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Philosophy of Technology


The philosophy of technology brings logical, metaphysical, epistemological, ethical, and political philosophical questions to bear on the making and using of artifacts. The particular balance among these questions will differ within related regionalizations of philosophy, such as the philosophy of science or the philosophy of art. In the philosophy of technology, for instance, epistemology typically plays a lesser role than in the philosophy of science but a greater role than in the philosophy of art. Any philosophical assessment of technology is thus partially defined by its own inner balance in relation to philosophy as a whole.

Historical Emergence

Although limited discussions of techne and associated or derivative phenomena can be found in ancient, medieval, and early modern philosophy, it was not until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that technology, as something distinct from technics or technique, became a subject for theoretical examination. Among the earliest contributing texts, the mechanical engineer Franz Reuleaux's Theoretische Kinematik (1875) developed an extended conceptual analysis of different types of tools and machines. More generally, Ernst Kapp's Grundlinien einer Philosophie der Technik (1877), in the first book to use "philosophy of technology" in its title, outlined a theory of culture grounded in technics understood as the extension and differentiation of human anatomy and physiology. The hammer, for instance, functions as an extension of the fist, the camera as an extension of the eye, and the railroad as an extension of the circulatory system; and vice versa, the fist can be said to be like a hammer, the eye like a camera, and rail lines like blood vessels. Elaborations of this view of technology as organ projection are representative of a school of what Carl Mitcham (1994) calls engineering philosophy of technology, an approach that was further developed in the work of thinkers as diverse as the Russian Peter Englemeier, the German Friedrich Dessauer, the Frenchman Gilbert Simondon, and the Spaniard Juan David García Bacca (all of whom have been largely ignored in Anglo American philosophy).

The research engineer Dessauer, for instance, developed a neo-Kantian critique of the transcendental possibility of technological invention that sees technology as bringing noumenal power into the world. Dessauer was also instrumental in promoting philosophical discussion within the Verein Deutscher Ingenieure (VDI; Society of German Engineers). The psychologist Simondon explored relations among parts, artifacts, and technical systems and the evolutionary manifestation of what he called technicity. The engineer Englemeier and the philosopher García Bacca both saw technological change engendering world-historical transformations that were at once humanizing and transcending of the merely organically human. Additional contributions to this school can be found in theoretical discussions about cybernetics and artificial intelligence. Also illustrative of achievements in engineering-oriented philosophy of technology are the scientific philosopher Mario Bunge's (1985) systematic metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics of technology and the engineer Billy Vaughn Koen's (2003) brief for engineering as the one right method for problem solving.

In its emergence, however, philosophy of technology was more commonly associated with what might be called a counterphilosophy that interprets technology not as extending but as encroaching on or narrowing the dimensions of human experience. Following Immanuel Kant's attempt "to deny [scientific] knowledge, in order to make room for faith," this humanities philosophy of technology has sought to limit technological thought and practice to make room for human culture in all its rich diversity. A case in point is the public intellectual Lewis Mumford's (1967) criticism of what he calls monotechnics, the technics of power, in contrast to poly- or biotechnics. The problem with monotechnics is that it promotes the pursuit of physical power and control at the expense of other aspects of human flourishing such as friendship and art. For Mumford the "myth of the machine" is to think that power is the source of all human benefit. In fact, it constitutes an unrealistic narrowing of human activity. Some version of this argument has been promoted especially by the continental European philosophical tradition in the works of José Ortega y Gasset (1939), Martin Heidegger (1954), and Jacques Ellul (1954). Indeed, even more broadly, the relation between technology and lifewhether in the sense of zoe (organic existence) or bios (human flourishing)has become one of the most crucial issues in both the metaphysics and ethics of technology.

Until the latter half of the twentieth century, the argument for delimitation had the unintended side effect of relegating technology to marginal status in professional philosophy. Only as technology became more than an engineering interest or a social problem has it begun to be a mainstream topic in philosophy. One of the challenges in the twenty-first century will be to pursue the professional development of philosophical reflection on technology in ways that bridge the oppositions inherent in its bimodal historical origins without compromising their basic if divergent concerns.

Ethical and Political Issues

Because of their prominence in public affairs, the philosophy of technology properly highlights ethical and political issues. Indeed, contemporary work in practical or applied ethicsas in nuclear, environmental, biomedical, and computer ethicsemphasizes the moral challenges of technology, although in ways that sometimes reduce the field to an aggregate of different ethics for different technologies. Such subspeciation can deprive ethics of possible synergistic strengths. Access equity issues, for instance, occur in both biomedicine and computers, and the concepts and principles for dealing with one might well inform or enhance the other. Speaking generally, then, one can identify at least six competing and overlapping interpretations of technology as an ethical or political problem. Three of these arose initially before World War II, although they have continued to cast a shadow of concern, often in new and distinctive forms.

First, there is a problem of the just distribution of technological products and powersthat is, technology as a political issue. Since the Industrial Revolution the social-justice question has found numerous expressions in authoritarian and democratic regimes, in developing and developed countries. Authoritarian regimes have often justified themselves as acting to promote access to technological benefits against entrenched special scientific, technical, or corporate interests or against those whose commitment to equality undermines the invention and production of goods and services. Democratic regimes have placed more emphasis on promoting equality by means of due process and regulatory agencies. One aspect of due process that has been given special philosophical attention concerns the legal protocols to promote free and informed consent, extending the concept from human experimentation to engineering at large (Martin and Schinzinger 2005).

With the engineered design of new products and processes social justice issues have often taken special form in association with some otherwise morally neutral concepts. The advent of electronic computer and Internet communications, for instance, has helped impart ethical significance to questions of privacy and the so-called "digital divide." Additionally, according to Ulrich Beck (1992), concerns for the fair distribution of goods and services were, during the late twentieth century, superseded by those dealing with the fair distribution of dangers and risks, thus giving social justice debates a special twist. One of the strongest criticisms of some of the resulting twists and turns has been Kristin S. Shrader-Frechette's (1991) careful dissecting of the antidemocratic assumptions of much risk-cost-benefit analysis.

Second is the problem of the alienation of workers from their labor in the industrial means of production, which has been presented especially by Marxists as an economic and by some non-Marxist social scientists as a psychological issue. Langdon Winner's (1977) analysis of the theory of autonomous technology or the idea that technology as resistant to human control is a more general statement of the issue. Critical theory work by Herbert Marcuse (1964) and Andrew Feenberg (1991, 1999) extended the classic Marxist discussion into situations reconfigured by consumerist culture and globalization. Opposing Marcuse's pessimism about transformation, Feenberg (especially 1995) has been more optimistic about alternative possibilities. Environmentalists, however, have further argued that technology in general alienates human beings from nature.

Don Ihde's (1990) phenomenology of the techno-lifeworld offers another take on this issue through an analysis of humantechnologyworld relations. Two fundamental types of such engagements are instrumental relations, in which the technology is integrated into the human sensorium as its extension (the blind man's cane), and hermeneutic relations, in which the technology becomes part of the world to be interpreted (a thermometer). Both engagements manifest an invariant structure that amplifies some aspect of the world (exact metric of temperature) while simultaneously reducing others (general sense of climate). The former tends to bring humans closer to the world, the latter to distance (or alienate) them from it.

Third is the problem of the destruction or transformation of culture by modern science and technologyeither directly through new weapons and forms of military conflict or indirectly through the impact of new means of transportation, communication, and media. The destruction of World War I, the most violent in human history, was a manifestation of technology that only became worse during World War II with the development of nuclear weapons. The long cold war practice of nuclear deterrence and the early twenty-first-century challenges of terrorism present special problems for learning to manage the destructive potential in technology.

Between the two world wars concern for the more indirect technological transformation of culture took on special salience, as variously illustrated by the cultural lag theory of the American sociologist William Fielding Ogburn, the elegiac ruminations of the Catholic theologian Romano Guardini, or the active nihilistic enthusiasms of Ernst Jünger. In the latter half of the twentieth century the issue found small-scale manifestation in personal efforts to come to terms with new choices (e.g., in diet, drugs, and consumer lifestyle options) and large-scale manifestation in debates about the dynamics of sociotechnical change (e.g., the role of technology in economic development and technological determinism versus social constructionism). Questions can also arise about the transformed character of cultural life under the influence of information and image technologies, from television to the Internet and virtual reality machines.

Since World War II three more issues have emerged to ethical and political prominence. One is that of democratic participation. An anticipatory version of this issue emerged in interwar proposals for technocracy. For some theorists (such as Thorstein Veblen) rule by technical elites offered a better alternative than rule by economic or political elites. However, in the postwar revival of democratic theory, and with recognition that technology (like law) is a creation that also influences the creators, it was argued that the principle of "no taxation without representation" should be extended to "no innovation without representation" (Goldman 1992). Winner, for instance, describes "technologies as forms of life" and calls for the abandonment of "technological somnambulism" (1986, p. 10) in favor of public debate about the design of technological projects as diverse as highway bridges, tomato harvesters, and nuclear power plants. Efforts to determine how such democratic participation should be structured both within communities of technical expertise and in the negotiations between technical experts and the nontechnical public have been the subject of ongoing debates (see Sclove 1995).

Fifth is the industrial pollution of the natural environment, which has contributed to attempts to develop an appropriate environmental or ecological ethics. What is the difference between artifice and natureand the moral status of wilderness or the nonhuman environment? As nature is humanly transformed, to what extent should contemporary technological action take into account the welfare of future generations, whether human or nonhuman? What is the relation between values that are divided between the anthropocentric and ecocentric, extrinsic or instrumental and intrinsic?

Another morally relevant concept, closely related to issues of both participation and environmentalism, is that of unintended consequences. To what extent are scientists and engineers responsible for the unexpected and perhaps even unforeseeable results of their technological actions? Two attempts to deal with the plethora of environmental issues, especially in relation to the challenge of unintended consequences, are those associated with sustainable development and the precautionary principlewith competing interpretations of both becoming major themes of moral and political deliberations.

Finally, there is the issue of responsibility: How are humans to respond ethically to the power placed in their hands by modern technology? Such a question has personal, professional, and policy dimensions. At the personal level, quantitatively and qualitatively enhanced choices, with expanding knowledge production relevant to such choices (scientific research and consumer reports), place existential pressures on individuals to increase conscious reflection. The principle of free and informed consent appears to require not only that medical professionals inform the subjects of human experimentation about the risks and benefits of their participation but also that medical patients of all sorts become reflective participants in their own treatmentand that consumers of any technological goods or services weigh multiple costs and benefits as if they were engineers designing their lives. Are such demands both reasonable and possible?

At the professional level, scientists and engineers, falling under similar existential pressures to expand the conscious exercise of responsibility, have formulated codes of conduct for technical practices related to both research and design. In engineering ethics, for instance, the primacy of protecting public safety, health, and welfare is now a well-established general principle. In what sense, however, are engineers qualified to make such judgments? Does technical expertise provide any basis for determining appropriate levels of public safety, health, or welfare?

Finally, at the level of public policy, responsibility takes two closely related forms. Policy for science and technology seeks out the best ways to fund or regulate developments in science and technology. Science and technology for policy searches for the best ways to bring scientific knowledge to bear on political decision making while making technological power most effectively available for political action. Responding to and exemplifying these dual drives scientific and technological research agencies such as the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Human Genome Project, and the National Nanotechnology Initiative have created specific programs to promote ethical reflection on the creation and use of new scientific knowledge and technological products, processes, and systems.

Again speaking broadly, it is possible to identify two fundamental attitudes toward this spectrum of ethical and political issues. One attempts to explain modern technology as rooted in human nature and culture (engineering philosophy of technology), the other interprets modern technical methods and effects as deformations of human action, however preferable in particular instances to those of nature (humanities philosophy of technology). The engineering approach in its expansive confidence calls in one way or another for more and better technology, the humanities approach in its restrictive questioning for some relinquishment or delimitation of technology. The tensions between such alternative attitudes repeatedly come to the fore in analysis of such key concepts as privacy, risk, participation, and the environment, and in assessments of new opportunities in virtual reality construction, biotechnological design, and nanotechnological research and development.

There is also a tendency for the engineering school to make alliances with the Anglo American analytic tradition in philosophy, and for the humanities school to find a convenient partner in the European phenomenological tradition. The former, viewing technology as a complex amalgam of artifacts, knowledge, activities, and volitions, each with diverse structural features scattered across historical epochs and societal contexts, prefers to deal on a case-by-case basis with one technology after another. The latter strives for bolder generalizations about technology as a whole, at least across each historical or societal context. From the phenomenological perspective, too great an emphasis on individual technological rocks can obscure the extent to which such geological specimens are constituents of mountains extended in both space and time.

Metaphysical Issues

The attempt to speak of technology rather than technologies rests on an attempt to identify some inner or essential feature of diverse technologies. This hypothetical essential feature may be termed technicity. One can then immediately note that, before the modern period, technicity was at a minimum scattered throughout and heavily embedded within a diversity of human engagements, and indeed that philosophy took a stand against any separating of technicity from its embedding context. Plato's argument in the Gorgias is precisely an argument against disembedding techne from social or cultural contexts and traditions, not to mention ideas of the good. For Aristotle, techne is an intellectual virtue, and thus properly subordinate to the flourishing of human nature. What is distinctive about modern philosophy, by contrast, is the attempt, beginning with Galileo Galilei, Francis Bacon, and René Descartes to disembed technics from particular human activities, to study them in systematic ways, and thus to create technology.

John Stuart Mill in his Logic (1843) already assumes the success of this disembedding project when he explains the practical value of science. For Mill the rationality of any art is grounded in a corresponding science.

The art proposes to itself an end to be attained, defines the end, and hands it over to the science. The science receives it, considers it as a phenomenon or effect to be studied, and, having investigated its causes and conditions, sends it back to art with a theorem of the combinations of circumstances by which it could be produced. Art then examines these combinations or circumstances, and according as any of them are or are not in human power, pronounces the end attainable or not.
(logic, book 6, ch. 12, section 2)

Remarkably, Mill's analysis does not recognize art (or traditional technics) as including any knowledge of means. Art is concerned solely with determining an end, to achieve which it deploys appropriate means as determined by science. It is the scientific study of means that constitutes what even during Mill's lifetime was coming to be called technology. Modern technicity may thus be defined as a systematic or scientific study of means that suspends examination of ends. Does such an approach have distinctive social and cultural implications, independent of any particular technologies and contexts?

Among the first philosophers to analyze such a disembedding of means from ends was Ortega. In the English translation of his La rebelión de las masas (1929), Ortega writes that "[t]hree principles have made possible [the] new world: liberal democracy, scientific experiment, and industrialism. The two latter may be summed up in one word: technicism" (1939, p. 56). Ortega himself actually uses the word técnica, but the term technicism is significant, and this in fact constitutes one of its first English occurrences with this sense. (Before the 1930s, technicism simply meant excessive reliance on technical terminology. The previous decade Max Scheler used the cognate Technizismus to name the industrial ethos.)

As part of a further "Meditación de la técnica" (1939), Ortega outlined a historical movement from the chance inventions that characterize archaic societies, through the trial-and-error techniques of the artisan, to the scientific technologies of the engineer. According to Ortega, the difference between these three forms of making lies in the way they create the means to realize a human projectthat is, in the kind of technicity involved. In the first epoch, technical discoveries are accidental; in the second, techniques emerge from intuitive skill. In both instances they are preserved and elaborated within the confines of myth and craft traditions. In the third, however, the engineer undertakes scientific studies of technics and, as a result, "prior to the possession of any [particular] technics, already possesses technics [itself]" (Obras, 5:369). It is this third type of technicity that constitutes modern technicism (and here Ortega himself uses the term tecnicismo ).

But technicism, understood here as the science of how to generate all possible technical means, disembedded from any lived making and using, creates a unique challenge. Before the modern period human beings were commonly limited by circumstances, within which they inherited a way of life and the technical means to achieve it. Now, however, they are given in advance many possible ways to live and a plethora of technical means but little in the way of a substantive vision of human flourishing. "To be an engineer and only an engineer is to be everything possibly and nothing actually," all form and no content (Obras, 5:366). There is in the midst of modern technicism what Ortega describes as a hidden ethical challenge to imagination and choice. Insofar as people can be anything they want, why should they take the trouble to be any one thing at all? Will not some extranatural motivation (not to say fanaticism) not be needed to help Buridan's cyborgs select among (rejecting some) the equally liberal options that surround them?

According to Heidegger modern technology is a challenge not just to ethics but to ontology. For Heidegger (1954) scientific technics constitutes a new kind of truth: truth not as correspondence, not as coherence, and not as functional knowledge, but as disclosure or revelation. Technology discloses Being in a historically unique way: as Bestand or resource. A castle constructed with traditional technics on a cliff overlooking the Rhine makes more fully present than before the stone that invests the landscape with its particular contours, while it sets off the curve of the river against the backdrop of its walls and towers. It invites people to settle near and experience the particularities of this place. By contrast, a poured concrete, hydroelectric power station compels the river to become an energy resource and converts the landscape into, not a place of human habitation, but a machine for the generation of electricity. It encourages people to draw on its energy for multitasking business in production and travel. The distinctly modern technicity that manifests itself in the disclosure of nature as resource Heidegger names Gestell (enframing).

Gestell at first sight appears to be a human work, something human beings in the course of history have chosen to practice for their own benefit. It gives them power over nature. However, as it digitalizes nature physically (dimensioned vectors), geographically (longitude and latitude), chemically (molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles), and biologically (genetic mapping), it also transforms language (computer signal processing) and art (pixel imaging) so that impact outstrips original intentions. Hidden in the midst of Gestell is Being as event, that which lets this dominating transformation come to pass. Gestell is at once destiny and, precisely because it appears so clearly to be the result of a human activity, an obscuring of the transhuman imparting of a destiny that is its ground.

In the same year that Heidegger's Die Frage nach der Technik appeared, Jacques Ellul published La Technique, later translated into English as The Technological Society (1954). For Ellul, too, what is happening is something transhuman, or at least transindividual, the emergence of a new social order in which people give themselves up to the systematic analysis of actions into constituent means that are then evaluated in terms of output/input metrics. The scientific analysis of techniques extends technoscientific methods into economics, politics, education, leisure, and elsewhere creating what he calls the technical milieu. After the milicux of nature and of society, technology is the third great epoch of human history. Ellul's characterology of this new realitydescribing its rationality, artificiality, self-directedness, self-augmentation, indivisibility, universality, and autonomyreveals the technical milieu as something more than simply human. Although more hospitable to human biological existence, it nevertheless also manifests certain inexorable laws of artifice (such as those of economics). Just as the natural milieu once provided a framework for human life, a differentiated but overriding order to which human beings adapted in a variety of ways, so now a much more homogeneous technical milieu presents itself, not simply as a realm of freedom that human beings have constructed, but as that which also constructs and constrains them even when they fail to recognize it.

From Metaphysics to Ethics

Efforts to make phenomenological metaphysics fruitful for ethics can be found in the work of two German American philosophers, Hans Jonas and Albert Borgmann. Jonas's (1966) work begins with a fundamental inquiry into the phenomenon of life, arguing that in the organic world there emerges a new kind of being. For Jonas the key features of human inner life (introspection and subjectivity) are present in embryo in the most primitive organisms, and in metabolism there emerges the primordial form of freedom. In metabolism a detachment enters the world insofar as being becomes distinguished from physical identity. However, in the materialism of modern science this unique reality is easily overlooked. Adopting a teleological approach to ontology, Jonas argues that only from the perspective of the more fully realized freedom manifest in humans can the reality of the organic as a whole be recognized for what it is. On this ontological basis Jonas (1984) undertakes an extended philosophical scrutiny of the technological projects of nuclear weapons and biomedical health care. In the presence of technical powers to end or alter human life Jonas reformulates the Kantian categorical imperative as: "Act so that the effects of your action are compatible with the permanence of genuine human life" (p. 11). Such a reformulation of the fundamental deontological principle constitutes an attempt at the re-embedding of technology in moral philosophy.

More broadly and in sustained dialogue with a range of discussions about the place of technology in human affairs, Borgmann's (1984) work draws a fundamental distinction between two kinds of artifice and action. On the one side are technological devices that obscure their inner functions to deliver without engagement commodities for easy and effortless consumption. This constitutes what Borgmann calls the device paradigm, an ideal type at which the products and processes of modern technology aim. On the other are focal things and practices whose workings are more transparent and that demand of their users some reordering of interests if they are to be used. The model for the first is the central heating system that only needs its thermostat set, for the second the wood-fired hearth.

In a series of studies arguing the nondeterminist importance of material culture to ethics and politics, Borgmann (1992, 1999) calls on citizens in the high-tech world to reconsider their ways of life to develop a deeper sense for the possibilities of human flourishing in the midst of liberal options for self-determined self-fulfillment. For Borgmann the ideal is not a forced return to the past but a voluntary recovery of the commanding presence of things in the technological present. As he concludes in a volume devoted to the critical assessment of his thought:

Science makes reality ever more transparent, and technology makes it more and more controllable. But at the end of our inquiries and manipulations there is always something that reflects rather than yields to our searchlight and presents itself as given to us rather than constructed by us. It is intelligible not because we have seen through it or designed it but because it speaks to us [in the form of] an unforethinkable and uncontrollable reality. (Higgs, Lights, and Strong 2000, pp. 368369)

It is such a reality to which human flourishing is ultimately in thrall even in the midst of its highest exercises of insight and mastery.

Epistemological Issues

Epistemology has often been treated as a stepchild in the philosophy of technology family of philosophical interests. Technological forms of knowledge are commonly thought to be derivative of scientific knowledge, so that any attempt to bring the theory of knowledge to bear in the examination of technology has regularly been part of a discussion of the relation between technology and science. At the same time this common privileging of science has been philosophically criticized, although the criticism has taken different forms in the European phenomenological and in the Anglo American analytic philosophical traditions.

From a phenomenological perspective the argument has been that technology is not so much applied science as science is theoretical technology. In his historico-philosophical studies of the scientific and technological revolutions of the seventeenth century and after, for instance, Jonas (1974) argues that from its origins modern science was animated by a technological interest that gives it an inherently applicable or technological character. Related studies of the dependency of science on technological instrumentation, from Galileo's telescopes to particle accelerators and PCR (polymerase chain reaction) machines (e.g., see Ihde 1991), suggest that science might even be described as applied technology. This approach to the epistemology of technology has parallels with the pragmatic tradition of conceiving scientific knowledge in fundamentally instrumentist terms (see Hickman 2001). The Venezuelan phenomenologist Ernesto Mayz Vallenilla (2004) likewise offers a more Husserlian-based but complementary effort to describe the unique epistemological features of what he calls meta-technical instruments.

From the analytic perspective there has been more of an effort to identify distinctive types of knowledge operative in technology. Summarizing the results from such an approach, Mitcham (1994) draws attention to at least four types of distinctly technological knowledge: sensorimotor skills, technical maxims (including rules of thumb and recipes), descriptive laws or technological rules (which take an "if A then B" form), and technological theories (either grounded in scientific theory or bringing scientific method to bear on human-technology interactions). German philosophers of technology such as Hans Lenk, Gunter Ropohl, and Bernhard Irrgang, all associated with the VDI promotion of philosophical reflection on technology, are pursuing efforts to develop epistemological analyses of the engineering sciences. And Joseph C. Pitt (2000) makes a determined effort to identify the distinctive forms of technological and engineering knowledge, drawing especially on the careful analyses of aeronautical engineering history by Walter G. Vincenti (1990) to argue that engineering design possesses its own cognitive features.

Important issues for any theory of technological knowledge remain the characterization of whatever basic epistemic criteria might be analogous to those operative in science such as truth, simplicity, coherence, and explanation. There may be distinctive technological forms of such criteria. But two major candidates for uniquely technological criteria are effectiveness and efficiency. Certainly, many propositions of engineering knowledge are assessed in terms of effectiveness and efficiency more than truth or explanation. A further epistemological challenge is to explicate the distinctive character of models and modeling in the technological and engineering contexts. The relevance of such epistemological analyses nevertheless remains of problematic relevance to ethics and politics.

Empirical, Anthropological, and Policy Turns

Concern for the adequacy of metaphysical definitions of technologyand perhaps exhaustion with endless ethical and political difficulties (with hopes that new approaches might prove more fruitful)has given rise to what has been called an empirical turn in the philosophy of technology. As advocated by the Dutch philosophers Peter Kroes and Anthonie Meijers, this program argues that "philosophical reflection should be based on empirically adequate descriptions reflecting the richness and complexity of modern technology" (2000, p. xix) and promotes a greater analysis of what technologists and engineers actually do over any extended exegesis of texts, whether those of other philosophers of technology or even engineers and technicians. As such, a natural alliance has developed with social constructivist approaches to science, technology, and society studies in the pursuit of richer metaphysical or ontological understandings of artifacts, epistemological analyses of technical practice, and even ethical decision making among professional engineers. From the perspective of Jozef Keulartz et al. (2002), this also provides a solid opportunity for advancing a pragmatist ethics for technological culture.

Two topics of prominence in the empirical turn from the interpretation of texts to the interpretation of technical artifacts have been those of design and function. Design is often identified as the essence of engineering, and there have been numerous technical studies of design methodology. At the same time engineering design must be distinguished from aesthetic design as well as design by means of evolutionary processes in nature. Even within the realm of engineering design, studies such as those by Vincenti (1990), Louis Bucciarelli (1994), and Richard Buchanan and Victor Margolin (1995) have very different implications for assessing proposals for consumer, green, sustainable, or participatory design. With regard to technical functions, analyses have focused on the relation between functions in organisms, social institutions, and artifacts; on the relation between functional and physical descriptions of artifacts; and on the extent to which functions are determined by design or use.

A different sense for new beginnings has emerged in relation to prospects in the development of the new fields of bioengineering and biotechnologyespecially when applied to humans. The leader in this case is the medical scientist and philosopher Leon Kass, the chair of the Bush administration's President's Council on Bioethics. In his turn Kass has tried to go outside the boundaries of standard bioethics in at least four ways: to promote thinking that enrolls more than professional bioethicists, that does more than piecemeal or specialized analyses, that references human nature as a norm, and that builds toward policy results. As in Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness (2003), Kass et al. at the council seek to raise broad issues about what it means to be human in the presence of possibilities for the reengineering not just of the external world but of the inner world of human birth, growth, and experience. He has been especially concerned about the possibilities for the deformation of humanity not from above by totalitarian governmental use of technology but from below by positive consumer endorsement of behaviors that would from a traditional perspective be assessed as temptations.

Beyond the policy-oriented work of Kass and colleagues, policy questions have become increasingly central not just as aspects of ethical responsibility but as issues in their own right. What precisely is technological policy, as opposed to technological politics? Does policy decision making take different forms in relation to science and to engineering? How are policies to be formulated and assessed?

The extent to which these turns in the philosophy of technology will define its future are questions that the professional community must examine. Any such examination will also need to include a self-criticism that considers the special responsibilities of a regionalization in philosophy that, more than the philosophy of science or of art, has as part of its heritage public responsibilities and a large measure of ethical concerns.

See also Applied Ethics; Aristotle; Artificial Intelligence; Bacon, Francis; Bioethics; Categorical Imperative; Computationalism; Computer Ethics; Descartes, René; Engineering Ethics; Environmental Ethics; Epistemology, History of; Ethics, History of; Galileo Galilei; Genetics and Reproductive Technologies; Heidegger, Martin; Human Genome Project; Kant, Immanuel; Machine Intelligence; Marxist Philosophy; Metaphysics, History of; Mill, John Stuart; Neo-Kantianism; Ortega y Gasset, José; Philosophy of Biology; Philosophy of Science, History of; Philosophy of Science, Problems of; Veblen, Thorstein Bunde.


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Carl Mitcham (1996, 2005)

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