Volume 23, Issue 1, 2019
Trine Antonsen, Erik Lundestad
Borgmann and the Non-Neutrality of Technology
The paper focuses on Albert Borgmann’s philosophy of technology. We argue in support of Borgmann’s “Churchill principle” (“we shape our buildings, and afterwards they shape us”) as presented in Real American Ethics (RAE) (2006) by comparing it to findings within behavioral economics in general and to the “libertarian paternalism” of Cass R. Sunstein and Richard H. Thaler in particular. According to our interpretation of it, the Churchill principle implies that because our material environment in fact influences our choices, this environment can and should be rearranged so that we “automatically” will tend to make better decisions. Having defended the Churchill principle, we go on to discuss how this principle is related to Borgmann’s approach in Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life (TCCL) (1984). In this earlier work, Borgmann suggests we reform technology by making room for focal practices, that is, meaningful practices in which we develop our skills and excellences. We argue that while these two works have different basic approaches—rearranging the material environment in RAE and developing certain skills and excellences in TCCL—they can and ought to be seen, not as mutually excluding, but as supplementing one another. Together they form a highly salient critique of technology that takes into consideration questions of the good life without becoming overly paternalistic.