Philosophy of Technology

Zero net energy.  Parametric design.  Wood skyscrapers.  3-D printing of exotic structures.  What marvels technology brings us!

We acknowledge that we live in the age of technology and as builders of the environment, we wield a tremendous amount of technological power.  What guides us in the application of this power and how have our guides changed throughout the history of Western civilization?  The theme of Philosophy of Technology for the Spring 2018 semester will be to trace the historical development of how we have developed ethical standards under which we develop and practice technology.  We will trace what has happened from the time of the ancient Greeks when “good judgment” prevailed in society to the 21st century when technology has gained ascendance.  Technology as we practice it in the built environment has become so interwoven with political and socio-economic forces that unless we understand these relationships, we can never successfully use technology.

We will trace the story from the ancient Greeks, through the Middle Ages, into the Enlightenment and the dawn of modern technology.  As the Industrial era began, dreams that technology would free man from unnecessary labor emerged, only to be dashed by flaws in the Capitalist system and the build-up of the great industrial/military machines of the first half of the 20th century.  Whatever positive thoughts we had about technology became converted into a bleak, dystopian vision.    We will read Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Hobbs, Bacon, Marx and others.

Heidegger’s highly original inversion of technology and science, where he places the former as being primary to the latter, exploded on the scene of Western philosophy mid- 20th century and attempted to explain the vast changes occasioned by modernity.  Heidegger’s students including Hans Jonas and Hannah Arendt expanded his dystopian view of 20th century technology along with others such as Jacques Ellul and Lewis Mumford. 

And now a new third wave of philosophers of technology confronts the information age and the many ethical dilemmas raised by companion issues of biotechnology, genetic engineering, climate change and resource depletion.  These 21st c. writers have found reasons for optimism, for putting to our use the best that technology has to offer. 

But as technology has developed we find that it has seized the position of power in our society.  Good judgment is suppressed.  How has this happened and what are the results.  We will attempt to relate these issues to our use of technology in designing and constructing the built environment. 

The course format will be a weekly seminar with papers submitted periodically as student deliverables.  There are no exams.