, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp 41-45

Interpreting the notion that technology is value-neutral

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Abstract

Value-freedom or value-neutrality is a well-known topic in the philosophy of science. But what about the value-neutrality of technology, medical or other? Is it too far-fetched to imagine technology as in some sense value-neutral — in view of its intimate connection with purposeful human action? No; unexpected perhaps, but less far-fetched than expected. If we try to conceive of technology as a cognitive possibility abstracted from each and every specific social context, we shall find (at least) three senses in which it may be regarded as value-neutral: (1) neutral vis-à-vis different possible uses and ends; (2) neutral before action; (3) neutral qua cognitive object, analogous to the cognitive core of science. The further meanings and implications of these three senses of value-neutrality are discussed.

What is this exercise good for? The nature of technology is indeed worth pondering in its own right, not least from this rather unusual angle. But beyond that: as the possible meanings of value-neutrality are tried out, the radical nature of human responsibility for the social implementation of technology will be highlighted.

This revised version was published online in October 2005 with corrections to the Cover Date.