Pappas – Does Technological Pragmatism have a robust enough normative standpoint that can advance philosophy of technology?

Dr. Gregory Pappas

Texas A&M

Hickman deserves our respect for trying to get Technological Pragmatism the respect it deserves in philosophy of Technology. In spite of all his great efforts there are still critics or skeptics about its normative guidance. My paper will focus on an important debate between Hickman and Borgmann, where Borgmann claims that pragmatism does not have enough “normative substance” to evaluate particular technologies and to guide with the everyday use of technology.

In spite of Hickman’s heroic efforts to convince critics like Borgmann about the virtues of Pragmatism, they continue to see a weakness in regard to its normative standpoint or commitments, they are just not robust enough. Pragmatism lacks concrete “thick” guidance and a substantive view of about what should center life, makes life worth living, or what is the good life.

In this paper I take on this challenge to Pragmatism’s reputation. My strategy complements, but is different than Hickman’s reply to Borgmann. I think we can say a lot more on behalf of the normative “thickness” of Pragmatism, we just need to do it in a way that is consistent with our commitment to experimentalism-contextualism.

I argue that Pragmatism provides a normative standpoint as well as practical guidance of which virtues are needed in our technological culture. Pragmatism provides a solid and empirical philosophical framework that avoids two common extremes: a naïve optimism that encourages adoption of any new technology; and a pessimistic resistance to technological innovations. More importantly, and to address the charge of not being normatively “thick” enough, we need to argue that Pragmatism stands by the values and virtues of democracy as a way of life. Moreover, pragmatism, as much as Borgmann and the Amish, have deep seated value commitments: a view of what should centers life or makes life worth living. Dewey’s philosophy, in particular, has a view about what are the most important type of relationships, experiences or activities in life. That should be enough basis to evaluate out everyday use of technologies.

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