Technology is one of the major economic forces that affect our lives. However, it is also important as a cultural force, with many engineers aiming to change the world. Its relationship to other phenomena is often ignored by humanities philosophers of technology, who tend to treat technology as a ‘black box’ and take it for granted.
Technology is a product of the design process. In this process, social, psychological, and technological factors are rearranged to achieve a goal. For instance, if a customer wishes to buy a car, the first step in the design process is to find out what the customer wants. The next step is to find out how to satisfy the customer’s desires.
Many authors have attempted to define technology as a normative force. They have argued that it is inherently normative, and that it can embody specific forms of power. A number of philosophers have argued for a democratization of technological development, and that ordinary people can play a role in shaping technologies. Some of these approaches have been inspired by pragmatism, and some by discourse ethics.
In recent years, the philosophical study of technology has focused on the relationship between technology and other phenomena. One important topic is how technology is derived, and how it fits into the theory of knowledge. Another is the relationship between technology and action.
Philosophical reflection on technology has a long and storied history. Though it is difficult to establish a clear beginning, it is clear that the origins of the subject date back to ancient Greece. There are four major themes that are present in the ancient world, and that have continued to have important impact in modern philosophical discussions of technology.
An early theme is the thesis that technology learns from nature. As a practice, technology is concerned with the creation of artifacts and the services they offer. Artifacts are man-made objects that have a specific purpose. These artifacts exclude works of art, and are usually designed to serve a certain function.
During the Middle Ages, technological progress was impressive. Similarly, in the Renaissance, philosophers began to appreciate the creative efforts of humans. Throughout the late nineteenth century, however, critical attitude predominated in philosophical discussion of technology. Often, representatives of this attitude were schooled in the humanities and did not have any first-hand experience in engineering.
Philosophy of technology was largely confined to the social sciences during the early twentieth century. However, this did not prevent a range of philosophical approaches from being developed. Political approaches conceived of technology as a phenomenon ruled by institutional power relations. Karl Marx believed that technological innovation was a necessary ingredient for communism and socialism.
Moreover, it was during this period that the concept of tacit knowledge was first articulated. In a similar fashion, the term “operational principle” was first coined. While this concept is not clearly defined, it is central to the design phase of technology.
Despite their differences, however, science and technology are closely related. Science involves a systematic investigation of phenomena and the collection of data to explain them. Technology is an attempt to change the world by changing the processes involved in discovery.