Technology is an essential part of the fabric of modern society. Whether we are talking about the invention of a new type of car or the use of a new type of computer, technology is a force that affects our lives and the world around us. It is a tool used to achieve specific goals, such as producing a new form of energy or constructing a new building.
Technology has been a topic of philosophical discussion since ancient Greece. Early authors like Democritus and Aristotle explained doctrine by referring to the technical artifacts that made up their theories. Although science has dominated the field of philosophy for nearly two centuries, philosophy of technology is an emerging discipline.
During the first half of the twentieth century, philosophical reflection on technology focused on the impact of technology on culture and society. This was in contrast to the earlier twentieth-century period, where philosophers and scientists were more closely associated. Those who studied technology in this period were generally schooled in the social sciences and humanities.
As a result, there was less focus on the theoretical aspects of technology. Instead, philosophers tended to discuss the impact of technology on culture and society, especially its social impacts. These approaches are sometimes called analytic philosophers of technology. Many philosophers have taken up the task of discussing the ethical implications of technology, although they may not see themselves as ethicists of technology.
The second major trend in the philosophical debate on technology during the twentieth century was the shift towards political approaches. These approaches take technology as a political phenomenon, one governed by institutional power relationships. Several philosophers have argued for democratizing technological development. In addition, some have suggested that technologies have moral agency.
A third important theme in early philosophy of technology is the idea that technology learns from nature. This thesis was based on examples from Democritus, who claimed that weaving and house-building resembled nature. However, it has been criticized by many, including the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus.
Attempts to define what constitutes a technological artifact are difficult to establish. The best way to do this is to look at the process of discovery. There are various ways to identify an artifact, but most of them involve a series of translational steps. The purpose of these steps is to define a minimal level for the artifact. Typically, the artifact has an author and a function, which excludes waste products. Similarly, the operational principle is a process used to develop a technology.
Although some of the most interesting and thought-provoking debates in the past two centuries have revolved around these topics, the issue of the nature of technology itself is still in a state of flux. Nevertheless, there are several themes which continue to shape the discussion on the philosophy of technology. Some of these themes include the relationship between technology and nature, the nature of technology as an act of design, and the nature of technology as a practice.