What Things Do

Philosophical Reflections on Technology, Agency, and Design

By (author) Peter-Paul Verbeek

Paperback - £28.95

Publication date:

15 May 2005

Length of book:

264 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271025407

Our modern society is flooded with all sorts of devices: TV sets, automobiles, microwaves, mobile phones. How are all these things affecting us? How can their role in our lives be understood? What Things Do answers these questions by focusing on how technologies mediate our actions and our perceptions of the world.

Peter-Paul Verbeek develops this innovative approach by first distinguishing it from the classical philosophy of technology formulated by Jaspers and Heidegger, who were concerned that technology would alienate us from ourselves and the world around us. Against this gloomy and overly abstract view, Verbeek draws on and extends the work of more recent philosophers of technology like Don Ihde, Bruno Latour, and Albert Borgmann to present a much more empirically rich and nuanced picture of how material artifacts shape our existence and experiences. In the final part of the book Verbeek shows how his “postphenomenological” approach applies to the technological practice of industrial designers.

Its systematic and historical review of the philosophy of technology makes What Things Do suitable for use as an introductory text, while its innovative approach will make it appealing to readers in many fields, including philosophy, sociology, engineering, and industrial design.

“This is really a good book. The goal is to advance our philosophical and cultural understanding of technology with a focused interpretation of artifacts or material culture. As Verbeek correctly argues, previous modern philosophies of technology (Jaspers and Heidegger) have inadequately appreciated artifacts as artifacts. More contemporary philosophers of technology (Ihde, Latour, and Borgmann) have taken steps toward more adequate appreciations and understanding of artifacts, but their work calls for development and especially application to the real world of design. Verbeek demonstrates a solid appreciation of what has gone before him, fairly explicates and criticizes (his criticisms are always judicious and acknowledge others), and then creatively extends the movement toward a fuller appreciation of artifacts. If I were to give this book my own title, it would be ‘Artifacts Have Consequences’ (playing off the Richard Weaver book ‘Ideas Have Consequences’).”

—Carl Mitcham, Colorado School of Mines