COOL CLASSES: “Philosophy of Technology”

This philosophy course addresses questions such as,“What is technology?” “Do we control technological innovation or does technology in some sense control us?” and “Does our entanglement in a technological world hinder or help us in communicating with one another?”

Class name: “Philosophy of Technology”

Taught by: Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy Benjamin Berger


Here’s what Berger has to say about his course:

Technology permeates every aspect of our lives. Not only are international relations, personal communication, leisure, entertainment, and transportation facilitated by technological devices, but the sheer maintenance of our lives as animals depends upon technological innovations in medical science and food production. Indeed, the human species has relied upon one form of technology or another throughout its existence. Given the importance of technology, one might imagine that the great thinkers from the history of philosophy would have had a great deal to say about this phenomenon; but, oddly, this is not the case. In fact, technology only came to be understood as an important philosophical topic in the 19th and 20th centuries, when rapid changes in technological development shocked philosophers into finally considering the effects of technology upon labor, the environment, politics, and scientific knowledge.

In this course, students discuss topics in the ethics, politics, and metaphysics of technology by conducting close readings of some of the most important philosophers in this field: Karl Marx, Hannah Arendt, Hans Jonas, Arnold Gehlen, Martin Heidegger, and Ernst Bloch. By putting these philosophers into conversation with one another, students in this course have the opportunity to reflect upon a number of important issues, including the relationship between technology and nature, the role of technology in the history of scientific discovery, the process of technological innovation, the connection between technology and art, the use of technology in political oppression, and the emancipatory potential of technology.

This is my first time teaching this course, and I am thrilled to be thinking about the philosophy of technology with students at Haverford. Since the philosophers we are reading were not aware of many of the technological objects that populate our world in the 21st century, we have an opportunity to engage with the history of thought in a unique manner, drawing upon and criticizing 19th- and 20th-century philosophy in order to better understand our contemporary technological situation. I therefore wanted to teach this course in order to help students see that, while the history of philosophy can shed light upon the present, we can also think critically about the contemporary world in order to illuminate the insights and failures of the history of thought.

One of the topics that has been particularly exciting for me to explore with students is the connection between human nature and the technological drive. I am currently researching the popular idea that, in comparison to other animals, the human is lacking in biological capacities. According to this “Promethean” anthropology, the invention of tools and machines supplements a physiological lack and allows human beings to survive in an environment for which they are naturally unsuited. It is my view that this gets something profoundly wrong about humanity and the nature of technology. One of the more radical ideas that students explore in this course, therefore, is an idea that is underrepresented in the history of philosophy: the idea that the technological impulse is not a uniquely human power, but a power of nature that is only intensified in humanity.




See what other courses the Department of Philosophy is offering this semester.

Cool Classes is a recurring series on the Haverblog that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford College experience.