PHL/LB 355:

Philosophy of Technology

Dr. Robert T. Pennock
Spring 2013


  1. Course information
  2. Meeting time and location
  3. Instructor contact info
  4. Important Dates
  5. Required textbooks
  6. Tentative Reading Assignments
  7. Exams
  8. Grading system
  9. Attendance & Other Policies
  10. Scholastic dishonesty policy
  11. Study, Paper & Exam Tips
  12. Discussion Guidelines
  13. Additional information
  14. Useful Links

- Announcements (Last Updated 2013/04/01)-
Check here periodically for late-breaking news.

  1. Extra credit talk option: Monday, April 15. Andrea Amalfitano "Using Gene Transfer to Treat Diseases" 4/15 Mon • 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM Biomedical & Physical Sciences • Room 1425 Pre-registration: Advised This lab will introduce attendees to the feasibility of gene transfer to treat several diseases, both genetic and non-genetic, in the clinical realm.
  2. Extra credit talk option: Friday, April 12. Stefan Timmermans, UCLA "Saving Babies? The Consequences of Newborn Genetic Screening" Brownbag Lecture April 12, 12:30 p.m. 116 Natural Science Bldg.
  3. Extra credit option: Friday, April 12. Eric Berling "Technology Armageddon" 6 pm. Holmes Hall Sparty's Bamboo Room
  4. Extra credit video option: Ballad of John Henry - Leadbelly version. Disney version. Harry Belafonte version. Joe Bonnamassa version.
  5. Extra credit talk option: Thurs, March 21. Michael Wade, Department of Biology Indiana University. "Nature, Nurture and the Nurturers" 3:30 p.m. 115 Eppley Center
  6. Essay exam rescheduled: As announced in class, the schedules for March 21 and March 25 have been switched, so that the essay exam is now on the 25th and the Garreau reading and blog entry is due on the 21st.
  7. Web essay extension: As announced in class, the web essay due date has been extended until Wednesday, Feb. 27th.

Philosophy of Technology

Description: The course will examine philosophical issues involving technology, focusing mostly upon genetic technologies.   We will examine not only ethical challenges posed by new biotechnologies (e.g., the morality of cloning, the dilemmas of genetic testing, the dangers to privacy rights, to the idea of a post-human future) but also questions involving the philosophy of science, biological reductionism and determinism, and the nature of personal identity.

The course will be primarily discussion-based in both small-group and whole-class formats.  Students must be prepared to contribute actively and consistently to class discussions and to take initiative for their own learning and that of their fellow classmates.  In keeping with our general subject, some assignments will emphasize use of different technologies.

Prerequisite: Upper-division status


Meeting time and location

Days: Mondays and Wednesdays.
Time: 10:20 am to 12:10 pm
Place: C-103 Holmes Hall

Instructor Contact Info.

Name: Dr. Robert T. Pennock.
Office: Holmes Hall W-34 and BPS 1446
Office hours: Friday 2:30 - 3:30 in BPS 1446, or by appointment or by open door.
Phone: 432-7701.

Please don't hesitate to contact me to talk about anything substantive related to class. Face-to-face discussions are always the most effective and enjoyable, so the best options are to drop by my office hours or talk to me after class. Send me an e-mail message to set up an appointment if you can't see me another time. (Whenever you send me e-mail or leave a phone message, be sure to give not just your name, but also indicate what course you are in.) I'm always happy to talk philosophy or to discuss your thoughts about your learning. However, if you were absent from class and need to get assignments, notes or other material you missed, you should get that from someone in your base group.

Also, please NEVER send me any attachment to an e-mail unless we have specifically arranged it in advance.


Important Dates

Required texts

  • Kass, Leon R. 2002. Life, Liberty, and Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics: Encounter Books.

  • Huxley, Aldous. 1998. Brave New World. New York: HarperCollins Publishers

  • Kitcher, Philip. 1996. The Lives to Come: The Genetic Revolution and Human Possibilities. New York: Simon & Schuster.

  • Garreau, Joel. 2006. Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies -- and What It Means to Be Human. U.S.A.: Broadway.

  • Ridley, Matt. 2000. Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

  • Various articles to be assigned individually

Tentative Reading Assignments

NOTE: This is a tentative reading list. Any changes will be announced. Read the selection before class.

Week 1  
Jan 7 Introductory Business - No readings
Jan 9

Bill Joy "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us"

Week 2  
Jan 14 Kitcher Ch 1 (The Shape of Suffering); Garreau Ch 1 & 8 (Prologue & Epilogue)
Blog #1 due
Jan 16 Garreau Ch 2 (Be All That You Can Be); Kitcher Ch 2 (Our Mortal Coils)
Blog #2 due
Week 3  
Jan 21

MSU Holiday - No class

Jan 23

Ridley Ch 1, 2, 3 (Life, Species, History)
Blog #3 due

Week 4  
Jan 28

Ridley Ch 4 & 5 (Fate, Environment)
Guest speaker - Additional Reading: Pringle "Seeds of Change"

Jan 30

Ridley Ch 6 & 7 (Intelligence, Instinct)
Blog #4 due

Week 5  
Feb 4

Ridley Ch X & Y, 8 (Conflict, Self-Interest)
Blog #5 due
Guest speaker - Additional Reading; Kavka "Upside Risks"

Feb 6

Ridley Ch 9, 10, 11 (Disease, Stress, Personality)
Blog #6 due

Web essay design project assigned

Week 6  
Feb 11

Ridley Ch 12, 13, 14 (Self-Assembly, Pre-History, Immortality)
Blog #7 due

Feb 13

Ridley Ch 15, 16, 17 (Sex, Memory, Death)
Blog #8 due

Week 7  
Feb 18

Ridley Ch 18, 19, 20 (Cures, Prevention, Politics)

Feb 20

Ridley Ch 21, 22 (Eugenics, Free Will)

Week 8  
Feb 25

Garreau Ch 3 (The Curve)
Blog #9 due

Web page design project due

Feb 27

Garreau Ch 4 (Heaven)
Blog #10 due


Week 9

Mar 11

Huxley – Brave New World (Ch 1 - 6)
Blog #11 due

Mar 13 Huxley – Brave New World (Ch 7 - 11)
Blog #12 due
Week 10  
Mar 18

Huxley – Brave New World (Ch 12 - end)
Blog #13 due

Mar 20

Garreau Ch 5 (Hell)
Blog #14 due
Proposal and Research Paper assigned

Week 11  
Mar 25

Essay exam

Mar 27 Kass - Ch 3 (Meaning of Life—in the Laboratory)
Library Research Instruction w/ Suzi Teghtmeyer (Meet in Main Library Information Desk at 1 pm)
Here is the research guide she created for the class.
Week 12  
Apr 1

Kass - Ch 4 (Age of Genetic Technology Arrives)
Blog #15 due

Apr 3

Kass – Ch 5 (Cloning and the Posthuman Future); Pennock - "The Virtuous Scientist Meets the Human Clone"
Blog #16 due

Week 13  
Apr 8

Garreau Ch 5 (Prevail)
Blog #17 due

Apr 10

Kitcher – Ch 6 (The New Pariahs); Pennock – Pre-existing conditions
Research Proposal Due

Week 14  
Apr 15

Kitcher – Ch 8 (Inescapable Eugenics), Ch 9 (Delimiting Disease)
Blog #18 due

Apr 17

Garreau Ch 7 (Transcend); Kass – Ch 9 (Why not immortality?); Kitcher Ch 10 (Playing God?)

Week 15  
Apr 22

Kitcher – Ch 11 (Genetalk); Johnson "New Prenatal Tests Hold Promise, Worries."
Blog #19 due

Apr 24

Kitcher – Ch 12 (Self-Dissection), Ch 13 (Quality of Lives)
Blog #20 due

Final Exam Week  
May 2
10 am - 12 p.m
Final Exam Period - Research paper due


  • Final exam: There will be no final exam, but we will meet during the final exam period to turn in research papers, hear research summaries and complete course evaluations.

Grading system

  • Regular attendance and class participation - 15%
  • 3 quizzes - 15% (5% ea)
  • Web page design project - 10%
  • Blog - 15%
  • Essay exam - 20%
  • 3-page research proposal (incl. annotated bibliography) - 5%
  • Final 12 page research paper. - 20%

Discussion: As a seminar-style tutorial course, at least half of each period will be devoted to discussion of the material. I expect that you will come to class having completed the assigned reading for the day, and prepared to discuss it in relation to lectures and presentations.

• Grade scale: For your final course average, the 100 pt scale will be translated to grades as follows:
- 90 or above – 4.0; 85 to 90 – 3.5; 80 to 85 – 3.0; 75 to 80 – 2.5;
- 70 to 75 – 2.0; 65 to 70 – 1.5; 60 to 65 – 1.0; Below 60 – 0.0

Attendance & Other Policies

  • Late assignments will be accepted, but will be docked half a grade per day (e.g, from an equivalent of 4.0 to 3.5).
  • I do not round up averages that fall below a cut-off, but resolve borderline grades entirely on the basis of optional extra-credit assignments completed before the last class period. You may earn up to two (2) percentage points by such options, which I will announce periodically during the semester. A common extra-credit option is to attend some relevant university guest speaker talk and turn in a reflective paper about it.
  • Class participation means not only attendance (5%, see below), but also regular and active participation in class discussions, exercises, workshops, simulations, etc. (10%). It is not possible to have a meaningful discussion or to get the most out of lecture unless you come to class having read and thought about the assigned material. Be prepared to answer questions I may ask about the reading and to engage in thoughtful, productive reflection upon it together with your classmates. Often we will break into small discussion groups, and it will waste your colleagues’ valuable time if you have not read the material or completed an assigned exercise in advance.

  • Attendance. Everyone is allowed one unexcused absence. Thereafter, two percentage points are deducted for each unexcused absence. Days missed due to sickness will be excused if you have a doctor's note. Days missed because of a team commitment or a religious holiday will be excused, but only if you let me know in advance. If for any reason you do miss a class, you are responsible for getting notes and assignments from a fellow student. Class will start promptly. Please be on time. Arriving late or leaving early counts as a half absence, or more if it causes disruption or inconvenience to your colleagues in class.

  • If for some reason you have to miss a class, you are responsible for getting notes and assignments from a fellow student. If you will have to miss a class because of a team commitment or a religious holiday you must let me know in advance so it will not count as an unexcused absence.
  • If you are having problems, don't wait until the end of the course to do something about it. See me right away. Helping you learn how to learn is what I'm here for. Welcome to the course!

Scholastic Integrity policy

  • Academic Dishonesty: Your work should always be your own.  The penalty for cheating or plagiarism will be a failing grade of 0.0 for the course.  You are expected to have read MSU’s policies on academic integrity and Student FAQ as well as the Briggs honor code.

Additional Information

  1. Paper formatting guidelines may be found in Study, Paper & Exam Tips
  2. Oral presentation guide
  3. Blogs:
    What is a blog? The term "blog" is a contraction of "web log". A blog is essentially a journal of one's thoughts about some subject that is posted on a web page for the world to read. Blog entries are usually short, typically no more than a paragraph or two. They may be of varying levels of formality, depending upon one's audience. The Loom is an example of a good science blog.

    For us, the subject is the course readings, so think of it as a reading journal. What I expect is that you will keep a regular log of your thoughts as you are doing the assigned reading. Try to write something about each reading. What I expect to see is evidence that you are thinking about what you are reading as you go along. In particular, I want to see that you are identifying and reflecting upon the philosophical issues that arise, posing questions that probe the ideas presented, drawing connections among our different readings, and so on. The purpose of the blogs is to make you engage the material and start to form your own views about the topics we will be discussing in class. Here is an example of an excellent student blog from a few years ago.

    What about length? These are not meant to be essays. I'm looking to see a paragraph or two for each reading. What that should come to is about a page a week, if you were to print it out.

    BLOG REQUIREMENTS: On the day blogs are due, you should send them to me by email in the following manner:
    - The subject line of the message must say: 355 - Blog #x - Your Name. [E.g. "355 - Blog #1 - John Doe"]. IMPORTANT NOTE: I automatically filter email for blog assignments based on the subject line, so if you don't follow this subject line convention I won't get your submissions and you won't get credit.
    - Repeat that same information <355 - Blog # - Your Name> as the first line of the body of the message, in the same way you would submit a paper or assignment.
    - Cut the text from your document and paste it into the body of the email message to send to me. <>
    - DO NOT send your blog to me as an attachment. (5 pts off for doing that.)
    - As a check to see that your email was delivered, you should cc yourself.
    - Your blog must be emailed before you come to class on the day that it is due.
    - Save a copy. You'll need to send me a compilation of blogs periodically for grading.

    Public posting is optional. If you do want to set up a real blog page with your thoughts so your fellow students (and the world!) can read them, you should do so on your AFL space or your own blog space. Send me the URL and I'll post that link on this web page. (However, do keep in mind that the blog is an official graded assignment, so the primary audience should be your professor--me--in the same way that other written assignments are. Even if you are doing a public blog, you must still submit your entries to me by email as described above.)

    Here are the links for students in our class who are making their blogs public:
    - Baylan Bosworth


Discussion Guidelines

Here are the guidelines that you generated in class. Please also read my comments about discussion in the Study, Paper & Exam Tips section.

  • Be respectful of others
  • Provide evidence for your point
  • Keep it concise and don?t go off on tangents
  • Raise hand to speak unless it isn?t necessary
  • Be open-minded
  • Play devil?s advocate
  • Ask questions
  • Hear, Hear! support method
  • Be sincere.

Useful Links

Here I'll put links to other sites that you may find to have useful supplemental information. Let me know if you find ones that would be good to add.

Created: 2013/01/3.  Updated: 2013/04/24
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