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“Guns Don’t Kill, People Kill”; Values in and/or Around Technologies

Part of the Philosophy of Engineering and Technology book series (POET,volume 17)


This paper presents a defense of the Value Neutrality Thesis with respect to technological artifacts. While it may be case that people build artifacts with certain ends in mind – the values of the people doing the building are not in the artifacts. Why this is so is a function of three things: (1) lack of empirically identifying characteristics of values and (2) an endorsement of a pragmatic conception of values as motivators of human action, and (3) a conception of decision-making that necessarily includes values.


  • Good Life
  • Prefer State
  • Human Decision
  • Virginia Tech
  • Technological Artifact

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-94-007-7914-3_6
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  1. 1.

    As is my custom, I eschew talking about Technology with a capital “T”, favoring directing our attention to specific technologies. See Pitt 2000.

  2. 2.

    Truth in advertising requires that I confess to my philosophical proclivities. I am both a Peircean Pragmatist methodologically and a Humean morally – we cannot address abstract philosophical concepts without a commitment to some view of human nature and the consequences of that view for our understanding of why we do what we do (Pitt 2005). In this I believe Hume is correct when he says that “Reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions (Hume 1738/1978, p. 425).”

  3. 3.

    Never mind that Winner’s history is in dispute. See Woolgar and Cooper 1999.

  4. 4.

    I have been using “values” and “intentions” somewhat interchangeably here, but only because they seem to indicate the same sort of thing – motivators.

  5. 5.

    Part of this discussion, were it to be extended, should be an examination of long term versus short term consequences of our actions and how they impact our quest for the Good Life. But that would take us far afield.

  6. 6.

    The position I would like to elaborate but which will take us too far afield is that moral behavior is a form of aesthetics.

  7. 7.

    It may be seen as something of an irony that Rudner’s teacher was Carl Hempel, a student of Rudolf Carnap, one of the founders of positivism.

  8. 8.

    I have elaborated this view in my 2000/2006.

  9. 9.

    It is also important to note that the knowledge you have at the start is not just a set of abstract propositions, it also illuminates the context in which you are operating. You know, for instance, that you are here, not there, that you have the following items to contend with, etc. Since the mark of knowledge is successful action, it is also the case that since actions are contextualized, so is knowledge.


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Correspondence to Joseph C. Pitt .

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Pitt, J.C. (2014). “Guns Don’t Kill, People Kill”; Values in and/or Around Technologies. In: Kroes, P., Verbeek, PP. (eds) The Moral Status of Technical Artefacts. Philosophy of Engineering and Technology, vol 17. Springer, Dordrecht.

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