Technology as a topic of intentional inquiry in the Philosophy Department

Questions and issues relevant to popular culture and national discourse are frequently and intentionally engaged by PLU’s Philosophy Department.  We seek to address these questions and issues as they arise and also to incorporate them systematically into the curriculum.  This year, technology has emerged as a particularly interesting subject of philosophical investigation for PLU students.  Here are some highlights from Fall 2014:

Apollon vainqueur du serpent Python; Photo by Betsy Weber

Apollon vainqueur du serpent Python; Photo by Betsy Weber

Dr. Pauline Shanks Kaurin, Chair of the Philosophy Department, and Dr. Eva Johnson, Dean for Student Development and Director of Student Involvement and Leadership, organized a panel session on the topic of selfies held on September 16, 2014.  The panelists included Dr. Sergia Hay (Philosophy), Dr. Jp Avila (Art and Design), and Donna Gibbs (Vice-President for Marketing and Communications).

The event was organized to discuss the moral issues surrounding selfies, particularly in light of the recent controversy in which a young woman took a selfie at Auschwitz.  The panel discussed selfie taking by politicians (such as President Obama at Nelson Mandela’s funeral) and other public figures, as well as how selfies taken by private individuals raise important questions about contemporary aesthetics, the ethics of our public expressions and interactions, and ultimately how this technology is shaping our views of ourselves and others.

In honor of World Philosophy Day on November 20, 2014, Dr. Nolen Gertz and philosophy students Olivia Killingsworth, Branden Ginther, and Matthew Ambrosecchio held a panel discussion entitled “#GamerGate, Feminism, and the Ethics of Gaming Journalism.”

#GamerGate refers to the recent debate surrounding concerns about the objectivity of video game journalists and sexism within gaming culture.  The event was held at the Garfield Book Company, and the panel and audience discussed such issues as why feminism is necessary for gaming journalism, whether video games are misogynistic, and the differences between how feminists understand #GamerGate and how gamers understand #GamerGate.

Read more about #GamerGate in “#GamerGate–Is It About Misogyny or Ethical Journalism? Why Not Both” by PLU’s Dr. Nolen Gertz.

Dr. Michael Schleeter is directing philosophy majors in their capstone projects on the topic of “The Nature, Ethics, and Politics of Technology.” During Fall 2014, students questioned the common conception of technology as an instrumentum or means, which human beings use to pursue their various ends.  They also explored other questions, such as:

  • Has modern technology fundamentally altered the ways we understand and relate to the world, others, and ourselves?
  • Has modern technology fundamentally altered the kinds of projects we pursue? If so, has it altered them for good or ill?
  • And, in light of these questions, what responsibilities do we have, both individually and collectively, with respect to modern technology?

After these investigations, students developed their own arguments, which were presented as final papers and presentations in Spring 2015.

Capstone Students and Projects
  • Matthew Ambrosecchio, “Mario the New Mona Lisa: A Philosophical Investigation of Videogames as Art”
  • Kelli Blechschmidt, “Releasing the Chains of Labor Pains: A Beauvoirian Technological Analysis”
  • Branden Ginther, “Group-Link: How Morals Could Work with Artificial Intelligence”
  • Terrell Hawkins, “The Search for Sophrosyne: Obtaining Moderation in an Age of Technological Excess”
  • Lewis Hitchiner, “A Facebook Status: What’s on Your Mind?”
  • Christopher Johnson, “Cyberbullying: How Technology Altered Communication”
  • Olivia Killingsworth, “The Technology of Globalization and Oppression: A Care Ethics Approach”
  • Jakob Maier, “Are There Aesthetics in the Technological Embrace?: On Whether Computers Can Create Poetry and Art”
  • Joe Norton, “Poetry: A Response to Modern Technology”
  • Robert Shaw, “Passing the Turing Test: Machines, Minds, and Inquiry”
  • Stu Weaverling, “How Does Technology Encourage Evil?”
  • McKenzie Williams, “Complexity in the American Food System: A Relativist Response to Martin Heidegger”