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Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology

Volume 17, Issue 1, Winter 2013

Extending Feenberg: Toward the Instrumentalization of the Critical Theory of Technology

Graeme Kirkpatrick
Pages 25-46
DOI: 10.5840/techne20131713

Formal Bias and Normative Critique of Technology Design

Andrew Feenberg’s distinction between formal and substantive bias in the design of technology is interrogated. The two dimensions of his definition—inten­tion and the enhancement of specific social interests—are examined and eight logical possibilities arising from his argument are identified. These possibilities are explored through discussion of examples and it is argued that Feenberg has both: a) not broken sufficiently with substantivist philosophies of technology so that he retains ambivalence on technology’s ‘biased essence,’ and b) illegitimately rejected the idea of a technology that is biased in itself. The latter category is important to critical theory of technology and the paper offers a conceptualization of it that draws on Habermas’s discourse ethics.