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Philosophy of Technology: Useful Terms and Concepts

This article works as a glossary and gives an overview of some of the most important terms related to the philosophy of technology and design.
A-Z Glossary
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In order to guide you through the philosophical jargon, we gathered some key terms and ideas you will come across throughout your studies.

Term Explanation
(Heidegger) Bestand An understanding of objects as raw materials. They are not just objects we can study (a step further than “Gegenstand”), we interpret them as standing-reserve.
(Heidegger) Gegenstand An understanding of the world and the structures of nature as “objects out there” over against us, to be studied, separate from ourselves.
(Heidegger) Gelassenheit Releasement; the will not to will as the way out of the highest danger. Opening up the possibility of relying on technologies while not becoming enslaved to them.
(Heidegger) Geschick The fate or destiny of how being manifests itself in our technological era.
(Heidegger) Gestell The enframing; how we interpret the world based on the ruling meaning of being. The technological enframing reduces everything to human domination and control. It becomes no longer possible to think about being and the process of emergence from unconcealment.
(Heidegger) Vorhanden Present-at-hand; the “way of being” a tool has when a tool suddenly demands attention for itself; when it breaks down for instance. When a rupture takes place in the referential structure of the world that is disclosed by ready-to-hand equipment, this structure itself becomes visible.
(Heidegger) Zuhanden Readiness-to-hand; the “way of being” a tool has when in use (you do not direct your attention to the hammer, but to the nail).
(Ihde) Embodiment relation In those relations technologies expand our bodily abilities. The technology itself fades from view as what it allows us to do consumes our attention (e.g. seeing through glasses, hammering). Technology as a quasi-I (in contrast with alterity relation in which the technology can be characterised as that of a quasi-other). (I-Technology) → World
(Ihde) Hermeneutic relation In those relations technologies help us to understand the world. The technology provides us with new abilities (e.g. a telescope which allows you to see more than you ever could with the naked eye). I → (Technology-World)
(Ihde) Alterity relation The role played by technologies in this set of relations can be characterised as that of a “quasi-other” (e.g. operating a machine). Humans often approach the technologies that they encounter in anthropomorphic ways (e.g. cars) – because of the kind of independence and interaction (autonomy). I → Technology (-World)
(Ihde) Background relation These artefacts do not play a central role in our experience; they shape the context of our experience in a way that is not consciously experienced (e.g. refrigerators, central heating systems). These technologies are present and absent at the same time (they are usually experienced only when they stop functioning). They shape our relation to reality in the background. I → World (-Technology)
(Ihde) Microperception Ihde directs himself to the structure of experience. One dimension of experience is microperception. This is the bodily dimension of sensory perception.
(Ihde) Macroperception Besides microperception, Ihde identifies this second dimension of experience which is concerned with interpreted perceptions, informed by the cultural context. This dimension is not concerned with the senses, but with understanding.
(Ihde) Multistability Technologies receive “stability” only in their use. Technologies can have different meanings in different contexts, but also specific goals can be technologically realized in different ways by a range of artefacts.
(Ihde) Mutual constitution The relation between subject and object always already precedes the subject and object themselves. Mediation can therefore not be regarded as mediation “between” subject and object. Mediation shapes the mutual relation in which both subject and object are concretely constituted.
(Jaspers) Apparatus Jaspers emphasises how modern technology – as opposed to traditional technology – appears to require a complicated bureaucratic and functionalist organisation of society. In order to supply the needs of the ever-growing world population society had to be organised as a machine itself. Jaspers calls this “the Apparatus”.
(Jaspers) Demonism The technological devices that form people’s material environment do no longer evoke personal attachment, and society becomes organized as a machine of mass production in which humans can only be present as factors of production. This means the ties to reality are weakened because the individual dissolves in its function. Jaspers refers to this threat to authentic existence with the concept of “demonism of technology”.
(Latour) Scripts & delegation Idea of Latour and Akrich that we can delegate certain things to non-humans (inscribe, prescribe, subscribe, re-inscription). Example of the door that must be locked. Technology fills in the gaps.
(Verbeek) Alteration relation Technologies can also alter things. Growing organs on chips, testing sperm at home, selecting sex. I → Technology → I
(Verbeek) Augmentation relation Technologies can also add things to the world. Google glass helps you see the world and you see information about the world. (I-Technology) → World → (Technology-World)
(Verbeek) Fusion relation Technologies merge with our physical body. These relations are more intimate that the embodiment relation as it blurs the boundaries between body and artefact (i.e. cochlear implant, pacemaker). (I/Technology) → World
(Verbeek) Immersion relation Technologies merge with our environments and the relation between human beings and that hybrid environment is interactive (i.e. smart beds, smart mirrors). These technologies are not just in the background but give feedback. I ← → (Technology / World)
(Verbeek) Transcendentalism Trying to understand something by starting with the conditions. A transcendentalist approach does not focus on what concrete technical artefacts do.
Amodernism Is characterised by a focus on relations and the impact of relations based on an idea of symmetry between subjects and objects (acting entities). See “modernism”
Determinism Interpreting technology as a determining force. This means that technology changes us and our norms. We cannot steer it, “technology is in charge”.
Existentialism Concerned with the question how human beings realize their existence and thus are present in their world (understand the nature of human existence).
Hermeneutics Concerned with the ways in which reality is interpreted and thus present for human beings.
Instrumentalism Interpreting technology as a neutral “means to an end”. NB: this view contrasts with technological determinism.
Mediation theory Mediation theory approaches technologies as mediators of human-world relations. When used, technologies establish relations between humans beings and their environment. These relations have a hermeneutic and an existential dimension: ‘through’ technologies, human beings are present in the world, and the world is present for human beings. Technologies, in other words, help to shape human experiences and practices.
Modernism Is characterised by the subject / object distinction (two worlds). See “amodernism”
Nudging Any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behaviour in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives. To count as a mere nudge, the intervention must be easy and cheap to avoid (Thaler and Sunstein).
Paternalism The interference of a state or an individual with another person, against their will, and defended or motivated by a claim that the person interfered with will be better off or protected from harm.
Phenomenology Considers the distinction between subject an object a mistake (an artificial distinction), because you cannot understand one without the other. There is always a directedness (relation). This directedness (the relation between a subject and object) can have different names: consciousness (Husserl), human perception (Merleau-Ponty), being in the world (Heidegger).
Postmodernism Is characterised by the reduction of objectivity to subjectivity. There is no truth of science, it is an interpretational framework
Postphenomenology There is a relation between the subject and object that comes about mediated by technology. Technology is a medium which mutually constitutes the subject and the object.
Technocracy A system of governance where decision-makers are selected on the basis of technological knowledge.
Value sensitive design A theoretically grounded approach to the design of technology that accounts for human values in a principled and comprehensive manner throughout the design process.
© University of Twente
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