Can Technology Embody Values?
Under the banner of Value Sensitive Design (VSD) various proposals have been put forward in recent times to integrate moral values in technology through design. These proposals suppose that technology, more in particular technical artifacts, can embody values. In this contribution, we investigate whether this idea holds water. To do so, we examine the neutrality thesis about technology, that is, the thesis that technology is neutral with regard to moral values. This thesis may be interpreted in various ways depending on the kind of values involved. We introduce two distinctions with regard to values: (1) final value (value for its own sake) versus instrumental value, and (2) intrinsic value (value on its own) versus relational or extrinsic value. This leads to four different kinds of values to which the neutrality thesis may refer. We argue that the most interesting version of the neutrality thesis refers to extrinsic final values. We provide a number of counterexamples to this version of the neutrality thesis, and, on the basis of these examples, we suggest a general account of when a technology may be said to embody values. Applying our results to VSD, we introduce three different values involved in a design process, namely, intended value (the value intended by the designers) embodied value (the value designed into the artifact) and realized value (the value that is realized in actual use) and we discuss how we can verify what values are embodied in a designed technical artifact.
KeywordsPhysical Object Resultance Base Traffic Safety Technical Artifact Extrinsic Property
Ibo van de Poel is grateful to NIAS, the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study, for providing him with the opportunity, as a Fellow-in-Residence, to write this paper.
- Anderson, E. (1993). Value in ethics and economics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Flanagan, M., Howe, D. C., & Nissenbaum, H. (2008). Embodying values in technology. Theory and practice. In J. Van den Hoven & J. Weckert (Eds.), Information technology and moral philosophy (pp. 322–353). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Franssen, M. (2009). Artefacts and normativity. In A. Meijers (Ed.), Handbook of the philosophy of science: Vol. 9: Philosophy of technology and engineering sciences (pp. 923–952). Oxford: Elsevier.Google Scholar
- Friedman, B., & Kahn, P. H., Jr. (2003). Human values, ethics and design. In J. Jacko & A. Sears (Eds.), Handbook of human-computer interaction (pp. 1177–1201). Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
- Friedman, B., Kahn, P. H., Jr., & Borning, A. (2006). Value sensitive design and information systems. In P. Zhang & D. Galletta (Eds.), Human-computer interaction in management information systems: Foundations (pp. 348–372). Armonk: M.E. Sharpe.Google Scholar
- Herbich, J. B. (Ed.). (1999). Handbook of coastal engineering (Vol. N). New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
- Mitcham, C. (1994). Thinking through technology. The path between engineering and philosophy. Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Moore, G. E. (1903). Principia ethica. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Moore, G. E. (1912). Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Moore, G. E. (1922). The conception of intrinsic value. In Philosophical studies. New York: Harcourt, Brace.Google Scholar
- Pitt, J. C. (2000). Thinking about technology. Foundations of the philosophy of technology. New York: Seven Bridges Press.Google Scholar
- Raz, J. (1986). The morality of freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Raz, J. (1999). Engaging reason. On the theory of value and action. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Ross, W. D. (1930). The right and the good. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
- Scanlon, T. M. (1998). What we owe to each other. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Schroeder, M. (2009). Value theory. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Fall 2008 ed.). http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2008/entries/value-theory/
- Snippen, E., Barneveld, H. J., Flikweert, J. J., & Timmer, D. F. (2005). The role of guidelines in safety against flooding. In J. Van Alphen, E. van Beek, & M. Taal (Eds.), Floods. From defense to management (pp. 701–705). London: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
- Van Eck, D. (2011). Functional decomposition: On rationality and incommensurability in engineering, TPM: Section philosophy. Delft: Delft University of Technology.Google Scholar
- von Wright, G. H. (1963). The varieties of goodness. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
- Winner, L. (1980). Do artifacts have politics? Daedalus, 109, 121–136.Google Scholar