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Philosophy of Technology

by: Tomasz Neugebauer

January 20, 1998

page: 3 of 6

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I.C. Jarvie’s “The Social Character of Technological Problems: Comments on Skolimowski’s Paper”, and “Technology and the Structure of Knowledge” move along a similar path to Skolimowski through focus on the idea of technological progress. Jarvie, however, does not think that efficiency is the underlying aim of all technology and technological progress. Technological progress and its artifacts are determined, for Jarvie, by historically defined problems: different societies have different technological problems and different solutions to those problems.

Jarvie, similarly to Feibleman, identifies technology with practical activity with the goal of a solution to some specific technological problem. The reason why efficiency in itself is not enough to explain technological progress is because too much depends on the context of the specific problem. Jarvie stresses the influence of the “sociological background(13) of technology. The American automobile maker, for example, could make cars that are much more efficient - but they choose not to because of social considerations. Things like worker or consumer satisfaction, aesthetic attraction and social cost all are all a part of technological progress and influence technology in various ways depending on the specific context. In order to understand technology, we cannot ignore these socio-historical aspects and must consider each technological advancement and artifact separately.

Jarvie defends technological knowledge as a legitimate, and in a sense, primary source of truth. Implicit in distinguishing between science and technology for many philosophers ever since antiquity, is the distinction between ‘knowing that’ and ‘knowing how’. Jarvie criticizes this conceptualization of the difference between theoretical and practical knowledge along with the notion that ‘knowing how’ is dependent on ‘knowing that’. Although Jarvie agrees that truth is not the same as effectiveness, and effectiveness seems to be the goal of technology: “knowledge of effectiveness is knowledge of truth too, even if it is on a different logical level. It is, so to speak, true knowledge of what is effective (14) Jarvie argues that technological knowledge is “part and parcel of the whole truth” in that it tells us about what works as it does.

Jarvie, writing from an anthro-sociological perspective, wants to understand technology as a part of our efforts to increase our influence over our environment. He attempts to broaden the scope of what we normally consider to be practical knowledge to include all knowledge. Jarvie concludes that “technology is coterminous with our attempts to come to terms with our world; that is, our culture and our society; and as such, it contains within it both pure tools and all knowledge.(15). He suggests that scientific research, as well as all intellectual endeavors is a result of our attempts to cope with our environment. We learn about our environment in order to change it to suit our needs and wants and ensure our continual survival - all of this is in a sense ‘technological.’

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