Week #2 Notes: Technology and Humanity I

Roger B. Blumberg -- RISD HPSS*S576
March 8, 13 & 15, 2001-- 401 College Building

Because of the snow-day on the 6th, we'll move everything back by one session, and schedule a make-up class if necessary after the Spring Break.

(How) Does Material Culture Have Moral Significance

We'll begin the discussion of Borgmann's difficult article by comparing how we read philosophy with how we read literature. In reading a philosophical essay we try to identify the argument made by the author, and this involves finding or reconstructing both the premises of the argument as well as the motivation for the conclusions drawn from those premises.

Beginning with Borgmann's between a "thing" and a "device" (p. 90), the first question to ask is how did he get to that distinction from an initial discussion of Plato. This (I hope) will lead us to figuring out the significance Borgmann attributes to that distinction (as well as the distinction between the "commanding" and "disposable"), and help us to see the motivation and significance of the claim that "Ethics, to be truly illuminating, must become real."

An additional question we might ask is whether such an essay could have been written 100 years ago? Clearly the examples would need have been different, but could others have been found to illustrate the same points and would Borgmann's premises and observations have made sense (e.g. to New Englanders of the 1890s)?

March 13

Wrapping Up Borgmann 1995

Marx' Third Manuscript 1844

Sometimes it seems that Marx, like Darwin and Freud, is a writer more mentioned than read, so we'll begin with the question of whether there was anything in the assigned reading that came as a surprise. How would you summarize the theme of the "Meaning of Human Requirements" section?

Consider some of the following themes for comparing Ullman, Borgmann and Marx, and suggest some additional points for discussion/comparison:

What is the role of technology in the transformations of human life and consciousness that Marx talks about in this text?

March 15

Marx is taken with the paradoxical situation in which the multiplication of human needs and the possibilities for satisfying them is accompanied by a diminished sense of human need on the part of humans themselves. How and why does Marx say this comes about, and in answering the question "What is necessary in order to live as a human?" do you see yourself as an example of or a counterexample to Marx' claim?

Bringing together Borgmann and Marx for a moment, what does Marx say the effect of devices has been on the nature of work? on the nature of workers?

For Next Time:

Read the first chapter of Ellul's The Technological Society for Tuesday, and the second for Thursday.

Back to the TCL Syllabus

© 2001 Roger B. Blumberg