Abstractly

One might think that working on a project for years would have made my ideas and arguments clearer. Strangely, though, the closer I get to defending this dissertation–ostensibly my only real idea in the last few years–the further away I get from understanding exactly what I am arguing. That is an exaggeration, but I feel like it sometimes. Now is one of those times.

After writing over 59,000 words on a topic, pulling together a 350 word abstract for an academic audience ought to be simple. What was I on about for nearly 60k words if I cannot summarize that succinctly? I should have an answer to the most obvious question of all: what is your argument? I do, of course, have an answer. It just no longer seems like a very good one. In fact, the more I examine and critique it, the poorer it seems.

So interlocutor, I offer a sacrifice. In exchange, I hope for illumination (and yes, I realize that the sacrifice I am making likely is not worth the cost of illumination. be generous with me). I offer you an abstract (in more than 350 words); I’ll be satisfied if you give me back a bologna sandwich.

 

Philosophy of technology (PoT) analyzes the nature of technology, its significance and consequences, and its mediation of human experiences of the world. Classical and contemporary PoT propose hard divisions between humans and technologies where, unquestionably, the human matters most in human-technology relations. Conversely, what I label “un-disciplined” philosophy of technology (UPoT) touts the seamlessness of human-technology connections, blurring divisions between humans and technologies. Thus, UPoT denies disciplined philosophy’s first critical maneuver: define and demarcate.

 

UPoT enables conversations and debate regarding the ontological and moral consequences of imagining humans and technologies as hybrid, co-dependent things. UPoT builds upon environmental and animal rights movements, and postphenomenology, to emphasize pluralist accounts that emphasize the dynamism of human-technology relations. UPoT argues we should imagine technologies as extensions/parts of living things: they do the shaping and are shaped in turn. I argue that such thinking reinforces the habit, already proposed by contemporary PoT, that emerging human-technology relations demand active interpretation and engagement because the relationships constantly change. Thus, we need to imagine a moral theory that best matches the hybrid/connected condition of the present century. Increasing automation in agriculture and surgery, for instance, exemplify technologies mediating human experiences of food and health, thus affecting how we understand and define these categories.

 

UPoT explores human-technology enmeshing and embraces potentially non-anthropocentric values and ethics. If we imagine technologies as extensions/parts of living things, do some deserve moral patient (even moral agent) status? Disciplined PoT responds axiomatically: technologies are not alive so have no moral status. This unnecessarily limits the purview of philosophical reflection on human-technology relations, however. Instead, our hybridity should compel us to revisit ontology and moral theory. To serve inhabitants of an increasingly automated world, philosophy of technology should be un-disciplined.

 

I argue that axiomatically privileging humans over any “other,” whether nonhuman animals/life, the environment, or technology, masks our responsibility and co-dependence, and promotes an instrumental view of technologies that leads us away from discussing the technologies as producers, conveyors and sites of value-formation.

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