Technology: Autonomous Or Neutral

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International Studies In The Philosophy Of Science


Two conflicting visions of technology nevertheless agree that scientists and engineers bear little moral responsibility for their inventions. According to one vision, technology is largely autonomous,” that is, self‐determinative operating according to its own blind laws independently of human will. According to the other, technology is fully controllable, but control rests solely with ‘end‐users’ as technology is, in itself, value‐neutral. After a brief characterization of the domain of technology, each vision of technology is criticized in turn. Despite the many penetrating insights offered by the best exemplar of the first approach— Jacques Ellul—it is shown that his approach rests on unacceptable metaphysical and epis‐temological assumptions: because it seemingly explains so much, it explains nothing; and it anthropomorphizes technology. Champions of the value neutrality thesis fail to sustain their argument because they overlook the ways in which various technologies embody the values of particular persons, institutions, or classes. Undermining these two prominent visions of technology opens the way for afresh consideration of the moral responsibilities of the creators and users of technology.

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