Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Technology

Posted: February 13th, 2023

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Explain Skomilowski’s idea of technological progress and scientific progress.

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How “progress”  in science and technology can be used as a criterion to illustrate the differences between them.

The Structure of Thinking in Technology Author(s): Henryk Skolimowski Source: Technology and Culture, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Summer, 1966), pp. 371-383 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press on behalf of the Society for the History of Technology Stable URL: Accessed: 29/12/2009 17:45

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The Structure of Thinking in Technology HENRYK SKOLIMOWSKI

Inquiry into the philosophy of technology, due to the infancy of the

subject, must start with some reflections on what technology itself is. There is at present a tendency to identify technology with a demiurge of our times, or perhaps even with a Moloch who will bring doom to mankind, that is, mankind as dreamt of by philosophers, not by organi- zation men. In this setting technology assumes a role similar to that which was ascribed to history in the nineteenth century: the role of the final cause which shapes the destiny of mankind and, more specifically, which aims at the total subjugation of man to the machine or, in other words, at turning the human being into a technological component.

It cannot be denied that reflections on technology in this fashion are

philosophical reflections and that consequently they belong to some system of the philosophy of technology. At this point, however, a vital distinction should be made between a philosophy of technology and a technological philosophy. The former belongs to the realm of epistemo- logical inquiry and attempts to situate technology within the scope of human knowledge; the latter belongs to the realm of sociology, broad-

ly conceived, or social philosophy, and is concerned primarily with the future of human society.

Those who prophesy that our civilization will be devoured by the Moloch of technology are expanding a certain vision of the world, are viewing the world through technological lenses, are attempting to establish a new kind of monism, the technological monism, in which the technological order is shown to be the prime mover and the ultimate justification of other orders, moral, aesthetic, cognitive, social, and polit- ical. The articulation of this technological philosophy is perhaps most

important from a social point of view-as a way of alerting us to the dangers of technological tyranny. However, for the time being this technological monism, or whatever name is given to this sociohistorical prophecy, is but a prophecy. As important as it may be from a human

DR. SKOLIMOWSKI, a philosopher of science and technology, is at the School of Philosophy of the University of Southern California.




372 Henryk Skolimowski

point of view, it cannot serve as a substitute for a philosophy of tech- nology proper, that is, for a philosophy that aims at the investigation of the nature and structure of technology, conceived as a branch of human learning and analyzed for its cognitive content.

I shall not be concerned here with the transformation of society by technology. It seems to me that the “monolithic technical world” is but a graphic and perhaps fearsome expression, but not reality. For the time being the evidence that technology pervades the totality of human rela- tionships is rather slim. In the realm of art, for example, modern tech- nology perpetuates at least some traditional human values. The unprece- dented spread of superb reproductions of the great masters, the easy availability of the finest recordings of music of the last five centuries, the spectacular rise in the production and distribution of paperback books, are all due to the advances of technology, and all serve, at least in part, the cause of highbrow culture, not technological culture.

It may be that a comprehensive philosophy of technology should in- clude the moral implications of technological progress. It may be, as some philosophers insist, that, in spite of the semiautonomous develop- ment of technology, a substantial part of modern technology is moved by non-technological forces, that, for example, motor cars are produced in order to make money, intercontinental missiles in order to kill people. Consequently, a comprehensive treatment of the philosophy of technology must examine the presuppositions lying at the foundation of these technological “events” and must attempt to assess their implica- tions for mankind at large. The weight of these problems cannot be underestimated. However, they are outside the scope of my consider- ations.

In this paper I shall be concerned with what I call the philosophy of technology proper, that is, with the analysis of the epistemological status of technology. Technology is a form of human knowledge. Epistemol- ogy investigates the validity of all human knowledge, its conditions, its nature. Therefore, it is the business of epistemology to investigate the peculiarities of technology and its relation to other forms of human knowledge. In particular, it is of crucial importance to analyze the relationship of technology to science. I shall argue in the course of this paper that: (1) it is erroneous to consider technology as being an applied science, (2) that technology is not science, (3) that the differ- ence between science and technology can be best grasped by examining the idea of scientific progress and the idea of technological progress.

In the following sections I shall attempt to provide a basis for a philosophy of technology rooted in the idea of technological progress. Then I shall proceed to show that in various branches of technology



The Structure of Thinking in Technology

there can be distinguished specific thought patterns which can be seen as explaining technological progress.

* * *

Many methodologists and philosophers of science insist that technol- ogy is in principle a composition of various crafts. Regardless of how sophisticated these crafts may have become, they are still crafts. It is argued that technology is methodologically derivative from other sciences, that it has no independent methodological status, and that what makes it scientific is the application of various other sciences, natural sciences in particular. Thus, the scientific part of technology can be de- composed into particular sciences and accounted for as physics, optics, chemistry, electromagnetics, etc. This view misconstrues the situation because it does not take into account the idea of technological progress.

My thesis is that technological progress is the key to the understand- ing of technology. Without the comprehension of technological prog- ress, there is no comprehension of technology and there is no sound philosophy of technology. Attempts that aim at reducing technology to the applied sciences fail to perceive the specific problem situation in- herent in technology. Although in many instances certain technological advancements can indeed be accounted for in terms of physics or chemistry, in other words, can be seen as based on pure science, it should not be overlooked that the problem was originally not cognitive but technical. With an eye to solving a technical problem, we undertake in- quiries into what is called pure science. Our procedures are extremely selective. Out of infinitely many possible channels of research only very few are chosen. Problems thus are investigated not with an eye to in- creasing knowledge but with an eye to a solution of a technical problem. If it were not for the sake of solving some specific technological prob- lems, many properties of physical bodies never would have been examined, and many theories incorporated afterward into the body of pure science never would have been formulated. Perhaps the most ob- vious examples can be found in the sciences of electronics and of space physics. The development of computors resulted in the replacement of tubes by transistors. In developing transistors many properties and laws governing the behavior of semiconductors have been formulated which might never have been formulated otherwise. To take another example, the problem of metal fatigue and many other phenomena concerning the behavior of solids in space might never have been investigated, and theories resulting from them might never have been established if it were not for the sake of constructing supersonic planes and intercon-



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