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Philosophy of Technology

by: Tomasz Neugebauer

January 20, 1998

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Perhaps the most crucial and elementary aspect of the philosophy of technology is the definition of technology itself. One of the most influential philosophers in this area is Mario Bunge. Bunge’s view of technology with its many branches (material, social, conceptual and general) is, as Carl Mitcham states, “perhaps the most comprehensive contemporary vision of engineering philosophy of technology.” (1). I will summarize some of Mario Bunge’s claims about technology as fundamentally distinct and different from science.

Before presenting Bunge’s account, I shall refer to three other authors, Feibleman, Jarvie, and Skolimowski in order to present some alternative views and influences on this field that is still in development: the philosophy of technology. Bunge’s philosophy of technology fits nicely with his philosophy of science and his ethical analysis of technology. For Bunge, pure science is good while technology can be evil and must be controlled. In the second part of the essay, I shall discuss some ethical considerations and critiques of technology. This paper is an epistemological inquiry, followed by an ethical analysis of technology.

K. Feibleman in, “Pure Science, Applied Science, and Technology: An Attempt at Definitions” argues that there is a fundamental difference between science, applied science and technology. This difference, according to Feibleman, is to be understood in terms of aims and ends pursued. Pure science is synonymous with “basic research” and it includes “a method of investigating nature by the experimental method in an attempt to satisfy the need to know.(2). In order for something to be considered pure science, according to Feibleman, the aim of the research is strictly curiosity. Feibleman holds that applied science, is “the use of pure science for some practical human purpose(3), it is concerned with “discovering applications of pure theory.” (4)

In other words, pure science aims at knowledge and is concerned with theoretical constructs ordered towards knowing, while applied science aims at practice and is concerned with theoretical constructs ordered towards practice. Technology, according to Feibleman, is different from applied science in that it is “a little nearer to practice(5). While both employ experiments, applied science does so guided by hypothesis that are deductions from pure theory while technology employs a method of trial and error and “skilled approaches derived from concrete experience(6). For Feibleman technology is synonymous with skill and its application in an activity that immediately produces artifacts.

Feibleman’s vision of technology as skill might seem intuitively correct at first glance, but upon reflection it becomes apparent that technological knowledge has to be accounted for in a more comprehensive way. However, his definitions of pure science, applied science, and technology serve as a good starting point in understanding the problem. I believe that Feibleman was right in looking at the aims and goals of activities, aside from their method, in order to distinguish between science and applied science. However, Feibleman’s definition of technology as skill and the production of artifacts is too constraining. What about technological knowledge and its relation to other forms of knowledge?

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