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Chapter 31 ~ “Doing and Making in a Democracy: Dewey’s Experience of Technology” by Larry Hickman September 7, 2009

Posted by Shon in 5369, Carter, Philosophy of Technology, TCR.
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From “Philosophy of Technology” (1989)

This work of Hickman’s focuses on John Dewey and his thoughts on technology.

We first learn of Dewey’s thoughts of a mislocation of technology brought on by his philosophical predecessors, such as Aristotle and Plato, who had attempted to move technology from the hands of the artisan. The result of this was the “stunting of the growth of science and social inquiry as well” (371). Both Plato and Aristotle placed artisans in the “lowest rung of sociopolitical hierarchy” and Dewey believed part of the reason was their attitude toward the mutability found within technology.

In regards to the modern sciences, Dewey saw the actual “doing” by practitioners, but what he failed to see was any thought behind what the practitioners were doing. For him, there need to be the action as well as the understanding of the action.

Dewey had his critics.

Desmond Lee disagreed that the Greeks’ overall opinion of artisans hindered technological advancement and used 17th century England – with its technological growth and loathing of the artisans – as proof. For Lee, the Greeks were too busy being philosophers and tying science to philosophy instead of seeing that philosophy looked to understand and science looked to change. With Galileo, asserts Lee, we get the untying of science from philosophy. For Dewey, there must be both the understanding and the talk of change.

In analyzing the new science of the 17th century, Dewey noted that there was a gap “between what the new science said it was doing and what is was actually about” (371). A new spirit also followed the science as technology moved – during this time – into practical experimentalism. However, the metatheory – the understanding – did not move forward.

The metatheorists of this time, erroneously to Dewey, believed science was grounded in practice, “that is, in a transaction with the growing body of tools and artifacts that made the new science possible” (371). Contemporary theorists, erroneously too, continue in this line of thinking. [aside, seeing threads connect with other readings – instrumentality; technology as a means to an end, a practice; disconnect between science and thought, the HOW and the WHY. It’s not a thing that just happened.]

What Dewey argued, and which became his most important contribution to the discussion of science and technology, was “inquiry into materials such as that practiced by Galileo precedes and conditions inquiry of a more conceptual variety. It also informs its methodology, and terminates its activity in further concrete application” (371). Just because a craftsman cannot articulate (or even conceptualize) his using of tools to create things does not mean that a methodological gap does not exist between the craftsman and the work. [aside, I think the two enterprises are the craftsman and the work.]

Dewey claimed that from the 17th century to the 19th centuries, philosophy failed to properly locate technology because they were still tied to old ways of thinking, such as truth, demonstration, and certitude.

From here, Hickman discusses nature and the modern period’s and Dewey’s thoughts on it.

For the modern period, nature was a vast machine; Dewey rejected this notion.

Even removing the metaphor of world-as-machine, people grappled with how to discuss machines and their relationship to them We learn that a machine can be contemplated as…

— something finished, and its workings discovered and admired;

— something complete but in need of occasional repair; or

— something ongoing, unstable and provisional, as a tool which is utilized for enlarging transactions of self and society with environing conditions.

“Only with the third that there comes to be genuine transaction with nature, awareness of such transaction, and inclusion of that awareness in the metatheories of science” (372).

Here, democracy comes into view with the essay. During the modern period of science, the US was founded, and many of the founders and framers of the US’ democracy were themselves artisans, craftsmen. They were practitioners of a religious faith that saw God as artisan. To Thomas Jefferson, the establishing of government was an experiment, one in which modifications would be necessary for generations to come.

“For government, as for nature, contemplation had been replaced by examination, and that in turn by experimentation whose goal was constant attention to possibilities of adjustment and amelioration” (373).

In deciding where to locate technology, Dewey believed that the only place it could go was alongside science and social thought. In his view, technology shared qualities with science and social thought and also fostered qualities that could help them.

For Dewey, technology was more than just a means to an end, an instrument. It is, in part, “responsible for the prestige enjoyed by science” (374); it can also be “the buffer between the forces of anti-science and those of science” (375).

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