Philosophy of Engineering and Artifact
in the Digital Era


an exploratory workshop

2009 February 6-8
“Stefan cel Mare” University of Suceava

Ionut Isac

 

‘THE’ ONTOLOGY OF TECHNOLOGY – ASSUMPTIONS AND MEANINGS

To speak about the ontology of technology without quotation marks might sound far-fetched. However, what made us to mention it as ‘the’ is a bi-millennial philosophical tradition within the European philosophy, inside which ontology is known as the ‘science of Being’. Nowadays, when ontology is no more likely to be thought in a traditional manner, a project of the ontology (be it the ontology of technology) is questionable.
Thus, more adequate would be to put the subject as ‘an’ ontology of technology. This is one of the various assumptions and meanings we are trying to emphasize in our approach, being aware that the expression ‘an ontological model’ fits better to the purpose. But even inside the discussions about ‘an’ ontology of technology there are at least two opposite points of view, i.e. the idea that ontology is somehow in opposition to history vs. the idea that ontology must not be seen as being ‘out of history’ or a priori in any sense (Lawson 2008). From the second point of view, we appreciate that the ontological accounts can be better sustained. Furthermore, a position worth to be noted while conceiving the ontology of technology is the anti-essentialist one. It directs the very question of defining technology, avoiding the appeal to classical definitions, presuming that the reader is familiar with a variety of technologies (Fellows, 1995).
Because any ontology of technology aims to its scope (i.e. the technical object), there are different ways to conceive this relationship. As it has been remarked, only a decade ago philosophy of technology became more analytical (in the context of an ‘empirical turn’) about specific and concrete technological developments. Until that time, this philosophical branch was rather preoccupied with much broader subject, such as the influence of technology on society and culture (de Vries, 2008). Thus, reflection upon technology has underwent a gradual ‘transition’ from general interpretations concerning the history and philosophy of science/ technology to an analytical endeavor able to bring closer to us the parameters of the technical artifacts.
The scope of our approach is to discuss some of the meanings and assumptions associated to the concept of ‘ontology of technology’, belonging to the core of contemporary debates in the field. At the end, we wish to conclude in the favor of a moderated-relativistic, historicist and non-essentialist view upon the subject-matter.

 

Fellows, R. 1995. Philosophy and Technology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lawson, C. 2008. “An Ontology of Technology: Artefacts, Relations and Functions.”
 Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology.12(1).
http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/SPT/v12n1/lawson.html, accessed 01.05.2008.

Vries, M.J. de. 2008. “Gilbert Simondom and the Dual Nature of Technical Artifacts.” Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology. 12 (1). 
http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/SPT/v12n1/devries.html, accessed 01.10.2008.

 

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