A Philosophical Perspective on the Wise Use of Technology

By: L. Scott Cole  

Technology impacts the quality our everyday lives for better and for worse. But can we make generalizations about how a “wise” person should think about, and engage with technology? This is the question I will address in this talk, in part by highlighting the work of contemporary American philosopher of technology Albert Borgmann. In the first part of the talk, I discuss the concept of wisdom, which has been the subject of philosophical inquiry since Plato. I will review the relation between wisdom and humility, rationality, factual knowledge and practical knowledge. I will argue that practical knowledge—that is, knowledge about how to live a good life—is necessary component of wisdom. In the second part of the talk I introduce Borgmann’s perspective on the relation between the use of technology and living a good life. Borgmann’s work is both descriptive and prescriptive. He asserts that modern technology exhibits a consistent pattern: it tends to reduce humans’ engagement with reality and participation in social life, and that this negatively impacts quality of life. Borgmann’s prescription is to make a conscious effort to engage with aspects of reality that he terms “focal.” Focal things and practices are good in and of themselves; they reorient our lives and provide sense and meaning. I conclude by briefly reviewing some critiques of Borgmann’s view.

Philosophy, Technology, Wisdom, Knowledge
Technologies in Society
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

L. Scott Cole

Scott Cole is a Ph.D. student in philosophy at the University of California, Davis. His areas of focus are philosophy of technology and science. Prior to that, he worked in the biotechnology industry, primarily commercializing instrumentation technologies for life science and genomic research. He has a BA in molecular biology from UC Berkeley, an MS in microbiology from Columbia University and an MS in management from MIT's Sloan School of Management.