Philosophy of Technology

Our society is the first to base itself on artificial sources of power and mechanical means of production. In less than two centuries, this new form of society has transformed the globe and made the human race capable of realizing its highest ideals but also powerful enough to destroy itself. What are the philosophical implications of these great transformations? To answer this question we must first of all investigate the nature of technology and attempt to understand how technological advance poses new dilemmas for the human species. This course will enter deeply into the social and technical background of the problems it considers to shed light on the nature of technological society.

Week 1: Technology and Philosophy

  • Rudi Volti, “The Nature of Technology,” from Society and Technological Change.
  • Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology, selections.
  • Physics II. Lines 194b16-195b30, 198a14-198b9. (Ch. 3, 7).
  • Leo Marx, “Technology: The Emergence of a Hazardous Concept,” Technology and Culture 51, no. 3 (2010): 561–77.

Week 2: Technology and Ethics

  • Sheila Jasanof, “The Power of Technology,” from The Ethics of Invention.
  • Frederick Ferré, “Ethics, Assessment, and Technology,” from Philosophy of Technology.
  • S. Lewis, “The Abolition of Man,” from The Abolition of Man.

Week 3: Technology and Society

  • Rudi Volti, “Winners and Losers: The Differential Effects of Technological Change,” from Society and Technological Change.
  • James Burke, “Something For Nothing,” from The Pinball Effect.
  • Rosalind Williams, Retooling: A Historian Confronts Technological Change, selections.

Week 4: Technology and the Environment

  • Rudi Volti, “Technology, Energy, and the Environment,” from Society and Technological Change.
  • Andrew Feenberg, “Environmentalism and the Politics of Technology,” from Questioning Technology.
  • Garrett Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Science 162, no. 3859 (1968): 1243-48.
  • Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons, selections.

Week 5: Geoengineering

  • Stephen M. Gardiner, “Is ‘Arming the Future’ with Geoengineering Really the Lesser Evil? Some Doubts About the Ethics of Intentionally Manipulating the Climate System,” from Climate Ethics: Essential Readings.
  • Sheila Jasanof, “Remaking Nature,” from The Ethics of Invention.

Week 6: The Internet

  • Rudi Volti, “The Internet Age,” from Society and Technological Change.
  • Rebecca MacKinnon, “Corporate Censorship,” from Consent of the Networked.
  • Gordon Graham, from “The Internet as Anarchy,” from The Internet: A Philosophical Inquiry.
  • Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid,” The Atlantic, July/August 2008. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/

Week 7: Technologies of Death

  • Rudi Volti, “Weapons and Their Consequences”; “The Era of Smart Weapons,” from Society and Technological Change.
  • Grégoire Chamayou, “Surveillance and Annihilation,” from A Theory of the Drone.
  • Paul Scharre, “Machines that Kill,” from Army of None.
  • Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust, selections.

Week 8: The Surveillance State

  • Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, selections.
  • Max Boot, “The Consequences of the Information Revolution,” from War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to Today.
  • Jan Stanley and Barry Steinhardt, “Bigger Monster, Weaker Chains: The Growth of an American Surveillance Society,” in Ethics and Emerging Technologies, edited by Ronald L. Sandler, 269-84. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2014.
  • James Stacey Taylor, “In Praise of Big Brother: Why We Should Learn to Stop Worrying and Love Government Surveillance,” Public Affairs Quarterly 19, no. 3 (2005): 227-46.

Week 9: Capitalism and the End of Work

  • Rudi Volti, “Technology and Jobs: More of One and Less of the Other”; “Technological Change and Life on the Job,” from Society and Technological Change.
  • Karl Marx, Capital 1, selections.
  • Robert Heilbroner, “Technology and Capitalism,” Social Research 64, no. 3 (1997): 1321-25.
  • Toby Walsh, “Will Robots Bring About the End of Work,” The Guardian, October 1, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/science/political-science/2017/oct/01/will-robots-bring-about-the-end-of-work

Week 10: Democratic Horizons

  • Rudi Volti, “Governing Technology,” from Society and Technological Change.
  • Andrew Feenberg, “Subversive Rationalization: Technology, Power, and Democracy,” Inquiry 35, no. 3-4 (1992): 301–22.
  • Sheila Jasanoff, “Technologies of Humility: Citizen Participation in Governing Science,” Minerva 41, no. 3 (2003): 223-44. 

Week 11: Queer and Feminist Technologies

  • Julian Gill-Peterson, “The Technical Capacities of the Body: Assembling Race, Technology, and Transgender,” TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly 1, no. 3 (August 1, 2014): 402–18.
  • Danna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminist in the Late Twentieth Century,” from Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature.

Week 12: Artificial Intelligence

  • John Searle, “Can Computers Think?” from Minds, Brains, and Science
  • Abigail Tucker, “Birth of a Robot,” Smithsonian magazine 40, no. 4 (2009): 56-65.
  • Nick Bostrum,“Past Developments and Present Capabilities,” from Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies.
  • Stephen Baker, “Introduction,” from Final Jeopardy: Man vs Machine and the Quest to Know Everything.

Week 13: Cloning

  • Arlene Judith Klotzko, A Clone of Your Own, selections.
  • Leon Kass, “Preventing a Brave New World,” in Ethics and Emerging Technologies, edited by Ronald L. Sandler, 76–89. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2014.

Week 14: Biotechnology & Posthumanism

  • Rudi Volti, “Genetic Technologies,” from Society and Technological Change.
  • Francis Fukuyama, “A Tale of Two Dystopias,” from Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution.
  • Michael Sandel, “The Old Eugenics and the New,” from The Case against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering.

Week 15: Technology’s Future

  • Rudi Volti, “Technology and its Creators: Who’s In Charge of Whom?” from Society and Technological Change.
  • Sheila Jasanof, “Reclaiming the Future,” from The Ethics of Invention.