In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Philosophy of Technology

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Precursors to the Contemporary Debates
  • Postphenomenology and Pragmatism
  • Determinism and Social Constructivism
  • Analytic Philosophy of Technology
  • Heideggerian Approaches
  • Technology and Science
  • Technology, Engineering, and Design
  • Technology, Sustainability, and the Environment
  • Philosophy, Society, and Politics
  • Emerging Topics

Philosophy Philosophy of Technology
Jan Kyrre Berg Olsen Friis, Søren Riis, Evan Selinger, Stig Andur Pedersen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 May 2010
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0118


Philosophy of technology is a rapidly growing branch of philosophy. Many philosophers now regard it as imperative to systematically inquire into the basis and consequences of innovation. This increasing interest in technology is primarily due to the fact that artifacts, techniques, and technical systems have fundamentally changed the lives of human beings, the ways in which politics and science are carried out, and the pervasive ways that we conceptualize our near and long-term futures. Will technologies create a new Leviathan? Will they be able to stabilize and protect our fragile biology? Or, can they propel us ever closer to salvation? And, how do engineers and scientists really work with innovation? These are some of the wide-ranging questions philosophers of technology are dealing with today. Due to the pervasive impact of new technologies, classic philosophical disciplines such as epistemology, ontology, and ethics are in the process of being redefined. Below are some of the main works in philosophy of technology that clarify what technology is and critique some of its consequences.


Philosophy of technology textbooks are bounded by a pronounced problem that does not dramatically affect many of the other branches of the profession—at least not the ones oriented around perennial problems addressed in canons dating back to historically distant origins. While several books exist that do a superb job of detailing the historical issues that have led to the development of technology being examined from a philosophical perspective (Dusek 2006, Ihde 1993, Mitcham 1994, Harris, et al. 2008), and while many of these books clarify the main conceptual resources needed to analyze technological issues from a philosophical point of view (Achterhuis 2001, Borgmann 1984, Ihde 1990), the rapid pace of innovation simply makes it a near certainty that the concrete examples that authors focus upon, and their claims about crucial trends to be on the look out for, quickly become outdated. Since students tend to be interested in the concrete applications of philosophical theory, and since they often are attracted to the philosophy of technology precisely because they posses a powerful desire to understand how technology affects contemporary modes of social, cultural, and professional existence, it is hard to imagine a successful philosophy of technology class being taught that exclusively revolves around textbooks. Still, it is worth noting that there are some books that focus on more contemporary issues, such as online education (Feenberg 2002). Supplemental readings are a genuine necessity, and the anthology market does a fine job of filling this niche.

  • Achterhuis, Hans. American Philosophy of Technology: The Empirical Turn. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.

    A text written by Dutch philosophers that clarifies what the “empirical turn” entails in the context of recent American philosophy of technology. Contains chapters summarizing the key ideas of the following philosophers: Albert Borgmann, Hubert Dreyfus, Andrew Feenberg, Donna Haraway, Don Ihde, and Langdon Winner.

  • Borgmann, Albert. Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

    By articulating a distinction between “focal practices” and the “device paradigm,” this seminal text articulates Borgmann’s main orientation to assessing whether technology promotes or impedes the good life. It is not written as a textbook but has become widely adopted as one.

  • Dusek, Val. Philosophy of Technology: An Introduction. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2006.

    Provides a wide-ranging survey of the field. Some of the varied topics are: defining technology, technological determinism, technocracy, feminist criticisms of technology, phenomenology, autonomous views of technology, and technological rationality.

  • Feenberg, Andrew. Transforming Technology: A Critical Theory Revisited. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

    This seminal text, which has much to say about online education, is the locus classicus of how to analyze technology from a critical theory perspective. It is not written as a textbook but has become widely adopted as one.

  • Harris, Charles E., Michael S. Pritchard, and Michael J. Rabins. Engineering Ethics: Concepts and Cases, 4th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2008.

    This comprehensive text integrates theory and practice by providing the reader with the following: a careful review of the central, yet contextually relevant concepts from meta- and professional ethics; a judicious choice of case studies that traverses canonical and controversial territory; and a well-structured methodology for critically assessing a range of complex cases.

  • Ihde, Don. Technology and the Lifeworld: From Garden to Earth. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.

    This text is the locus classicus of how to analyze technology from an applied, phenomenological perspective that accounts for historical specificity and cultural diversity. Not officially a textbook, but has become widely adopted as one.

  • Ihde, Don. Philosophy of Technology: An Introduction. New York: Paragon House, 1993.

    A lively, reader-friendly, historically sensitive introduction to many of the core issues in the philosophy of technology. Although cutting edge at the time of its publication, the discussions of new and emerging trends have become dated.

  • Mitcham, Carl. Thinking Through Technology: The Path between Engineering and Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

    Written as a critical introduction to the philosophy of technology, this extremely detailed text provides a historically rich analysis of the leading ideas and movements that allowed the philosophy of technology to emerge as a distinctive field. It includes a twenty-four-page epilogue detailing three ways of “being-with” technology.

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