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Welcome to week 1

In the first week of the MOOC on Philosophy of Technology we look into the theories of Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger.
Hi, everyone. Let me introduce you to the theme of the first week of this course. The theme of the course might actually raise some questions for you. What is the field of philosophy have to do with technology anyway? The two seem to be so different, right? Philosophy is about meaning, about culture, about human beings, and technology belongs to the world of the sciences, of artifacts, of objects. Can these two really come together? Well, in fact, you could also reverse that question. How can we understand our society without taking technologies into account? And how could we understand technologies without seeing them anticipating some kind of users or society?
We can hardly separate technology and society, and that’s what we want to focus on in this online course. So the main question then is to ask ourselves ‘How to think about technology in a proper way?’ And a first step in doing that is to ask ourselves, ‘What do we mean when we use the word technology? According to Carl Mitcham, we can typically mean four things when we use the word ‘technology’. First of all, the word ‘technology’ can indicate an object. The things, the machines, the systems around us in our social world. But second, ‘technology’ can also mean an activity, the making, the designing, the using of things. Technology is something we do. And third, ‘technology’ can also mean knowledge.
It’s the know how of knowing how to do things, the know how of the engineer as opposed to the knowing that of the scientist. And fourth, ‘technology’ is a volition, you could say. It has to do with our will. It has to do with an interpretation of the world in terms of what you could call the will to power, understanding the world as raw material to intervening. In this online course, we will typically use the meaning of ‘technology’ as objects, as things systems, devices, machines in the world in which we live. And the main question that we want to focus on in this first week is ‘How can we think about the interaction between technology and society?’
It’s good to take into account that the philosophy of technology has developed from giving a rather gloomy and negative account of technology towards a more open, yet also still a somewhat, you could say, a critical approach. The older positions focused on alienation. How do technologies alienate us from ourselves, from other human beings, from nature? And the more recent positions focus actually on the implications of technology for society in a wider sense. You can say that technology then has developed from a philosophy of technology, applying philosophical theories to technologies as it were, towards a philosophy from technology in which you take the actual study of technologies as a starting point and let that be a challenge for your philosophical theory.
Central issue in the first week of this course is the question ‘Is technology neutral or not?’ ‘Are we still in control or is technology controlling us?’ There are two views on this issue. The first position is called ‘instrumentalism’. And this position holds that technology is ultimately simply a neutral instrument. It’s a tool. It’s humans who set the goals. And technologies are simply the means to achieve these goals. They don’t do anything in themselves. They’re neutral, they’re instrumental. They’re just tools. The opposite view ‘determinism’ says that that’s all wrong, because technologies, in fact, determine society. They’re not neutral at all. They change how we live our lives, how we organize our societies, they have a huge impact on us.
And we cannot even live without them anymore. Well, these two central views in the philosophy of technology also play a crucial role in the work of the two thinkers that we will study this week, Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger. We will discuss their work in more detail to understand ‘instrumentalism’ and ‘determinism’ also more deeply. We will also ask the question of how they support their own views, how do they construct their own vision of technology and society? In my view, we see that they often actually think away from technologies, reducing the actual technologies around us to what lies behind them, their conditions, as it were.
And by making visible how these older thinkers and also contemporary thinkers construct their argument, I hope that we can also help you to take a critical stance towards the philosophy that you are reading and to think also for yourself.


24 Reviews
The central philosophical approaches in this course are phenomenology, post-phenomenology, and mediation theory (see STEP 1.2 – Glossary). In the first week we will delve into the beginning of the 20th century as we discuss two important, albeit controversial, German thinkers. Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger will show us how technology alienates us from our authentic existence. You will use this knowledge later on to work on a case study on self-driving cars, which challenges our idea of control over technology.

Who will you learn with?

In Twente, we are strongly committed to interdisciplinary work, connecting philosophy of technology to other fields. We have close ties to many other programs and research groups, both in social science and engineering.
Educator Prof. dr. ir. Peter-Paul Verbeek is chair of the research group in the philosophy of human-technology relations, while also being co-director of the Twente DesignLab, which makes it possible to connect philosophical theory directly to technology design and innovation. He is developing a theory of ‘technological mediation’, about which you will learn more in this course. This theory explains the role of technology in society and human existence, and enables designers to anticipate, evaluate, and design this role.
Mentor Roos de Jong finished a bachelor in philosophy at Utrecht University and enrolled in the master programme Philosophy of Science, Technology and Society at the University of Twente. Roos assisted in the development of this online course and will respond to your comments and questions.
Mentor Sabrina Hauser is a PhD candidate at the School of Interactive Arts + Technology at Simon Fraser University in Canada under the supervision of Professors Ron Wakkary and Peter-Paul Verbeek. In her work she links her interaction design research with postphenomenology. Sabrina will respond to your comments and questions concerned with design.
We would like to know what motivated you to join this course. Would you like to briefly introduce yourselves in the comment section below?
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Philosophy of Technology and Design: Shaping the Relations Between Humans and Technologies

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