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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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3. Dramatic Theory

Ideational tensions in the ethics of technology, just like observations tensions in empirical science, are synthesized in dramatic theories; and, even though the dramas themselves are more rich than any theoretical models meant to capture them, the theories provide pathways to enhanced dramatic appreciation. Two major theorists of technology and ethics tensions who have also challenged the oppositions between the four quadrants defined by substantivism, determinism, instrumentalism and voluntarism are Langdon Winner and Bruno Latour. Given their influence across a wide variety of discussions, it is worth considering each in modest detail.

Winner aims to go beyond descriptions of making and using in order to “examine critically the nature and significance of artificial aids to human activity” (Winner 1983: 749). There is more involved with technology than commonly recognized in the ways inventors, engineers, operators, repair technicians and the like make and maintain artifacts that others can pick up, use and then set aside. For Winner, both voluntarist and instrumentalist views constitute a “technological somnambulism” in which we sleepwalk through and fail to recognize the extent to which technologies reshape human activity and its meanings. Adapting a term from Ludwig Wittgenstein, Winner argues that automobiles, electric lights and computers have become “forms of life” – creating a culture that is scarcely thinkable without them. Taking the example of television, ...

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