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2018/19 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

PHIL3855 Philosophical Issues in Technology

20 creditsClass Size: 45

Module manager: Dr Chris Kenny

Taught: Semester 2 View Timetable

Year running 2018/19

Pre-requisite qualifications

40 Level 2 credits in Philosophy or HPSC

This module is mutually exclusive with

HPSC3700Philosophy of Technology

Module replaces

HPSC3700 Philosophy of Technology (10 credits)

This module is approved as a discovery module

Module summary

Philosophy of technology asks critical and evaluative questions about the relationship between human welfare and technology. Its aims are to investigate systematically the ways in which technology (understood broadly) affects our lives and our self-understanding. Technology is a dominant way of life in many cultures. For that reason alone it merits serious inquiry. Our intensive manipulation and transformation of nature raises important philosophical questions. There have been and continue to be concerns over optimistic claims that technology will provide the 'good life' – a kingdom of heaven on earth. More pessimistic thinkers have queried the supposed benefits of technology: do technological interests override social, political and moral decisions; are we really set free from drudgery, or are we enslaved to a consumerism made possible, and some would say necessary, by technological prowess? What are the differences between the natural and the artificial? Have human beings created a “second nature”? Does technology reflect human ends does it serve the ends of the many or just the few? Has technology taken the place formerly held by religion or spirituality? Does it enhance human well-being or undermine it? Will it lead to extinction or an evolutionary leap where humans and machines integrate? Reflections on technology are often critical in contrast with a more descriptive and analytical approach. This distinction between critical philosophy and analytical concerns raises debates over the role of philosophy of technology: should philosophy of technology be carried out in the same way as traditional philosophy of science, or should it serve critical ends raising problems and questioning the very nature of the technological enterprise itself? Are objectivity and careful analyses undermined unless we approach the nature of technology in a neutral and value free manner? The course is designed with these questions in mind.


Understanding of the key analytical issues in the philosophy of technology

Critical evaluation of arguments offered by leading philosophers of technology

Develop an independent perspective on contemporary debates in the philosophy of technology.

Learning outcomes
On completion of this module students will be able to:
i) write a critical appreciation of works by several important philosophers of technology;
ii)Assess contemporary analyses of the nature of technology, especially in its relation to science;
iii) evaluate key claims concerning the ethical and political questions associated with modern technology.


Philosophers of technology ask critical and evaluative questions about the nature and the effects of technology on human culture and consciousness. The course examines a variety of thinkers who have provided a systematic analysis of technology. It is an underlying assumption of the readings that our intense manipulation and transformation of natural materials for utilitarian ends demands reflection on our self-understanding, and on the nature of the good life.

Philosophy of technology tends to be neglected in traditions governed by analytic approaches to philosophical questions. Most of the readings on the course lie outside that tradition and come from what is generally labelled "continental" philosophy: for example, Martin Heidegger's conception of technology. Critical reflection on technology is often motivated by strong political and cultural agenda and this is certainly true of much of the reading on the module. This course therefore is designated "philosophical" in the sense of thinking hard about the issues, and students should be prepared to engage with materials that lie outside the analytic tradition in philosophy.

We examine the work of a wide range of thinkers, including Karl Marx, Martin Heidegger, Lewis Mumford, Marshall McLuhan, Herbert Marcuse and more recent philosophers of technology such as Langdon Winner and Andrew Feenberg. If you want to think hard about Technology (in contrast, for instance, to examining specific technologies in historical context) then you could find this a stimulating and rewarding module. The aim is to get you to think about something which is so all-pervasive that it tends to invisibility.

Sample themes (the following list is only to illustrate the kinds of questions we will discuss):
- Issues of mechanisation and control
- The appropriation of all forms of behaviour within a technical framework
- The relationship of technology to human ends - political, moral, ethical
- The claim that a technological attitude is now seen as the only possible solution to the question of the "good life".

Several major anthologies are now available

Jan-Kyrre Berg Olsen, Stig Andur Pedersen, and Vincent F. Hendricks (eds). A companion to the philosophy of technology (2009)

Anthonie W.M. Meijers ... [et al.]. Philosophy of technology and engineering sciences (2009).

David M. Kaplan (ed) Readings in the philosophy of technology (2004).

Robert C. Scharff and Val Dusek (eds), Philosophy of technology : the technological condition : an anthology (2003).

A classic work is Langdon Winner, Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-control as a theme in Political Thought (MIT,1987) - not really an introductory work but an excellent survey with a specific claim and very readable, highly recommended.

There are also several classic introductory books in philosophy of technology. All titles below are in the university library.

Philosophy of technology : an introduction / Val Dusek (2006) - basic.

Carl Mitcham, Thinking Through Technology: the path between engineering and philosophy (1994) - dense encyclopaedic and a bit dull but highly informative.

Frederick Ferre, Philosophy of Technology (1995) - recommended

Joseph C. Pitt, Thinking about Technology: foundations of the philosophy of technology (2000) - basic.

Don Ihde, Philosophy of Technology: an introduction (1993) - basic

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Coursework Discussion Session22.002.00
Private study hours181.00
Total Contact hours19.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

2 hours preparation per lecture = 18 hours
2 hours preparation per tutorial = 16 hours
Essay 1 preparation: 50 hours
Essay 2 preparation: 50 hours
Further reading: 44 hours

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Mid semester feedback on Essay 1.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay2,000 words50.00
Essay2,000 words50.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 24/08/2018


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