Mit271: Technology and Human Values January 17, 2002

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MIT271: Technology and Human Values

January 17, 2002

Freedom and Happiness

  • No office hour this week — feel free to make an appointment




Test 1

= 15%

Test 1

= 20%

Test 2

= 15%

Test 2

= 20%

Essay 1 (2-3pp.)

= 10%

no short essay

Essay 2 (5-7pp.)

= 30%

Essay (5-7pp.)

= 30%

Test 3

= 30%

Test 3

= 30%


Freedom vs. Happiness


1. Positive freedom

  • Freedom TO

2. Negative freedom

  • Freedom FROM

  • Interference by outside forces: other people, institutions

  • Some examples?

David Strong: Technological Subversion

Main point: ironically, “technology fails most where it succeeds most, at procuring happiness” (155)
Why? Because we disengage from the world and become distracted by consumption
He sets aside concerns about ecosystem destruction, population explosion, pollution, etc., that may impose greater burdens on humanity than they take away.
He argues that the issues of social justice surrounding technology will not be met until those of who receive the most privilege from it come to terms with the questionable nature of technology’s promise.

General worth of technology: availability

  • Easier

  • Instantaneous

  • Ubiquitous

  • Safer

… all in all, more convenient
Technology relieves burdens:

  • less effort

  • less time

  • fewer learning skills

  • fewer constraints of time and place

  • fewer risks

… which would seem likely to make people happier: liberation and human enrichment might be fuelled by this domination of nature
Expected benefits: freedom in the service of happiness and prosperity

  • Aristotle: the ultimate purpose / value

  • happiness = eudaimonia

or human flourishing, the good life

  • requires the development of moral and intellectual virtues

Strong: freedom and prosperity may be appropriate visions of the good life, but technology may not provide it.

  • Technological freedom = disburdenment

  • Technological prosperity = affluence of devices (“the goods life”)

From Borgmann:



  • e.g. hearth

  • e.g. central heating

  • ideally: means are invisible

IRONICALLY: promise of disburdenment leads to alienation: disengagement, loneliness, distraction, diversion

Some burdens are “good in senses that touch our very humanity” (155). Without them we are bored! Thus we seek diversion, and frivolous technologies. So, typically, technology fails to provide the happiness we seek from it. It only engenders a desire for further commodities.
Final consumption: to divert ourselves from our boredom — e.g. TV

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