Material Culture and Technological Determinism

Title: Material Culture and Technological Determinism
Authors: MacIntyre, Hector
Date: 2015
Abstract: This dissertation has two results. First, I argue that each of the two basic components of technological determinism (TD)—what I call the inexorability thesis and the autonomy thesis—are plausible claims on a naturalistic stance. Second, I argue that a normative model for the design of cognitive systems can guide the practice of cognitive engineering, e.g. the task of building cognitive aids and enhancements. TD conjoins two logically independent but empirically related claims. The inexorability thesis is the claim that technology change is an evolutionary process. I defend this claim against considerations raised by Lewens, most notably the lack of a robust account of artifact reproduction that would underwrite genuine transmission. I consider (but reject) the solution of memeticists to this problem. I find that theorists of cultural evolution, e.g. Boyd and Richerson (among others), do present a plausible response. Technologies can be said to evolve via the cumulative selective process of cultural retention. The autonomy thesis is the claim that features of human cognitive agency arise from material culture. I argue for this thesis through a consideration of the merits of Preston’s theory of material culture. Her sociogeneric approach attributes human cognitive agency to a material cultural genesis, and this approach is backed by strong anthropological evidence. Preston would not accept the thesis but she does not manage to exclude it, despite an admirable attempt to develop an account of innovation. I also consider the design of technologies in the practice of cognitive engineering and propose adopting a normative theory of factitious intellectual virtue as a model to guide design in this arena.
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -