Philosophy of Technology: An Introduction

Alison Adam (Salford Business School, University of Salford, UK)

Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society

ISSN: 1477-996X

Article publication date: 4 April 2008




Adam, A. (2008), "Philosophy of Technology: An Introduction", Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, Vol. 6 No. 1, pp. 93-94.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The philosophy of technology is an increasingly important subject given the philosophical issues raised by the relationship of technology and society, seemingly on a daily basis, from questions of biotechnology and ecology through to information and communications technology. Philosophy of technology clearly deserves much greater attention than it currently receives in the curriculum. The reasons why it does not receive sufficient attention may be partly due to the intellectual space occupied by its better established, and theoretically developed, elder sister, namely philosophy of science and partly due to the paucity of appropriate textbooks. Those who have lived in and around philosophy as a discipline for some time may be forgiven for forgetting just how impenetrable philosophy can be for the novice. When this is coupled with the need to make sense of long running, and apparently arcane debates in philosophy of science and technology, the new student could be forgiven for feeling that he or she has arrived at a party where everyone else knows each other and it is impossible to understand all the conversations taking place.

Additionally, given that many students of philosophy of technology will not be students of philosophy, this reinforces the need for an accessible textbook in philosophy of technology, which situates the subject in its historical context and applies it across a range of contemporary technologies. Philosophy of Technology: An Introduction comes close to fulfilling that need. The breadth of coverage is very impressive. About 12 chapters range from an introduction to philosophy of science and technology, definitions, discussions of technocracy, rationality and phenomenology. This is followed by chapters on technological determinism and autonomous technology. A chapter which visits the debate between tool‐making and language as defining characteristics of the human condition allows for a discussion of Marx and Heidegger, thereby including the thinking of classic authors. The chapters on feminism and non‐Western technology are especially welcome as these topics are often passed by in the philosophy of technology. The chapter on anti‐technology outlines movements against technology. A final chapter on social constructionism and actor‐network theory brings the theoretical discussion up‐to‐date.

Chapter 1 described history of philosophy of science. This is important as there can be no doubt of philosophy of technology's roots in philosophy of science. Dusek does an excellent job in outlining the development of the philosophy of science, notably topics such the sociology of scientific knowledge which are so important to the development of later versions of philosophy of technology, notably in the development of SCOT and actor‐network theory. However, Chapter 1 is not a complete history of philosophy of science and technology. Rather it stops short and Chapter 12 completes the history for the philosophy of technology. Additionally, the chapter on technological determinism (Chapter 6), also an important part of this story, appears in the middle of the book again making it difficult to maintain the continuity of the historical story. Although there is a logic to splitting the story in this way it has an unfortunate effect on historical continuity. Notably, the principle of symmetry was a potentially radical concept introduced to philosophy of science from the sociology of scientific knowledge. It was then taken up in the philosophy of technology, to appear again in the question of symmetry between humans and non‐humans in actor‐network theory. The book's structure means that continuity of the history of the principle of symmetry tends to be lost. Indeed, readers may find the final chapter a rather unsatisfactory end to the book. The book ends abruptly, with a description of actor‐network theory, without saying a great deal of how it has been applied to technology and without pointing to future directions for philosophy of technology.

For a broad ranging work such as this one, strengths can also be weaknesses. Its very breadth means that some topics are dealt with sketchily or left out. The chapter on feminism and technology, whilst dealing well with feminist epistemology, reproductive technology and ecofeminism, fails to reference Cynthia Cockburn' work, still the most important writing on gender and technology, to date. This chapter addresses office work only briefly and makes no reference to the considerable literature on gender and information technologies which represents many theoretical and empirical developments in gender and technology research. Indeed, the computer does not figure large in the book. Nor is there significant discussion of technology ethics.

Dusek's is an ambitious work. Students of philosophy will find it clearly written, understandable and comprehensive. Recognizing that difficult decisions must be made as to structure and coverage, its breadth and clarity of expression make it a welcome addition to the literature of philosophy of technology.

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