ("Das Gestell") first presented on December 1, 1949, in Bremen. It was derived from the root word stellen, which means "to put" or "to place" and combined with the German prefix Ge-, which denotes a form of "gathering" or "collection". The term gathers together all kinds of entities and orders them in a certain way.


Hyperreality, in semiotics and postmodernism, is an inability of consciousness to distinguish reality from a simulation of reality, especially in technologically advanced postmodern societies. Hyperreality is seen as a condition in which what is real and what is fiction are seamlessly blended together so that there is no clear distinction between where one ends and the other begins. It allows the co-mingling of physical reality with virtual reality (VR) and human intelligence with artificial intelligence (AI). Individuals may find themselves, for different reasons, more in tune or involved with the hyperreal world and less with the physical real world. Some famous theorists of hyperreality/hyperrealism include Jean Baudrillard, Albert Borgmann, Daniel J. Boorstin, Neil Postman and Umberto Eco.

Material culture

Material culture is the aspect of social reality grounded in the objects and architecture that surround people. It includes the usage, consumption, creation, and trade of objects as well as the behaviors, norms, and rituals that the objects create or take part in. Some scholars also include other intangible phenomena that include sound, smell and events, while some even consider language and media as part of it. The term is most commonly used in archaeological and anthropological studies, to define material or artifacts as they are understood in relation to specific cultural and historic contexts, communities, and belief systems. Material cultural can be described as any object that humans use to survive, define social relationships, represent facets of identity, or benefit peoples' state of mind, social, or economic standing.The scholarly analysis of material culture, which can include both human made and natural or altered objects, is called material culture studies. It is an interdisciplinary field and methodology that tells of the relationships between people and their things: the making, history, preservation, and interpretation of objects. It draws on both theory and practice from the social sciences and humanities such as art history, archaeology, anthropology, history, historic preservation, folklore, archival science, literary criticism and museum studies, among others.

Philosophy of engineering

The philosophy of engineering is an emerging discipline that considers what engineering is, what engineers do, and how their work affects society, and thus includes aspects of ethics and aesthetics, as well as the ontology, epistemology, etc. that might be studied in, for example, the philosophy of science.

Postmodern philosophy

Postmodern philosophy is a philosophical movement that arose in the second half of the 20th century as a critical response to assumptions allegedly present in modernist philosophical ideas regarding culture, identity, history, or language that were developed during the 18th-century Enlightenment. Postmodernist thinkers developed concepts like difference, repetition, trace, and hyperreality to subvert "grand narratives", univocity of being, and epistemic certainty. Postmodern philosophy questions the importance of power relationships, personalization, and discourse in the "construction" of truth and world views. Many postmodernists appear to deny that an objective reality exists, and appear to deny that there are objective moral values.Jean-François Lyotard defined philosophical postmodernism in The Postmodern Condition, writing "Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity towards meta narratives...." where what he means by metanarrative is something like a unified, complete, universal, and epistemically certain story about everything that is. Postmodernists reject metanarratives because they reject the concept of truth that metanarratives presuppose. Postmodernist philosophers in general argue that truth is always contingent on historical and social context rather than being absolute and universal and that truth is always partial and "at issue" rather than being complete and certain.Postmodern philosophy is often particularly skeptical about simple binary oppositions characteristic of structuralism, emphasizing the problem of the philosopher cleanly distinguishing knowledge from ignorance, social progress from reversion, dominance from submission, good from bad, and presence from absence. But, for the same reasons, postmodern philosophy should often be particularly skeptical about the complex spectral characteristics of things, emphasizing the problem of the philosopher again cleanly distinguishing concepts, for a concept must be understood in the context of its opposite, such as existence and nothingness, normality and abnormality, speech and writing, and the like.Postmodern philosophy also has strong relations with the substantial literature of critical theory.

Sociotechnical system

Sociotechnical systems (STS) in organizational development is an approach to complex organizational work design that recognizes the interaction between people and technology in workplaces. The term also refers to the interaction between society's complex infrastructures and human behaviour. In this sense, society itself, and most of its substructures, are complex sociotechnical systems. The term sociotechnical systems was coined by Eric Trist, Ken Bamforth and Fred Emery, in the World War II era, based on their work with workers in English coal mines at the Tavistock Institute in London.Sociotechnical systems pertains to theory regarding the social aspects of people and society and technical aspects of organizational structure and processes. Here, technical does not necessarily imply material technology. The focus is on procedures and related knowledge, i.e. it refers to the ancient Greek term techne. "Technical" is a term used to refer to structure and a broader sense of technicalities. Sociotechnical refers to the interrelatedness of social and technical aspects of an organization or the society as a whole. Sociotechnical theory therefore is about joint optimization, with a shared emphasis on achievement of both excellence in technical performance and quality in people's work lives. Sociotechnical theory, as distinct from sociotechnical systems, proposes a number of different ways of achieving joint optimisation. They are usually based on designing different kinds of organisation, ones in which the relationships between socio and technical elements lead to the emergence of productivity and wellbeing.


"Techne" is a term, etymologically derived from the Greek word τέχνη (Ancient Greek: [tékʰnɛː], Modern Greek: [ˈtexni] (listen)), that is often translated as "craftsmanship", "craft", or "art".

Technics and Time, 1

Technics and Time, 1: The Fault of Epimetheus (French: La technique et le temps, 1: La faute d'Épiméthée) is a book by the French philosopher Bernard Stiegler, first published by Galilée in 1994.

The English translation, by George Collins and Richard Beardsworth, was published by Stanford University Press in 1998. The Technics and Time series is the fullest systematic statement by Stiegler of his philosophy, and the first volume draws on the work of Martin Heidegger, André Leroi-Gourhan, Gilbert Simondon, Bertrand Gille, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Jean-Pierre Vernant in order to outline and develop Stiegler's major philosophical theses. The series currently consists of three books.


Technocriticism is a branch of critical theory devoted to the study of technological change.

Technocriticism treats technological transformation as historically specific changes in personal and social practices of research, invention, regulation, distribution, promotion, appropriation, use, and discourse, rather than as an autonomous or socially indifferent accumulation of useful inventions, or as an uncritical narrative of linear "progress", "development" or "innovation".

Technocriticism studies these personal and social practices in their changing practical and cultural significance. It documents and analyzes both their private and public uses, and often devotes special attention to the relations among these different uses and dimensions. Recurring themes in technocritical discourse include the deconstruction of essentialist concepts such as "health", "human", "nature" or "norm".

Technocritical theory can be either "descriptive" or "prescriptive" in tone. Descriptive forms of technocriticism include some scholarship in the history of technology, science and technology studies, cyberculture studies and philosophy of technology. More prescriptive forms of technocriticism can be found in the various branches of technoethics, for example, media criticism, infoethics, bioethics, neuroethics, roboethics, nanoethics, existential risk assessment and some versions of environmental ethics and environmental design theory.

Figures engaged in technocritical scholarship and theory include Donna Haraway and Bruno Latour (who work in the closely related field of science studies), N. Katherine Hayles (who works in the field of Literature and Science), Phil Agree and Mark Poster (who works in intellectual history), Marshall McLuhan and Friedrich Kittler (who work in the closely related field of media studies), Susan Squier and Richard Doyle (who work in the closely related field of medical sociology), and Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Martin Heidegger, and Michel Foucault (who sometimes wrote about the philosophy of technology). Technocriticism can be juxtaposed with a number of other innovative interdisciplinary areas of scholarship which have surfaced in recent years such as technoscience and technoethics.

Technological determinism

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.

The first major elaboration of a technological determinist view of socioeconomic development came from the German philosopher and economist Karl Marx, who argued that changes in technology, and specifically productive technology, are the primary influence on human social relations and organizational structure, and that social relations and cultural practices ultimately revolve around the technological and economic base of a given society. Marx's position has become embedded in contemporary society, where the idea that fast-changing technologies alter human lives is all-pervasive.

Although many authors attribute a technologically determined view of human history to Marx's insights, not all Marxists are technological determinists, and some authors question the extent to which Marx himself was a determinist. Furthermore, there are multiple forms of technological determinism.

The Question Concerning Technology

The Question Concerning Technology (German: Die Frage nach der Technik) 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.

Heidegger initially developed the themes in the text in the lecture "The Framework" ("Das Gestell"), first presented on December 1, 1949, in Bremen. "The Framework" was presented as the second of four lectures, collectively called "Insight into what is." The other lectures were titled "The Thing" ("Das Ding"), "The Danger" ("Die Gefahr"), and "The Turning" ("Die Kehre").

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1935, Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit), by Walter Benjamin, is an essay of cultural criticism which proposes that the aura of a work of art is devalued by mechanical reproduction. The subject and themes of the essay have much influenced the fields of art history and architectural theory, and of cultural studies and media theory.During the Nazi régime (1933–1945) in Germany, Benjamin wrote the essay to produce a theory of art that is "useful for the formulation of revolutionary demands in the politics of art" in mass culture; that, in the age of mechanical reproduction, and the absence of traditional and ritualistic value, the production of art would be inherently based upon the praxis of politics.The essay was published in three editions: (i) the original, German edition in 1935, The Work of Art in the Age of its Mechanical Reproduction; (ii) the French edition in 1936; and (iii) the revised German edition in 1939, from which derive the contemporary English translations of the essay.

Theories of technology

Theories of technology attempt to explain the factors that shape technological innovation as well as the impact of technology on society and culture. Most contemporary theories of technology reject two previous views: the linear model of technological innovation and technological determinism. To challenge the linear model, today's theories of technology point to the historical evidence that technological innovation often gives rise to new scientific fields, and emphasizes the important role that social networks and cultural values play in shaping technological artifacts. To challenge technological determinism, today's theories of technology emphasize the scope of technical choice, which is greater than most laypeople realize; as science and technology scholars like to say, "It could have been different." For this reason, theorists who take these positions typically argue for greater public involvement in technological decision-making.

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.