Philosophy of science vs technology

There is also a historical difference between science and technology. Science can be seen as developed out of philosophy, while technology has strong roots in crafts and workmanship. By the classic Greeks, craftsmanship was seen as a kind of (slave)labor and was held in low regard compared with the higher activities of the mind. This stance continued with the values of Christianity and still influences the general mindset today, as we can see by the different amount of interest there is, including in philosophy, for technology compared with `pure science'. As Schön noted:

The greater one's proximity to basic science, as a rule, the higher one's academic status. General, theoretical, propositional knowledge enjoys a privileged position. [Schön1988a: 9]

Since then that status difference diminished a little, one can observe a growing interest in practice, the recent increased amount of activities in the area of philosophy of technology can be seen as a measure. However now also other trades play a greater role, more decisions now are made by business management, often, not hampered by knowledge of what it is about. The extreme growth in MBA education is an indication, but is philosophy of Business Administration developping as well?

One could say that technology, the way we use the term nowadays, only started after the combination of scientific knowledge with crafts, workmanships experiences of artifacts starting in the 17th century and getting accelerated by the growth of scientific knowledge in the 19th century into a kind of explosive growth, together with science since the second half of the twenties century as a kind of symbiosis. Most scientific work today relays on technological artifacts.

There is a gray area between pure science, without any perspective of any usage in applications such as astronomy and particle physics (below a level of application) and technology usualy indicated as applied sciences. Generally speaking applied sciences include the activities to acquire knowledge with the intention to potentially apply this knowledge in future. A good example of an applied science is the research and design of materials.


In a short note Thomas S. Kuhn states that:

[a]n analysis of the development of scientific knowledge must take account of the way science has actually been practiced.[Kuhn1970: 11]

He criticizes Popper with the observation that in science rejection of theories is an exception, only applicable to occasional revolutionary parts, Most scientific development constitutes small steps forward. Kuhn observes an other anomaly in the assumed rational process of verification by testing. The acceptance of Copernicus' model as a replacement of the Ptolemaic approach, by astronomers at the time, was not based on a better fit with test results, it was related to the approach itself. Kuhn concludes then that:

[t]o rely on such testing as the mark of a science is to miss what scientists mostly do and, with it, the most characteristic feature of their enterprise....(Kuhn's original paper ends with these 4 dots!) [Kuhn 1970: 17]

Kuhn's observation that what scientists usualy do, is not testing theories on the possibility to reject them, is correct. However, that is not what Popper proposed. Poppers falcification theorem is one of the elements to be used as demarcation and selection determinants between theories.\fn{For a summary of Popper's position see attachment 1}
Kuhn is right with his remark that the most characteristic feature of science as an enterprice should be based on what scientist mostly do, although some other characteristics might be applicable as well. His appeal to look for the actual activities is most applicable in the area of technology as well. This aspect will be worked out in section 3.2.
Also, his mark on anomalies will prove to be applicable in technological development as will come up in 3.5.

Verification and falsification

Although certainly not intended by Popper, his criteria show an interesting similarity with methodologies in the area of technology. Artifacts for daily use are subject to tests not only to verify what they should do, but also to tests outside their functional specifications.
Any intermediate state, but certainly the expected final state of a theory and of a product design should be not only verified against the starting requirements, but also subjected to a falsification process. During the design process it is the task of the designer to consider falsification scenarios and apply tests. At the end of various stages of the formal development process, the artifact will be subjected to a formalized verification/falsification process, including stress tests and failure analysis at which the severity depends on the application environment. (for a few more details see endnote 2)

The final 'verification' both in science and technology is the survival in time. Theories prove to be 'true' by their success of explaining observational facts or by being integrated into more generalized theories. Designed artifacts and design concepts in the end are verified by their success in surviving or getting integrated in new artifacts.


Although science and technology have a good amount of aspects in common, this is not reflected in their related philosophies. In philosophy of science one can observe typical controversies.(id.: 13)

1. There is the demarcation issue between science and pseudo-science. There might be some discussion in philosophy of technology on the demarcation between craftmanship and technology. But this is not a real issue of debate, one could use as definition that technology assumes progress wereas craftmanship applies available technology.

2. Then there is the so called realism-debate in the philosophy of science. There is no such debate in the philosophy of technology. Every thing seems real when realizable, even in the domain were most science philosophers question the reality of quantum mechanical theories, engineers start to design and realize quantum-devices. This position is articulated by Ian Hacking in his well known defense of his entity realism position, as he argues about electrons when you can spray them they are real. [Hacking 1982] Although this statement might not be really convincing in the realism debate, it is very applicable in the domain of technology. However to state that engineers are realists, in the sense as meant in the realism-debate, would not be fully correct. A good example is the way optics are handled. In the design of optical artifacts in general geometrical design is used, whereas all designers know about the wave character of light. Instead of calling them realists. one would better speak of pragmatists.\fn{Now the word pragmatist is used here in the sense of the daily meaning}

3. Related to the realism debate is the philosophical question whether there is progress in the sequence of scientific theories / whether progress can be proved. In science this position was first articulated by Larry Laudan.[Laudan1981}) Although in philosophy of technology critical ethical and aesthetical questions can be raised, in general progress can be measured in terms of increased functionality, efficiency and cost reduction.\fn{the interreation with ethical and aestetical issues will be worked out in section 3.4.3.}

In philosophy of technology one can observe a wide range of views but not (yet ?) similar basic controversies as the one just mentioned in the philosophy of science.

Philosophygarden        of Hans Tromp