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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 33

Technological Rationality

LORENZO C. SIMPSON

Technology and technological systems are embedded in a variety of social, political and economic contexts – contexts that ultimately shape the concrete form that material technologies and technological processes will assume.1 Despite such contextual differentials, an underlying rationality can be discerned. This can be captured by the idea of technological rationality.

Implied by the idea of technological rationality is the existence of a core set of characteristics that runs through a variety of types of action. The meaningful use of the expression “technological rationality” would demand that its criteria of application serve to exclude some rationales for action while including others and serve to delimit features of the phenomenon that allow for its identification and reidentification. So, presupposed by the idea is our ability analytically to isolate such a core or at least indicate intelligible connections among families of such characteristics.

Though its origin can be traced to the Aristotelian notion of techne, or making, the conceptual genealogy of technological rationality stems perhaps most directly from Max Weber’s analysis of action types in modern societies. Weber put forward a threefold distinction: what he called purposive-rational action was opposed to so-called value-rational action, and both were opposed to tradition-based action. Purposive rationality (Zweckrationalitäi) refers to the idea of assessing ...

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