What is a human being? What is (personal) identity? Which cultural and/or natural features constitute human nature? How do human beings differ from (other) animals? In order to find answers to these questions, you have to be able to understand and conceptualize the human condition. It also requires having investigated it within different frameworks, such as classical ontology, economy (Marx), phenomenology, existentialism, and psychoanalysis.
In the twentieth century, authors have argued that technology plays an important role in the constitution of human nature and identity. These authors state that humans have always shaped and extended themselves by virtue of technical tools and artefacts. In our modern era, technology – think of microscopes and MRI scans, for instance – has become an inherent part of scientific investigation and diagnosis. This means it also has bearings on our view of human nature.
This profile focuses on how technology influences and constitutes human nature and human existence. In this context we will also study how traditional boundaries between design and use are blurred in the interaction between humans and technological artefacts. The rapid development of mind- and body-enhancing technologies and their influence on human faculties – such as rationality, self-consciousness, agency, and autonomy – is another important topic of inquiry in this cluster. We will also reflect on the moral impact of these technologies on our lives.
PHILOSOPHICAL ANTHROPOLOGY AND HUMAN-TECHNOLOGY RELATIONS
This course acquaints students with the state of the art in philosophical-anthropological approaches in philosophy of technology. The course focuses on the relations between human beings and technologies, ranging from behaviour-steering technology to human enhancement technology, and on ways to assess and improve the quality of these relations. The course develops three lines. Students will be introduced to the basic discussions in these three lines. After that, they choose one of the three lines to get acquainted with state of the art literature and to write a paper. The lines are: (1) Material Morality. By mediating human experiences and practices, technologies have come to play an important role in our moral actions and decisions. (2) Technology and the Limits of Humanity. Technological developments have started to interfere explicitly with human nature. Biotechnologies, brain implants, and enhancement technologies make it possible to reshape humanity in various ways. (3) Art, Technology, and Culture. Technologies help to organise the sensory repertoire of human beings: they disclose new ways of experiencing reality. The ways in which artists experiment with such mediations, therefore, form a highly interesting point of application for the philosophy of contemporary art. Also, this line includes the cultural dimension of human-technology relations and the mediation aspects involved in technology transfer between cultures.
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SHAPING TECHNOLOGY AND USE
The central question of this course is: how do human actors through interactions with technological artefacts not only mould their daily life but also (re)shape the technology itself. Users have transcended their status of “passive consumers”. Current phenomena like Web 2.0, Open Source, Wikipedia, etc. are all examples of active, producing users. This active agency in shaping technology in daily activities blurs traditional boundaries between design and use. In the course students will get acquainted with four interrelated scientific fields that all contribute to understanding the changing design-use relations. These are: (1) STS, with special focus on Actor Network Theory: the script concept allows to analyse the agency of the artefacts in network translations. (2) Media Studies: the domestication theory aims to understand the agency of users in the appropriation of technological artefacts. (3) User Innovation Studies focuses on the role of users and user communities as designers and innovators. (4) Sociology: Giddens’ structuration theory is used in combination with STS to analyse the role and position of technology and in the agency /structure dialectics. The recent research that integrates STS with media and innovation studies are studied and discussed in class.
A substantial part of this course builds around the design and execution of a small empirical research project. The students will learn all steps involved in a research design (research question –theoretical framework –choice of research method and type of data –operationalisation of theoretical concepts –gathering data – interpreting data in theoretical terms –conclusion).The empirical research project involves four subsequent steps. In the last 4 weeks students prepare drafts of each step and peer review and discuss each other’s work.
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PHILOSOPHY OF MIND, BODY AND TECHNOLOGY
This course acquaints students with current theories and approaches to the relations between mind, body, and technology. (A) The theme of technology and the body will take Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of the body as a starting point. From there, it will move to Canguilhem’s theory of Organism versus Machine, Don Ihde’s theory of ‘Bodies in Technology’, and Vivian Sobchak’s work on techno-bodies. Central questions are: how can the relations between bodies and technology be conceptualised? What role can the body play in future philosophy of technology? (B) Philosophy of mind studies the nature of the mind, mental events, mental functions, mental properties, consciousness and their relationship to the physical body, particularly the brain. Questions are raises such as: What do we mean by mind? How do we attribute mentality? How are mental and physical properties related? What is consciousness? A brief overview of these themes will be offered as a general framework. To address the theme of mind and technology, the course will focus on Andy Clark’s theory of embodied embedded cognition, which links technology and the philosophy of mind. In that context also internalist and externalist approaches to mind, as well as the notion of introspection, will be discussed. After studying the central elements of Clark’s ‘Natural Born Cyborgs’, the focus will be on its relevance for philosophy of technology, and its reception by philosophers of technology (e.g. Selinger). (C) Finally, the course will bring these lines together by addressing issues of identity and technology, focusing on brain technologies and prosthetic technologies in relation to people’s self-understanding, sense of personal identity and freedom.