Sidoli, Nathan Camillo
Fall, 2015
Office hours: Thursday, 4th and 5th

SILS, 11, 1416
[email protected]


I will put announcements about the class in this space. Please check here periodically as the term progresses.

Jan 20: The Ross reading is now complete.

Seminar on Matter and Information:
Philosophy of Technology
Philosophy of Computing

Course Description

Science studies covers a broad range of topics in the history, philosophy and sociology of the sciences wherever and whenever they have been practiced. Because of this scope, there is great diversity in the styles of scholarship practiced and the views about science put forward by scholars in the field. For these reasons, this seminar will be based around a particular theme each term.

The theme for the 2015 Fall Term will be “Philosophy of Technology with Emphasis on Philosophy of Computing.” In this course, we will address the question of the nature and status of modern technology. We will be particularly interested in how technology and computing is changing society and the our conception of the universe in which we live.

We will examine various topics in the philosophy of technology. We will begin by reading some classic work that seek to define technology and the task of philosophy of technology, by philosophers such as Heidegger and Arendt. We will then look at special topics in the philosophy of technology, such as the question of technological determinism, the nature of the relationship between technology and human beings. We will then read a number of paper in the philosophy of computing.

Required Texts

All papers will be available for download from this site.

Suggested Readings

For general works on the philosophy of technology, see:

  • R.C. Scharff and V. Dusek, eds., 2003. Philosophy of Technology: The technological condition, An anthology (Blackwell: Maden, MA).
  • For the history of computing see the two books assigned for last term, see:

  • Campbell-Kelly, M., Aspray, M., Ensmenger, N., Yost, J.R., 2014. Computer: A History of the Information Machine. (Westview Press: Boulder). Please order a copy of the book.
  • Ensmenger, N., 2010. The Computer Boys Take Over. (MIT Press: Cambridge, MA). Please order a copy of the book.
  • Grading:

    Participation 50%
    Final paper 50%

    General Format

    The class meets once a week for a seminar discussion. Attendance and participation in class are mandatory and graded. Each week, we will discuss a piece of text, and other topics of interest. Students are expected to do all the readings, participate actively in the discussions and to submit a final paper.

    Final Paper

    Writing project: 3,000-5,000 words

    The writing project will be done in two phases: (1) a topic proposal and bibliography, and (2) a final paper. You should come up with your own idea for a final project that is based on the work we are studying. The best kind of project will be on a subject in which you are personally interested.

    Once you have selected a topic, you should write up a short description of your project (100-300 words), which should be followed by a bibliography (5-10 items). You should hand in a copy of your topic and bibliography two weeks before the final project is due.

    Please also read the general guidelines for written assignments.

    Discussion Topics, Readings and Assignments

    As you read through the readings, you should ask yourself the following questions:

      1. What is the overall point that the author is trying to make?
      2. What is the author’s argument? What evidence does the author use? What are the strong points of the argument, the weak points?
      3. Is the argument convincing? Why, or why not?
      4. Why would the author make this kind of argument? What is the broader context in which this is interesting?
    Week 1: Sep 29

    General Introduction

  • No reading.
  • Week 2: Oct 6

    The Concept of Technology

  • Reading: L. Marx, Technology: The emergence of a hazardous concept.
  • Week 3: Oct 13

    Technological determinism

  • Reading: R. Heilbroner, Do machines make history?, H. Marcuse, The new forms of control.
  • Related website: D. Chandler, Technological or media determinism.
  • Suggested Reading: Sergio Sismondo, Two questions concerning technology (An Introduction to Science and Technology Studies, chap. 9).
  • Week 4: Oct 20

    Heidegger, I

  • Reading: A. Borgmann, On Heidegger's philosophy of technology, M. Heidegger, The question concerning technology (pp. 287-294, first paragraph).
  • Week 5: Oct 27

    Heidegger, II

  • Reading: M. Heidegger, The question concerning technology (pp. 294-317).
  • Week 6: Nov 3

    Technology and Human Goals

  • Reading: H. Arendt, The “Vita activa” and the modern age.
  • Week 7: Nov 10

    Heidegger and the Nazis

  • Reading: R.I. Bernstein, Heidegger’s silence.
  • Week 8: Nov 17

    Philosophy of Computing, Basic concepts: Computation (from Blackwell Guide to Philsophy of Computing and Information, ed. by M Floridi, 2004)

  • Reading: J. Copeland, Computation.
  • Suggested Reading: J. Copeland, Narrow versus Wide Mechanism: Including a Re-Examination of Turing's Views on the Mind-Machine Issue.
  • Week 9: Nov 24

    Philosophy of Computing, Basic concepts: Algorithm, Function, Variable

  • Reading: A. Goffey, Algorithm; D. Robinson, Function and Variable (all from Software Studies, ed. by M Fuller, 2008).
  • Suggested Reading: R. Kowalski, Algorithm = Logic + Control.
  • Week 10: Dec 1

    Philosophy of Computer Languages

  • Reading: G. White, The Philosphy of Computer Languages (from Blackwell Guide to Philsophy of Computing and Information, ed. by M Floridi, 2004); F. Cramer, Language (from Software Studies, ed. by M Fuller, 2008).
  • Week 11: Dec 8

    Software, Code and Weird Languages

  • Reading: F. Kittler, There is No Software; F. Kittler Code; N. Montford Obfuscated Code; and M. Mateas Weird Languages (final three from from Software Studies, ed. by M Fuller, 2008).
  • Suggested Reading: M. Mateas and N. Montford, A Box Darkly.
  • Week 12: Dec 15

    The Computer as Metaphor: The Mind

  • Reading: B.P. McLaughlin, Computationalism, Connectionism, and the Philosophy of Mind.
  • Week 13: Dec 22 (Paper topic due)

    The Computer as Metaphor: The Cosmos

  • Reading: J. Schmidhuber’s webpage on Zuse; K. Zuse, Introduction and Conclusion of Calculating Space (1969); J. Schmidhuber, A Computer Scientists’s View... .
  • Suggested Reading: Some reviews of S. Wolfram’s A New Kind of Science, which are compiled on Edwin Clark’s webpage.
  • Holiday: Dec 29

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Holiday: Jan 5

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Holiday: Jan 12

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Week 14: Jan 19

    Computers and Culture: Hacking

  • Reading: A. Ross, Hacking Away at the Counter Culture.
  • Week 15: Jan 26 (Paper due)

    Computers and Culture: The Internet

  • Reading: W. Cooper Internet Culture.