The Philosophy of Technology

Inverting A Common Assumption

It is common that technology is defined as "applied science", deriving from Jacob Bigelow's 1829 definition as "principles, processes, and nomenclatures of the more conspicuous arts, particularly those which involve applications of science". Webster's defines technology as "industrial science; the science of systematic knowledge of the industrial arts", Collins offers "the application of practical sciences to industry or commerce", and Oxford has "the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes". For what it's worth, the etymology of the word is from the Hellenic "tekhnelogia", tekhne art, creation, and -logia, explanation.

These contemporary definitions imply that science has priority over technology and precedes technology, and historically the philosophy of technology has been confined as a minor tangent to the philosophy of science, and occasionally touching on the history of technology. However, in the past forty years or so, various philosophers of technology invert this common assumption [1], claiming that it is an idealist view that places epistemology over ontology. Rather than technology being applied science, they have argued that science is applied technology. Once we are beyond our natural capacities of observation, all our empirical information is technologically mediated. Science is a rational abstraction of data gained from technology that predicts empirical results. But the empirical results have a priority, discoveries of fact trump the scientific theory, and the scientific theory must adapt to empirical truth or die (e.g., spontaneous generation, miasma theory of disease, phlogiston theory, luminiferous aether, classical physics, phrenology).

Being Dead and Being Alive

"Being Dead" could seem like a gruesome topic, but there are lots of human activities relating to people who are dead. There is the annual celebration of ANZAC day, which is an established part of Australian life. For tens of thousands of years there have been traditional procedures relating to dead people.

Many people don't like talking about or hearing about dying or becoming dead. I wonder whether anyone who usually comes to the Philosophy Forum was put off by this topic.

There are euphemisms about being dead. The "dear departed" have "passed away" or "gone to their Maker" or are "no longer with us". There are also less delicate expressions whereby the person "bit the dust", has "carked it" or "kicked the bucket".

Most of us have justifiable concerns about death – what our own death might be like, and that of our family and friends. Most people take some kind of care to avoid doing anything that could have some risk of death. Some people carelessly or knowingly do things that risk premature death, such as smoking, or texting while driving a motor vehicle. Some people, sometimes called "daredevils", get a thrill from doing things that have a risk of death. They enjoy "cheating death". These various kinds of action display something of what people think about being dead, and about being alive.

There are many things that concern us about being alive, such as sickness and comfort and money and social status and boredom. Sometimes we look forward to being dead as a welcome relief from the pain and suffering of being alive.

There is also a fascination with death. Reports of death are eagerly discussed, irrespective of whether the dead are known or unknown. Murder mysteries are the topic of many novels, television series and films.

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jnr

1. Introduction

In the early evening of April 4, 1968, a shot rang out in Memphis sky that would be heard around the world [1]. The shot was an assassination of a Reverend who had travelled to the city in support of sanitation public works employees, who had been on strike over wages and conditions. The Reverend in question was, of course, Martin Luther King Jnr (often referred to as MLK), a Baptist minister and political activist for civil rights, for peace, and for economic justice. Described as "the conscience of his generation" by President Jimmy Carter [2], the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was passed just after his assassination. In his lifetime King was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, and was a post-humous recipient of the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977. In 1983 Martin Luther King Jr. Day was signed into U.S. law as am American federal holiday, which was finally recognised by all U.S. states in 2000.

Fifty years has passed since MLK's death, and almost ninety since his birth. It is opportune to remember this transformative leader, their works, their beliefs, and their hopes and to evaluate them. It is indeed true that people do make history, but they certainly do not choose the conditions [3]. People are not born leaders, but they may indeed develop the traits that provide effective leadership - responsibility, perseverance, innovation, confidence - and that they take account of the contingencies of the day developing a charisma which challenges existing authority and inspires followers, making their lives sublime. For most importantly, a leader must have followers; not everyone wants to be a leader, and behind every leader are their followers and the organisational infrastructure that delegates leadership to them. The footprints in the sands of time [4] that of a great leader are not theirs alone.

It is with this in mind that we can review the life of Rev. Martin Luther King Jnr, and the organisations that he was part of. We can then look at the role that the Christian religion played in his life, his ideas, and actions. As a practical person we can also review his political views to the dominant ideologies of the day, and especially the strategy of non-violent resistance and the inspiration by Mahatma Gandhi. Finally, before engaging in an evaluation of of MLK as a whole, a look at one of his challenging ideas in economics, an issue which of course the mainstream political establishment is yet to address, as it raises some various serious issues towards capitalist property rights. Whilst capitalism may drag its feet on issues of political equality, it can eventually accept it. It has far greater trouble accepting those ideas which are contrary to its own foundational principles. It is after all, a religion based on moral blame of their poor, rather than moral repentance by the rich [5].

Curiosity, Innovation, Society - and Electrical Telecommunication

Human curiosity, and innovation, and society, or, if you like, science, and technology, and culture, each has its own independent ethos. But they continually affect each other. This interaction can be seen in the emergence and development of many kinds of technologies, each of which has followed its own particular course and has had its own particular outcomes.

I will now discuss one particular case, electrical telecommunication, which transformed societies, by delivering information more quickly and more copiously.

Before the existence of electrical telecommunication, information was sent by a range of technologies, such as shouting or other sounds, beacons, and the transport of written information by human runners, carrier pigeons, etc.

Electrical telecommunication could not even have been thought about, until there was an awareness of the concept of electricity. It took a lot of human curiosity and innovation to bring this into being, and a lot more to make it really effective.

We now think of electricity being either static, that is, not moving, or current, which is continuously moving.

Static electricity is the condition when something has an electric charge, that is, when it contains either an excess of electrons or a shortage of electrons. This imbalance creates a force, measured in volts, that tries to restore the balance.

Static electricity had been observed for thousands of years, in the form of lightning, and fish that could give electric shocks when touched, and amber (the same amber sometimes used in jewellery) which, when rubbed by some other materials would attract small objects, similar to the attraction of a magnet. These occurrences were not thought to be connected in any way.

Capitalism and Socialism

What is Capitalism?

Well, we’re all familiar with Capitalism, as it is what stacks the shelves in the supermarket; whereas you’d queue all day for half-a-loaf of bread in the old Soviet Union.

Of course, your local supermarket has at least two brands of everything- that’s the virtue of competition –unless the supermarket is striving for a monopoly in the product, by introducing its “own brand”.

And regulation is needed, to ensure the product meets a certain standard of quality, with ingredients displayed on the packet. Also, at not too low a price, lest the supplier goes broke.
So, it is clear that unfettered Market Forces is not ideal.

With Fall of the Berlin Wall, and collapse of the Soviet Union, it was assumed that Utopia had arrived – or that was implied. All that is needed now is fine tuning. (How’s the All Ords today?)
However, now, with the political advent of Bernie Sanders in USA, Jeremy Corbyn in UK, and Donald J Trump as US President, a critique of capitalism is evident – all is not well. We have popularism and protectionism. Likewise, Brexit and problems with the European Union and its PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain).

After all, communism tried to rectify the inherent defects of capitalism, and the demise of communism leaves capitalism with the same defects it always had – and which are resurfacing.

But, enough of this, let us get back to basics.

Where does morality come from?

Do moral judgments express beliefs? Those who claim it does not (non-cognitivists) can be differentiated by emotivism and norm expressivism. Those who they do include error theory (all moral beliefs are wrong), subjectivism (individual, cultural, divine command, and ideal observer), and realism (naturalism, and non-naturalism).

The following presentation to The Philosophy Forum (June 4, 2017) covers these issues.

The Concept of Beauty


As a concept, beauty has been extolled, revered, dismissed and argued about throughout history. It has been regarded as some fundamental property with connotations of perfection, or equated with truth. It has been declared, in an adage, to be merely “skin deep” and to be “in the eye of the beholder”. Today’s discussion is an attempt to develop a concept of beauty that will be coherent and defensible. I will start with definitions, and then discuss beauty from a range of viewpoints.

A Tentative Definition

Dictionaries refer to beauty as giving aesthetic pleasure or pleasure of the senses. But since aesthetic pleasure is defined as pleasure derived from the appreciation of beauty, this doesn’t help. “Pleasure of the senses” might imply something like the pleasure of being stroked or massaged, but this seems inadequate as an example of beauty. Dictionaries also refer to beauty as being perfection of form. But what are the criteria for perfect on? Something like a balanced combination of dissimilar elements, perhaps? But many things we regard as beautiful are neither perfect nor complex. The French novelist Stendhal described beauty as “the promise of happiness”, commenting that “there are as many styles of beauty as there are types of happiness”. But beauty seems to be a presence not just a promise, and happiness is not entirely the same as pleasure.

Here are two tentative definitions that I have concocted:

Beauty is the quality by which something gives pleasure to someone for reasons other than mental stimulation, personal gain or the satisfaction of innate drives. The pleasure may be aroused by a thing or an artistic representation or an action or an idea.
Beauty is the quality by which something gives pleasure to someone directly through the intellect and independent of any ulterior considerations.

The Nature of Political Conservatism

The nature of political conservatism and it's demographic the phenomena of the rise of the right-wing

The context for this essay is obviously the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency; and more widely the swing to the 'right' occuring across much of Europe. Also the shock, confusion and atmosphere of incomprehension, that seems to have arisen in consequence. As usual mine seems to be a minority theory, certainly it is presented for consideration in that spirit, whatever history may finally make of it.

The Philosophy of Quantum Physics

Quantum materiae materietur marmota monax si marmota monax materiam possit materiari?

1.0 Definition, Scope, and History

1.1 Quantum physics is a branch of physics which is the fundamental theory of nature at small scales and low energies of atoms and subatomic particles. An atom is defined as the smallest unit of matter that has the properties of a chemical unit. They consist of a nucleus of protons and neutrons (making up around 99.94% of the mass) and one or more electrons (hydrogen ion excepted). Protons, neutrons, and electrons are fermions, contrasted with bosons. Fermions obey the Pauli exclusion principle and includes all quarks and leptons (electrons, muons, tau, and neutrinos). Bosons include photons, gluons, guage bosons, and the Higgs boson.
1.2 Quarks are elementary subatomic particles for protons and neutrons, both of which have an internal structure. Electrons are elementary particles in their own right with no internal structure. There are six types of quarks, known as flavors: up, down, strange, charm, top, and bottom. Up and down quarks, found in protons and neutrons, have the lowest masses of all quarks. The heavier quarks rapidly change into up and down quarks through a process of particle decay. Gluons "glue" quarks together.
1.3 Quantum mechanics gradually arose from the wave nature of light began in the 17th and 18th centuries, when several scientists proposed a wave theory of light; in 1838, Michael Faraday discovered cathode rays, and in 1859 the statement of the black-body (thermal) radiation problem by Gustav Kirchhoff. Max Planck's provided a solution in 1900 to the black-body radiation problem, Albert Einstein in 1905 offered a quantum-based theory to explain the photoelectric effect, and Niels Bohr's a new model of the atom included quantized electron orbits in 1913.

Ontology and Violence: What is violence ?

More precisely a phenomenological ontological 'theory of violence


Just to put these ideas in context; for anyone who has not come across this speaker’s approach to ‘philosophy’. The contention is, that language is not just a subject matter of philosophy; (whatever that may turn out to mean), but especially in the meaning of the words of a particular philosophical theory ; is a necessary prerequisite to that philosophical theory.


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