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2022/23 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

PHIL3855 Philosophical Issues in Technology

20 creditsClass Size: 70

Module manager: Dr Sarah Christensen

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2022/23

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

Philosophy of technology asks critical and evaluative questions about the relationship betweentechnology, understood in a range of meanings, and human experience. Technology has been atransformative but often disturbing feature of life in many cultures, and for that reason alone itmerits serious inquiry. The intensive manipulation and transformation of nature in technologicalenterprises raises important philosophical questions stemming back to ancient concerns about thepotential of techne to disrupt human civilization and its relationship with nature. Thisconsideration underpins deep questions about how rethinking technology is now a central issue inphilosophical criticisms of capitalist economies, environmental destruction and essentialistaccounts of gender While optimistic claims persist that technology will provide the 'good life', morepessimistic thinkers have queried such claims, arguing instead that technological interests areincompatible with autonomy in social, political and moral decision-making. This has led us totroubling debates about developments in artificial intelligence, robotics, cyborgs, geneticmanipulation, digital technocracies and trans-humanism. By drawing upon critical perspectivesfrom existentialism, feminist theory and non-Western philosophies, students in this modules havethe 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 continental philosophy, feminist philosophy of several kinds, and some non-Western
philosophies. Critical reflection on technology is often motivated by strong political and cultural
agendas and this is certainly true of much of the reading on the module. While this course is
designated "philosophical" in the sense of thinking analytically about complex issues, 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. Indicative content includes: Karl Marx, Martin
Heidegger, Lewis Mumford, Hannah Arendt, Herbert Marcuse and more recent philosophers of
technology such as Donna Haraway, Langdon Winner and Andrew Feenberg. If you want to think
hard about Technology (in contrast, for instance, to examining specific technologies in historical or
contemporary 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):

- The significance of the machine and the broader implications of mechanisation
- The reduction of human thinking and action to a technocratic framework
- The relationship of technology to human ends - political, moral, ethical
- The role of environmental imperatives in technological critique
- The nature of human responsibilities towards robots and the application of artificial intelligence

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 preparation: 100 hours
Further reading: 47 hours

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Open office hour discussions

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay4000 words (end of module)100.00
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: 11/10/2022


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