Title page for ETD etd-05152007-135849

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Shew, Ashley
URN etd-05152007-135849
Title Beaver Dams, Spider Webs, and the Sticky Wicket: An Investigation On What Counts as Technology and What Counts as Knowledge
Degree Master of Science
Department Science and Technology Studies
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Pitt, Joseph C. Committee Chair
Goodrum, Matthew R. Committee Member
Perini, Laura Committee Member
  • technological knowledge
  • natural knowledge
  • tool use
  • technological behavior
  • technology
  • spectrum approach
  • epistemology of technology
  • philosophy of technology
Date of Defense 2007-05-09
Availability unrestricted
Philosophers of technology have often considered only the tools and processes used and conducted by humans, but natural structures and man-made structures are not always easily discernable from one another. The complexity of a spider web is not matched by many human-made technologies. Beaver dams, beehives, and ant hills are great creations made by non-human animals. Davis Baird has argued that our scientific instruments bear knowledge in important ways, and the idea of technological knowledge bears interestingly on discussions of natural artifacts. Baird thinks his argument for instruments bearing knowledge can be extended, but how far can it be taken? Do ‘natural’ technologies, like spider webs, bear technological knowledge of some sort?

This move to consider whether natural artifacts might bear knowledge rubs interestingly against current definitions of technology which include human agency or progression as important. If we find that some natural artifacts seem to bear knowledge in the way Baird describes, technological knowledge would not be the exclusive domain of humans. Our current definitions of technology seem incongruent with our view of knowledge and our knowledge of natural artifacts. The purpose of this paper is to sort out the inconsistencies between current philosophical literature on knowledge and on technology. In sorting out the inconsistencies we find, I recommend a spectrum approach with regard to technology based on the epistemological status of the artifact. Using observations from anthropology and biology, I suggest a scale with regard to technological behavior, tool use, and technology.

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