Skip main navigation

£199.99 £139.99 for one year of Unlimited learning. Offer ends on 28 February 2023 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply

Find out more

What is philosophy of technology?

Philosophy of technology studies the character of technology and its relations to society, and it has various branches
Statue of Socrates from the Academy of Athens, Greece
© University of Twente

Philosophy of technology studies the character of technology and its relations to society. It has various branches, focusing for instance on the ethics of technology, on the relations between science and technology, on human-technology relations, or the political dimensions of technology.


Philosophy of technology emerged as an independent field of philosophical inquiry in the second half of the 19th century, and embodies as many approaches as there are philosophical traditions. Some of them are more ‘theoretical’, others are more ‘applied’. Some of them focus more on sharpening the concepts with which we can understand technology, others more on theorising and evaluating the social and cultural roles of technology.

Philosophical reflection

Over the last decades of the 20th century, the field made an ‘empirical turn’. It shifted its focus from studying ‘technology’ as a broad phenomenon to studying actual technologies in their detailed relations with the sciences, with human beings, and with society. Rather than developing theories about technology in general, it started to take actual technologies as a starting point for philosophical reflection.

Technologies challenge philosophical concepts and theories. When medical diagnostic technologies get involved in our ethical decisions, for instance, this challenges our ideas about ethics itself: is ethics something that only humans can do, or is there room for technologies as well?

When deep brain implants interfere with our moods and behaviour, this challenges our ideas about autonomy, free will and what it means to ‘act’.

Read more

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy can also provide you with a nice overview of what philosophy of technology entails.

© University of Twente
This article is from the free online

Philosophy of Technology and Design: Shaping the Relations Between Humans and Technologies

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education