Every generation faces both promise and peril. In the last century, Americans faced the challenge of the Cold War and the excitement of space exploration; we confronted fears of terrorism and the opportunities of information technology. Today’s young people are entering a world of COVID and climate change at the same time that we benefit from global prosperity and connectedness.
This dialogue spans the generations to consider how democratic action is both boosted and challenged by social media, and how biotechnology and information technology can address environmental problems and increase social connection when used responsibly. Using an interview technique, we’ll press our understanding of democratic engagement, technology, and sustainability to uncover our worst fears and discover what everyone can do to prevent those fears from coming true.
This presentation uses the lenses of pragmatism to explore participatory democracy and the social ethics of Jane Addams. It applies these concepts using examples from public administration. The contributions of Larry Hickman inform the discussion throughout.
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.
I am not sure when I first met Larry Hickman (sometime in the early 1990s), but I know my life got more interesting when I did. Our shared intellectual interests took us to conferences (along with Michael Eldridge) that included adventures such as sailing in Vermont and riding bikes in Berlin–both of which turned out to be great fun (but a bit risky). Hickman has been an important influence on my work, both in personal conversation and through print. I especially enjoyed my time as a visiting scholar at the Dewey Center in Carbondale, IL. As I was reading through Dewey’s correspondence (before it was published), Hickman was always open to hearing about what I was finding and thinking. We don’t always agree on things, but I have found ours to be an important transactional relationship that has shaped my philosophical work and my life more generally. His work in starting the Summer Institute in American Philosophy (SIAP) has also been transformative of the field. I have attended many SIAP meetings. In addition to allowing for more in-depth study and conversation than a normal conference, SIAP provided invaluable contact among generations of scholars. Hickman has always been a generous scholar and mentor. Though I could never join him in sipping tequila, I will always remember our SIAP trips winding through the Oregon wine country drinking good wine and discussing philosophy and life.”
Larry Hickman was and remains a model academic mentor and friend to me and every colleague, grad-student, and editorial staff member with whom I’ve become acquainted who also had the privilege of working with him. Besides his well-earned status carrying forward the thought of Dewey, Larry went out of his way during his time at Texas A&M University—a small portion of which I had the privilege of sharing—to support students, opening even his hearth and home in a most congenial, warm, and welcoming manner. He is a brilliant host, excellent cook, and good humored companion. The world of Dewey studies, and Classical American philosophy generally would not be what it is today without his tireless life of service, both in editing and administrating editorial and publishing projects, and his original scholarly contributions. Speaking of the latter, no scholar of Dewey today aiming for recognition could write about technology and its cultural implications without contending with Larry’s writings. I owe my sense of what it means to be an academic scholar, teacher, and student-mentor to Larry Hickman, and it is simply a joy to be able to join everyone in his honor for this worthy occasion.”
In fall 1978 I joined the UT Austin philosophy department as a one-year visiting assistant professor, hoping not to fall off the cliff to academic unemployment. As a former student of John McDermott I often visited College Station that year. Larry and I hit it off, and with his typical generosity he invited me to his home for dinner. He was the first person I knew who had a VCR player at home (we watched the original Star Wars), borrowed as I recall from A&M as he used videos to teach philosophy of technology. So at the time I was mainly impressed that he had that big box, but in retrospect I should have been more impressed at his imaginative use of video in teaching, which we now take for granted. So Larry was from the very beginning not just thinking about technology but very much using it in his work. Larry’s kind encouragement was valuable to me as I went back on the job market, a quality that so many of his friends, colleagues and students have obviously much appreciated over the years. I am here to say that is exactly the kind of person he has always been. “