Technology is the act of producing artifacts – machines, software and utensils, for example – with the intention of accomplishing a purpose. Such efforts often lead to the creation of byproducts, which are regarded as waste products.
Traditionally, the philosophical discussion of technology has focused on the impact that technological efforts have on society. This includes arguments to prescribe a course of action, known as normative arguments. The study of technological action also requires an understanding of theoretical economics, and the theory of practical rationality.
Aristotle’s doctrine of the four causes can be considered one of the early contributions to the philosophy of technology. His theory explains the nature of technical artifacts. In his Physics II.2, he referred to Democritus’ examples of weaving and house building, where the act of imitating nature was the key to the invention of these new technologies.
Another important early contribution to the philosophy of technology was the work of Francis Bacon. His New Atlantis (1627) is a positive view of technology. He argued that a philosophy of technology must involve the ordinary people in the shaping of technologies.
Karl Marx believed that technological innovation was an integral part of socialism. However, he never condemned spinning mills or any other machines.
During the late nineteenth century, the philosophical study of technology predominated. Although these philosophers were schooled in the humanities and social sciences, they had little first-hand knowledge of engineering practice.
Philosophical considerations of technology continue to expand. Most philosophers agree that technological development is a goal-oriented process.