Philosophy of technology notes: 3

Consider technology as a nexus of problems of solutions. I want to suggest that philosophy of technology then would be more concerned with the form of the solution rather than the content or the actual materials used; how rather than what.

In their everyday, vulgar ontology, people interact with the world in a fairly standard manner. We rely upon rules, prejudices, established procedures. This is the realm of “this is the way it’s done”. (Aside: indeed, Gadamer developed an entire philosophy predicated on just this fundamental mode of interacting the world, via his hermeneutical analysis of what is – not wholly felicitously – translated from German as prejudice, the praejudicium or “prior judgement” of medieval law.) That is to say, on a daily basis, we encounter an entire constellation of already existent solutions that long precede us. 

On the whole, most of our technological activity takes place within this constellation (perhaps I should retire this Adornian term in favour of the more precise “knowledge ecology”), and consists of the finessing, recalibration, and recombination of these solutions. When encountering a problem, we first turn to our storehouse of extant solutions. This is the rhetoric of technology, a taxonomy of solutions. We consider the viability of the application to this particular difficulty. If viable, we next need to look to how our entire knowledge ecology of our technological world can be made to incorporate this solution. We look to the benefits and the drawbacks, such as what X will need to be offset to counterbalance Y. Some elements will be emphasized ahead of others, some considerations will have to take a back set for this particular solution to be applied.

The outline I have given here would seem to imply then, that the following route must be traversed before we get to a philosophy of technology: we first pass through a (i) rhetoric of technology, in the sense of the taxonomy of existing solutions which we might apply; then a (ii) poetics of techology, in the sense of poiesis as “making” of a new solution if the existing ones are insufficient,;before then passing to a (iii) sociology and politics of technology (i.e., the “viability” mentioned above). This trajectory is not the way I would conceive the matter, however, as it implicates philosophy within the nexus of technology as it exists in the world. It suggests that philosophy is subject to the engineering logic of problem → solution.

I am not proposing a hardened transcendence (were such a contradiction in terms possible) of philosophy, whereby it stands at a remove in a splendid isolation of cognition. This is but a bracketing, a form of epoché, which is the logic of philosophical analysis, no matter how empirical or worldly. Philosophical analysis must stand apart from the technological process I have outlined above if it is to see it in its essentials, and this application of philosophy to technology has one interesting implication, so far as I can see.

The points made above are the result of reflection and analysis. Of course, analysis is an element of technological route or process. It is found in rhetoric, poetics, and socio-politics of technology, but it is but an element  of these. For philosophy, it is the whole. Technology is the application of solutions. Philosophy of technology must then be the analysis of applications and solutions. It might be countered that analysis is applied, but I think this suggestion is a product of imprecision, for philosophical analysis to my mind is a process we inhabit and work through, rather than a method we apply (I use the word “method” with a deliberate doff of the cap to Gadamer).

This emphasis on analysis is what leads us to an important implication for philosophy of technology as a whole. It must have substrate independence at its heart, for this independence allows us to analyse solutions in the abstract, apart from material and socio-political concerns. This independence is what enables us to consider algorithms, levers, laws, proteins, circuits, and force-fields in the same breath. It unites technique and technology in the one analysis, teeing us up for the development of a comprehensive philosophy of this realm.

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