Technology is a broad term that refers to a variety of techniques, skills, and knowledge used to accomplish practical objectives. It includes both physical objects and intangible tools. The term can also be used to describe a set of knowledge that forms a culture or society.
In the past, technology has been a positive force, and many of its developments have contributed to human welfare. However, it has also been used to facilitate political oppression, and to create new subcultures. Therefore, many modern technologies are criticized for their potential harmful effects on the individual and the environment. Consequently, there are several areas of research that address the ethics of technology.
During the first half of the twentieth century, the discipline of philosophy of technology emerged, and focused on the meaning of technology for society. This theme was primarily a reflection on the impact of technology on culture. Later, technological advances were embraced as a force of global interaction. But, philosophical reflexion on technology did not grow at the same rate as other disciplines.
The first significant contribution to the field of philosophy of technology was from ancient Greece. Aristotle’s doctrine of the four causes is still a relevant issue in current discussions of the metaphysics of artifacts. Although, it is important to note that Aristotle’s views were rooted in technical artifacts, which did not necessarily include works of art.
Another early contribution to the philosophy of technology was the development of the notion of appropriate technology. This concept identifies situations where a particular kind of technology is appropriate and should be used instead of a new type of technology. Such examples include situations where imported parts or centralized infrastructure are needed, and where a technology is only suitable for a specific product.
Philosophical reflection on the role of technology in society has not been very extensive, however. Aside from focusing on the use of technology, the primary focus of these efforts was on reasons for accepting a particular theory, and the generation of evidence to support it.
A key element in understanding technology is the distinction between descriptive and prescriptive aspects of technology. Both of these features are important, but a clear understanding of the scope of technology is necessary to disentangle these differences.
Throughout the centuries, many technologies have been developed and deployed. For example, the discovery of fire allowed humans to consume more food, and the invention of the wheel helped control their environment. Many technological processes also produce unwanted by-products.
Some of the more prominent themes of ancient Greece were related to the role of nature in human culture. These themes are present in Heraclitus, the oldest known source of exemplary nature. And Democritus claimed that weaving and house-building were first invented by imitating nature.
Modern technologies are very complex, and require sophisticated training and specialized manufacturing techniques. This has resulted in the emergence of whole industries that develop these technologies. With the rise of the knowledge economy, there has been a need for a new set of ethical reflections on technology.