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Technological Knowledge 1 Apr 7, 2011

TechnoIogicaI KnowIedge
In the Encvclopaedia Britannica technology is deIined as Iollows:
Technology is the application oI scientiIic knowledge to the practical aims oI human liIe or, as it is
sometimes phrased, to the change and manipulation oI the human environment. This document
discusses aspects oI the idea that engineering is (just) applied science.
1. TechnoIogy as appIied science
(Excerpt from Science, Technologv and the ScienceTechnologv Relationship Hans Radder in
Meifers 2009)
A still current view oI the relationship between science and technology is phrased by means
oI the Iormula technology is applied science`. A classic account oI this view has been presented by
Mario Bunge. He makes the Iollowing distinction between technology as applied science and pure
The method and the theories oI science can be applied either to increasing our knowledge oI
the external and the internal reality or to enhancing our welIare and power. II the goal is
purely cognitive, pure science is obtained; iI primarily practical, applied science. Thus,
whereas cytology is a branch oI pure science, cancer research is one oI applied research. (M.
Bunge. Technology as Applied Science.` Technologv and Culture, 7, 329-347,1966; p. 329)
Thus, it is the distinct aims which diIIerentiate (pure) science Irom technology. In Bunge`s view,
these aims pertain to the outlook and motivation oI the scientiIic and technological researchers.
Bunge develops this view as Iollows. Scientists strive Ior empirically testable and true theoretical
laws, which accurately describe (external or internal) reality and which enable us to predict the
course oI events. The technologist, in contrast, uses scientiIic laws as the Ioundation oI rules which
prescribe eIIective interventions in, and control oI, this reality Ior the purpose oI solving practical
problems and realizing social objectives. Taken together, science and technology (the latter in the
sense oI applied science) should be distinguished Irom those practical techniques and actions that
are not based on scientiIic theories or methods. Thus, in this view, Roman engineering and medieval
agriculture are practical arts and craIts rather than technologies. Since experimentation is a basic
method Ior testing scientiIic theories, Bunge distinguishes experimental action Irom both
technological and purely practical action.
Bunge |1966, p. 330| claims that the diIIerent aims oI science and technology are inIerred
Irom alleged diIIerences in outlook and motivation oI their practitioners. II this were meant in a
literal sense, he should have provided us with the results oI empirical investigations, such as
surveys, interviews, or other evidence about the attitudes or selI-images oI scientists and
technologists. Apparently, this is not Bunge`s intention. Instead, his discussion suggests that he
thinks that these outlooks and motivations can in some way be derived` or reconstructed` on the
basis oI the activities oI scientists and technologists. Hence, the discussion in this section Iocuses on
these (alleged) diIIerences in scientiIic and technological activities.
A Iurther characteristic oI this account oI the science-technology relationship is its
hierarchical nature. In particular, Bunge postulates an epistemological hierarchy between science
and technology. II true, scientiIic laws can provide a justiIication oI technological rules. The
converse is not possible, however: a working technological rule, which is merely practically
eIIective, can never justiIy a scientiIic law. By way oI example, he discusses the technology oI
making an optical instrument, such as the telescope. In designing and constructing such a device we
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do not exclusively employ wave optics, the most truthIul theory oI light in this context, but make
ample use oI the Ialse theory oI geometrical optics, which conceives oI light as propagating along
straight lines. Moreover, usually such construction work requires speciIic craIt skills (such as the
grinding oI the lenses or mirrors) which do not employ scientiIic theories but are based on eIIective
practical knowhow and procedures. Bunge concludes that a practically working artiIact, such as the
telescope, cannot justiIy the scientiIic laws employed in its construction.
In addition to the epistemological primacy oI science over technology, Bunge`s view entails
a temporal ordering. II technology is the result oI applying science, it Iollows that temporally prior
scientiIic research constitutes the driving Iorce oI technological development and innovation. This
idea oI science Iinds industry applies` is oIten called the linear model oI the science-technology
relationship. More or less similar hierarchical views oI the science-technology relationship can also
be Iound outside oI philosophy, Ior instance among scientists, policy-makers, and the public at
large. Sometimes such views include an even stronger hierarchical evaluation in that science is seen
as an exciting, creative quest Ior truth, while technology would merely involve the routine
application and exploitation oI the Iruits oI this quest.
2. TechnicaI knowIedge
(Excerpts from. The Nature of Technological Knowledge. Philosophical Reflections and
Educational consequences, Marc J. de Jries, Universitv of Technologv Delft. )
2.1. What is knowledge in general?
One oI the sub-domains in philosophy is epistemology. In this sub-domain the core question
is: what do we mean by the term knowledge`? In other words, what does it mean when we say: a
person P knows that x``, whereby x is a proposition, a statement about a state oI aIIairs? In
traditional epistemology this question is answered by listing three conditions Ior knowledge
(a) the person P must believe that x,
(b) the person P must have Iound some sort oI justiIication Ior believing that x,
(c) x must be true.
All three at Iirst sight seem relevant conditions. How can we say that someone knows
something iI he does not even believe it himselI or herselI? But also it seems Iair to require that in
order to change a mere belieI in knowledge that person has sought and Iound a justiIication Ior that
belieI. That justiIication can be maniIold: it can be someone`s own observation, it can be a
testimony by a trustworthy other person, it can be a sound reasoning Irom other Iacts that have been
justiIied already, and it can be drawn Irom one`s memory. Finally, we require the believed statement
x to be true. II someone claims to know that iron Iloats on water, we deny this to be knowledge.
There are however complications with respect to this simple deIinition oI technology. In the
mainstream epistemology debates a well known problem is what is called the Gettier problem. In an
extremely short, but now Iamous article, E.L. Gettier mentioned some examples in which the
person P believed that x, had Iound justiIication Ior that, and also x was true, but yet we would not
like to say that P knew that x. This happens Ior example when the justiIication that P Iound and the
Iact that x is true are a mere coincidence. Suppose that P reads his/her watch and then says: I know
that it is Iour o`clock now.` P believes this, has Iound justiIication Ior it (a personal observation) and
x is true, because indeed it is Iour o`clock at that moment. But, this is a coincidence, because P`s
watch does not run and by accident the reading oI the watch happens at the two single moments per
day that the static watch indicates the right time. All conditions Ior knowledge are IulIilled, yet we
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would not like to ascribe knowledge oI the correct time to the person P.
Various ways to repair` the Gettier problem and yet keep most oI the original deIinition oI
knowledge have been suggested. Most oI them add conditions to the existing set oI three to exclude
cases oI coincidence oI the justiIication and the truth oI the proposition x. Others completely
redeIine the concept. For example, A. Plantinga changes the internalist and deontological
perspective oI the original deIinition (knowledge is determined by Iactors within a person, e.g.
his/her belieI, and obligation to seek justiIication) into an externalist perspective, whereby the
criteria Ior knowledge are external (the proper Iunctioning oI the person`s Iaculty oI cognition, i.e.
according to its design plan). The debate about this is still ongoing.
2.2. Technological knowledge: normative components
But perhaps, more important Ior technology educators is the objection that comes Irom the
side oI philosophers oI technology. Considering what we would like to call knowledge` in
technology, they have come up with two issues. In the Iirst place not all knowledge in technology
can be expressed in propositions. When we say: the pupil should know how to use a hammer``, we
do not mean that the pupil believes propositions about how to use a hammer. That would be
knowing that` and what we really mean is knowing how` (these terms have been distinguished by
G. Ryle 1963). A second objection against the classical deIinition oI knowledge is that in
technology there are types oI propositional knowledge that cannot adequately be associated with
truth, because they do not reIer to an actual state oI aIIairs. Based on the distinction between the
Iunctional nature oI a technological artiIact (what it is supposed to do or be) and its physical nature
(geometry, materials) (see Kroes & Meijers 2000), we can at least distinguish the Iollowing Iour
types oI propositional knowledge in technology:
(a) X knows that carrying out action Ac with artiIact A will result in a change in state oI


. This is what I call Iunctional nature knowledge. The artiIact may not exist yet
(that is the case when the designer works on the Iunctional list oI requirements Ior the artiIact that is
yet to be designed). An example oI this knowledge type is: X knows that a cork can be extracted
Irom a bottleneck by getting grip on the cork and pulling it out (and a corkscrew is a device by
which this can be done).
(b) X knows that artiIact A has physical property p. This is what I call physical nature
knowledge. This knowledge can be knowledge about the material oI which A has been made and
about its shape. An example is: X knows that a corkscrew has a helix with a sharp point.
(c) X knows that the Iact that A has physical property p (or a combination oI properties pi)
makes it suitable Ior carrying out with the artiIact the action Ac that results in the change in state oI


. This is what I call knowledge oI the relationship between physical and
Iunctional nature. An example is: X knows that the sharp helix oI a corkscrew makes it suitable Ior
getting grip on a cork (so that it can be extracted Irom a bottleneck).
(d) X knows that the (intended) total change in state oI aIIairs


can be realized
through a series oI

. This is what was I call process knowledge. An example is: X knows that a
cork can be removed Irom a bottleneck by Iirst turning a corkscrew helix into a cork and then
pulling at the corkscrew handle.
Type (c) is akin to knowledge in natural sciences. But, the other types are But, the other types are
diIIerent Irom scientiIic knowledge. They have a normative component that scientiIic knowledge
does not have. When we have knowledge oI an electron, we cannot say it is good or bad. It just
behaves according to given natural laws. But, technological knowledge oI the types a, b and d
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comprise normative judgments. For type a knowledge we can say that a Iunction is well or badly
IulIilled. Note that there are serious problems here in deIining the truth criterion. When I know that
this is a broken car, how can I establish the truth oI that proposition? The proposition entails a
Iunction ascription that in this case is even impossible to veriIy. Yet we Ieel that it should be
acceptable as being knowledge to say that I know that this is a broken car. In the knowledge types b
and d there can be normative elements too. The sequence oI actions may be a technical norm Ior
doing something (e.g., Ior the design process there are lots oI prescriptive action sequences in
literature). Even iI it were possible to establish truth` here, still it would probably not be our main
interest. We would rather be interested in eIIectiveness oI such prescriptions than in their truth`
(whatever that might be). This normativity can have many expressions: as technical norms and
standards, as rules oI thumb, as good practice`, etcetera. But whatever these may be, they make the
deIinition oI knowledge as justiIied true belieI` inadequate Ior technological knowledge in general.
3. TechnicaI Functions
Excerpts Irom: Technical Functions as Dispositions: a Critical Assessment`
Peter Kroes, University oI Technology DelIt,
Summary: To understand the nature oI technological knowledge (i.e., knowledge oI technical
arteIacts as distinct Irom knowledge oI natural objects) it is necessary to develop an epistemology
oI technical Iunctions. This epistemology has to address the problem oI the meaning oI the notion
oI Iunction. |...One diIIiculty| concerns the issue oI the normativity; with regard to Iunctions ... it
makes sense to construct normative statements oI a particular kind, with regard to physical
|properties| it does not.
3.1. The dual nature of technological knowledge
Elsewhere we have argued Ior the dual ontological nature oI technical arteIacts (Kroes 1998).
On the one hand, they are physical objects or processes, with a speciIic structure (set oI properties),
the behaviour oI which is governed by the (causal) laws oI physics. On the other hand, an essential
aspect oI any technical object is its Iunction; think away Irom a technical object its Iunction and
what is leIt is just some kind oI physical object. It is by virtue oI its practical Iunction that an object
is a technical object. The Iunction oI technical objects, however, cannot be isolated Irom the context
oI intentional action (use). The Iunction oI an object, in the sense oI being a means to an end, is
grounded within that context. When we associate intentional action with the social world (in
opposition to causal action with the physical world), the Iunction can be said to be a social
construction. So, a technical arteIact is at the same time a physical construction as well as a social
construction: it has a dual ontological nature.
This dual ontological nature has its counterpart at the level oI technological knowledge.
Technological knowledge also has two Iaces. On the one hand, it concerns the physical (or
structural) properties oI technical objects. Consider a car. It has all kinds oI physical properties that
are oI crucial technical importance, such as its weight, the amount oI Iuel consumption per
kilometre, its shape, its air resistance, its breaking power, the shape oI its combustion chambers, the
temperature and pressure in the combustion chamber during a combustion cycle etc. Knowledge oI
these physical properties, oI how they hang together and oI the physical/chemical processes taking
place in, Ior instance, the engine oI the car during operation, is part and parcel oI standard
technological knowledge oI cars. On the other hand, technological knowledge also concerns the
Iunctional properties oI objects. Apart Irom knowing that a certain object has a round shape, is
made oI steel etc., we also know that it is a steering wheel, i.e. that it perIorms a certain Iunction in