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WHAT IS THAT THING CALLED PHILOSOPHY OF TECHNOLOGY?


Ricardo J. Gómez
California State University
Los Angeles

The answer to that question has been repeatedly provided mainly by different
philosophers concerned with the variety of issues and problems generated by technology.
The main purpose of this brief study is to provide an updated survey of those
problems and replies advanced by those philosophers from different philosophical
perspectives on technology.

1. Defining technology
Among the most quoted definitions of technology we will mention the following:
Mesthene has stated that technological knowledge is “knowledge for the sake of practical
purposes. Technology is using tools for specific goals”. J.Pitt (2000) says that technology
is “humanity at work…it is the activity of humans and their deliberate use of tools…”.
Finally, C.E. Rogers (1988) affirms that “(Technology) refers to the practice of
organizing the design and construction (it would be sensible to add ‘operation’) of any
artifice which transforms the physical (again, we should add ‘social’) world around us to
meet some recognized need”.
Of course, no matter how acceptable those definitions might be, and
independently from the fact that they correctly stress that technology is a means for
achieving human practical ends, i.e., that technology is initially a human instruments for
achieving certain goals, each definition can only be considered as a mere initial attempt
to characterize technology and requires to be supplied by further discussion as it will
become clear below.
However, those definitions also make clear that there are crucial differences
between pure science, applied science and technology. Thus, J. Feibleman (1983)
understands by pure science a method of investigating nature in an attempt to satisfy the
need to know. Its fundamental goal is explanation. By applied science he means the use
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of pure science for some practical human purpose. Its main aim is to do, and mainly
control nature. Finally, technology might be conceived as a further step in applied science
by means of the improvement of instruments.
Accordingly, there could be technology without pure science; in fact that has
happened for millennia, although it is no longer the usual case today. Nevertheless, there
could not be applied science without pure science; for example, there could not be an
application of the theory of groups in christalography without a previous theoretical
research ending in the theory of groups. There is no doubt that technology has been and it
is even more today one fundamental impetus to science (for example, the steam machine
has been the main impetus to the development of thermodynamics).

2. Locating technology with respect to science


We are going to make a systematic comparison between science and technology
in terms of the following main categories: (1)Structure and content, (2)method, (3)goals,
and (4)ways of progress (if any)..
2.1. Structure and content
The main components or elements of technology or, more precisely, of any
situation centrally involving the use of technology are: a goal or purpose, mainly human
or more specifically, social, boundaries mainly constituted by the laws of science, the
availabilities at hand, i.e., what is available, the action for the achievement of the goal,
and the instrument(s) being used. The final by product of the interplay among the former
elements is the technological artifact.
For many scholars there is also an important difference in terms of their referent.
Bunge claims that science deals with the real, natural and social world, whereas
technology handles the artificial; its main task is to interfere with the world..
Consistently, there is a noticeable difference in scope. Scientific laws are general
claims allegedly valid for the whole world. Technology works within what those laws
allow (with what is possible on narrow localities).
And science and technology might be distinguished because of their richness and
depth. From a practical angle, technological knowledge is richer than the scientific one,
but the former is less deep than the latter insofar as its goal is basically instrumental and
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not basically explanatory in character. Just as pure science focuses on objective patterns
of laws, technology as an action-oriented research, aims at establishing rules, i.e. stable
norms of successful human behavior.
Rules indicate how one should proceed to achieve certain predetermined goals.
They are sets of instructions to perform finite numbers of acts in a determinate order and
for the sake of establishing a certain end The technological rules are one among several
types of rules (of conduct, social, moral, legal, rules of thumb, mainly in the arts and
production, and rules of sign).
Although the technological rules are different form the others and, mainly, from
scientific laws, there is a fundamental non-logical relation between scientific laws and
technological rules. Bunge claims that the relationship between laws and rules is not a
logical but a pragmatic one. More precisely, laws do not objectively imply rules, but
invite us to advance and apply a rule. Thus, if “If A then B” is a law-like statement, it
invites us to attempt to apply the corresponding rule. For example, if the law statement is
“Magnetism disappears above the Curie temperature”, then we are led to advance the
following nomo-pragmatic statement, “If a magnetized body is heated above its Curie-
temperature, it becomes de-magnetized”. And the latter, in turn, invites us to propose the
following rule: “For demagnetizing a body, heat it above its Curie-temperature”. On the
one hand, given a scientific law we have no warrant that the corresponding rule will be
successful, because the law is about an ideal model of reality, so that the rule when
applied to reality itself might fail. On the other hand, the success of a technological rule is
no warrant for the truth or dependability of a law
2.2. Method.
There is a widespread agreement about the non existence of a strict and proper
method of technology. Technological knowledge is the outcome of the application of
scientific methods to practical problems, i.e. for achieving certain practical goals.
According to Bunge, there are two types of technological theories: substantive,
about the objects of action, like in the theory of flight, or operative, concerned with action
itself (for example, regarding the optimal distribution of aircraft over a territory).
Substantive theories are always preceded by scientific ones. The former take advantage
of the results of the latter and apply them. However, they don’t make necessarily use of
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its methods. Thus, the theory of flight is an application of fluid dynamics. Operative
theories, in turn, employ the methods of science. They use theory concepts like
probability and are empirically testable.

2.3. Aim
It is usually claimed that the main goal of technology is efficiency rather than
truth, i.e., fitness of purpose and economy. Technology is fundamentally an instrument
for achieving human practical goals, whereas science is conceived by the majority of
scientists as not only an instrument. Moreover, whereas science is basically explanatory,
that is not the case for technology which is knowing how rather than knowing why.
Some scientists and several philosophers of science subscribe to the view that
science is merely an instrument of prediction. But even if that were so there are also
important differences between scientific prediction and technological forecast. In
scientific prediction we witness a conditional correlation between events, the former
being referred by the so called initial conditions and the latter being the one being
predicted. A technological forecast establishes a relation between means and ends.
A scientific prediction informs us that under certain circumstances, something will (not)
happen. A technological forecast tells us how to intervene on the circumstances at hand,
so that certain events may be brought about or prevented.

2.4. Pattern of change


One of the most obvious contemporary myths is that both science and technology
not only are progressive, but mainly that both constitute the two most progressive of
human activities.
However, and without taking any stance about the literal acceptability of that
myth, there is common agreement that both, science and technology have very different
patterns of change. We cannot be surprised by the fact that science and technology differ
in the ways in which they change. It is plainly obvious, for example, that there have been
important technological changes without being preceded by relevant scientific
discoveries (e.g. the steam machine was built before having a satisfactory scientific
explanation for it), and vice-versa. Consequently, the main plausible features of scientific
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progress cannot be extended to technological advance without a previous and thorough


critical discussion.
Perhaps, nobody like Kuhn has been more straightforward in stressing the
distinctions between the ways in which science and technology change. Those differences
between both patterns of development are nothing else but consequences of several
previous differences. Among them, Kuhn overstresses the following: both, science and
technology face different sorts of problems. Whereas scientific problems are defined by a
certain dominant paradigm (i.e., are internal to that paradigm that guarantees their
solution), technological problems are determined by economic, political, social and
military factors external to the sciences themselves and, correspondingly to any scientific
paradigm.
Moreover, the scientist and the technologist are subjected to different sorts of
education. The former is heavily trained within a unique paradigmatic framework for
successfully operating within that paradigm. The latter requires of a much more ample
education not being tied to any specific paradigm. As a consequence, both do not have to
have the same virtues for being successful in their respective activities. Then, it is very
rare that the same person be highly successful in both types of activity.
As a corollary, Kuhn concludes that there are crucial differences between
scientific and technological progress. In scientific progress, the scientist usually proceeds
closely linked to a given paradigm. That progress consists in the scientist’s increase of
capacity for solving the puzzles defined by each paradigm. In technological advance, the
technologist operates taking what it is useful for him under the circumstances at hand, no
matter where it comes from. This is consistent with the type of instrumental rationality
operating in technological advance, according to which it is rational to adopt that
instrument or carry on that innovation that would maximize the efficiency for achieving
the desired goal.

3. Locating philosophy of technology


There is plenty of room for a philosophy of technology. The contemporary
situation all over the world, especially in the capitalist superpowers, stresses the
enormous influence of technology in everyday life as well as in the survival and
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development of the current standards of living. We do not need to mention the ecological
disasters provoked by an erroneous and uncontrolled employment of technology in order
to show the relevance of philosophical criticism, but it is enough with facing the
subtleties and multidimensionality of the problems related to the design, production and
use of technological devices (e.g. in areas like, for example, medicine, pacific use of
nuclear energy, military weaponry, communication and information).
Those problems invite to a philosophical reflection and criticism from the
perspective of the main areas of philosophy, like epistemology, metaphysics, axiology,
and ethics. Accordingly, Bunge speaks of five chapters of techno-philosophy: techno-
epistemology, techno-metaphysics, techno-axiology, techno-ethics, and techno-
praxiology.
Techno-epistemology is about the main features of technological knowledge.
Thus, our previous discussion about the distinctive characteristics of science and
technology would be part of techno-epistemology.
Techno-metaphysics is mainly concerned with the critical discussion of the
artifacts, and their fundamental differences with natural objects. Some thinkers, like
Heidegger, prefer to speak of the ontology of technology instead of techno-metaphysics
due to his particularly negative view of metaphysics.
Techno-axiology deals with the crucial issue of the nature of those values
involved mainly in technological assessment. The discussion about the presence of not
only internal but also external values in that evaluation is one of the central topics.
Techno-ethics studies the presence of ethical values in the different stages of
technological production and assessment. The decision for deciding whether an artifact is
good or bad, a decision about it being right or wrong, for example, about technological
transfer is at the central core of this area of philosophical research about technology.
Techno-praxiology is about technological rationality, i.e., about the standards for
establishing the rationality of decisions about any stage or aspect of technology; for
example, whether it would be rational to continue building nuclear power plants in the
USA for the production of cheaper electricity.
Of course, the answers to any question in those areas depend upon the
philosophical perspective from which those questions are faced. Accordingly, we need to
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discuss the most important philosophies of technology that have dealt with the main
problems belonging to the five main areas of techno-philosophy.

4. Early philosophies of technology.


To proceed systematically, it is recommendable to distinguish between early and
recent philosophies of technology.
The early views to be discussed are: Aristotelianism, Technological pessimism,
Technological optimism, Existentialism, Neomarxism, and Megamachinism. Among the
recent views, there will be selected those of L. Winner, and A. Feenberg for being briefly
studied.

4.1 Aristotelianism
Techno-epistemology: According to Aristotle, technology is an arrangement of
technics to make possible and serve the attainment of human ends. Techne as productive
cognition is the capacity to make involving reasoning .Then, technological knowledge is
different from both, everyday and scientific knowledge. It is productive knowledge, the
outcome of a capacity of doing according to reason.
Techno-metaphysics: Artifacts are the objects produced through the use of
technics that deal with objects without any innate tendency to become to what they will
through human action. There are two kinds of instruments: of production (e.g. a
hammer), and of action (e.g. a chair) allowing the actualization of functions.
Techno-axiology: Instruments and artifacts derive their meaning and value from their use
(medicine is valuable because of its function to cure and improve human health). The
basic value is human life itself. Accordingly, technology is not the “end, but certain
activities, politics and philosophy pursued for their own. They determine the limits of
technology. More precisely, technological knowledge and artifacts are in themselves
value-neutral; they are not end in themselves. And the ends come from outside
technology. Those ends are fixed (unchangeable) and determined by the stable structure
of the society, reflecting the stable structure of the universe:
Techno-ethics: Technological knowledge and artifacts are good or bad according
to their use for attaining certain ends that, as we have mentioned before, are ultimately
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stable. Technological transfer could be good according to the way in which it is carried
out and fundamentally depending upon the ends being pursued.
Techno-praxiology: The rational way of realizing technological assessment is by
establishing the adequacy of the technological means with respect to the ends to be
attained. One witnesses again the presence of technological rationality, but taking into
account the rationality of the ends themselves, i.e., their consistency with the ultimate
ends of humanity and society.
This Aristotelian view is too simple for today’s society, which is basically a non-
stable one. Accordingly, it is not right to speak today of fixed and stable ends. Moreover,
nowadays, civilization is rather of means than ends, ands even one in which usually
certain means become new ends. Finally, it is dangerous and truly inconvenient to claim
that technology and its artifacts are not good-bad in themselves, but become so according
to the ways in which they are used. For example, a pile of nuclear bombs is in itself
dangerous. This is closely related to the crucial issue of establishing responsibilities
among scientists and technologists participating in programs for producing nuclear
weapons: are they not responsible for the outcomes? Only politicians who order certain
uses for those weapons should be blamed for the disastrous outcomes?

4.2 Technological Pessimism


Jacques Ellul is the most extreme representative of this view. In fact, there are
different ways of being pessimist about the current state of technology and its
consequences without endorsing, like Ellul does, a sort of technological determinism
bordering with fatalism.. For the sake of clarity, one has to go through the different
chapters of Ellul’s conception of technology.
Techno-metaphysics: Technique has become the “milieu”(omni-comprehensive
frame) in which humans live without any possibility of escape. Such “milieu” is artificial,
autonomous, self-determining and independent of any possible human intervention. The
word ‘Technique’ refers not only to machinery but also to methods of organization,
management practices, and a mechanicist way of thinking. Technique introduces order,
clarification and rationalization. It is fundamentally efficient and imposes efficiency to
everything. Our civilization is first and mainly a civilization of means. But technology is
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not simply a medium; on the contrary, it has become our life-framework and a way of
life: this is its most substantive impact.
Techno-epistemology: Although technological knowledge is obviously
progressive, it is unavoidably ambivalent, because, (a) any progress has a price, i.e. gains
are always accompanied by losses (for example, the new technologies allowing people to
have new ways of enjoying their free time generate more superficiality), (b) technological
progress creates more problems than the ones it solves, e.g. the decrease in the mortality
rate gives rise to overpopulation; as a consequence, vast majorities of people survive
with a minimum and insufficient consumption of food, (c) the damaging effects are
inseparable from the positive ones, for example, the unemployed produced by the
increase in automation, and (d) technological progress is accompanied by unpredictable
effects, like the devastating effects produced by the use of DDT in Mexican agriculture.
Techno-axiology-ethics: As a consequence of the omni-comprehensive and
monopolistic domination of Technique, the human mind is totally ruled by technical
values. Humans are not free of making free choices outside Technique. As a result, a new
technical morality has come to replace any other morality. According to Ellul, the
fundamental problem can be put into a nutshell in the following questions: (i) Are human
beings capable of remaining free in a world of means? Ellul’s reply is strictly negative.
(ii) Who could and should rule the future of the technical society? No one seems to be
capable of having the slightest chance of success. (iii) Could it come into existence a new
and real civilization including Technique? It is very difficult to believe in such a
possibility. Ellul thinks that Technique can never engender authentic freedom because
authentic spontaneity can never take place in that world of Technique insofar as any
spontaneity would introduce disorder in it, contrary to the regimented order that
Technique defines and requires for its efficient continuity.
Techno-praxiology: Technique generates a rationality of its own, i.e. a thorough
and encompassing instrumental rationality to which any human rational decision should
accord with. Even the ends to be pursued are defined by that rationality, mainly because
the means themselves gradually become the main goals to be achieved. And that
rationality has become autonomous, making the development of Technique to look as
having its own causality.
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It is obvious that Ellul defends an extreme technological pessimism that should be


appreciated for its straightforwardness, clarity and sistematicity. However, there are
problems with the main arguments advanced in the defense of his main claims. No matter
how strong his shocking theses about progress are, they are argumentatively weak. For
example, it is widely known that the solution of any problem generates new problems, as
it is usually shown in scientific research. But that it is not sufficient for negatively
criticizing the problem-solving activity. Moreover, scientific progress also has gains and
losses, but this does not make that progress ambivalent. What must be done is to evaluate
the relative weight of gains and losses, and/or to determine if any gain is accompanied by
a corresponding loss; and, if the answer is positive, then it must be discussed if that loss
is of equal relevance with respect to the corresponding gain. Furthermore, it is
historically false that progress always generate more and worst problems than the ones it
solves Leo Marx claimed that to affirm that to every technological advance corresponds
negative and insuperable negative effects is clumsy and a-historical. Because at a certain
moment and under certain circumstances it might be the case that a given solution might
be accompanied by negative and insuperable effects, that should not be extrapolated for
all circumstances in all contexts. To do that would be to commit the fallacy of
extrapolating the present to all times and places.
It might be true that there is no way out from Technique itself. But that is not the
whole truth. There could be a way out from the alleged bad effects of Technique if one
alters the context favoring those effects. And those contextual changes could be structural
and political ones. But that is precisely what Ellul stubbornly rejects. According to him,
the real solution should consist in a radical revolution in the human spirit. He thinks that
what should be done is (a) to make humans aware of their slavery to Technique, (b) to
destroy the Myth of Technique, (c) to teach humans how to become independent of the
process, (d) to emphasize the necessity of philosophical reflection, and (e) to dialogue
with technicians.
But these are not serious solutions. They look like aspirins for curing cancer, in
other words like merely paradigmatic cases of Utopianism. For example, it is impossible
to dialogue with technicians for destroying the myth of Technique, or to convince them
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that what they do is to make humans being slaved by the byproducts of the activities of
those same technicians.

4.3.Technological Optimism
It is the view mainly endorsed by engineers and technologists as well as by the
majority of the common people who visualize technology as a panaceas for almost every
problem. Its extreme version is technocratism that elevates technology to the maximum
authority on everything, reducing every problem to a technological problem which is
going to be solved ultimately by technology itself.
Techno-epistemology. Technological knowledge is different from pure and
applied science. It has its own laws, rules and standards of development.
Techno-metaphysics. Artifacts are a particular type of objects that exist having its
own laws of being and development, and are totally different from any other type of
objects.
Techno-axiology. Technology is axiologically autonomous and value neutral.
Technological excellence is its supreme value.
Techno-ethics. There should not be any moral control to technology from outside
it. Technologists are not morally responsible for the outcomes of their work. Technology
can be corrected and improved but only with more technology. Technological transfer is
always welcome.
Techno-praxiology. To proceed rationally is to proceed trying to maximize
efficiency. And that is all, i.e., it is rational what it is sound to make according to
exclusively technological standards.
Both, technological pessimism, and mainly technocratism are types of
technological determinism. This can be characterized as follows: (TD1) Technological
change causes social change. Accordingly, technological innovation is the main factor
influencing social change. (TD2) Technology is autonomous and independent from social
influences. About (TD1), it is said that the new instruments for navigation were the cause
of the colonization of the world by Europe; the printing machine is described as the
virtual cause of the Reform because it allowed the access of the majorities to the Sacred
Scriptures. Today many say that the automobile created the suburban areas of middle and
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upper classes, and that the pill caused the sexual revolution. About (TD2)., it is usually
mentioned that once a technological innovation is introduced into society, it acquires its
proper autonomous life. Thus, the continuous improvement of computers has followed an
internal logic already pregnant in its materials and design, so that each generation of
increasing computational sophistication lead , in a predetermined sequence, to the
following stage. The expanding use of computers has made that society had to
reconfigure its institutions and operations. That process gradually led to an increasing
dependence of society upon interrelated technological systems. Even the reproduction of
those systems becomes a precondition of the reproduction itself of the social system
itself.
However, what it has been considered as the conjunction of (TD1) and (TD2) is
what William James called “hard determinism”. But technological determinism has
different forms extending from hard determinism to the other extreme called “soft
determinism”. Technological pessimists attack the optimist technocratic version of
determinism and the same has been done by Neo-Marxists like Marcuse and Habermas.
Even soft-determinists have criticized the two main theses characterizing hard
determinism. About (TD1) they claim that although technology influences social change,
it is not the unique motor of that change, and for many, it is not the main one. About
(TD2), and against the autonomy of technology and its development, they emphasize the
human character of technology and its history. In order to understand a technological
innovation we need to understand its authors and their historical context, and mainly who
benefited and who were annoyed by it. There should be advanced, instead of mono-
causal explanations, multi-valued and multidimensional ones, although with certain
dominances depending upon the context. Instead of considering technology as the locus
of the historical engine, such “locus” should be placed in the much more complex social,
political, economic and cultural matrix.
A very important difference between the two main sorts of determinism is that
hard-determinists tend to defend a global determinism encompassing the Capitalist
society as a whole, whereas soft-determinism is consistent with a rather local
determinism according to which determinism pervades only in certain specific places,
sectors and periods. All this emphasizes again the crucial relevance of taking into account
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the ecological, political, social and cultural context, because it always imposes
restrictions to technological change.
Of course, hard-determinism is not the only shortcoming of the technocratic view
of technology. Its dismissal of external values in technological assessment and its
reduction of human reason to just instrumental, technical rationality are the most
important among them. Heidegger, Neo-Marxists as well as recent philosophies of
technology will help in the critical discussion of those lamentable shortcomings.

4.3. Heidegger’s existentialism and the essence of technology.


It is not philosophically adequate to handle his philosophy of technology by
considering separately the different chapters of techno-philosophy. This is so because his
view about each topic is entangled with his view about other topics. Thus, his view about
the essence of technology is an overcoming of metaphysics and strictly ontological, i.e.
establishing the conditions of possibility of technology itself. Moreover, that view is
closely interlinked with valuation, making that technology is from the start not value
neutral.
Accordingly, his main views related to technology will be briefly systematized as
follows: (a) the essence of technology, (b) the specific characteristics of modern
technology, (c) the main contemporary danger of technology, and (d) what can be done
for overcoming that danger.
(a)Technology is as old as civilization. Humans as beings in the world deal
operatively with it. It is part of being human to manipulate the world, to use tools, to
uncover what things are, i.e. “to reveal”. It has been said that technology is basically an
instrument for attaining certain goals. It has also been said that technology is a human
activity. Both are right claims. Heidegger calls them the instrumentalist and the
anthropological definitions of technology. But they are not the whole truth. They make us
believe that technology is a mere invention of one subject and that it functions as a mere
value-neutral instrument. Those are merely introductory instrumental and human
characterizations of technology. The deep nature of technology is its revealing character:
it brings to our presence something that it is possible. Then, techne is related to episteme
as a mode of truth (“aletheia”, uncovering the truth). It is that character the one that
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makes possible even the fact that it is an instrument and a human activity. It is a
phenomenalist approach insofar as it exhibits the existential foundations of technology.
(b) The essence of modern technology is also revealing. But it has a lot of peculiar
features. Heidegger says that modern technology is completely different and with a
radically new negative connotation: it puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it
supplies energy that can be extracted and stored as such. The natural world becomes a
“standing reserve”, for example coal mines and oil fields are nothing else than something
that stands immediately at hand. Humans as subjects are part of the world to become part
of it as standing reserve. They become resources to be used. Everything is just a certain
potential for human use. And as everything else we become efficient cogs in the whole
system, in the whole “enframing” made possible by modern technology. Each stage of
being, and correspondingly each civilization through time has its own distinguishing
characteristic. Our contemporary epoch of being is characterized by technology, and its
particular way of enframing, of having a certain structure or skeleton that reveals itself as
standing reserve. As a result, instead of nature dominating humans, now it is the other
way around. Humans are taken into the process of “ordering” nature, of handling it at
their convenience; part of that job is done by modern science that through calculation,
measurement, and prediction is subservient to and ontologically dependent upon
technology (another inversion). Consequently there is no longer pure science, and even
less value neutral science. Then, hidden behind modern science is the spirit of technology
in its deepest ontological level, as revealing the world as standing reserve to be ordered
by us. Humans in order to be capable of being free should be aware of their situation, of
their being part of the enframing of technology, but as parts who listen, though not as
parts who simply obey. Our destiny is being part of that enframing, but not our fate
although there is always the danger of making that destiny just our fate. That is why
Heidegger says that our technological culture is dangerous, ambiguous, mysterious.
(c)The main and fundamental danger of technology is not its many devastatingly
harmful outcomes like the destruction of nature, its unpredictable consequences,
consumerism, and so forth, no matter how negative they might be. The most important
danger is to make us believe that a part of a whole could be taken as the whole truth. In
particular, about human reason, is to make us believe that calculative reason is the whole
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of human reason, as if calculative thinking were the only way of thinking (this is perhaps
the deepest and subtlest warning against today’s reduction of human rationality to mere
formal, instrumental, calculative rationality). Then, the greatest danger is to be prey of a
form of reductionism.
(d)Consequently, the solution to avoid that danger is mainly a way of avoiding
such sort of reductionism. To have a glimpse of Heidegger’s subtle approach to that
solution, one has to be clear about his distinction between technology and the
technological understanding of being. Technology is here to stay. There is no way back.
The technological understanding of being, our way of understanding being, of conceiving
reality under the contemporary stage of being, i.e. under the current technological stage
of enframing, is part of us, it is unavoidable, but it is not unsurpassable. We can
overcome it by becoming aware of the fact that a part of a whole is not identical to that
whole. First of all, of being aware that technology does not and could not solve all our
problems, mainly because not all problems are technological ones (against the
reductionism of all problems to technological problems) The understanding of being is
fine, it is necessary for overcoming the technological understanding of being; it produces
a “clearing” in which things and people can show up for us. More precisely: we must
achieve an understanding of being in order to be aware of how enframed we are by
technology, how destined we were to be that way but how free we are to move on. In
such a way, we will be able to keep our technological devices and also denying them the
right to dominate us. Then, our technological understanding of being is our current
cultural way of clearing, but not the way in which things have to be. Once we are aware
that we receive our technological understanding of being, that it is just a historical fact,
that we are recipient of something given through history, that it is a contingent fact, we
start to move out of it. Then, we become aware that efficiency is not our only goal, and
we become capable of discussing the pros and cons of every issue related to technology.
But this awareness of how things are , that Heidegger calls “releasement toward things”,
is only a stage toward a solution., a necessary but not a sufficient condition for a new
understanding of being, a new sense of reality, a “new rootedness”. To achieve it is so
hard that, according to Heidegger, “only a God can save us”.
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There has been long debates about what Heidegger exactly meant by this phrase,
but there is common agreement about two notes: On the one hand, it is a call for a new
cultural paradigm in which what we might call today marginal practices should become
central (like meeting friends, which is not an efficient practice but might reintroduce a
shared sense of what we do in life). Practices within that new cultural paradigm should
unite us in a community. On the other hand, art as being further removed from any sort of
calculative thinking, would broaden our human perspective, and could help us in
attaining meaning in our lives and unity with the members of our community.
However, especially because of the ontological bias of the approach and the
particular kind of solution foggily advanced, Heidegger’s view has implicit limitations.
For example, it is necessary to introduce an aesthetics that is lacking in his view, there
seems not to be any economic and political link of the current status of technology with
the economic and political situation. One thing is to say, like Heidegger does, that the
greatest danger is neither political, nor economic, nor social, and yet another is to leave
any political economical and social considerations out. Heidegger is not asking more than
a change in attitude toward technology and its world. But that is just an idealist solution,
in the bad sense, such that, fore example, an active environmentalist generation would be
decided to refute. Moreover, Heidegger’s argument is developed in an extremely high
level of abstraction that can not literally distinguish between electricity and atomic
bombs, agricultural techniques and the Holocaust. All are mere different expressions of
the same form that we are going to be able to transcend through recuperating a deeper
relation with being. But it is difficult to visualize what could be that new relation beyond
a simple change in attitude. Finally, it must remain clear that Heidegger is not a
technological pessimist, like Ellul, nor a technological determinist, like the endorsers of
the technocratic position. It must be stressed again that, according to him, our
technological understanding of being is our destiny (it is something that historically has
become our present understanding of being) but not our fate (it is not here necessarily to
stay).
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4.3. Mumford’s megamachinism


Lewis Mumford distinguishes between two ideal types of techniques: democratic
and authoritarian ones. The first one consists of methods of production in small scale
under the direct active guidance of the rural producer or the artisan. These techniques
have ever existed, although humans are not initially technical animals. Humans are
distinguished by their capacity for using symbols. Only after acquiring that capacity, it is
possible to speak of specifically human techniques. At the beginning, those techniques
were less for using and controlling nature than a way of bringing out to light and realizing
the internal potentialities of human beings. Only after the creation of human language,
humans became capable of preserving their cultural products, and only then it was
possible for them to domesticate plants and animals. At that moment, techniques were
centered in the preservation and self- expression of life. When those techniques became
centered in utility, they transformed themselves into means of production and profit.
The authoritarian techniques are much more recent. They were grounded in the
authority of an absolutist leader whose word was taken as sacred, and who was followed
by a strong organization of technical-theological masses that made possible both massive
construction and destruction. The first monumental manifestation of such techniques was
the construction of the great pyramids in Egypt. The year -5000 is a crucial moment in
history when it emerges a new conception of humanity and society where the accent is
put on the great scale exploitation of energy. This is the first happening of what Mumford
calls “the megamachine”. That is a complex composed of humans ruled by a monarch
ideologically backed by a powerful hierarchy of priests and defended by a whole army.
The megamachine was re-established around the 18th century with the
mechanization and regimentation of an ordered and repetitive work, and with the
presence of a dominant class who ruled over a great mass of people. Today all the
industrial complex of spatial rockets plays the role that pyramids have played centuries
ago. And the destructive capacity of the megamachine is now represented by
contemporary nuclear power. As a result, each individual will become an animal totally
conditioned by the machine, a passive being, without any purpose. Consequently, she will
be easily controlled by depersonalized organizations like the megamachine that today
includes the scientific-technological apparatus as well as the bureaucratic organization
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that rules and controls such apparatus.. However, now the authority is not a specific
person, i.e. a pharaon, but the technological system itself, no matter how invisible and
omnipresent it is. And the elite is now a techno-military elite. As a result, the system has
become hostile, coercive and totalitarian, in other words not functional to the realization
of human potentialities.
Mumford then endorses a view of technology and its development affirming the
existence of undeniable scientific-technological advances, but that is not accompanied by
a corresponding social progress, such that, on the contrary, has been used for controlling
humans and impeding them the possibility of having access to an authentically full and
autonomous life. Such version is not so extremely pessimist like Ellul’s own one, but it
sounds as an excessive piece of Maniqueism, where what is good is clearly and sharply
differentiated from what is bad, making some technologies extremely acceptable whereas
other forms are totally rejected. Moreover, the context and the economic and political
influences seem to play no decisive role.
About a possible way out of the domination of the megamachine, Mumford
acknowledges that he only has offered a diagnostic of an illness for which he does not
have any prescription for cure. His purpose was to awake people, to make them aware of
technological necessity and its nefarious social consequences.

4.6. Neomarxism
Adorno-Horkheimer, Marcuse and Habermas constitute the triad of the initially
Marxist Frankfurt school who has developed a thorough critical review of contemporary
technology and society.
4.6.1 Adorno-Horkheimer
After 1945, all German thinkers from the right and left tended to be technological
pessimists. Moreover, both shared an obvious aversion to discuss German history and
politics.
Adorno-Horkheimer’s masterpiece entitled “Dialectic of Enlightenment” is an
extreme manifestation of such pessimism and aversion. Without any historical reference
to history , they advance a set of general factors, like instrumental reason and Western
rationalism, for explaining the catastrophic state of society at that time. They tried to
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establish why humanity instead of entering into an epoch of human realization, was
sinking more and more in a new sort of barbarianism. For achieving such explanation
they are aware that they could not use any sort of scientific discourse, because those
discourses have become functional to the domination of human beings; the same happens
with standard philosophical views. They chose a new critical perspective, characterized
by skepticism and distrust, making of social criticism the core of that approach. Their
method combines materials taken from philosophy, history, cultural studies and the
analysis of contemporary experience..
They do not talk about Enlightenment as a certain historical epoch, but about
enlightenment as a mode of thought that allegedly emancipates human beings from myth
and despotism and make them capable of dominating and controlling nature.
Accordingly, the main purpose of dialectic is to exhibit the ways in which such
thinking allegedly rational contain irrational and mythic traces. Therefore, the criticism of
enlightenment contains a criticism of science, technology, and especially, of instrumental
reason, that according to Adorno-Horkheimer, is the main responsible of the crucial
problems related to enlightenment.. In fact, the major achievement of Enlightenment was
its promotion of instrumental individual reason. But it was incapable of providing a guide
to that reason for establishing how the powers of that reason should be used. It is this
lacking of a theoretical guide for reason the fact that leads to a dialectic of turning
enlightenment against itself and to the production of social orders dominated by the
military and the industry of entertainment. Adorno and Horkheimewr conclude that it is
necessary that Enlightenment criticizes itself.
The fundamental thesis is that the most abstract and formal categories of thought,
like the ones of mathematical logic, and consequently of scientific and technological
thought, are related to social processes that since the Greeks, and especially after Bacon,
were functional to the program of the domination of nature, but with the further
lamentable consequence that the unique thought that is capable of destroying myths is
ultimately self-destructive. All this is related to the nature and development of bourgeois
thinking which is ruled by values as quantification, exchange, formalization, utility and
unity. As a consequence, enlightenment reason serves the interests of domination in
virtue of being inserted in the existing society.
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It follows that science and technology, which are manifestations of enlightenment


reason, have had as ultimate goals the domination of nature, and have validated modes of
thinking and acting functional to that goal. The interests in formalization and
quantification are closely related with the interests of capitalist profit, and consequently
with the social organization that facilitates the free access to those profits. That is what
science and technology do as instruments of domination.
Adorno and Horkheimer acknowledge that, on the one hand, the development of
science and technology help to increase economic productivity and consequently generate
the conditions that make possible a better and fair world. But, on the other hand, the same
scientific-technological development ruled by instrumental reason leads to the situation
of domination of a few over many. It is the latter alternative the one that finally has
triumphed. Each individual has ended totally devaluated in relation to the economic
powers. Moreover, such instrumental rationality cannot be overcome. This is a very
pessimist conclusion, leaving no way out of the current situation.
Accordingly, “Dialectic of Enlightenment” ends with a series of visions and
anticipations of catastrophes that overemphasize that there is no solution to the tragic
state of affairs characterizing Western civilization today. Most importantly: the human
species have become slave by the same theoretical apparatus that allowed it to dominate
nature. The nexus between technological progress and progress in social domination
seems to be an indissoluble one.
There is no possible alternative to the current situation. This is claimed without
any appeal to historical argument, material data or economic reasoning. As a
consequence, it is not clear how norms and imperatives of capitalist society influence and
operate in the production of science and technology. Thus, Habermas rightly denounces
that Adorno and Horkheimer have advanced a holistic and unified criticism of science
and society as a whole, without differentiating among the modes in which different forms
of them are connected with forms of domination. In other words, although they have
advanced a famous, deep and through criticism of the instrumental reason operating in
science and technology, they have not move beyond it.
4.6.2. Marcuse
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Technology is conceived by him as a social process in which technic proper is one


among other factors. Technology is not only made of instruments but it is also a mode of
organization perpetuating, or eventually changing, social relations, an instrument for
control and domination. Technology can promote scarcity as well as abundance, liberty
as well as slavery. But, nowadays, humanity is slaved by the same theoretical and
practical apparatus that allowed it to dominate nature.
Most importantly, today domination perpetuates itself not only through
technology, but mainly “as” technology. It is the center from which all domination
extends through all the political and social spheres with a nefarious bonus: technology
itself constitutes the legitimating basis of such domination.
All of the above was the result of a long and sad story. In the course of the
development of Capitalism in which technology played a crucial role, a new rationality
spread over society, totally opposed to that which initiated the march of science and
technology The original individualistic rationality was transformed by the process of
commodity production, because mechanization forced the weaker competitor under the
dominion of increasingly bigger enterprises. The outcome was the elimination of the free
economic subject. And liberty is reduced to the possibility of choosing the most adequate
means for reaching the main goal, efficiency.
There is no personal escape from that cycle and from the apparatus moving in that
cycle. Even worst: the apparatus itself is visualized as the embodiment of rationality. So,
to try to change it or even to criticize it is blamed as acts of irrationalism. Rationality is
then obedience to the regulations of the apparatus because it is the only way of
maximizing the chances of obtaining the desired results. Each individual loses its
original individuality, not by force but by that very same rationality of the apparatus
within which she lives.
The most devastating outcome is that rationality is transformed from a critical
weapon into one of submission and adaptation. Even critical thought is thought as
suspicious and counterproductive. A further consequence is that groups and the crowd
itself become a conservative force, because each member of it is trained for being
efficient in the employment of the technical means. That explains that people do not look
for changing the current order but are willing to have a larger share in the prevailing one.
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The rational individual interest was superseded by the interest of the market, and the
latter required that the former had to go.
Instrumental technological rationality dominates everything even all political
processes and decisions. Technology cannot then be conceived as value neutral. In fact
the goals and interests of domination penetrate the construction itself of the technical
apparatus. This is because technology is always a historical-social project embodying
what society and the interests governing it pretend to do with everything, including
people.
Science which is so close to technology also loses its alleged character of being
disinterested knowledge. The subject doing science is an active subject which is involved
with nature for strict interested reasons. The so called scientific objectivity occults that
universal concepts and laws and mainly all quantification are the epistemological
expressions of the fundamental interest of instrumental control underlying all scientific
thought. According to Marcuse, science and technology understood as value neutral are
nothing else than forms of ideology. A consequence of that is that any discussion, debate,
and decision at the political level are carried out by experts rather than by the citizens
themselves.
Accordingly, any project of true human emancipation would require a radical
revolution in science and technology themselves. That would be a prerequisite for
eliminating the fatal nexus among science, technology and social domination. Science
would deal with different concepts, operate with another methodology, and would
establish essentially different facts. Only in that way it would be possible to replace the
technical control. Marcuse is not proposing to overcome technology. That is historically
impossible. And he is not criticizing technology in terms of its usually mentioned costs.
Those protests are many times made from a conservative perspective. He is just
suggesting a new science and a revolution in technology.
However, Marcuse never went beyond just of that proposal making unclear what
would be those changes and how really would be that new science and its consequences
for technology. Even Marcuse himself stopped talking of a new science although he
continued endorsing the other theses mentioned above. According to him, what should be
done for changing the situation of domination by technology’s instrumental reason is to
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reconstruct the economic-political basis for achieving different developments with some
other goals. However, Marcuse does not give a clear and comprehensive reply to the
question of how to accomplish that change. An interesting component of his reply is the
need for a new theory of rationality in which human values would be incorporated in the
technical structure itself. But this was advanced in a too schematic and vague way,
without any clue of how to implement it.
Marcuse also developed a theory of art according to which what has been lost by
instrumental reason is preserved in our imagination. This is an affirmative function for art
that would allow civilization to advance beyond the struggle for life, although that would
require the overcoming of the class-society. If that would be achieved, we would have
access to a new type of theory and scientific-technical practice, although we are not
informed of what would be its main characteristics. It seems that it would be a science
and technology with different ends. Nevertheless, for that it is necessary a new
conception of technological rationality, showing how human values could be
incorporated into the structure itself of technique.
Finally, Marcuse never abdicated of his strong belief that the ideals of peace,
justice, freedom and happiness should be the criteria for measuring any existing society,
in opposition to the contemporary industrial society that maintains competition and
violence as its basis for domination.
4.6.3. Habermas
There are two different stages in Habermas’ view about technology: (1) The first
critical stage in which technology is conceived more as an oppressive force than as a
medium of human self-expression. At that time, he denounces the technocratic
atmosphere without offering any sort of persuasive alternative, and (2) A much less
critical stage in which technology is discussed from the point of view of its positive
incorporation into the life-world.
(1) Habermas starts from a criticism of Marcuse about the necessity of changing
radically the concept of science. According to Habermas, technological development
follows a logic corresponding to the structure of purposive rational action, i.e., the logic
of human labor. Then, if the organization of human nature and its preservation through
labor do not change, it will be impossible to think of a qualitative different science and
24

technology. What happens is that modern science produces knowledge that because of its
form (and not of the subjective intentions of the scientists) is technically exploitable
knowledge. Furthermore, politics is not oriented to the realization of practical ends but to
the solution of technical problems that are not susceptible of being debated by the general
public. As a consequence, the general masses become de-politicized. Those masses are
convinced that that is the right thing because it is what scientifically and technologically
should be done. Then, science and technology play the role of ideologies. Moreover,
propaganda contributes to make people believe that the practical problems should be
replaced by decisions taken by administrative personnel. The ideological effect is greater
than the one of older ideologies, insofar as it is no longer the devastating effect of one
class over another. Now, it affects the emancipative project of all humanity. The new
ideology serves to impede that the foundations of society were submitted to critical
reflection. But then ethics itself is also repressed. The technocratic ideology has done that
repressive job. To conclude: Habermas, at this early stage of his philosophical
development about technology, believed in an irresistible autonomy of technocracy and
in an unavoidable subordination of the social evolution to the restriction of technique.
(2) Habermas makes more and more clear through the years that the rational form
of science and technology may expand to the proportions of a form of life. This is a sort
of invasion made possible like never before by Capitalism. He also stressed more than
ever before that technology is in itself indifferent (neutral) with respect to the political
ends. However, humans are in principle capable of communicative action. This does not
presuppose control, nor dominion, nor prediction, but arriving at a consensus. Then, it
must be distinguished between action oriented towards success (money and power) and
towards communicative understanding achieved through critical discussion. Now,
Habermas believes that the technological system must be theorized in a conceptual
framework including also the social life world normatively ruled. This view is related to
his belief that although modernity is today threatened by technological rationality, the
project of Enlightenment which is incomplete can be recuperated as a practical activity in
which, among other things, science and technology are positively incorporated in a form
of life. The best way for protecting the life world is to come back anew to the project of
Enlightenment in which there would not be any invasion of the technical sphere into the
25

life world. Science and technology should be autonomous with respect to art but they
should be consistent with the universal values of the life world. No wonder that
Habermas have always opposed all post-structuralist philosophies (Foucault, Derrida,
Lyotard) ascribing to relativist views which, according to Habermas, are functional to the
neoconservative character of those philosophies. The most important problem can be
stated as one of the relation between technology and the life in the ideal democratic
society. More precisely, how technical control could be brought within the range of the
consensus of citizens. The solution cannot be accomplished with technology alone. It
must be put into motion an effective discussion for controlling the social potential of
technical knowledge and ability by our practical knowledge and will. The discussion
should avoid leaving out the critical reflection about the particular interests related to
technical domination. The fact that this is an issue for reflection shows that it does not
belong to the professional competence of specialists. Only the development of a political-
decision making process making possible a general critical discussion free from
domination could save us of the irrationality of technical domination.
The most commonly mentioned criticism to Habermas on technology is his
acceptance of the value-neutrality of the technology and its system. This is visualized by
his critics as an excessive concession to the technocratic ideology. The action oriented
toward success is never indifferent and autonomous. Control over society and technique
go hand in hand. Technical design is never neutral, but it is always biased in favor of
hegemonic interests. And this biases technical design toward centralization and hierarchy
diminishing participation, and, consequently, communicative rationality. As a
consequence, the social system structures itself into rulers and ruled. Thus,
communicative rationality is inhibited from the start by the conditions themselves of the
whole technical process.
To sum up: With respect to the dichotomies between pessimism-optimism,
determinism-indeterminism, closeness-openness to the future, it can be stated that:
Aristotelianism tends to be moderately optimistic, it is not a form of determinism
and it is widely open to the future.
Ellul is strongly pessimist, endorsing a radical form of determinism and being
almost closed to the future.
26

Technocrats are extremely optimist, but favoring an extreme form of


technological determinism and being obviously positively open to the future.
Heidegger, an initial optimist, is outspokenly pessimist about modern technology
and defends a form of soft determinism(accepting its note two, and rejecting note one of
it) and, although he accepts the ;possibility of a possible change in the future his views
about how to achieve it are very hard to be successfully realized.
Mumford tends to be a pessimist close to be a hard determinist, although he
anticipates the need and non-zero probability of a different future.
Adorno-Horkheimer are even more pessimists than Ellul, very hard determinists
and without any opening to the future.
Marcuse visualizes that technology has become the currently dominating lament
ably negative ideology, having its own independent life determining everything else (hard
determinism) anticipating that only crucial radical changes (not clearly scheduled) would
change the current situation.
Habermas, who was initially a staunch pessimistic critic of modern technology
ascribing to it a deterministic character, has moved later to a more moderate position
visualizing the possibility that technology might play a rational role in the social life
world.
All their solutions for opening new hopes for the future were either unsatisfactory
because of their low probability of being successfully applicable or because they were
very vaguely and schematically advanced.
About the crucial issue of the value-neutrality of technology, only Atistotelianism
and technocratism conceived it as value neutral, whereas all other positions, especially
Heidegger and Neomarxists (with the exception of Habermas) stressed the impossibility
of that neutrality and indicated the main reasons for it.
That insufficient and convincing critical discussion for a new and more positive
role of technology in contemporary society is the main gap in early philosophy of
technology which will be tried to be filled, from different points of view, by the most
recent philosophies of technology.
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5. Recent Philosophies of technology


L.Winner and A. Feenberg are the most important philosophical discussants of
technology in recent years. While developing their own views they have criticized other
contemporary views about the issue, like postmodernist ands social constructivist views.
Moreover, the devastating global effects of some technological applications have created
the need for a truly radically new “ecosophy”.

5.1 L. Winner
L.Winner is the most moderate of all initially pessimists about technology, but
one who has recently discussed how to move to a more positive role for it in the future.,
i.e., there has been in his most recent intellectual production an evident change towards
less negatively extreme views about technology.
In his first book, Winner emphasizes his coincidences with Ellul about the fact
that technology is now out of control and follows its own course independently from any
human intervention. Although technology has become autonomous, Winner believes,
unlike Ellul, that technology does not follow an unidirectional course with a specifically
proper rationality that rules everything; in fact, technology develops more erratically and
unpredictably. We cannot anticipate the way in which technology might eventually
govern our lives. But there is no doubt that people have arrived at a passive attitude
toward it. And this is the attitude of the majority and not the outcome of an ineluctable
development; it is the same attitude that has allowed that the technological systems
legislates the conditions of human existence.
Consequently, the current state of technology is neither necessary nor irreversible
because technology is basically a political phenomenon. It cannot be any other way
because technology is seen as interdependent with respect to society. Then, technology
can be politically managed and restricted. This emphasis in the political character of
technology has been stressed and deepened in Winner’s most recent philosophical work.
He has claimed that technological systems, insofar as they are political in character, are
not value neutral; it is obvious that they favor certain interests while disfavoring others’
interests. In order to improve our situation it is primary to know in advance the possible
implications of a given technology. This is the beginning of a solution, but not the whole
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of it. Winner proposes that we should imagine and construct technical regimes
compatible with freedom, social justice and other crucial political goals. Winner adds that
citizens when facing any proposal for a technological program, should ask themselves
whether that program is adequately consistent with what they are, i.e. about the
compatibility of that program with their vision of the future that they want for their
society. The realizability of that project requires deep institutional changes in which
experts could not be the unique and decisive voice. Experts and citizens should be
involved in a continuous exchange of ideas, proposals and solutions. .
Furthermore, technical things have, according to him, political qualities built into
them. And these qualities embody specific forms of power and authority. There are two
ways in which that may happen. First, a technological device may be used to settle a
political problem; here, the technology is not neutral because it is designed to produce
certain political and social effects. For example, some bridges in specials areas over a
free way might be low in order not to allow extremely big and heavy trucks to ride. This
eventually may reflect social class bias and even racial prejudice. Second, a technology
may require or is at least compatible with particular political relationships. They are
technologies that by their very nature are political in a specific way. Some technological
systems might be authoritarian, when the ideal is that they be democratic. The nature of
the technological systems (e.g. of power, communication, production, transportation)
require certain types of organization, for example centralized and hierarchically
organized ones. The systems themselves do not allow any other sort of political-social
organization. A real conflict of values might emerge mainly between efficiency versus
democratic and egalitarian sorts of organization. Then, we should need to tend to flexible
uses of technologies in relation to the social and political contexts and their inherent
qualities. In both cases, the technological devices are built in such a way that they
produce a set of consequences logically and temporarily prior to any of their professed
uses. So, the issues that divide or unite people in a society are sometimes a priorily
decided by tangible technological arrangements. Obviously, technology has in itself
unavoidably important political power.
In his most recent work Winner wants to awake us of our technological
somnambulism, i.e., our sleep-walk through the process in which technologies
29

reconstitute the conditions of human existence. We need to overcome any possible failure
in seeing how technology creates the underlying structures of social-political life.
Technological artifacts are involved in establishing the conditions of social life, shaping
who we are and how we live. Technologies are not merely aids to human activity, but
also powerful forces, which reshape that activity and its meaning for our lives. Technical
devices tend to engender worlds of their own. And our world has become one in which
cars, computers, etc are forms of life: life would be unthinkable without them.
Winner thinks that both Wittgenstein and Marx can help us to understand
technology. Wittgenstein’s concept of a form of life clarifies that technology is part of the
practices shaping our understanding and structure of our actions. Marx’s historical
materialism stresses that any change in material conditions of life changes also the human
activities. Both views emphasize how technologies are linked to our lives. And both
views remind us that we, the individuals, are the ones actively involved in the daily
creation and recreation of forms of life and, then, of ourselves.
As a consequence, for Winner the crucial philosophical questions about
technology will be related to the kind of world that we are building, the forms of life that
are emerging and what types of human relations are made through technologies. Those
questions will be central in a new critical philosophy of technology that Winner
recommends., and in which obviously, technology cannot be neutral with respect to
moral, social and political standards, and in which humans must admit their responsibility
for what they are making.
Winner’s sharp criticism to social constructivism about technology is an excellent
example of how important is for him the relationship between technology and the
political dimension of society.
Social constructivism (Collins, Bijker, Latour, among others) centers in how
different technologies internally operate for clarifying the dynamics of technological
change. They basically devote their studies to particular and detailed studies of cases of
the production of artifacts in the atmosphere of their generation, design, and production
and, consequently of the social actors affecting those developments. Accordingly, social
constructivists claim that they want to open the black box of technology. They follow the
methodological guidelines of the sociology of science. According to it, they do not
30

evaluate scientific and technological sentences as true or false according to any external
standard. Instead, they analyze the processes in which social knowledge is constructed.
Truth is arrived after a competition in which different social groups compete for
establishing their different cognitive proposals. There is, according to them, a
fundamental interpretative flexibility: people under different circumstances interpret the
meaning of an artifact in different ways, and use that artifact with different goals. That is
why there must be located the social groups which are more relevant for closing that
process.
After investigating areas of conflict and cooperation, agreement and
disagreement, one watches for the moment of closure, where it ends the struggle for
determining the final form of an artifact. Negotiation and manipulation of the most
powerful actors put an end to the process.
The view has several novel consequences: technological innovation becomes a
complex, multi-linear process, in which new technologies are not full-born out of the
work of great men or inventors. There are always branching points in that development
which is not a necessary one but full of contingencies and choices. It also deserves praise
the detailed analysis and conceptual rigor in handling the particular laboratory studies in
research and development.
However, Winner accuses the social constructivist view on technology of being a
narrow perspective for leaving aside fundamental issues and questions about technology.
Its most obvious shortcoming is its total disregard for the social consequences of
technical choice. New artifacts always change how people understand reality and even
themselves; and, especially they affect the quality of daily life and the distribution of
power in society. Nothing of that is taken into account by the social constructivists.
Moreover, there is no the slightest concern with a more careful study of who are the
relevant social groups and what makes them so relevant. Thus, there is nothing said about
the personal and social effects of technology and even less about those who have become
excluded deliberately or not through the technological process. We witness then a form of
elitism. Everything is about the need and manipulations of the powerful groups of
interest. The outcome is an extremely conservative approach to technology and society.
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Accordingly, social constructivism about technology leaves aside any evaluative


stance, disregarding any concern about moral or political principles and their role for
helping people to better understand the possibilities open by technology and their
relevance to their own lives. Social constructivism is agnostic about whether particular
technological achievements are good or bad. That is part of their total lack of any general
position about technology and its relation to human welfare. No wonder that Winner says
that their interpretative flexibility soon becomes moral and political indifference. As a
consequence, there seems not to be any sort of openness toward the future nor any hope
for improvement. In fact, social constructivism looks like being sanitized of any critical
perspective, a sort of depoliticized scholasticism. In other words, the black box that they
open looks as almost empty.
The allegedly innovative view of social constructivism has by no means achieved
closure. That leaves room for beginning anew as more social and politically concerned
views like the ones that Winner and Feenberg are attempting to advance.

5.2 A. Feenberg
According to Feenberg, technology is neither determinant nor neutral, and
consequently it can be attained a democratization of our society by a radical technical and
political change. If the authoritarian current social hierarchy is a contingent aspect of
technical progress and not a technical necessity, then there must be an alternative form of
rationalization of society for democratizing control instead of centralizing it.
We can achieve a new type pf society that could affirm a greater scope of values
beyond just technical values like efficiency and profit. Democracy is one of those
fundamental values that could serve better to a redesigned industrialism. The problem of
democratizing technology is fundamentally of initiative and participation. It has to take
into account the necessities of the individuals that resist a specifically technological
hegemony. Such resistances take different shapes, from union struggles about health and
security in nuclear energy plants to community struggles about toxic wastes, to political
demands about regulation of reproductive techniques. All these movements alert us about
the need of taking into account the external aspects to technology.
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Feenberg’s critical theory of technology follows a difficult journey between


resignation and Utopia. It explains how modern technology could be redesigned for
adapting to the necessities of a more free society. Accordingly, that critical theory rejects
the value neutrality of technology and in its place affirms that technological rationality
has become political rationality. The values of the elites and dominant classes install
themselves in the proper design of rational procedures and machines even before we
assign to the latter a certain goal. The dominant form of technical rationality is in the
intersection of ideology and technique, where both meet for controlling human beings
and all resources according to what Feenberg calls “technical codes”. Critical theory
shows how those codes, in an invisible manner, materialize those values and interests in
rules and procedures, instruments and artifacts, and transform into a routine the search for
power by a dominant hegemony.
In order to overcome that hegemonic situation, technology should become a
struggle scenario. It should be a field of social battle in which alternatives are debated
and decided. Insofar as the centre of technical control (now in the hands of a few on top)
influences technological development, new forms of control from below could fix the
development in a new and original path.
Technical objects possess two hermeneutic dimensions: its social meaning and its
cultural horizon. The construction of the bicycle, for example, was controlled, at first
instance, by a debate of interpretations: would it be a sporting toy or a means of
transportation? The characteristics of its design, like the size of its wheels, allowed the
bicycle signify one or another sort of object. That object, like any other artifact, has a
social role and makes possible different forms of life. The differences in the way in which
social groups interpret and use technical artifacts produce a difference in the nature of the
objects themselves. Then, we can only understand technological development by
studying the social-political situation of the different groups involved in that process.
The term “horizon” refers to the general cultural assumptions that constitute the
undeniable background of each aspect of life. Technological development is limited by
the cultural customs and habits originated in the economy, ideology, religion and
tradition. Today, the design of machines is socially related in a way which is not
universal but particular to capitalism. In fact, this is the horizon of all existing industrial
33

societies, capitalist as well as socialist, insofar as they are administered from above, and
the design of the machine reflects the social factors operating in the dominant t
rationality.
The notion of a “pure” rationality emerges when the job of de-contextualization is
not understood as a social activity reflecting social interests. The legitimating efficiency
of technology depends upon the unconsciousness of the cultural and political horizon
under which it is designed. A contextualizing critique of technology may reveal that
horizon, eliminating the illusion of any technical necessity and exposing the relativity of
the predominant technical alternatives.
Therefore, technology is not simply a mean for an end; the standards of technical
design define important aspects of the social environment, including the forms of life.
The narrow approach to modern technology satisfies the necessities of a particular
hegemony, but it is not a metaphysical condition. It is that hegemony the one that should
be criticized, not technology per se, when we, for example, point out that current
technical means constitute a growing threat to the environment. That hegemony has been
incorporated into technology, the one to be questioned in the struggle for technological
reform in the search for a more democratic society, in which the technical order would
appear in its contingency as a possible object of political critique and action.
As a general consequence, there are two obvious main trends in recent philosophy
of technology. On the one hand, all emphasize their criticism and disapproval with all
forms of technological determinism stressing the contingent character of technical
decisions as well as the multi-linear character of technological development. On the other
hand, they stress the heavily value-laden character of technological assessment with the
corresponding acceptance of the presence of different sorts of values in any technological
evaluation. Among them, and as a paradigmatic example of the relevance of a sound
philosophical approach to technology, the role of ethical values should be discussed as
systematically as possible.

5.3. Ecosophy
It is necessary to distinguish between ecology, ecologism, and ecosophy. Ecology
is a new broad science dealing mainly with the ways of saving nature from some
34

disastrous effects of the application of technology. Ecologism is a relevant social-cultural


and political movement strongly concerned for that preservation of nature and its
improvement.
As a matter of fact, there are two ecology movements: a shallow but very
powerful one and a deep although less influential movement.
The shallow ecology movement fights against pollution and the depletion of
resources. Its main goal is people’s health in the most developed countries. For example,
those movements for establishing urban parks, wilderness areas, and national parks,
movements favoring to mitigate all health hazards caused by industrial technology, the
“back to the land movements” of the 60s and 70s, the “zero population growth” groups,
the “animal liberation” movement” are among the most important representatives of
endorsers to the shallow ecology movement.
The deep ecology movement starts from a rejection of the “dominant paradigm”
composed mainly of the following beliefs: (1) the belief that economic growth measured
as, for example, Gross National Product is a measure of progress, (2) the belief that the
primary goal of national states is to increase the production of commodities and satisfy
the material wants of people, (3) the belief that the standard of human life is measured by
the possession of goods, (4) that natures is only a mere deposit of resources to be
exploited for satisfying the increasing number of human beings, (5)that “planned
obsolescence” is an end in itself, (6) that the new should be valued over the old, and the
present over future generations, and (7) the belief that technology can solve all problems.
That set of beliefs is actually a social paradigm that continues to dominate the
collective imagination and is preached by publicity transforming it into the world vision
of the citizens in the majority of the countries around the world.
According to A. Naess (“The Shallow and the Deep, Long Range Ecology
Movements. A Summary”, Inquiry 16 (1973): 95-100) the deep ecology movement is
grounded in the following principles: (1) A thorough rejection of the image of humans-
environment in favor of a relational image of the total field, i.e., two items P and Q are so
strongly related that without such relation P and Q are not the same things (each of them
is what it is because of their relation with each other). This means the assumption of a
new cosmic/ecological metaphysics emphasizing the identity I/Thou between humans
35

and nature. (2) Bio-sphere egalitarianism, i.e., the deep ecologist acquires a deep respect
and veneration for forms and ways of life, in contrast to the anthropocentrism of the
dominant paradigm. (3) Diversity and symbiosis, because diversity improves the
potentialities for survival of new modes of life, and symbiosis emphasizes the ability to
coexist and cooperate in complex relations instead of putting the accent on exploitation
and elimination.(4) Anti-classis: The ecological attitude favors the extension of the
former three principles to all groups and conflicts, including those that today exist among
developed and developing nations. (5) Struggle against pollution and the destruction of
resources. (6) Complexity: Organisms, ways of life and their interactions exhibit a variety
of vast systems composed of a multiplicity of factors interacting in more or less lawful
ways. Applied to human beings this principle favors integrated actions in which each
whole person is active. It also recommends complex economies that must be
subordinated to ethic-ecological criteria, and an integrated variety of modes of life (e.g. a
combination of agricultural and industrial, urban and non-urban, intellectual and manual,
specialized and non-specialized activities). The main value of science is again visualized
as contemplation of the cosmos and as enhancement of the understanding of the self and
of the whole universe. It calls for less prognosis and more clarification of possibilities
showing that there should be a quick move towards soft energy paths and appropriate
technology, and (7) Local autonomy and des-centralization, because the vulnerability of a
form of life is proportional to the weight of the influence from outside the region in
which it has attained if ecological equilibrium. This stresses the need to support local
governments and material and mental self-sufficiency. The local autonomy is reinforced
by the reduction in the number of links in the hierarchical decision-chains.
The former principles are obviously normative and constitute the core of a
recommendable and unavoidable ecosophy understood as a general forum for debating
the ecological impact of technology. It should be a philosophy of ecological harmony, a
sort of Sophia (wisdom) containing norms, like the ones above, ruling value-priorities
taking into account the information about the state of things in the universe (coming from
ecology as a science).It is global insofar as it integrates and articulates the efforts of an
ideal ecological team encompassing scientists of different disciplines as well as scholars
in politics, and active policy-makers. Ecosophy as wisdom about the environment at a
36

planetary scale is policy-wisdom, prescription, and not only description and prediction.
That explains why it has political philosophy as part of it, and ethics at its center.

6. Technology and ethical values


Any time that there are new possibilities for action, new ethical concerns are
raised. And, of course, that is the case with contemporary technology, especially at a
cosmic scale. Two central issues should be taken into account: First, the main questions
and themes about technology and ethics, and second the necessity of expanding our
ethical concepts and principles for handling the openness to a future shockingly novel
ethics being provoked by recent technological events.
6.1 Shrader-Frechette claims that the main philosophical questions about the
relevance of ethics to technology belong to five different categories: (1) Conceptual or
meta-ethical questions, like the one about what sort of ethical approach, concepts and
principles could be the more adequate for dealing with contemporary technological
decisions, (2) general normative questions, like whether any person has the right of not
being harmed by a certain technological development, (3) particular normative questions,
for example, should the USA continue exporting technological artifacts that are banned in
its own territory?, (4) questions about the ethical consequences of technological
developments, for example, would the construction of nuclear plants for the production of
cheap electricity be accepted no matter the health-damages that it might produce?, and (5)
questions about the ethical justifiability of different methods of technological evaluation,
for example, does the cost-benefit analysis ignore non-economic components of human
welfare?
The most important themes about technology and ethics are: (1) How to define
technological risk? Engineers and technicians define it quantitatively as the annual
average probability of fatality., whereas philosophers and humanists claim that such risk
cannot be defined in pure quantitative terms because it includes much more that physical
damage like threat to civil liberties, personal autonomy, due process, etc., issues that are
often more important than the ones susceptible of being quantified. (2) How to evaluate
technology under uncertainty? This is, by the way, the most usual situation. A mere
utilitarian evaluation should be avoided. Accordingly, results with the worst
37

consequences, no matter their probability, should be avoided. This is so because although


taking small chance with technology many times generates economic benefits for
everybody, those benefits are never warranted nor deserve to take chances.(3)
Technological threat to due process. For example, several times the law guarantees the
payment by big enterprises of just a minimum payment to people for losses annoying a
great amount of population (like in leaks in nuclear plants). This is allegedly done for
protecting those enterprises from bankruptcy. (4) How safe is safe enough? In other
words, how much risk is acceptable and how it should be distributed. Here, utilitarians
and defenders of an egalitarian approach are the two main parties participating in the
debate. (5) Consent to risk. This is perhaps the most violated of all the undisputable rights
that people should have. It must not be forgotten, that there is no real consent if, for
example, the worker do not have any other alternative to the one being offered or to the
one in which he is presently involved.
Of course, the topic of technology and ethics related to all the questions above is
full of problems, like the difficulty of performing dependable long term evaluations, or of
how important are the small risks and their accumulation, or of how to make that as many
people as possible have their voice and vote in crucial technical decisions affecting their
life or way of living, among others.
Moreover, attempts to take easy ways out should also be prevented. For example,
it is not true that to operate according to the strict standards of science and technology
makes values avoidable. That is plainly and maliciously false. Longino, for example,
believes that in technological evaluation intervene three kinds of values: (a) bias values
(like excluding data for favoring personal interests and goals), (b) contextual values, like
political and social ones influencing evaluative practices, and (c) methodological values
like the ones influencing in the decisions about how to operate with uncertainty. As a
matter of fact, only the bias values are avoidable and should be avoided, but the other two
are unavoidable. No doubt: even technological assessment is ethically value-laden.
Shrader-Frechette has exemplified the presence of the above questions and themes
in her analysis of the arguments allegedly sustaining several conclusions about the risks
incurred in the production of electricity by nuclear power plants. She claims that the
ethical reasoning underlying government assessments of nuclear power is pervaded by
38

the naturalistic fallacy. According to G. E. Moore that fallacy is the name given to a
particular error oftenly committed when one uses inappropriate evidence to substantiate
an ethical or policy conclusion. The main forms that the naturalistic fallacy usually takes
are: (1) replacing ethics with one of the natural sciences (for example, when ‘good’ is
replaced by a property of natural objects). This is a mistake because it confuses science
and philosophy, in particular, ethics, (2) deriving “ought” statements from “is”
statements. This is erroneous because no amount of factual information alone constitutes
a ground for an ethical claim. Descriptively “desired” is not a ground for “normatively
“desirable”, and (3) failing to consider “the open question”, i.e. failing to realize that no
matter what natural quality of a thing is defined as good, it is always an open question
whether that quality is in fact good.
These fallacies are present in government studies of nuclear policy in the USA.
The main issue is whether we must accept the risk of a major reactor accident releasing
catastrophic amount of radioactivity. The positive answer has been in important cases
grounded in the following arguments:
(1) The argument based on the probability of a core-melt. Insofar as that
probability is very low, the risks ought to be accepted.. However, this is an open question
because no argument is given supporting that claim. Moreover, it is usually assumed that
being beneficial to the economy and having a low probability of causing health risks is a
“good” thing, equating scientific properties with what is good.
(2) The argument based on the probable accident risks. Society accepts other risks
with more disastrous consequences than those of nuclear power. Then, the risks of
nuclear accidents, no matter how big they are, ought to be accepted. Here, it is assumed
that risks which are less probable than other risks accepted by society, are morally
acceptable. However, those other accidents are related to voluntary decisions (like,
automobile accidents). Consequently, they should not be considered equally acceptable as
the ones in which people do not have voice and vote (involuntarily chosen
technologies).It is an open question whether both types of decision should be equally
acceptable.
(3) The argument based on magnitude of accident consequences. Nuclear
accidents could cause 5000 cancer deaths, 3000 cases of genetic damage and other
39

smaller damages. But those numbers are insignificant compared to the eight million
injuries caused by other accidents. Then, risks related to nuclear accidents should be
accepted. But, it is assumed that accidents which could cause less than a certain rate of
increase in the 300,000 cancer deaths per year are insignificant risks and should be
accepted for the sake of having economic benefits. There are several problems with such
assumption. It presupposes that the normal number of deaths is morally acceptable, it
defines what is normal as moral, and consequently it makes the status quo morally
acceptable. Moreover, the assumption does not protect individual rights showing
insensitivity to considerations of equity as well as a disregard for future generations.
Besides, it takes into account for assessment only what is quantifiably good or bad (erring
again in considering the open question).
Accordingly, Shrader Frechette concludes that evaluations of technology ought to
take into account the moral acceptability, rather than merely the magnitude of
technological benefits and risks, being also critical of the value presuppositions
employing what is normal, or economically beneficial, or what the government or other
interest groups consider necessary as a criterion for acceptable decisions regarding
technological evaluation. We are witnessing in her analysis how important is the
philosophical dimension in a truly critical discussion of technology.

6.2. H Jonas believes that the new technological innovations test the limits of the
traditional ethical principles and generate new moral questions requiring for their answers
new moral standards and principles.
There are four areas presupposed by traditional ethics that require to be radically
changed: (1) technical action is assumed to be value neutral, (2) ethics is an
anthropocentric discipline dealing exclusively with human relations, (3) human nature
remains unchanged by techne, and (4) ethics is only concerned with the immediate spatial
and temporal circumstances.
Contemporary technology, on the contrary, calls for just opposite assumptions to
the four former ones. Then, ethics is not value neutral; any artifact has in itself embedded
all sorts of values (political, economic, social and moral values) as it was widely
discussed by Marcuse, Habermas, Winner and Feenberg. Besides, the new vulnerability
40

of nature that gives rise to the new science of ecology alters even our conception of
ourselves as causal agents. We alter nature itself in unpredictable new ways. Then, we are
no longer only responsible for what we do to other people, but also we become now
responsible for what we do to nature. It is a tremendously novel responsibility generating
a new type of humility, due not to the small scale of our power, but just to the opposite,
i.e., to the excess of our power for acting over our power to anticipate, evaluate, and
judge
A desirable moral axiom might be that there should be in the future a world fit for
human habitation and habitable by a humanity deserving the label “human”. This axiom
is related to moral imperatives different from the previous ethics for the present and now.
Now ethics is no longer for a here and now, but for all and for the whole future.
Consequently, Kant’s categorical imperative, for example,” act so that one can will that
the maxim of your action become a universal law” should be replaced by an imperative
responding to the new situation that could looks as follows: “Act so that the effects of
your action be compatible with the permanence of genuine human life” In other words,
act so that the effects of your action be no destructive of the future possibility of such life.
The “we” in the new imperative is not a mere hypothetical “we” as a result of transferring
the individual “I” to an imaginary, causally unrelated “all”. Now, the “we” is a collective
whole with a new spatial and time horizon totally absent from the Kantian imperative.
That expansion of the horizon due to the radically new consequences of
technology requires also of new ways of doing politics. Right now representative
governments are insufficient for satisfying the new demands by employing the usual
political principles and the normal governmental mechanisms. This is because according
to those principles only the present interests can be heard. The future is not represented; it
doesn’t have any political force; as many scholars have stressed, the non-existent has no
lobby and the unborn are powerless.
Human beings are now added to the objects of technology; even their identity and
their mortality are at stake. This is made obvious mainly by the genetic control of future
humans, by the apparent new human capacity of taking natural evolution in their hands.
The most serious question is whether we have the right, and whether we are qualified for
that creative role.
41

All seems to lead to the final and fundamental question: what insight or value
knowledge should represent the future in the present? It is also the most difficult question
to answer. Yet, we have no choice about it but to try. This is basically a philosophical
question, more precisely a question to be addressed by human ethics. An ethics that must
unavoidably be entertained and discussed mainly because novel powers to act require
novel ethical rules and principles.

7. Conclusions
The present study invites to conclude the following notes for a defendable
philosophy of technology:
Anti-finalism: Technology is not an end in itself. It is always a means for
economic, improvement, increase in political freedom, and mayor social well being. This
does not mean that technology is merely a medium. Today, technology is the framework
or general environment politically, socially and culturally laden where we live.
Technology is always entangled with economic, social, political and cultural values. For
example, technology transfer to an area with a different historical tradition generates a
serious cultural alienation.
Multidimensionality: Any serious approach to technology should take into
account not only the technical dimension, but also the axiological, epistemological ones,
as well as what should be considered to proceed rationally.
Complexity: The former notes make very complex any decision in all the stages of
technological conception, design, production and application for which there is no
deciding algorithm, i.e. there is no set of rules that would mechanically allow anyone to
establish what to do.
Externalism: The values to be taken into account in technological assessment
cannot be only the internal to technology (efficiency, quality, simplicity, etc.) but also
“external” to it, in other words, those values which are functional to a better life in the
natural and social environments. The ultimate value should then be the reproduction of
human life in plenitude and in the long run.
Inter-relatedness: On the one hand, between technology and sciences without
glorifying techno-science. On the other hand, there should be a thorough interrelation
42

between humans and nature without conceiving the latter as just a deposit of resources to
be exploited, or even less of technological waste. It should be defended a holism stressing
the interrelatedness and unity of natural ecological systems.
Anti-progressivism, rejecting mainly that clumsy and naive version of
progressivism that identifies planned obsolescence with change, and progress with an
increase of economic well being, without denying the existence of real technological
progress that requires a subtle approach for being adequately characterized.
Anti-reductionism: This means a strong rejection of a reduction of any problem to a
scientific or technological problem and of the reduction of human reason to instrumental
rationality being capable of discussing exclusively the relation of certain means for
attaining given ends when the most important issue is to discuss the ends themselves,
something that instrumental rationality is incapable to accomplish.
Pluralism: Different philosophical approaches to technology (optimists as well as
pessimists, liberals as well as socialists, etc.) should necessarily exist. This stresses the
multidimensionality and complexity of the problems to be addressed which are
impossible to be covered in a unique and comprehensive philosophical perspective.
Futurism: New theories of knowledge and ethics are necessary for the future.
Today ethics should not be oversimplified by limiting it to deal only with the relations
among humans, but it must encompass the different modes in which humans should deal
with nature so that our life could continue improving as well of that of all the natural
species and environments. Human knowledge and even human nature has been altered by
technology. New responsibility and humility are required as well as new ways of doing
politics.
Conflictivism: It is a fact that there are value-conflicts in the operation of
technology. For example, automation is appropriate for maximizing profit, but
inappropriate for reducing unemployment. It is not a matter of just introducing more
technology, but it is desirable to have that appropriate technology generating the least
possible number of value conflicts.
Anti-imperialism: A dependable philosophy of technology should deal with the
invasion of technology to all spheres of life subordinating them to its values, and it
should criticize it by stressing how to avoid that modern technology could transform
43

democracy into technocracy. It urges to make possible that political will could be
transmitted again from the bottom to the top and consequently disallowing that the most
important decisions could be concentrated in the will of a few experts. There should be
room for a truly new politics.
Anti-fatalism: The current situation is not the natural outcome of any necessary
and ineluctable development with an internal and inviolable logic. Technology is neither
condemned to be harmful nor to be the panaceas leading humans to ultimate happiness.
As a consequence, the central question to be addressed by a philosophy looking
into the future should be about the type of life and world that people want for that future.
For answering it, there is again neither an algorithm nor a single and ultimate answer.
Then, the best thing to do is to continue with a critical reflection about technology
with the major participation of everyone.
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