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Philosophy on the Web

Philosophy and Technology Syllabus

By Bruce Umbaugh
Monday, January 06, 2003


PHIL 2330.01

Philosophy and Technology

An Internet course

New information technologies have been hailed as the most important advance for humankind since the harnessing of fire and condemned as escapist and alienating. Which is it?

Philosophy and technology is about how technologies embody values. How might a technology be democratic, say, or infringe privacy? How can technology promote free speech or theft? We seek the truth about computer-mediated communication, virtual realities, cryptography, and the like.

Our course is also about making conscious decisions when we face technological choices, and about the various futures that those choices help to bring about. We will consider the prospects for virtual community, the disruptive effects of peer-to-peer technologies like Napster, the implications of "smart mobs" (groups of people who can act in concert without knowing one another), and the place of online education itself.

This is an Internet course--students should have full Internet access and be familiar with the use of e-mail and the World Wide Web. Our interaction and conversation will be mediated by e-mail and by a Web-based conferencing system established for the course. (More information on the conferencing system is available from this link.)

Requirements include

  • regular participation
  • writing a book review
  • leading discussion
  • and an exam.

Our aims include, on one hand, learning about and understanding some problems raised by new technologies and technological change. On the other hand, we hope to learn about and understand pedagogy for some forms of Internet-based learning, as well.

Readings for the course will, some of them, be materials available on the World Wide Web or that we furnish one another. The assigned textbooks are:


Both are available from via the links given here, and both are likely to be available at bricks-and-mortar bookstores that you frequent.

Each student will lead discussion on some portion of our textbooks, and each will read, review, and lead discussion on some other book relevant to the issues of the course.

Grades will be determined according to the following scheme:

  • 30% regular participation
  • 25% book review
  • 20% leading discussion
  • 25% exam

Attendance? Well, we won't meet face to face. We won't even all use the conferencing system at once, in all likelihood. So, there is no attendance requirement in the usual sense. Your active participation in the conferencing system is another matter. You would be foolish to blow it off, since it is so much of what the course is, and because it accounts for 30% of your grade. Further, you are responsible for knowing whatever is announced in the class conference. Engaging other participants intellectually within the conferencing system is each student's paramount obligation in this class.

In addition, each student will be expected to review a relevant book, according to instructions that will be posted in the class conference, and lead discussion in a topic devoted to it. Each student will be responsible for researching and leading discussion on a relevant text. Each student will take a final exam that reviews material covered in the course.

Philosophy and Technology is coded to satisfy the general education requirement "Values" [VAL].

You are adults, attending a university. I expect you to behave responsibly. Students in this class are expected to do their own work and not to rely on the work of others. Students are welcome to work with one another to understand the material, but any student plagiarizing, cheating on an exam, aiding another student to cheat, or committing any other act of academic dishonesty will be referred for appropriate disciplinary action. Please consult with me if you have questions in this regard, either about your own work or that of another person.


    Taught by

    Bruce Umbaugh of the Philosophy Department.

    RL office: Pearson House basement

    phone: 968-7172 (office) or 968-7170 (PHIL office)

    RL office hours: by appointment virtual contact: e-mail or on the Web-conferencing system established for the course