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Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology


Special Issue

(Expected: Volume 24, Issue 1, 2020)

Guest Editors
Lars Botin
Bas de Boer
Tom Børsen

Department of Planning
Techno-Anthropology and Participation
Aalborg University, Denmark

Department of Philosophy
University of Twente, The Netherlands

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SUBMISSION DEADLINE: February 15th , 2019

We are keen and proud to be able to present a proposition for intra-action in between two of the main approaches in current philosophy of technology: postphenomenology and Critical Constructivism. For years, an intense dialogue has been going on in between scholars representing those two strands of philosophy of technology, but up until now an explicit exchange between the two approaches has been largely absent in the literature. In this special issue, we attempt to bridge and connect postphenomenology and Critical Constructivism in order to make way for new ethico-political, and empirical enquiries into evermore emerging and incumbent technological problems and challenges of contemporary society.

Postphenomenology and Critical Constructivism have a different philosophical legacy: postphenomenology is inspired by phenomenology (e.g., Heidegger, Husserl, Merleau-Ponty), while Critical Constructivism stands in the tradition of critical theory (e.g., Horkheimer and Marcuse). However, at the same time, there seems to be a common ground: both approaches aim to help shaping individuals able to develop a critical relation towards technologies, and draw on pragmatism (e.g., Dewey) to point to the political relevance of technologies. To what extent does this common ground call for an integration of both approaches? And to what extent does it constitute differences between postphenomenology, Critical Constructivism, and their respective historical ancestors?

Phenomenology has a focus on rootedness, locality and place, and the embodied individual as human being together with others, whereas Critical Theory looks at social groups and how these arrange themselves within a societal framework of power structures. This difference is seemingly of ontological character, which means that the worldview of Critical Theory is concerned with how the production of power affects social groups and how science and philosophy should make way for empowerment and emancipation of marginalized groups in this production. Phenomenology has in many ways avoided these types of discussions, even though Martin Heidegger has pointed at the fact that the individual embodied being seems to be under pressure by the paradigm of calculation, efficiency and profit, i.e. the enframing powers of technology.

The contributions to this special issue should explicitly aim to develop a dialogue between Postphenomenology and Critical Constructivism. Establishing this dialogue is important because discussing the similarities and differences between these approaches is relevant for three key themes in current philosophy of technology: (1) how we should deal with ethical and normative concerns arising in relation with (new and emerging) technologies, (2) the politics needed to adequately deal with the technological innovation, development, implementation and use (3) how to empirically (i.e., methodologically) study the relations between humans and technologies, and how empirical research should be embedded into philosophical reflections of ethico-political character.

  • (1) Ethics: Ethical and normative concerns emerge in the face of technological innovation, development, implementation and use, but how can these be adequately addressed? According to Critical Constructivists, ethical values are needed to develop a normative stance towards technologies. Postphenomenologists argue that human values are dynamically constituted in our relation with technologies, with the danger of falling into moral relativity. How must we think philosophically about the ever-changing nature of human values on the one hand, and the need for relatively stable normative frameworks on the other?

  • (2) Politics: Postphenomenologists emphasize the need to “do politics” instead of “talking about politics”, thereby sketching a picture of the political arena as one of practical action rather than rational discourse. Critical Constructivism stresses the importance of political discourse (i.e., ideology) in order to legitimize how political issues are practically dealt with. How to understand the relation between practical actions and their rational legitimation, which presumably leaves us impotent to act upon technological developments? And how to productively think about this problematic relation between these two aspects in terms of a politics of technology?

  • (3) Empirical Research: Both approaches are in one way or another part of the empirical turn in philosophy of technology and explicitly attempt to connect philosophy to actual practices that develop in relation to both existing and emerging technologies. But what is the relation between empirical research and the (traditional) aim of philosophy to make claims that transcend the domain of the empirical? And to what extent does the specific relation between philosophy and empirical research in each of the approaches gives rise to a specific conception of a politics and/or ethics of technology? Can we think ethico-political dimensions as revisiting the empirical turn as a common ground for postphenomenology and Critical Constructivism?

The contributions to this issue should address the relations and intersections in between postphenomenology and Critical Constructivism, in relation to the three key themes identified above (ethics, politics and empirical research). This also means that contributions should revolve around emergent and incumbent problems in modern society, and in this way, react and respond to dominant political, technological and economic paradigms of fragmentation, disruption and dispersion, and how those are experienced by individuals.

Papers should be between 6000-8000 words (including notes and references), to be prepared for blind review with no identifying references to you or your institution and accompanied by an abstract of no more than 300 words plus 4-6 key words. For detailed instructions consult Techné’s submission guidelines.

Please submit your paper online here and make a note mentioning this special issue in the cover letter of the submission: https://mc04.manuscriptcentral.com/techne.

Special Issue


(Expected: Volume 23, Issue 2, 2019)

Guest Editors
Johanna Seibt
Raffaele Rodogno

Research Unit for Robophilosophy
School for Culture and Society
Aarhus University, Denmark

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So-called ‘social robots’ are embodied artificial agents that move in the physical space of human social interaction and can be perceived as social agents or social interaction partners—due to their appearance, their movements, and their behavioral functionalities. This new type of robot technology attracts and calls for increasing attention since “social robotics” is expected to be the driving factor in the comprehensive automation of all industrial sectors envisaged under the header “industry 4.0” or, more dramatically, as the “robot revolution.” One particularly prevalent reason for philosophers in particular, and Humanities researchers in general, to concern themselves with the prospect of a widespread use of social robots, is the fact that the affordances of social robots also include the capacity to elicit human emotional responses, especially positive emotional appeal and attachment. Research in Human-Robot Interaction Studies (HRI) and Social Robotics has begun to investigate the emotional dimension in our experience of social robots and the relationship between emotional response to and social cognition of these devices. However, the systematic complexity of the conceptual implications of these phenomena and their normative aspects call for a wider scope of interdisciplinary competences.

The contributions collected within this special issue will address the emotional dimension of the human experience of social robots from the perspective of “robophilosophy”, a new area of interdisciplinary research in philosophy (Seibt et al. 2014). Robophilosophy is “philosophy of, for, and by social robotics” but undertaken in closest interdisciplinary contact (mostly: in research collaborations) with all disciplines involved in specific social robotics applications (robotics, cognitive science, psychology, sociology, anthropology, linguistics, education science). The aim of this issue thus is to engage the pressing questions of the emotional dimension of social robotics from a perspective that combines the empirical knowledge with the specific tools and competences that philosophers can bring to questions of conceptual implications and normative assessments.

Can robots have emotions? While this question is doubtless of central significance for the ontology of mind and is currently investigated in artificial intelligence research, the focus of this special issue will not be on the possible realization of emotions as ‘inner’ states with phenomenal qualities, but on the display of emotions and the affordance of emotions. That is, the articles featured in this special issue will investigate either (i) the conceptual and ethical implications of social robots displaying emotions, or (ii) the conceptual and ethical implications of social robots affording emotions, in close interaction with empirical case studies investigating specific applications and the specific affective reactions relevant in the given context. While these two perspectives, (i) robot display of emotion versus (ii) affordance of human emotion are frequently interconnected, the editors submit that a more careful distinction between the two will allow us to develop particularly productive and focused answers to the following core questions:

  • Is the display of emotions an indispensable element in human social cognition—i.e., can we understand an agent as a ‘social’ agent if no emotions are displayed? And if so, how could we construct a new perceptual category for non-emotional social agents, given the rich network of conceptual implications in which our current notion of sociality is embedded? For example, what would be the legal and moral status of social agents that do not display emotions?

  • Should we, for ethical reasons, encourage or warn against the production of agents that aim to interact with us on the model of familiar social interactions but do not display emotions?

  • In view of current research results on the extent to which humans get emotionally engaged with and attached to social robots, what are the conceptual and ethical implications of designing affordances for emotions in robots? Can we conceptually make room for the fact that in human-robot interaction relational predicates (such as ‘friend’ or ‘caretaker’) or even descriptions of behavior (‘is acting friendly’ or ‘is helping’) turn into expressions for response-dependent properties (affords being responded to as friend or caretaker, affords being perceived as acting friendly or helping) which in turn would justify human emotional reactions such as delight, sympathy, or gratitude?

  • In which contexts might it be ethically permissible or even advisable to design such affordances for human emotional reactions? What are the implications for the legal and moral status of robots if they afford emotional reactions in the humans they interact with and, in particular, also engender ‘moral sentiments’?

In addition, methodological questions will be raised about the direct possible contribution of philosophy to HRI—for example, whether the analytical categories of social ontology or the phenomenological descriptions of human experiences in interactions with robots can usefully be added to the descriptive and analytical tools currently used in HRI.

Papers should not exceed 7,500 words (excluding notes and references), should be prepared for blind review with no identifying references to you or your institution, and should be accompanied by an abstract of no more than 250 words plus 4-6 key words. For detailed instructions consult Techné’s submission guidelines.

Please submit your paper online here: https://mc04.manuscriptcentral.com/techne.

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