Volume 48, 2008
Philosophy of Technology
Technology and Modality
A somewhat differing view at possibility
Modal concepts as possibility, necessity, contingency and reality belong to the most important means of reflection. They constitute philosophical systems - but they are not used in a systematic way to characterize technology. The central ontological problem consists in the fact that technology is based on new ideas, which at the beginning are a mere possibility, because the intended artifacts and processes never existed up to that moment. Even the blueprint expresses a possibility. But these possibilities must be realizable, since technological artifacts or processes have to work properly in the world following physical and
causal necessity. Moreover, boundary conditions, sometimes seen as feasibility (a very special kind of conditioned possibility), have to take into account conditions of the real world (as material, energy, local conditions), cognitive conditions (theoretical knowledge, know how – i.e. dispositions, which are possibilities, too), social and cultural conditions (norm, values i.e. deontic possibilities). They all constitute the realm of technological possibility. Within this region the development of technology takes place. But at the same time they have influenced our thinking and our culture from the very beginning.