For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Technology as Skill and Activity: Revisiting the problem of Alienation"

by Coeckelbergh, Mark (2012)


Can we conceive of a philosophy of technology that is not technophobic, yet takes seriously the problem of alienation and human meaning-giving? This paper retrieves the concern with alienation, but brings it into dialogue with more recent philosophy of technology. It defines and responds to the problem of alienation in a way that avoids both old-style human-centered approaches and contemporary thingcentered or hybridity approaches. In contrast to the latter, it proposes to reconcile subject and object not at the ontic level but at the ontological, transcendental level and at the level of skilled activity. Taking inspiration from Dreyfus’s reading of Heidegger and engaging critically with the work of Borgmann and Arendt, it explores a phenomenology and ethics of skill. It is concluded that new and emerging technologies must be evaluated not only as artifacts and their consequences, but also in terms of the skills and activities they involve and require. Do they promote engagement with the world and with others, thus making us into better persons?

Key Passage

This turn to skill—and indeed to technology as skilled activity—implies that at the ontological, transcendental level there is no problem of alienation—with regard to technology or otherwise. In this sense it is appropriate to say that if we feel alienated, it is always alienation ‘in spite of’: alienation amounts to not recognizing the deeper bonds that are there at the transcendental level. We are already related. What alienates us, are theories, principles or procedures that make us feel as if we are detached from the world. What matters, instead, is finding out good ways of doing and good ways of living by being engaged with the world and while being engaged with the world. Thinking should not be divorced from experience and practice. (p.214)


Technology, Skill, Heidegger, Arendt, Phenomenology, Techne, Alienation


Technology, On Heidegger, On Arendt

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