Technophilosophy (or technological philosophy) may be defined in a variety of ways. It may include the philosophy of technology (“tech philosophy”), the philosophy of engineering, the philosophy of computer science, and cyberphilosophy, as well as technofeminism, technocultural futurism (including Afrofuturism, Latin@futurism, and other futurisms), and other cultural or aesthetic movements embracing the philosophy of technology, the philosophy of science, and social philosophy.
It may also be a philosophy based on, or supported by, technology. Thus, it may be a philosophy founded on, or supported by, computers.
It may also be a philosophy aimed at promoting the use of technology (in various settings and in society as a whole).
It may also be the philosophy of a technological society or era.
It may also be a philosophy inspired by technology. Thus, it may be a philosophy of the technological self (e.g. the online identity, anonymity, or reality of the self) and technological others. It may also be a philosophy of the machine (e.g. regarding the ability of machines to think or to act intelligently) and machine-like beings.
Technophilosophy may also be any philosophy disseminated by technological means (e.g. by online philosophy encyclopedias, journals, blogs, podcasts, or videos). Thus, it may be an electronic or e-philosophy, an integral component of the world of e-books, e-learning, and other online technology.
Technophilosophy may also be a discipline analogous to technoart, technodance, technomusic, technoscience (including technobiology, technochemistry, and technophysics), and technopolitics.
It may be conventional or unorthodox, aboveground or underground.
Technophilosophy (and the philosophy of technology) may include the study of the ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, epistemology, and politics of technology. Thus, technophilosophy may include technoethics, technoaesthetics, technometaphysics, technoepistemology, and technopolitics.
Peter A. Angeles (1992) explains that in ancient Greek philosophy, techne (art, skill, or craft) referred to (1) anything deliberately created by humans, in contrast to anything not humanly created, (2) any skill in making or doing things, (3) knowledge of how to do or make things, as opposed to knowledge of why things are as they are, and (4) professional knowledge of the procedures involved in making or doing things. Such terms as “technique," “technical,” and “technology” are derived from the Greek concept of techne.1
Technology is pervasive in modern culture and society. Thus, the philosophy of technology may include the study of agricultural, educational, energy, and environmental technology, as well as film and video, financial, communications, medical, military, and space technology.
Philosophers of technology include Plato (Laws), Aristotle (Physics), Francis Bacon (New Atlantis, 1627), Ernst Kapp (Grundlinien einer Philosophie der Technik, 1877), José Ortega y Gasset (Meditación de la técnica, 1939, translated as “Thoughts on Technology,” 1972), Martin Heidegger (Die Frage nach der Technik, translated as “The Question Concerning Technology,” 1977), and Lewis Mumford (Technics and Civilization, 1934). They also include Marshall McLuhan (Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 1964), Michel Foucault (Technologies of the Self, 1988), Donna Haraway (Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, 1991), Avital Ronell (The Telephone Book: Technology—Schizophrenia—Electric Speech, 1989), Don Ihde (Technics and Praxis, 1979; Bodies in Technology, 2001), Jacques Ellul (The Technological Society, 1964), Carl Mitcham (Thinking through Technology: The Path between Engineering and Philosophy, 1994), Fernando Broncano (Nuevas Meditaciones sobre la Técnica, 1995; Mundos Artificiales: Filosofía del Cambio Technológico, 2000), and Shannon Vallor (Technology and the Virtues: A Philosophical Guide to a Future Worth Wanting, 2016).
José Ortega y Gasset (1939) defines technology as the improvement brought about by us on nature for the satisfaction of our necessities.2 It is also a reform of those aspects of nature that place us in need. Thus, the concept of human necessity is fundamental to our understanding of technology.3 The mission of technology consists in releasing us for the task of being ourselves.4
Michel Foucault (1988) says there are four major types of techniques or technologies that we can use to understand ourselves: (1) technologies of production, which permit us to produce, transform, or manipulate things, (2) technologies of sign systems, which permit us to use signs and symbols to communicate meanings, (3) technologies of power, which determine our conduct and submit us to certain ends, and (4) technologies of the self, which permit us “to effect by [our] own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on [our] own bodies and souls, conduct, and way[s] of being, so as to transform [ourselves] in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection, or immortality.”5
Foucault says these four types of technologies hardly ever function separately, although each of them may imply a certain mode of training or modification, not only in the sense of our acquiring certain skills, but also in the sense of our acquiring certain attitudes.6
Carl Mitcham (1994) distinguishes between the engineering philosophy of technology and the humanities philosophy of technology. The former begins with an analysis of the nature of technology itself, while the latter begins with an analysis of the relation of technology to art, literature, ethics, politics, and religion.7
Thomas A.C. Reydon (2018) describes three approaches to (or ways of conceiving) the philosophy of technology: (1) as systematic clarification of the nature of technology, (2) as systematic reflection on the consequences of technology for human life, and (3) as systematic investigation of the practices of engineering, invention, designing, and making of things.8
Frederick Ferré (1995) describes a number of possible questions regarding the use of current technologies, such as (1) What should be the role of technology such as robotics and automation in the workplace? (These technologies may in some cases cause workers to lose their jobs, their sense of personal autonomy, or their input regarding their job duties.) (2) What are the risks of relying completely on computers? (In addition to security and privacy concerns, there may be concerns regarding responsibility for error when computers are required to make important decisions.) (3) What limits should be set on the development of nuclear technology? (4) What kinds of technologies need to be transferred to developing countries? (5) What limits should be imposed on genetic engineering and the development of reproductive technology?9
David E. Nye (2006) asks, “Do we control technology or does technology control us?” Do we shape the machines and systems that surround us or are we shaped by them? (According to social constructivists, technology is shaped by us, but according to technological determinists or constructivists, we are determined or shaped by technology.) Are we using technology to destroy the natural world or to protect it? Are we trying through technology to undermine democracy or to enhance it? Are we trying to make the world more secure or to make it more dangerous?10
Concerns that may arise regarding the use of new or existing technologies include their ability to fulfill particular needs, their impact on quality of life, their impact on human health, their impact on social equity (who will benefit from them, and who won’t?), their expense, their cost effectiveness, their ability to support economic growth, their environmental sustainability, their use of renewable or nonrenewable natural resources, and their energy efficiency.
The risks of technology may include the rise of a technocracy (a non-elected ruling class of technicians or a technoelite) whose decisions can, or could, in innumerable ways, impact our daily lives. In politics, a technocracy (as opposed to a democracy, but perhaps in some ways similar to an aristocracy or plutocracy) might take the form of a government ruled or dominated by a class of technological executives or corporate directors. A technocracy might also be a government based on or guided by technological principles, or a form of control of (public, social, and cultural) resources and institutions by technological executives, companies, or industries.
Technophilosophy should therefore not be left to fall into the hands of a wealthy and powerful technoelite. Technophilosophy may be avant-garde or futuristic in its embrace of technology and its interest in finding new ways of doing philosophy, but it should not avoid the responsibility to recognize and attempt to remediate social and cultural factors that contribute to inequitable access to technology. Another responsibility of technophilosophy may be that of recognizing, questioning, and challenging the methods by which technology becomes a means of social control.
Other risks or possible pitfalls for technophilosophy (and for philosophy of technology) include technicism and technocentrism. Technicism, as defined by Egbert Schuurman (1997), is the attitude that all problems can be solved by scientific-technological methods.11 (Technicism may be analogous to scientism, the attitude that all questions can be answered, and all problems can be solved, by scientific methods.) Schuurman explains that among the risks of technicism in the field of genetic engineering are that it may result in the technicization of living organisms, resulting in the loss of genetic and bio-diversity. This may in turn lead to a possible increase in susceptibility of genetically engineered organisms to unknown diseases. If we accept the technological model for plants, animals, and human beings, says Schuurman, then we may see them merely as technological artifacts that we can manipulate, and we may neglect their dignity and integrity.12
Technocentrism, as defined by to Seymour Papert (1988), is the attitude that all questions center on the uses of technology.13 Technocentrism may focus on technological solutions to educational, economic, social, and cultural problems, to the extent that it disregards or neglects non-technological kinds of solutions.
Cyberphilosophy has been described as the intersection of philosophy and computing.14 Cyberphilosophy may include cyberethics (including the ethics of hacking, identity theft, violations of privacy, and so on), cyberaesthetics (including the aesthetics of computer hardware, architecture, programming, and website design), cybermetaphysics (concerning the nature of cyberspace, computer-generated worlds, and virtual reality), cyberepistemology (concerning the relation between computing and the theory of knowledge, and also concerning the kind of collective building and sharing of knowledge that’s represented by openly editable websites like Wikipedia), cyberpolitics (including cyberactivism, journalism, and blogging regarding such issues as internet censorship, access, and net neutrality), and cyberphilosophy of mind (including examination of the relation between computation and thinking or consciousness). Cyberphilosophy may also be concerned with human-computer interaction, and with cyberculture studies.
Technofeminism, according to Judy Wajcman (2004), may examine the role that gender plays in technology and the ways in which technology is gendered. It may also investigate and interrogate the sexual politics of technology, and it may examine the relationship between woman and machine.15
The technosphere (the technological context in which we live16) consists of all the structures we’ve built in order to help us survive on the planet.17 It includes such structures as highways, buildings, machines, tools, equipment, and computer systems. The other spheres of the Earth are the lithosphere (the solid surface layer of the Earth), the atmosphere (the layer of air that stretches above the lithosphere), the hydrosphere (the Earth’s water—on the surface, in the ground, and in the air), and the biosphere (the part of the lithosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere that supports life). The physical technosphere includes the urban, rural, subterranean, marine, and aerial technospheres. Components of the technosphere include artifacts that may eventually become technofossils (preserved material remains of technological artifacts, which we may find nearly everywhere).18
1Peter A. Angeles, The HarperCollins Dictionary of Philosophy (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992), p. 308.
2José Ortega y Gasset, “Thoughts on Technology” , in Philosophy and Technology: Readings in the Philosophical Problems of Technology, edited by Carl Mitcham and Robert Mackey (London: Collier Macmillan Publishers, 1972), p. 292.
3Ibid., p. 294.
4Ibid., p. 300.
5Michel Foucault, “Technologies of the Self,” in Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault, edited by Luther H. martin, Huck Gutman, and Patrick H. Hutton (London: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988, p. 18.
6Ibid., p. 18.
7Carl Mitcham, Thinking through Technology: The Path between Engineering and Philosophy (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994), p. 62.
8Thomas A.C. Reydon, “Philosophy of Technology,” in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ISSN 2161-0002, https://www.iep.utm.edu/, 2018.
9Frederick Ferré, Philosophy of Technology (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1995).
10David E. Nye, Technology Matters: Questions to Live With (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2006), p. x.
11Egbert Schuurman, “Philosophical and Ethical Problems of Technicism and Genetic Engineering,” in Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology, Fall 1997, Vol. 3, No. 1, online at https://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/SPT/v3n1/schuurman.html.
13Seymour Papert, “A Critique of Technocentrism in Thinking About the School of the Future,” in Children in the Information Age, 1988, pp. 2-18, online at http://www.papert.org/articles/ACritiqueofTechnocentrism.html.
14James H. Moor and Terrell Ward Bynum, “Introduction to Cyberphilosophy,” in Metaphilosophy, Vol. 33, Nos. 1/2, January 2002, p. 26.
15Judy Wajcman, Technofeminsim (Malden: Polity Press, 2004).
16Ferré, Philosophy of Technology (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1995), p. 1.
17University of Leicester, “Earth’s ‘technosphere’ now weighs 30 trillion tons, research finds,” Nov. 30, 1016, Phys.Org, online at https://phys.org/news/2016-11-earth-technosphere-trillion-tons.html.
18Jan Zalasiewicz, et al., “Scale and Diversity of the Physical Technosphere: A Geological Perspective, “ in The Anthropocene Review, Vol. 4, Issue 1, Nov. 28, 2016, pp. 9-22.