Substantive Theories of Technology

  • Karl Rogers


The Ancient Greek poet Sophocles warned us that we will become increasingly dependent on the artificial world that we construct to liberate us from our physical limitations and protect us from “the evils” of the natural world.1 Sophocles lamented the tragedy of the human condition, existing in a cosmic order that is indifferent to human suffering, for which techne (artifice) is the means to escape suffering by conquering Nature through agriculture, medicine, mechanics, and architecture. This allows human beings to live comfortably in cities, developing politics and the other arts, but, ultimately, humanity will become dominated by its dependence upon artifice, which perpetually creates and destroys, as it drives human beings to innovate an inhumane world that is beyond human control. It is this fundamental concern with the substantive impact of technology on human freedom and the human condition that has been a recurring theme in the damning critiques of “mass society” offered by many twentieth century philosophers and social theorists, including Martin Heidegger, José Ortega Y Gasset, Hans Jonas, Hannah Arendt, Lewis Mumford, Eric Fromm, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Walter Benjamin, and Jacque Ellul. Carl Mitcham termed this as “the humanist tradition” of the philosophy of technology.2 Max Weber argued that, in an advanced industrial society, political decisions are constrained and directed by technocratic systems of calculation, assessment, and control.3 Although Weber considered sciences to be value-neutral, in the sense that they cannot tell us what to do or how we should live, he argued that the development of modern science has increasingly limited our freedom to pursue alternative courses of action.4 Politics is no longer the art of the possible. Political judgements about the best course of action presuppose technical judgements about what is possible and how best to achieve it.


Technological Society Substantive Theory Industrial Capitalism Technological Framework Technological Determinism 
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© Karl Rogers 2008

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  • Karl Rogers

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