Determining technology: myopia and dystopia

South African Journal of Philosophy 33 (2):201-210 (2014)
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Throughout its brief history the philosophy of technology has been largely concerned with the debate over the nature of technology. Typically, technology has been viewed as being essentially another term for applied science, the practical application of scientific theory to the material world. In recent years philosophers and cultural critics have characterised technology in a far more problematic fashion, as an authoritarian power with the ability to bring about far-reaching cultural, political and ecological effects. Proponents of the former view are often termed instrumentalists and those of the latter technological determinists. The debate between them revolves around the question of the fact/value distinction, namely whether technology can be deemed to be value-neutral. I argue that employing a phenomenological approach to technology grants us a fresh perspective on the instrumentalism-determinism debate. It enables us to recast the instrumentalist/determinist debate as a debate between technological idealism and materialism, and to ground the instrumentalist and determinist positions in different experiential relations to technology. It also gives us a better grasp of the function of the different critiques of technology, with idealists concerned primarily with the misapplication of technology as a form of knowledge, and materialists with the existential implications of concrete technological relations

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Gregory Morgan Swer
University of KwaZulu-Natal


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