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Reviewed by:
  • Technology and Values: Essential Readings
  • Shannon Vallor (bio)
Technology and Values: Essential Readings. Edited by Craig Hanks. Malden, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. Pp. xv+542. $50.

This expansive collection speaks to a growing interdisciplinary audience of scholars, students, and professionals who recognize the need for greater attention to the complex and evolving relationship between technology and values. It succeeds admirably at the task of generating cohesion around this important theme, a task made all the more challenging by its ecumenical approach, as well as the sheer number (forty-six) of essays and selections included.

The collection is divided into two sections, the first consisting of theoretical reflections and the second of applied reflections on technology and [End Page 538] values. The first section includes six chapters: introductory considerations, issues of technology and autonomy, and approaches of existential/phenomenological, critical, pragmatic, and feminist theory to questions of technology and values. Here one finds a concentration of familiar classics in the philosophy of technology, including key works by Hans Jonas, Bruno Latour, Jacques Ellul, Martin Heidegger, Albert Borgmann, Herbert Marcuse, Jürgen Habermas, Andrew Feenberg, John Dewey, and Donna Haraway, among others. While the terminological and conceptual flourishes of seminal thinkers like Latour, Heidegger, and Haraway will challenge readers looking for a first introduction to the topic, these essential selections are well-balanced with less-technical pieces that can collectively illuminate the general features of the theoretical landscape for those unfamiliar with the primary literature.

Editor Craig Hanks takes care to choose selections that explicitly raise, or at least directly implicate, the question of values. However, the introductory materials could offer more to help readers by anticipating where and how each author's general theoretical perspective on technology engages these questions of values. While the connections are there, and in some selections so explicit as to make pointing them out unnecessary, in other cases the link is less transparent and may be missed by some. A further enhancement, particularly for classroom use, would be expanded editorial explanations of how the various theoretical perspectives might be applied to empirical questions about technology and values raised in the second section.

This second section, focusing on applied considerations, offers a more diverse range of disciplinary and cultural views, incorporating philosophical and sociological analyses with perspectives from biologists, historians, architects, journalists, computer scientists, and activists. Hanks's organizational choices are well-motivated and not entirely conventional; along with expected chapters on hot-button topics in information technology, biotechnology, and environmental policy, one finds a chapter on technology and values in everyday life and another on urban values—topics that get far less attention from applied ethicists than they merit, especially when measured by their actual cultural impact on human lives. Indeed, it is these chapters where the relationship between technology and human values is most richly explored, and where many of the most pressing and difficult questions for our technological culture are posed. Some of the other chapters struggle to achieve the same illuminating power. The chapter on biotechnology suffers from a relative lack of cohesion, due partly to its six selections covering a wide range of biomedical research and reproductive and agricultural biotechnologies that raise very different kinds of value questions. It also fails to adequately integrate the philosophical selections with those addressing the technical and scientific considerations involved in hazard and risk assessment.

These are imposing challenges for any collection on the topic, but [End Page 539] adjustments to the selections and/or expanded editor commentary could have improved the fit. Additionally, the chapter on environmental values merges philosophy of technology, environmental ethics, and ecology in a way that, rather than clarifying the deep relations between these fields, tends to muddy them. Again, Hanks could have done much to alleviate this problem by tackling it head-on in the chapter introduction, which as it stands is devoted to biographical sketches and summaries of the individual selections, offering no conceptual architecture that will help the reader to integrate them and locate their convergence on critical questions of technology and values.

Yet for its size and scope this collection does a remarkable job of addressing a critical need for greater scholarly and public attention...


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pp. 538-540
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