The Philosophical Side Of Technology And Culture Philosophy Essay

In this article the question about the neutrality of technology is examined. This concept means that a technological device is merely a way to reach ends. Inside the philosophy of technology, there are different theories concerning this notion.

Feenberg sustains that technology embodies certain beliefs. His theory is derived from Substantivists philosophers such as Heidegger and Ellul, although from another perspective. The interest is directed at the technology design process, which is sustained that who has the usage of it has the ability of control the culture. A global usage of the look process could increase the democratization.

In compare, Determinism theory argues that technology is neutral. This position derives from the 17th century ideas of efficiency and progress. The technology is only a means to provide ends, as the professional trend provided goods for the humanity. The look process in these conditions is clinical and objective to be able to get the most logical solution.

The question of neutrality may be translated from an architectural design perspective, particularly nowadays a peculiar technology, the computer, is pervading the world. Is it just a tool or should it bring the worth embodied in it? Using this example the question appears to be clearer. Actually, assessing the deterministic view of design, which has important affinities with the architectural rationalism, analogies may emerge with this modern day immersion in the informatics. Was technology natural on the 'mechanic world' through the rationalism? Assuming that it was value laden, what sort of value is embodied in it? Could it be appropriate neutralizing that value? Feenberg's Critical Theory of Technology may suggest how to address these questions with regards to the technology design problem. Contextualization and involvement are two relevant key points, that have already appeared in several design technology and may give an important contribution to the modern-day architectural design practice.

Feenberg's Critical Theory of Technology, Technology is not neutral.

From the Critical Theory of Technology, technology is thought as not neutral. Which means that a specific device implicitly embodies ends. This aspect of technology may expose implication of the use of technology as Processing in Architecture.

Feenberg published the Critical Theory of Technology in 1991. The positioning of the theory was built around a combo of technology issues and Community Constructivism theory. Out of this perspective, technology is seen as neither neutral nor autonomous. Additionally, it has politics implications in terms of accessibility, power, control and communication (Feenberg, 1999:1). Considering technology as value-laden means that every basic device implicitly consists of its morals. For example, a weapon itself, since it is generally created for eliminating people, includes this step in its form. The end is embodied in the means. This feature of Feenberg's theory derives from Left Dystopianism and Substantivism ideas developed since 1960s. However, taking into consideration the autonomous characteristic of technology, you'll be able to find a relevant difference between Substantivism and Left Dystopianism. Actually, the first theory sustains that technology dominate us and improvement can only aggravate the real human condition. This aspect of view, defined as 'Essentialist' (Feenberg, 1999:3), is refused by Left Dystopianism and Feenberg's Theory. Actually, they share the theory that technology dominates society, although population can control technology. Furthermore, a correspondence is present between this view and a certain common-sense, which qualifies technology as a means to fulfill any need. However, the difference is that they consider as technology over than the sole device also all the machine which includes means and ends.

Feenberg's (2005: 47) Critical Theory of Technology is articulated in various points. To begin with, it explains the relationship between technology and finitude. Humans action in a system in which they are included. Considering the feedback of technological development, this may be defined as a two area phenomenon between an operator and an object. If this last is a human being, it becomes an exercise of ability. A society sorted out around technology means that technical electric power is its concept. As a result this causes unfair treatment between who designs technology and who's excluded from it, who suffers its unwanted effects. A second point relates to the look process, which should be composed by an initial part called decontextualization in which the condition is specifically and functionally researched and a further part for the contextual honest and aesthetical integration. In the 3rd point, not only efficiency and rationality are evocated, but also the necessity for a plurality of interest involved in the design process. In order to obtain this, the look should be coherent with technical codes compiled by sociologists and reinforced by people pursuits. In the last point, the Marx's problem of 'Impersonal Domination' is defined and altered in 'Operational Autonomy'. This is about the freedom of the owner to make its own interests without caring of the views of the subordinate celebrities and the city. It is necessary to oppose to this by revealing the loop to the complex stars and actuating more efficient recontextualizing strategies.

Considering Feenberg's theory from an architectural design point of view, which is not plausibly regarded as a mere specialized act, it appears not to contribute to its improvement. In fact, this process, in almost all of the cases, begins from contextual parameters and embodies in the built environment values which are based on the architects subjective interpretation. However, it is even subject to technological implications. Out of this perspective, Feenberg's theory shows its important contribute, particularly considering the contemporary pervasion of the processing in the architectural design field. Supposing computer-aided design as not natural means, the implication is the fact it brings its value onto it and, as a result, in the built environment.

Determinism, Technology is neutral.

Since technology was reviewed in Diderot's Encyclopedie, it has been cared for as a neutral means (Feenberg, 1999:1). In those days, the concentrate on the progress for mankind made the need of any philosophical reason less important. Later, on the 19th hundred years, Marx and Darwin's theories legitimated this progressist view, that was called 'Technological Determinism'. The idea is that technological progress is an progression for the humans. Moreover, this philosophical idea affected the structures from that period with the advancement of rationalism.

Bimber (1990: 333) described three characteristics of the scientific determinism. The first is called 'Norm-Based Accounts' and comes from J. Habermas's meaning. In his interpretation, technology may be looked at autonomous and deterministic when its progress is not based on honest norms and the aim of efficiency substitutes the debates about alternatives. The second characteristic is defined 'Logical Sequence Account', predicated on G. A. Cohen's view; technology development causes ethnical changes and the world has to adapt to it. This aspect is also criticized by Feenberg (1999:77), who called it as 'Determination by the bottom part'. Furthermore, R. Miller added that the change is valid separately from the background culture. Furthermore, R. Heilbroner argues that process is also historically predetermined. The third characteristic is defined as 'Unintended Implications Accounts'. The technology results are impossible to be expected and controlled.

Feenberg's (1999: 2) research of the technical determinism agrees on these details. In fact, this viewpoint considers technology as neutral and autonomous. From the political point of view, it is possible to locate a relevant implication: is politic a branch of technology or is technology political? Feenberg identifies the first hypothesis as 'Technocracy': general population debate is substituted by technical experience. In contrast, in regards to the second perspective, which is area of the Substantivism philosophy, technology is more than a natural tool, as it embodies certain prices. However, they share a point, both ideas declare that it is impossible to regulate the progress. In arrangement with this, Ellul stated that "Technique has become autonomous" (1964: 6). In addition, on Feenberg's research, technological determinism has affinities with a good sense which is part of the instrumentalist theory. For both ideas, technology is natural; the means and ends are separated. In constrast, Instrumentalists declare that humans have a decision when using technology.

Technology thought as neutral has different implications in the architectural design. Historically, the rationalism was a good example of such an procedure of technology in architecture. In that period, efficiency and operation were the basis of the aesthetic sense for the avant-garde designers. Technology was considered as the means to reach the practical perfection. Nowadays, considering the modern-day computer support to the architectural design from a deterministic perspective, we ought to presume that its gain is only influenced by efficiency and rationality, conserving time and reducing labour. In fact, most tools are developed to make sure they are as productive as you can, in order to model each facet of a building. Out of this perspective, it is seen as a musical instrument which does not impact our design. It is just a saw designed for an even increasing and uncontrollable requirement of rational efficiency. Is it only this what technology earns contemporary structures?

Feenberg's theory and Determinism put on architectural design

In order to consider the neutrality of technology, Determinism and Critical Theory of Technology are looked at in two opposing sides. The controversy may be translated in the architectural design sphere considering the use of computer-aided design. Could it be a neutral tool essential for logical efficiency or has it an embodied value? The concept of neutrality analyzed by Feenberg might signify a plausible solution. "Neutrality generally refers to the indifference of a particular means to the number of possible ends it can serve" (2005: 54). Considering technology indifferent, though, it is equivalent to avoid the discussion in regards to a possible controversy. Actually, contemporary progress isn't just limited by our knowledge, but also by the power system which prejudice this knowledge and its own applications. It favours specific ends and obstructs others (Feenberg, 2005: 54).

Aufbau/Bauhaus: Logical Positivism and Architectural Modernism

An evidence of the fact that technology applied in architectural design has implications far from natural is the introduction of rationalist structures. That problem was similar from what is going on today with the computing pervading architecture. In those days, the new solutions were related with construction and urban planning and perceived as neutral means and autonomous, just as the scientific determinism. The make an effort was to drive architecture through efficiency, rationalization and functionality.

Galison (1990: 709) matched up the early background of one of the main generators of the rationalist architecture, the Bauhaus, and some philosopher from the logical positivism, who participated to the school. The Logical Positivism is modern with the technological determinism, and it shared the idea of autonomy neutrality of technology. In such a research, he found common items between the Bauhaus thought and the rational positivists. They were sketching images of scientist mechanization, according to the view of modern methods of production. "This process of interiorization got many forms, but most importantly the Bauhusler and Vienna positivists of the late 1920s espoused a neutral stance modeled on the image of technology. " (Galison, 1990: 750). There is a case to be 'apolitical politics', ' unaesthetic aesthetic' and ' unphilosophical philosophy'. These three tips, driven by scientific principles, were supposed to be the image of a new way of life, though it failed. In fact, the several politic elements of Bauhaus provided different meanings to the technology, switching it on the ideological earth. From this point it is possible to deduce that technology cannot guarantee the neutrality. Clearly Bauhaus products were not only efficient-based designed.

Thinking About Design

In Feenberg and Feng's article (2008:105) a good example of Feenberg's Critical Theory of Technology put on the look problem is given. The talk starts taking into consideration the intentionality problem, which is the quantity of control or constraint that the developer has in the design process. The analysis shows two levels. The first is thought as strong intentionality; the custom has complete control of the product. Upon this level, the look sometimes appears as instrumental and complex. On the second level, thought as fragile intentionality, the artist is more constrained. This position is near the Public Constructivism thought. However, the developer as a sociable subject matter, is also inspired by society and its own formation. You can find nothing absolutely rational, even in a rational design. From this perspective, the design is clearly not neutral. A good example is the refrigerator design process. First of all, engineers use basic components, in order to make each element working and incorporating them in a way that these devices can store frigid. In this stage, each part is decontextualized and studied as a straightforward element (most important instrumentalization). Supposing that the product of this design is best storing frosty machine ever, is this enough? Feenberg argues that is not sufficient to complete the design. Actually, other questions including the size of the device may be responded in mere contextual social conditions rather than technological (secondary instrumentalization). In this phase, the evaluation of alternative may bring human values in these devices. Moreover, a good refrigerator may be equipped with an ozone-free system without loosing its functionality. This is an example of involving different interests on the design practice.

Beyond engineering

The idea of value laden technology is specially evident in the software design. However, as Feenberg sustains, there's a requirement of humanizing technological design to develop democratic contribution.

In this article, Rieder and Schfer (2008: 159) focus on the actual fact that in the last decade there have been an increasing fascination with technology regarded as cultural drive. This truth, manifested in the software production industry, was credited by the fact that software is written just like a words and works as a machine. Furthermore, it might be easily distributed without reduction for the giver, and continually improved in an infinite loop of screening. These characteristics are very not the same as traditional engineering, regarded as neutral and objective problem-solving, at the level that software development might be defined as disorganized and puzzling. Moreover, cultural problems, alternatively than technological, become the key target of software design (Rieder, Schfer, 2008: 164).

A particular interest field which materializes Feenberg's idea of democratic addition is the Open Source software project. The characteristic of the emergent practice, favoured by the deeper development of the web, is the creation and the sharing of free software, which is often improved and distributed by the users. This practice is completely different from the traditional anatomist view, in simple fact "open source is the collaborative and auto-organized design process which will not strive to divide the cultural and cultural areas of technological creation from the duty of creating and writing code" (Rieder, Schfer, 2008: 167).

Bridging technological design software and culture may be possible by looking at it from different perspectives. Through the humanity's discourse, technology seems to be as something exterior and self-employed. Historically, this caused a different process of symbolization rather than the one observed in literature and fine art. The reasons for the artist to think about the ethical and political position towards his work will not be sufficient if the technology wouldn't normally be understood as a interpersonal symbol and since a politics activity (Rieder, Schfer, 2008: 168). From your technological point of view, only recently there has been an understanding of how influent a particular device is a social framework, to the point of representing a way to be. Including a sizable number of participants in the design may expand its cultural sizing and match the several interests. Open source community is an example of this addition. However, there is still not enough exchange between technical departments and humanities. From political viewpoint, the issue will be addressed when there are an understanding of writing software as a citizen participatory decision. The government, as an arbiter, has to protect the coder communities from the founded commercial celebrities.


The neutrality issue of technology has been tackled inspecting the Deterministic view and the opposite Feenberg's Critical Theory of Technology. From the actual fact analyzed, the second theory appears to exceed the first idea, favoured by the observation of the larger effects of the determinism on the world. However, regardless of the deterministic view of technology appears to be outdated, it still affects our culture. This is particularly apparent in the first computer-aided design practice, considered by almost all of the custom as only a neutral tool, necessary limited to an efficient purpose. On the other hand with this idea, the awareness of values embodied in the informatics may dwelling address the situation deeper and show you insight onto it, particularly if the amount of flexibility and control of some other cad tool is examined. Out of this position, who designs the tool decides what's possible or impossible to do with it. Translated in Feenberg's theory, this is an exercise of electric power of the course of software designer over the category of software users. In order to go further, there has to be an acceptance of the value-laden theory of technology, so the exercise of electric power is discovered and questioned. Collaborative creation and individual contribution such as available source software is the answer. The tool is personalized, improved and shared with all the neighborhoods. In these conditions it is a democratic design, there is an involvement of several different pursuits in it. Moreover, although it brings more independence, it is necessary to obtain skills for development software. This may be dangerous in the architectural design process because, as it is seen as not neutral, it could bring its own values. In order to control it, Feenberg suggests the process of integration between coding and architectural design: decontextualization, contextaualization, specialized code and participation.

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