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2 Philosophy of Technology: Humans Acting in the World

2 Philosophy of Technology: Humans Acting in the World

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5



The Future of Philosophy: A Manifesto



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The difficulty has been to find a mechanism to concentrate on. The one philosophical

stance that actively seeks to make this connection is pragmatism. Beginning with

C.S. Peirce (and before him, David Hume (see Pitt 2005)), whose main theme was

the method to eliminate doubt, through Nicholas Rescher, the pragmatists have

concentrated on acting in the world.

Therefore, in this chapter I propose to stop approaching philosophy as a set of

independent areas that can be ordered in a taxonomy. Under the general rubric of the

philosophy of technology reconceived as a philosophical analysis of humans acting

in the world, I propose that we concentrate on diagnosing the various philosophical

concerns that arise in the context of undertaking our real world projects as part of a

team. In this view we cease to think of ourselves as metaphysicians or epistemologist, but as philosophers who can help identify metaphysical or epistemological

issues as they arise while we do our work together with engineers, geologists, social

planners, etc. The idea here is not to see the traditional areas of philosophy as

separate areas of research in their own right, but as problem areas that need to be

identified and dealt with in specific contexts.

What Sellars proposes as the aim of philosophy, to see how it all hangs together,

cannot be achieved if we don’t first have some sense of how the various components

of philosophy itself hang together, for the ways we relate the various components of

the world and human endeavors will be a function of the philosophical assumptions

we bring to the party. Thus, how you see the fruits of research in physics will be a

direct function of your views regarding the metaphysics of science. Further, you

can’t provide a systematic explanation of how it all hangs together if your philosophical view is itself fragmented. If you don’t understand how your metaphysical

views affect your epistemological endorsements, then there is no way to see how it

all hangs together. The wrong way to do this is to specialize in one field, say, metaphysics. How can you lay claim to being a philosopher if all you do is worry about

one small set of abstract and irrelevant problems in one small area of human

thought? The philosopher’s job is help us work through the real world implications

for a proposed plan of action, not whether or not to be is to be the value of a bound

variable (with apologies to Quine).

Let me be clear, I am not proposing a return to the grand metaphysical schemes

of the nineteenth century. What I am proposing is a reorientation. When we introduce students to the world of philosophy we often tell them it consists of roughly

five areas: epistemology, metaphysics, value theory, the history of philosophy, and

logic and philosophy of science. But when pressed we have a hard time making

sense of this overly simple taxonomy. For example, why is the philosophy of science a separate domain – doesn’t it belong under Epistemology, and why is it

lumped together with logic? Yes, it does seem like the odd man out, but there are

sticky metaphysical questions about the reality of scientific objects and questions

about method that, it has been argued, warrant separate treatment. What about aesthetics, the philosophy of law, and the philosophy of technology? How do they fit

in? So as to appear more systematic than we really are, we have brushed aesthetics

under the value theory rubric. The philosophy of law has also been relegated to

value theory because laws, it is said, embody values. But the law is also a force for



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social change, and is itself a complex technology. So philosophy of law can be taken

as part of philosophy of technology. When we undertake a legal action we engage in

activities which affect the lives and fortunes of many others. The philosopher’s role

is to assist in ferreting out the implications of this or that legal move or attempt to

change the legal system. We should be working with lawyers, judges, plaintiffs, and

legislators to help determine the best path of action. And the philosophy of technology itself….? Well, in the years immediately following Heidegger, Philosophy of

Technology would probably also have been considered part of value theory, but then

given the growing closeness of science and technology in the minds of many, it was

assumed to be part of the philosophy of science, but it is not, since the sciences and

our technologies have little in common except that the sciences use technologies

and our technologies sometime rely on scientific principles or discoveries and I am

increasingly unsure that the philosophy of science requires a separate place in the

taxonomy. If anything, philosophy of science should be subsumed under the philosophy of technology. We can’t do science without the tools of mathematics and

the means to conduct experiments. In short, science is technology-dependent and,

thus, our views regarding science will be heavily influenced by our philosophy of

technology. Most of us who work in the field think the philosophy of technology

is a legitimate independent area of philosophy. But how can we justify this

assumption?

When we turn to aesthetics it is not clear why it became lumped under value

theory; for the simple question “What is art?” is not about value primarily, unless

you arbitrarily decide to approach it that way, but it is certainly not necessary to do

so – it can be a problem in metaphysics, for example when you ask what constitutes

a work of art, is it the playing of the symphony, which when finished is gone, or is

it the written score?

The problems here run deep. And to place blame, it all began with Aristotle’s

assumption that man is a rational animal (Nicomachean Ethics 1.13) instead of casting us as a social animal. More to the point, we are homo faber, man the maker. It

was in the context of the social group that the first tools were produced. Simply put,

once we move beyond the mistaken identification of technology with tools, we can

appreciate the enormity, for example, of the development of agricultural practices as

technologies for transforming the land. For with the development of agriculture it

was possible to change from nomadic peoples following the herds with the seasons

to settling down and building villages. This resulted in a number of transformations.

The division of labor, beyond hunters/gathers, became possible and with it specialization, music, writing, and the further development of innovations to expand human

expression and go beyond the efforts to simply secure survival. Aesthetics can thus

be subsumed under philosophy of technology as well as we seek to understand what

a better life means and how beauty contributes to the flourishing of the human spirit.

Thus, how we live our lives becomes an aesthetic issue.

Of course this is written with a broad brush and the devil is in the details, for not

all human development followed this pattern. For some there was no development

beyond giving up the nomadic life, consider the aboriginal peoples of South

America, Australia, and New Zealand. But in the cultures where we let the



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technologies lead us, we could also talk about human progress and wonder what the

future will bring, something not possible in primitive societies content with the

routines of day to day living.

What cannot be denied is that if we take the rational part of us as primary, we

would have been someone’s dinner long before we figured out how to survive by

reason alone. Consider by way of example the opening scenes of Stanley Kubrick’s

film 2001, A Space Odyssey. Kubrick is nothing less than brilliant in the insights he

brings to the evolution of the human condition. We find two groups of apes/primitive

men fighting over control of a water hole. At first there is a lot of screaming and

grunting and pushing and it is apparent they don’t really want to get truly physical.

But then what appears to be the leader of one group picks up the femur of an animal

that had died at the watering hole and using it instinctively as a club kills a member

of the other tribe, thereby securing the water hole. In the scene he kills the other ape

and looks at the femur and there appears to be a flash of understanding as to how this

sort of thing can be used in the future as a tool (?) or weapon (?) and in exultation

he tosses it into the air. It begins rotating slowly and the scene shifts to a space

shuttle carrying passengers to a space station rotating around the moon, all to the

sounds of the Blue Danube waltz.1

Kubrick gives us the connection between tools, warfare, technological development and the transformation of ape to man in an incredibly insightful presentation.

It was important that he had two groups of apes in competition – the social group is

primary, competition for survival is basic and the tool makes it possible.

So if we take that as our starting point, then we could argue that the tools are

essential to the survival of the group. This places the philosophy of technology at

the starting point in our efforts to form a coherent explanatory philosophical base

from which to achieve, now somewhat limited, Sellars’ aim for philosophy. For

within the philosophy of technology, understood as understanding the relations

between mankind and the world, we find all the questions of philosophy, perhaps

slightly transformed. Let’s see how this plays out.



5.3



From a Perennial to a Heraclitian Philosophy



Within the category of value theory we usually find ethics, metaethics, political

philosophy, social philosophy and (wrongly) aesthetics. We also have a central

question such as “What is the good life?”. But to try to answer that question without

understanding that it cannot be answered in the abstract by merely defining “good”



1



It has been brought to my attention that some believe that the flash of insight the master ape had

was the result of the aliens who planted the monolith; that the aliens in effect put that idea in his

head. Needless to say, there is a lot of disagreement over how to interpret that film. Whether or not

aliens helped, the key point is that the film’s portrayal of early human behavior and the almost

immediate clash with the future serves as a fruitful presentation of a powerful idea.



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and “life” is to fail to see the bigger picture.2 From our new perspective we see that

it is not “What is the good life?” that needs answering – it is rather something like

“What is required to live the good life?” Now we are talking about groups of humans

interacting and being creative, seeking to minimize excess effort in favor of leisure

and improvement. We can now ask in a meaningful way, “What do we need to live

the good life?” This question takes us beyond traditional issues of ethics and the

hypothetical best political system to actual material needs and how technologies

affect the quality of life. We begin to see how our technologies are integral to our

way of life and how they can contribute both positively and negatively. Let us

assume that it has been decided that the generation of electrical power is essential to

improving our way of living and the best way to do this in current circumstances to

build a dam that will allow us to generate electricity. Having decided this, we are

immediately led to epistemological issues such as “Do we know what the consequences of building this dam will be?” And that requires that we know what is

involved in building a dam and how it affects the local ecology and the ecology

downstream (philosophy of science). This can lead us to the question of the very

nature of a dam – what is it (metaphysics)? How does it differ from the water it

seeks to contain? Are there fundamentally different things in the world? If so, how

can we use them to our advantage? Who should we trust to give us the answers to

these questions, i.e., who has the relevant knowledge, and how do they interact with

our leaders and politicians (our leaders being the CEOs of major multi-national

corporations and our politicians are their dups). This inevitably raises questions of

the social impact of the dam and how people and their way of living will be affected.

But this requires that we have a grasp of the kinds of thinking and reasoning that

would be appropriate to dealing with these issues, now enter logic. The philosophical questions here fall out of the development of a technology as we seek to make

sense of what we are doing – and it is the doing that sets it all in motion. The role of

the philosopher seen from this perspective is to help the team of actors involved in

this. And the kinds of philosophical issues that arise arise because of something we

want to do or the kind of project we are engaged in. So, in an important sense, there

is no fixed taxonomy for philosophy. It is rather that the way and order in which

philosophical questions arise have to do with what we are trying to accomplish. It

also follows that as philosophers, in the spirit of the empirical turn, we need to know

a lot about a lot of things, especially how things work.

This approach makes a lot more sense than simply asking “What is the Good

Life?”, “What is Real?”, and “What can I Know?”; assuming these questions can be

answered in the abstract and then be of use. The fact of the matter is that the only

philosophical questions that are of use are the ones we have refined to the point

where they can be turned into empirical sciences such as physics, astronomy,

linguistics, economics, political science, etc., and, hence, cease to be philosophical

issues. The history of philosophy has been the history of spin-offs. The questions we

2



The real point here is move ethics away from an actor-centered perspective to a group-centered

perspective. The actor-centered views such as utilitarianism and deontology rarely if ever have

anything to do with how we act. If anything, they are employed in a casuistic manner, after the fact.



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are left with as philosophers remain incoherent, framed as they are in isolation, and

the answers we provide are useless since they are so abstract they fail to make

contact with social reality.

To take the empirical turn seriously and then take the next step we begin with the

idea that we are social creatures living in a physical world and it is our job as philosophers to understand that relationship in a coherent and explanatory manner.

There is one final point to consider here. In the perennial philosophy as conceived by Leibniz and used as a whipping boy by Sellars, philosophical questions

are eternal questions, asked by all reflective people through the ages. Further, the

answers to these questions are also assumed to be eternal. But with a little reflection

we realize that those assumptions can’t be correct. For the answers to the eternal

questions, if there be any, change over time, as noted above. But here is where the

discussion seriously diverges from what was said earlier. These changes are propelled by technological innovations. To rely on one of my favorite examples (manuscript in progress, Seeing Near and Far: A Heraclitian Philosophy of Science),

consider how the answer to the questions “Can I trust what I see?” changes over

time. To begin with what it means to see something changes as we introduce technological innovation into the game. When Galileo turned his telescope towards the

moon he “saw” things seeable by the naked eye. Yet the telescope enhanced that

seeing, thereby expanding the notion of what it is to see something. Likewise, for

the concept of observation. The concept of observation changes over time due to the

introduction of novel technologies that make what it is to be a scientific observation

something very different from naked-eye seeing. When the NASA Galileo probe

sent pictures back from its visit to Jupiter it involved a very complicated process.

First of all the “camera” was not the family camera. Second, multiple instruments,

mostly computer controlled, hence lots of interactive computer programs, were

needed to keep the probe oriented towards the earth and then send the “picture”

homeward. A major assumption at play is that nothing happened to the picture as it

traveled through space. Then the information that had been transmitted was collected by the array at Arecibo and using multiple computers and programs finally

portrayed on a screen – voila’, a scientific observation of Io! Making this observation was not exactly the same as looking through a hand held telescope at the moon.

And yet we still accept it as an observation of Io – our concept of what constitutes a

scientific observation has changed, forced by the technologies we use.

As our technologies become more sophisticated this sort of conceptual change

will happen at a faster rate, forcing us to continuously rethink our conceptual structures and our own relations to world. So the answer to “what do I know” will change

as will all the others answers to the so-called perennial questions. The truly difficult

philosophical task will be, in the light of constant change, to continue to see how it

all hangs together. In short, the empirical turn takes us down the Heraclitian road.

To take the empirical turn seriously and then take the next step we begin with the

idea that we are social creatures living in a physical world and it is our job to understand that relationship in a coherent and explanatory manner. Given that starting

point we have a different job from philosophers laboring in the shadows of the

perennial philosophy and one that may actually be doable. But first we have to



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understand that whatever coherent account we come up with will be constantly

changing as our technologies change, forcing new social arrangements, making new

discoveries possible, and posing new questions of justice and virtue. Scientific

change is fueled by technological innovation, as is social change. And so it seems

that since our technologies and what we do with them define us, then we should see

all philosophical discussion as part of the philosophy of technology.



References

Kroes, P., & Meijers, A. (Eds.). (2000). The empirical turn in the philosophy of technology.

Amsterdam: JAI/Elsevier Science.

Pitt, J. C. (2000). Thinking about technology: Philosophical foundations of the philosophy of technology. New York: Seven Bridges Press. http://www.phil.vt.edu/Pitt/jpitt.html

Pitt, J. C. (2005). Hume and Peirce on belief, or, why belief should not be an epistemic category.

Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, XLI(2), 343–354.

Sellars, W. (1963). Philosophy and the scientific image of man. In Science, perception and reality

(Chapter 1, pp. 1–28). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.



Joseph C. Pitt AB College of William and Mary. M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy from University

of Western Ontario. Professor of Philosophy, Virginia Tech. Founding Editor of Perspectives on

Science: Historical, Philosophical, Social. Former editor of Techné: Research in Philosophy and

Technology. Latest book: Doing Philosophy of Technology. Founding Director of the Center for the

Study of Science in Science, which has transformed over the years into the Graduate Program in

Science and Technology Studies. Major interests: the impact of technological innovation on scientific change. Current Projects: Editor of The Routledge Companion to the Philosophy of Technology

(in progress); Seeing Near and Far, a Heraclitean Philosophy of Science.



Chapter 6



Science vs. Technology: Difference or Identity?

Ilkka Niiniluoto



Abstract It is argued in this paper that there is an important conceptual distinction

between science and technology. As parts of human culture and society, science and

technology exist today in a state of dynamic mutual interaction, but differences can

be found in their aims, results, and patterns of development. Therefore, there are

also significant differences in science policy and technology policy. This conclusion

is at variance with the fashion of using the term “technoscience” in the STS-studies.

Some critical comments are also given on the social constructivist treatment of

“sociotechnology”.

Keywords Applied research • Scientific realism • Sociotechnology • Technoscience



6.1



Creating and Blurring Distinctions



Philosophers, especially those belonging to the analytic tradition, are usually fond

of making conceptual distinctions. As an activity, philosophy aims at clarity through

the method of conceptual analysis. Examples of such important distinctions include

matter-mind, object-subject, reality-appearance, truth-falsity, theory-practice,

nature-culture, sex-gender.

Another trend is the attempt to question and to abolish such conceptual differences. American pragmatism (from John Dewey to Richard Rorty) and French postmodernism and deconstructionism (Jacques Derrida) are philosophical programs

for blurring and abandoning binary oppositions.

Conceptual distinctions are not philosophically innocent, but typically involve or

presuppose wholesale theoretical and even ideological frameworks. Defending and

challenging, or creating and blurring, distinctions are two important aspects of

philosophical investigation. But, on the other hand, the results of such investigations



I. Niiniluoto (*)

University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

e-mail: ilkka.niiniluoto@helsinki.fi

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

M. Franssen et al. (eds.), Philosophy of Technology after the Empirical Turn,

Philosophy of Engineering and Technology 23,

DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-33717-3_6



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cannot be known in advance on the basis of some general program, but each issue

has to be studied separately in a careful manner.

In particular, what is said above applies to the scientific study of science, technology, and society (STS). In 1962 the influential Frascati Handbook of the OECD

consolidated two distinctions which have been widely used in science policy. First,

it distinguished research (“the pursuit of new knowledge”) and development

(the use of results of research “to develop new products, methods, and means of

production”). The roots of this R&D divide go back to Aristotle’s division between

episteme and techne. While episteme (Lat. scientia) means knowledge, or justified

true beliefs expressible by propositions, techne is defined as a rational and stable

habit of making or producing material objects (see Nicomachean Ethics VI, 4;

1140a1). This difference between scientific knowledge and productive arts is the

basis of our standard distinction between science and technology. Secondly, the

OECD Handbook made a distinction between two kinds of research: basic research

(also called fundamental, curiosity-driven or blue skies research) seeks knowledge

for its own sake “without the aim of specific application”, while applied research

(also called mission-oriented research) pursues “knowledge with the aim of obtaining a specific goal”.

It is no wonder that the OECD terminology has been challenged in many ways.

For example, the distinction between basic and applied research has been rejected

by many scholars as obsolete (see e.g., Douglas 2014), while some others have still

defended the importance of this division in some refined form (see Niiniluoto 1984,

1993; Sintonen 1990).1

Another example is the distinction between science and technology. The traditional conjunctive way of speaking suggests that science and technology are two

different parts or sections of human activities. But it has become fashionable in the

STS-studies to combine the two into the single term technoscience. Bruno Latour

(1987, p. 29) tells that “in order to avoid endless ‘science and technology’ I forged

this word”.2 The Society of the Social Study of Science (4S) has adopted this new

term as the title of its Newsletter, to indicate that its scope includes what used to be

called the sociology of science and the sociology of technology. But it is clear that

“technoscience” is not only a shorthand notation for a longer phrase, but it aims at

blurring an old distinction and thus constitutes a central and essential element of a

new ideology about the subject matter and methods of science studies.

A similar strategy is followed by Wiebe Bijker and John Law (1992), who use

the constructivist approach to deconstruct the science-society distinction. On the

basis of their idea of a “seamless web”, they introduce the term sociotechnology.

1



Douglas gives an interesting account of the emergence of the ideological contrasts between pure

and applied science in the nineteenth century, but she seems to forget that the “rhetoric invention

of pure science” took place already in the ancient Greece. She concludes that scientific progress

should be defined in terms of “the increased capacity to predict, control, manipulate, and intervene

in various contexts”. As Douglas does not make a difference between applied research (as pursuit

of special kind of knowledge) and the applications of science (in control and problem-solving), she

is not in fact relinquishing the pure-applied divide but rather the science-technology division.

2

In fact the first who used this term (in French) was the philosopher Gaston Bachelard in 1953.



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