Machines for Living: Philosophy of Technology and the Photographic Image

Dissertation, University of Sydney (2014)
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This dissertation examines the relationship that exists between two distinct and seemingly incompatible bodies of scholarship within the field of contemporary philosophy of technology. The first, as argued by postmodern pragmatist Barry Allen, posits that our tools and what we make with them are epistemically important; disputing the idea that knowledge is strictly sentential or propositional, he claims instead that knowledge is the product of a performance that is both superlative and artefactual, rendering technology importantly world-constituting. The second, as argued by Heidegger and his inheritors, is that technology is ontologically problematic; rather than technology being evidence of performative knowledge, it is instead existentially threatening by virtue of the fact that it changes the tenor of our relationship with the world-as-given. Despite the fact that these claims seem prima facie incompatible, I argue that they may be successfully reconciled by introducing a third body of scholarship: the philosophy of photography. For it is the case, I argue, that although we, qua human beings, occupy lifeworlds that are necessarily constituted by technology, technology also induces a kind of phenomenological scepticism: a concern that mediated action precludes us from the possibility of authentic experience. Arguing in favour of the sentiment that photographs serve as a kind of phenomenal anchor—a kind of machine for living—I claim that photographic images provide a panacea to this existential concern: despite being epistemically problematic, it is this selfsame epistemic “specialness” of photographs that forces us to phenomenologically recommit, if only temporarily, to the world in a serious way. Consequently, it is my belief that an analysis of our artefacts and the way they function is fundamentally incomplete without an analysis of the epistemic and ontological problems introduced of the photographic image; as I will demonstrate, the photographic image casts an extremely long shadow over the philosophy of technology.

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Ryan Wittingslow
University of Groningen


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