Study Questions for Midterm

Nature, Technology, and Society Fall 2010

Study questions Winner, Technologies as Forms of Life

 1. How does Winner define/understand technology?

2. What are the two reasons Winner gives for why our society has not engaged in the philosophy of technology?

3. Explain the idea that “technology is neutral” and then Winner’s views on this idea.

4. What does Winner think about the idea that it is important to pay attention to the “side effects” of adopting a new technology? Are social changes that accompany the adoption of new technologies important “side effects”?

5. What is technological somnambulism and what does Winner think about it?

6. What is technological determinism? Is Winner a technological determinist?

7. Explain, using examples, in what way technologies are forms of life according to Winner.

8. What does it mean to say “people are what they do?”

9. Has the adoption of the computer changed the kind of people we are?


Study Questions, Roszak “In Defense of the Living Earth”

1. Define Luddism. Who were the Luddites?

2. Explain the idea of humans as “homo faber.” Does Roszak accept this idea?

3. Does Roszak reject all technology? Why or why not? Is he an absolute Luddite or a technological enthusiast?

4. What does Roszak think about the science behind modern technology?

5. Explain the four points of the Luddite program that Roszak identifies.

6. What is the relation between Luddism and industrialism according to Roszak?

Study questions on Shepard’s “The Only World We’ve Got”

1. What is evolutionary psychology? Does Shepard think out biology is important to us?

2. What consequences have come about, according to Shepard, from our belief that humans are largely free from our biology?

3. Why does Shepard think that we need to “go back to the Pleistocene?” What does he mean when he says this? According to Shepard, what do we need to do to reestablish our connection with nature and achieve human fulfilment?

4. How does he respond to those who argue we can’t go back?

5. What does Shepard think about the idea that scarcity is a fundamental human condition?

6. Does Shepard think Pleistocene humans had problems? How do they compare to the problems of modern people? According to Shepard, what problems grew worse with the invention of agriculture?

7. Does Shepard think our problems today are due to technology and materialism? Why or why not?

8. Explain why Shepard thinks our domestication of animals and plants has led to our alienation from nature.

Study questions on Diamond’s “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race”

1. What does Diamond think is the worst mistake? How can archeology provide evidence for this?

2. Why does Diamond’s agree or disagree with the idea that hunter-gatherers had to work more than agriculturalists to provide for their food?

3. What does Diamond think about the idea that agriculture increases food security (when compared with hunter gatherers)?

4. What does the evidence suggest about health of hunter-gatherers compared with agriculturalists?

5. Explain why Diamond thinks agriculture lead to despotism, deep class division, including sexual inequality.

6. Does Diamond think it is ridiculous to claim that people were better off as hunter gatherers than agriculturalists? Which people?

7. Does Diamond allow that agriculture is what allowed the creation of art?

8. According to Diamond, why did hunter-gatherers take up farming?

Question of Berry’s “Why I’m Not Going To Buy A Computer”


1. What are some of the reasons Berry gives for why he is not going to buy a computer?

2. Describe four (distinct) standards that Wendell Berry (in “Why I’m not going to buy a computer?”) has for accepting new technological innovation in his own work.

3. Does Berry think we should end all involvement in harmful technology right away?

4. Does Berry think that it is the producers of harmful goods that are responsible for their harm and that the consumers bear only secondary responsibility?

5. Describe Berry’s views about consumption and consumerism.

Study questions on Berry’s Feminism, the Body, and the Machine

1. What does Berry think of the idea that women need to work outside of the home in order to be liberated?

2. What does Berry think about the idea that our increased life expectancy shows that technological progress has improved our lives?

3. According to Berry, what are the aims of technological progress? What should be its aims on his view?

4. Does Berry think that we should aim for a life of ease? What do you think and why?

5. What does Berry think about the prospects of reducing our dependence on technologies we have already adopted?

6. Does Berry reject the idea that a computer would allow him to write faster, easier and in greater quantity?

7. Explain what Berry means by his concern that “technological progress leads to degradation and obsolescence of the body.” Apply this idea to the question of Berry using a computer in his writing.

8. Why does Berry think writing by hand is valuable?

9. What are some of the technologies Berry has rejected and what are some that he uses with regret?

10. According to Berry, where should we draw the line with new technology? Do you agree?

Study Questions Florman’s In Praise of Technology

1. What is Florman’s response to the idea that technology is beyond our control?

2. What is Florman’s response to the idea that technology degrades the quality of work?

3. What is Florman’s response to charge technology has created a class of technocrats who exploit others?

4. What is Florman’s response to the charge that technology harmfully separates humans from nature?

5. Does Florman think about the idea that use of technology alienates us from our human nature?

6. Does Florman agree with this statement? It is true that frequent contact with nature is essential to human well-being, but technology can help us with this contact

7. Explain in what ways Florman thinks critics of technology “romanticize primitive cultures.”

8. Evaluate Florman’s claims that “few people are willing to turn to the past” and that “the vast majority of people in the world want to move forward, whatever the consequences.”

Study questions for Lyon’s “Are Luddites Confused?”


1. What is Lyons’ definition of Luddism?

2. Explain Lyon’s defense of Luddism in his terms and then in your own plain language. What do you think of this argument?

3. Explain the idea that technology is neutral and then explain Lyon’s response to it in his discussion of the supposed neutrality of “power.”

4. What is the difference between “know-how” and “know-whether?” What does Lyons say about the relation of these two?

5. Explain: “Blind change helps entropy.”

6. State in detail Lyons abstract argument for why future technology likely to bring more harm than good. Assess this argument from your own perspective.

7. On Lyon’s view, why should we expect the overall consequences of global warming to be bad?

8. What is Lyon’s response to the argument that we are better off today than we were before the scientific revolution and the invention of modern technologies? Use his “deformed child analogy” to make his point. Assess this argument from your own perspective.

Study Questions, Drengson’s Four Philosophies of Technology

1. Briefly explain the four views of technology that Drengson discusses (in “Four Philosophies of Technology”). What is the psychological metaphor he uses in his discussion and how does it support the view of technology he embraces? (I.e., explain the analogy between stages to technological maturity and stages in maturity of one’s love life.)

2. What is the relation between technological anarchy and government regulation of the market?

3. Which stage of technological development involves identifying with technology and how is this illustrated by the automobile, according to Drengson?

4. What is the reaction to (and next maturation stage after) technophilia and does Drengson think it healthy or not? In what ways is it healthy and in what ways not?

5. Identify and characterize the last stage in technological maturation as Drengson sees it. Is this a helpful characterization of how we should relate to technology?

6. What are some of the design requirements for appropriate technology?

7. What is Drengson’s view about appropriate hiking technology as to technophilia approach to hiking?

8. Consider agriculture’s relation to nature and how appropriate technology and technophilia would approach it.

9. What does Drengson think appropriate and inappropriate energy generation involves?



Study Questions on Kingsolver’s “Fist in the Eye of God”

1. Explain how natural selection works. Use an example.

2. How is genetic diversity in a population important for the survival of that population? Why does Kingsolver think it important for food crops to have genetic diversity in them?

3. Explain Kingsolver’s magic wheat example and the lessons she draws from it.

4. Explain the differences between contemporary genetic engineering and traditional cross breeding. In addition, why does Kingsolver think only cross breeding “works with nature.”

5. Why do some believe that genetically engineered organisms are like exotic species and pose some of the same risks?

6. Explain some of the worries that Kingsolver describes about Bt Corn.

7. Explain how the consequences of Bt Corn use might be similar to the consequences of the overuse of drugs leading to anti-biotic resistance.

8. In what way does Kingsolver think genetic engineering is a “fist in the eye of God?” Do you agree with her?

9. What are some of the concerns about the new fast growing salmon about to be approved for production and human consumption.

10. Explain how genetically-engineered herbicide-tolerant crops can lead to super weeds.

11. Explain some of the health worries of eating genetically engineered foods.

12. What are some of the political problems that may result form global spread of genetically-engineered crops?

13. What is “terminator technology?” Identify one negative consequence of this and one positive use.

14. What is Kinsolver’s “quasi-religious” argument against genetic engineering?

Study Questions, Kass, The Wisdom of Repugnance

1. Explain how (reproductive) cloning works. Are twins clones? What other sorts of assisted reproductive technologies are used today?

2. What are some of the conservative “family values” that Kass believes are threatened by cloning? Does cloning threaten them? Are these values worth supporting? Why or why not?

3. What is the connection between monogamous marriage and cloning that Kass sees?

4. Should sexuality and procreating be tied? Does cloning threaten this tie?

5. Should people be able to market their DNA?

6. If there where a large number of genetic clones of oneself, would that be problematic? Why or why not?

7. What is wrong (if anything) with mother-daughter, father-son twins?

8. Evaluate: Parents cloning a child who died at an early age.

9. What does Kass mean by the “Wisdom of Repugnance?” Do you accept his idea here? Explain why or why not. Do strong emotional responses that can’t be backed up by reasons deserve to be taken as ethically sound?

10. In what sense is cloning unnatural and sexual reproduction natural? Does being unnatural in this sense show that cloning is wrong?

11. Kass argues that cloning turns procreation into “manufacture” and turns offspring into “artifacts” and that this is morally problematic. Assess this claim and relate it to the idea that wild nature should also not be manufactured and turned into an artifact.

12. Why does Kass think cloning misunderstands nature of parenting and involves “despotism?” Is he right?

13. What is eugenics? Is it morally problematic? Why?

14. What is the “technological imperative?” What is the “technological fix” mentality? Does Katz support these?



Study questions on Brock’s, Cloning Human Beings


1. What is a right? Can rights be overridden by benefits according to Brock?

2. What is the moral right that supports cloning, according to Brock? What are the interests Brock identifies that supports this right and are these legitimate interests? Do you support this right? Why or why not? Does Brock?

3. Is the desire for a biological tie to a child a legitimate one? Do parents have a right to shape what kind of people their children will be?

4. How strong is the right of reproductive freedom?

5. What are some of the individual (and social) benefits to cloning Brock identifies? Do these provide good reasons for cloning?

6. What is “genetic determinism?” Does Brock accept this idea? How does he think it is involved in the thinking of those who want to clone a dead child that had special meaning to parents?

7. Could cloning be successfully used to create another Mozart or Einstein?

8. Can one use another as a means and also love and respect them? Apply your answer to the “Ayala case” (explain what happened in this case).

9. What are the three rights that Brock considers cloning might violate? Does he think cloning would violate any of these rights? What do you think and why?

10. Discuss whether there is a right to a unique identity and whether or not cloning would violate it.

11. Do people have a right to ignorance about their future and does cloning violate this right? Do people have a right to an open future and does cloning violate this right?

12. What are some of the possible individual harms of cloning and how does Brock respond to these harms.

13. Explain why (according to Parfit’s “non-identity problem”) cloning a person cannot harm her. What is Brock’s response to this claim?

14. Can acts be wrong even if they do not harm anyone?

15. Does cloning lessen worth of individuals and diminish respect for human life, perhaps because they are now seen as manufactured, hand-made?

16. Is how something came into being ever relevant to assessing its value or is only the beings nature relevant to its value?

17. What is Brock’s overall assessment about the morality of cloning? Do you agree?

Questions on Sandel’s The Case Against Perfection

1.       Describe some of the examples of genetic enhancements that are on the drawing board and beginning to be used.

2.       What are some examples of arguments against genetic enhancement that Sandel thinks are incomplete, weak, or fail? Do you agree with him about the weaknesses of these arguments?

3.       Explain the distinction between use of genetic engineering for therapy/remedy and its use for enhancement. Is it clear that the former is permissible and the latter not? Discuss which of these immunization for disease illustrates.

4.       What does Sandel mean by pursuing non-medical ends with medical means? Is he right in thinking this problematic? Explore with examples.

5.       Does Sandel think the main problem with genetic enhancement is that it lessens our responsibility? Explain how he think it increases our responsibility.

6.       What does Sandel mean when he characterizes enhancement as “Promethean?”

7.       What is Sandel’s reason for objecting to genetically enhancing athletes? Is it because this makes effort less important in sport?

8.       What does Sandel mean by acknowledging the given, the giftedness of the world? How does parenting encourage this virtue and how does genetic enhancement undermine it?

9.       What does Sandel mean by “openness to unbidden?”

10.     What is “hyperparenting” and how does Sandel relate it to genetic enhancement?

11.     Explain why Sandel thinks genetic enhancements undermine humility, proper responsibility and solidarity.

12.     Does Sandel value absolute human freedom?