Sidoli, Nathan Camillo
Spring, 2022
Office hours: Thursday, 4th and 5th

SILS, 11-1409
[email protected]


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

Seminar on Matter and Information:
History and Philosophy of Technology

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.

In the 2019 Spring Term, we will be studying the History and Philosophy of Technology. In this course, we will try to address some philosophical questions about the nature of technology. What is technology? How does it change over time? What is the relationship between technology and human nature and society? What does every educated person need to know about the nature of technology?

Students taking this class will be introduced to the core ideas of the philosophy of technology and develop new ways of thinking about the relationship between science, technology and society. Students are expected to do all of the readings, participate actively in classroom discussions, and write a final paper.

Required Texts

A number of papers will be available for download from this site.

  • Edgerton, D., 2006. The Shock of the Old. Profile Books: London.
  • Daub, A., 2020. That Tech Calls Thinking. Farrar, Straus and Giroux: New York.
  • 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 chapter or two from the text, and other topics of interest. Students are expected to do all the readings, participate actively in the discussions, submit a final paper and give an in class presentation on its contents.

    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 works 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). The topic proposal is due at least two weeks before the final paper. Once this has been submitted and approved, you can begin work on your final paper.

    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: Apr 6

    General Introduction

  • No reading.
  • Week 2: Apr 13

    The Concept of Technology

  • Reading: L. Marx, Technology: The emergence of a hazardous concept.
  • Week 3: Apr 20

    Technological determinism

  • Reading: R. Heilbroner, Do machines make history?, R. Heilbroner, Technological determinism revisited.
  • Supplementary reading: S. Sismondo, Two questions concerning technology (An Introduction to Science and Technology Studies, chap. 9).
  • Related website: D. Chandler, Technological or media determinism.
  • Week 4: Apr 27

    Extensionalist theories of technology

  • Reading: E. Kapp, Elements of a Philosophy of Technology (1877, English translation 2018), Chapter 2, “Organ Projection”; S. Steinert, “Taking Stock of Extension Theory of Technology”.
  • Holiday: May 4

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Week 5: May 11

    Essentialist theories of technology

  • Reading: M. Heidegger, “The question concerning technology” (excerpts); A. Borgmann, On Heidegger's philosophy of technology.
  • Week 6: May 18

    Constructivist theories of technology

  • Reading: T. Gillespie, from Wired Shut, Chap. 3, “Speed bumps”.
  • Supplementary reading: T.J. Pinch and W.E. Bijker, “The Social Construction of Facts and Artifacts”.
  • Week 7: May 25

    Technology and Human Goals

  • Reading: H. Arendt, The “vita activa” and the modern age.
  • Week 8: Jun 1

    Technology and norms

  • Reading: H. Radder, “Why Technologies are Inherently Normative”.
  • Week 9: Jun 8

    Technology in History, 20th century, I

  • Reading: The Shock of the Old, introduction and Chap. 1, “Significance”.
  • Week 10: Jun 15

    Technology in History, 20th century, II

  • Reading: The Shock of the Old, Chap. 5, “Nations”.
  • Week 11: Jun 22

    Technology in History, 20th century, III

  • Reading: The Shock of the Old, Chap. 7, “Killing”.
  • Week 12: Jun 29

    Technology in History, 20th century, IV

  • Reading: The Shock of the Old, Chap. 8, “Invention”, and conclusion.
  • Week 13: Jul 6 (Writing assignment topic due)

    Philosophy of technology in Silicon Valley, I

  • Reading: Daub, A., What Tech Calls Thinking, introduction, chapters 1 (Dropping Out), 2 (Content), and 3 (Genius).
  • Week 14: Jul 13

    Philosophy of technology in Silicon Valley, II

  • Reading: Daub, A., What Tech Calls Thinking, chapters 4 (Communication), 5 (Desire), 6 (Disruption), and 7 (Failure).
  • Week 15: Jul 20 (Writing assignment due)

    Conclusion. Discussion.

  • No Reading.