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A Companion to the Philosophy of Technology by Vincent F. Hendricks, Stig Andur Pedersen, Jan Kyrre Berg Olsen Friis

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Chapter 27

Technology as “Applied Science”

ROBERT C. SCHARFF

According to Descartes’ famous metaphor, the tree of philosophy has three main parts. Metaphysics tends the roots; scientific knowledge of nature [“physics”] constitutes the trunk; and medicine, morals and mechanics form its three main branches. Descartes’ interpretations of metaphysics, physics and their requisite epistemology were all contested from the start; but there has always been less criticism of his ultimately practical conclusion, namely that the principal benefit of philosophy comes from gathering the fruit of its three branches (Descartes 1985: 186). Here, Descartes may be seen as giving a full and systematic elaboration of Bacon’s slogan, knowledge is power (Schouls 1989: 173); and the obvious moral of this story is that “What is knowledge?” and “What do we use it for?” are the key philosophical questions. Technology, on the other hand, is just the totality of means for applying science to do/produce whatever we choose.

Of course, many would be uncomfortable actually stating this conclusion in all of the circumstances in which they nevertheless understand it to be true. Who, for example, is eager to characterize prestigious activities like medical care as merely applied science, so that surgery is no different in principle from plumbing? Yet it would be difficult to exaggerate how deeply the technology-as-applied-science model has affected modern Western thought. Even the good life itself tends to be conceived ...

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