What Things Do

July 4, 2009 — Leave a comment

What Things Do – Philosophical Reflections on Technology, Agency, and Design

By Peter-Paul Verbeek

“Peter-Paul Verbeek is one of the up-and-coming philosophers of technology. He has been able to combine some of the best insights from both contemporary philosophy of technology and the newer strands of science studies. Looking at materiality, he extends the attentiveness to things that comes from these movements. His own original insights show forth in this book.” —Don Ihde, SUNY–Stony Brook

“This is really a good book. The goal is to advance our philosophical and cultural understanding of technology with a focused interpretation of artifacts or material culture. . . . Verbeek demonstrates a solid appreciation of what has gone before him, fairly explicates and criticizes (his criticisms are always judicious and acknowledge others), and then creatively extends the movement toward a fuller appreciation of artifacts. If I were to give this book my own title, it would be ‘Artifacts Have Consequences’ (playing off the Richard Weaver book ‘Ideas Have Consequences’).” —Carl Mitcham, Colorado School of Mines

“In this insightful examination of the technological mediation in human action, he both poses new philosophical and societal questions, and offers a new way of bringing ethics into the practice of designing technical artifacts.” —Katinka Waelbers, Science and Engineering Ethics

Our modern society is flooded with all sorts of devices: TV sets, automobiles, microwaves, mobile phones. How are all these things affecting us? How can their role in our lives be understood? What Things Do answers these questions by focusing on how technologies mediate our actions and our perceptions of the world.

Peter-Paul Verbeek develops this innovative approach by first distinguishing it from the classical philosophy of technology formulated by Jaspers and Heidegger, who were concerned that technology would alienate us from ourselves and the world around us. Against this gloomy and overly abstract view, Verbeek draws on and extends the work of more recent philosophers of technology like Don Ihde, Bruno Latour, and Albert Borgmann to present a much more empirically rich and nuanced picture of how material artifacts shape our existence and experiences. In the final part of the book Verbeek shows how his “postphenomenological” approach applies to the technological practice of industrial designers.
Its systematic and historical review of the philosophy of technology makes What Things Do suitable for use as an introductory text, while its innovative approach will make it appealing to readers in many fields, including philosophy, sociology, engineering, and industrial design. Robert P. Cease

Peter-Paul Verbeek is a teacher and researcher in the philosophy of technology at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. His book was originally published in Dutch under the title De daadkracht der dingen: Over techniek, filosofie en vormgeving (2000).

Robert P. Crease is Associate Professor of Philosophy at SUNY–Stony Brook

To the book

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