Module and Programme Catalogue

Search site

Find information on

2020/21 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

PHIL3855 Philosophical Issues in Technology

20 creditsClass Size: 70

Module manager: Graeme Gooday

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2020/21

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 not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

Philosophy of technology asks critical and evaluative questions about the relationship between technology, understood in a range of meanings, and human experience. Technology has been a transformative but often disturbing feature of life in many cultures, and for that reason alone it merits serious inquiry. The intensive manipulation and transformation of nature raises important philosophical questions stemming back to ancient concerns about whether “techne” was a part of nature or apart from it. This consideration underpins deep questions about how rethinking technology is now a central issue in philosophical criticisms of capitalist economies (Marx), environmental destruction (Heidegger) and essentialist accounts of gender (Haraway). While optimistic claims persist that technology will provide the 'good life', more pessimistic thinkers have queried such claims, arguing instead that technological interests are incompatible with autonomy in social, political and moral decision-making. This has led us to troubling debates about developments in artificial intelligence, robotics, cyborgs, genetic manipulation, digital technocracies and trans-humanism. By drawing upon critical perspectives from existentialism, feminist theory and non-Western philosophies, students in this modules have the opportunity to think afresh about the significance of technology in their own lives.


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

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

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

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

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: 10/08/2020 08:44:11


Browse Other Catalogues

Errors, omissions, failed links etc should be notified to the Catalogue Team.PROD

© Copyright Leeds 2019