Technologies of various kinds mediate nearly all our relationships. From social networks to bio-hacking, we are facing more choices not only about how to govern our relationships with other people, but also how to view and modify our relationships with our own bodies. In this course, we will examine some philosophical issues having to do with contemporary technologies. Some of the philosophical questions raised will be metaphysical and epistemological—having to do with what exists (e.g. what is technology? who you are? what kind of thing are you? what’s the difference between the natural and the artificial?) and what we know (e.g. what does Facebook actually know about you? about us? does the dependence on algorithms change the nature of knowledge itself? How can an algorithm perpetuate racism?) Some technologies prompt aesthetic (e.g. can a TikTok video be art? does art challenge or reproduce the rule of technological artifacts?), ethical (e.g. does our current energy system mean we are acting immorally toward future generations?), and political questions (e.g. given automation, do we need a new economic system? Can we alter this one to deal with automation’s implications?). Many of the technologies and philosophical positions we will discuss will in fact raise questions proper to all of these areas of thought.
In addition to raising these questions, we will engage with the technologies themselves; we will use some of the technologies involved to think through some of the problems and opportunities of technology, the assumptions and implications of technology, and the larger purposes and goals embedded in technology. Each week, then, we will read some theory, which may be very general or may be engaged in thinking about very specific technology, and also do our own research—sometimes this will be using a technology ourselves, while, other times, we will rely on others’ reports, understandings, or engagements with a technology. Each week the goal will be to produce something that is informed both by the theory and the specific technology in question. This process will culminate in a self-directed project that engages with some contemporary technologies in a critical way.