Is technology (still) applied science?

Technology in Society 59 (November 2019) (2019)
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Abstract

The thesis that technology is applied science is called by Niiniluoto (1997) the standard view. That is surprising because the identification between technology and applied science has been widely rejected by both historians and philosophers of technology, including Rapp (1974), Bugliarello and Doner (1976), Derry and Williams (1977), Feibleman (1983), Skolimowski (1966), Vermaas et al., (2011), Don Idhe (2013). The reasons of such rejection mainly stem from the fact that technology has historically progressed without the benefit of science, i.e., it has been possible to design technological devices without the explicit and systematic development of the scientific theories and laws that would explain their functioning. Polish philosopher Henryk Skolimowski has attacked this identification based on historical evidence. He argues that in the development of technology, there are many cases wherein technological designs have supported pure scientific research, rather than the other way round if technology were applied science. According to Skolimowski, some cases that dispute the identification of technology as applied science are the design of the transistor, supersonic aircraft, and the Manhattan Project. However, this historical evidence should not persuade us for two reasons: 1) Rejecting the previous scientific research that served as the basis for the said technological designs commits Skolimowski to anachronism. 2) From a realistic perspective of science, technological devices are not only subject to the principles and laws of science, regardless of the extent of our knowledge of them, but incorporate insights on more articulated explanations that while not available at the time of designing, do inspire our practical and theoretical efforts and guide further work. In this paper, we posit that the cases offered by Skolimowski to motivate his rejection of the standard view are far from being conclusive. To this end, we not only critically assess each case but also identify other historical examples that might be even more promising to support Skolimowski's thesis. Finally, we critically deal with those more promising cases and argue for a deflationary interpretation of the standard view.

Author Profiles

Juan Camilo Osorio
Universidad de Caldas
Carlos Garcia
San Francisco State University

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