Spool Five

Academic Work

Archived information from my past life as a philosophy PhD student.

Publications (peer-reviewed)

PhD Thesis

Title: Technologies in Practice: Paul Ricoeur and the Hermeneutics of Technique

Abstract: My doctoral thesis addressed key questions that arise when technologies are considered from the point of view of practitioners. Several hermeneutic philosophers have argued that modern technologies, while useful at the instrumental level, threaten our resources and capacity for practical wisdom. They argue that technological processes and artefacts present us with a homogenized, utilitarian outlook of the world, a view that, in its persuasiveness and effectiveness, conceals alternative ways of existing and relating to our environments. For example, a satellite navigation system in a car encourages us to view all places through the same interface, while simultaneously figuring previous modes of orientation (asking for directions, observing the surroundings) as redundant or inefficient.

However, while many features of these critiques are correct and highly pertinent, they themselves conceal important features of the role technologies play in human practices. Drawing parallels with the use of technique in psychoanalysis and other forms of linguistic interpretation, I argued that technologies can be seen as simply another, distanced way of viewing the same practices. The distance and difference introduced by these alternative, technical solutions to practical problems, also introduces a space of negotiation and uncertainty that can be harnessed by agents to produce novel outcomes. This insight is based on Paul Ricouer’s concept of ‘distanciation’, which describes the way that distancing oneself from an immediate experience is also a way of bringing oneself closer to it. For example, the system of writing contains its own rules and protocols that differ from those of living speech. However, the act of transcribing speech as writing reveals previously unnoticed aspects of what was said. Similarly, reading aloud a speech provides an alternative, but related, meaning than that which is gained from simply reading it. I claimed that a similar, back-and-forth movement persists between practical understanding and the technologies that attempt to relate to these understandings in a different form.

This research was original in that it introduced a missing concept into discussions in the philosophy of technology – practical wisdom (phronesis). Practical wisdom acts as the linchpin around which both human and technological forms of action are potentially reconciled. It maintains the critical thrust of hermeneutic approaches to technology in that it insists there are limits to what technologies can and can not express or relate to (one such limit that I discussed is cases of tragedy). However, it also allows us to consider the practical value of technologies as tools the enable the emergence of a distanced, different point of understanding and reflection. In this way, technologies can also be seen as tools that reveal reveal untried possibilities for practices. The corresponding task for agents engaging with technologies is to actively engage with this difference, rather than passively take for granted these new perspectives.

Supervisors: Todd Mei, Nicholas Davey

Conference Papers