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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.

Developments

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’.

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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
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