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Philosophy of Technology

by: Tomasz Neugebauer

January 20, 1998

page: 5 of 6

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The next question, therefore, concerns the ethical nature of technology. Let me examine the influence of technology on society. I am in agreement with Mario Bunge in his thesis that the technologist ought to be morally responsible for the changes that he or she causes in the world. In his article, “Towards a Technoethics” Bunge argues that the technologists of the world (including the managers and politicians) are most responsible for the shape that it is in; they are responsible to mankind, not just their employers.

Mario Bunge points out the immense influence that the scientists, technologists, engineers and managers have on our society: “You cannot manipulate the world as if it were a chunk of clay and at the same time disclaim all responsibility for what you do or refuse to do, particularly since your skills are needed to repair whatever damages you may have done or at least to forestall future such damages.(23). Especially the technologist is shown by Bunge to be a moral agent that is responsible to the world. The engineer faces moral decisions when he is designing a project because there are many expectations of him: management wants an efficient plan, the workers want good conditions, neighbors want clean environment, colleagues want advanced designs, and consumers expect useful and reasonably priced products. The kind of design that is made by the engineer or technologist depends on the way in which he values these expectations.

Bunge’s distinction between pure science and technology enable him to draw a clear line between what is ethically neutral and what is not. For Bunge, “all pure science is good or at worst worthless since by definition it is concerned only with the improvement of our models of the world and knowledge is a good in itself. On the other hand, technology is concerned with human action upon things and men. That is, technology gives power over things and men - and not all power is good to everyone(24). I agree with Bunge in that there is some technology that is inherently evil; I am not convinced by the likes of John von Neumann who has written that “technology - like science - is neutral all through, providing only means of control applicable to any purpose, indifferent to all (25)

Bunge offers us some powerful examples of technology that is inherently evil: thanatology or the technology of killing, design of weaponry, extermination camps and so on. According to Bunge, some technologies are inherently evil because all of their useful effects are outweighed by the negative aspects (such as the destruction of human lives, aggression, violence and callousness and the mutilation of the environment). I agree. I believe that there is at least one other way in which some technology can be seen as inherently evil - and this stems from an analysis of the topic by Emmanuel G. Mesthene.

Mesthene rightly argues that new technology and technological progress and invention creates new physical possibilities that did not exist before (e.g.: the wheel, the rocket.) Mesthene generally defends technology in “Technology and Wisdom(26) against irrational critiques which condemn the whole of it as evil. He stresses that technology has two faces: on the one hand it is our liberator from the harsh nature of our environment while at the same time its use can lead to changes in behavior, values, and culture and the emergence of new problems. As far as some technology being inherently evil, however, what new possibilities does a machine of human torture, the atomic bomb, or an engineered human disease promise us? All of the new possibilities that are given to us by such inventions are evil (e.g., human pain and suffering) and in this way, some technological artifacts are thus inherently evil.

Mesthene calls for wisdom in deciding how to use technology and Bunge goes even further to stress that we need wisdom in the creation of technology. Bunge challenges the technologist to look ahead and create technology that will serve human beings in positive ways instead of harming them. Specifically, it is the long term effects of technology that need to be predicted with greater accuracy and this ought to be done with the help of applied scientists of all disciplines.

In summary, I have examined some fundamental problems in the philosophy of technology. I began with a definition of technology, technological and scientific knowledge, and the difference between science and technology. In my opinion, Mario Bunge offers us the most comprehensive view of technology. Skolimowski and Jarvie offer valuable thoughts as well: they have certainly opened my mind to the enormous scope of technology and ways to understand it.

Science and technology are indeed intimately related, since it seems impossible to talk about and explain one without mentioning the other. Technology fuels science, and vice versa. It is irrational to claim that all technology is evil. Instead, I agree with Mesthene that technological innovation is often simultaneously a solution to a problem posed by the environment while at the same time it creates new problems. New technology offers us new choices, and we need wisdom in order to pick the right options. We need not rebel against all technology. Instead, I call for a more responsible use of technology and more importantly: a more responsible creation of technology by the engineer who cannot hide from his moral responsibility to the public behind his employer.

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