THEORIES OF TECHNOLOGY AS EXTENSION OF HUMAN FACULTIES
Below is a link to a preprint version of the following article:
Brey, P. (2000). ‘Technology as Extension of Human Faculties.’ Metaphysics, Epistemology, and Technology.
Research in Philosophy and Technology, vol 19. Ed. C. Mitcham. London: Elsevier/JAI Press.
‘The idea that technology is an extension of the human organism is encountered regularly in the history of thought about technology. The idea, in its most basic form, is that technical objects extend the human organism by replicating or amplifying bodily and mental abilities. This idea is usually presented as a key to a better understanding of technology. In this essay, I will discuss three theories of technology as extension, as developed in book-length studies by Marshall McLuhan, Ernst Kapp, and David Rothenberg. My aim is to investigate whether there is a valid and useful sense of ‘extension’ according to which technology can indeed be analyzed as an extension of human faculties or organs. The outcome of this investigation will be affirmative, and I will end up presenting a unified account of technology as extension of human faculties, that builds on previous accounts.
As I will argue later on, the value of a perspective of technology as extension of human faculties is twofold. First, such a perspective can serve to provide a better understanding of the evolution of technology, and its diverse forms and applications. Second, this perspective can be useful in evaluative analyses of the role of technology in society. The argument that a perspective of technology as an extension has this potential value is made in section 5. The bulk of this essay, however, is devoted to a development of the account of technology as extension of human faculties itself. In the next section, the extension theories of McLuhan, Kapp, and Rothenberg are reviewed. In section 2, these three theories are evaluated and a unified theory of technology as extension is argued for. Section 3 further develops and expands this theory, and section 4 discusses various ways in which technical artefacts, perceived as extensions, may relate to the human organism.’