David L. Hildebrand, Ph.D., Philosophy

Spring 2010 Phl 4920 Philosophy of Media and Technology

Philosophy of Media and Technology

PHIL 4920/5920; HUM/SSC 5920
Spring 2010, TR 2:30PM - 3:45PM


Course Description: In his poem The Rock, I  T.S. Eliot asks, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” As we are constantly reminded, we live in an ever-accelerating “Information Age,” an era of rapidly shifting images and voluminous data. Students and teachers alike feel overwhelmed by the changes surrounding them, and would like to better understand what these changes mean.

Because philosophers have traditionally been concerned with the nature of wisdom and knowledge, they are particularly suited to assess the possible impact that current changes in the technological environment might have upon rationality, ethics, and democracy. For example, are these changes affecting our basic capacity to reason? Could floods of “data smog” and our compulsion to “multi-task” erode our ability to recognize wisdom and produce knowledge? More to the point, if ethical action rests upon justification, and justification depends upon certain forms of language then what does our age’s shift toward repaid visual imagery portend for judgments of right and wrong? And what might be the effect upon democracy—which requires from its citizens such traditional abilities as rational discussion and debate?  To pursue these answers, this course will present philosophical accounts of visual literacy and criticism, the relations of those changes to human experience and out conceptions of living a meaningful life.

Required Texts: Books and PACKET available at Auraria Bookstore; books also at Big Dog Textbooks (1331 15th Street).

  • Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman; Publisher: Penguin Books; (November 1, 1986); ISBN: 0140094385
  • Holding on to Reality: The Nature of Information at the Turn of the Millennium by Albert Borgmann; Publisher: University of Chicago Press; (November 1, 2000); ISBN: 0226066231
  • Online assortment of a large assortment of other readings on media and technology.

Books available at Auraria and Big Dog Textbooks (1331 15th Street). Also, if you desire, online (see, for example, http://used.addall.com). If you buy your book online, make sure (1) that it is the correct edition, and (2) that you have it in time for class. See also http://www.bigdogtextbooks.com here in Denver.

Course Objectives: Ideally, by the end of this course students should gain the following skills:
Familiarization. Gain a good sense of what is at stake in issues of course.
Comprehension. Be able to comprehend the arguments offered by various philosophers.
Critical analysis. Be able to criticize those arguments by pointing out where they lack evidence, make an unreasonable leap, hold a false assumption, etc.
Demonstration of the above through writing.
Verbalization. Be able to summarize a philosophical position, without notes, using your own words. Be able to criticize a position this way.
Conversation and Debate. Be able to discuss issues in a focused and informed way with others in the class. This will involve listening closely to other's points, then responding in a way that moves the discussion ahead.
Blackboard/Website: There are two online sites related to this course. Familiarize yourself with them right away. Both will offer you access to information about the course such as study questions, announcements, grades, extra credit assignments.

  • The first and most important one is our course Blackboard site: https://blackboard.cuonline.edu. On this page are INSTRUCTIONS TO ENROLL. Please make sure you enroll right at the beginning of the class.
  • The second site is my home page at http://www.davidhildebrand.org. Here there are a variety of general study tips and resources in philosophy.

Readings: It is expected that you have done the reading(s) before we discuss them. As you read, copy out important points and questions you have onto a separate sheet of paper. (These will help you with your short reflection papers.) You may also want to note problem passages (e.g., with a "?" or "Q.") in your text as you read. These are good points for class discussion. You should come to each class able to discuss the main issues of the reading and you could be asked during class to present the main points to the class. Your well-prepared participation is crucial for a successful class. Please see the Tips for Understanding Philosophy and for Writing Philosophy Papers on my home page. See also this page for tips on participating and reading. Very important: please set aside about 10 minutes shortly before class to look back over (skim-review) the readings and whatever you have written for that day.

Course Requirements/Evaluation: Max. points possible: 1000 points

Participation (including quizzes, presentations)    150 points
Short Writings (10 total)      150 points
Paper #1 Maximum length: 1250-1750 words  325 points topics are here.
Paper #2  graduate students: 2500-3250 words  375 points (due: NOON, 5/11)
undergraduate students: 2000-2500 words 375 points (due: NOON, 5/13)

: There are 1000 possible points for this class. An "A" will be a body of work achieving at or above 930 points; an "A-" will be 900-929 points; a "B+" is 870-899 points, etc. Values for those letters, as well as the policies regarding other grades such as Incomplete, are available in the CU Academic Policies and Regulations section of the handbook. I have set out my standards of what a grade means on my FAQ section of my website.

Attendance: Required. More than two unexcused absences over the course of the semester will undermine your final course grade.
An excusable absence, for example,  would be something like an illness or emergency that is completely unavoidable. Feel free to check with me about how you're doing during the semester as regards participation.

: Intellectual inquiry requires verbal discussion as much as written argument. There will be ample opportunity for active and well prepared participation, which I value and which will affect the final grade. "Participation" includes the following kinds of things: attendance, ability and willingness to contribute to class discussion and group activities. If I believe that people are not preparing for participation by doing the readings, there may be brief quizzes at the start of a class to test basic comprehension. Quiz grades will serve to indicate to me who is not doing the reading and will lower your participation grade; otherwise, they will have no negative impact. You can check with me during the semester during office hours or over email for feedback about your level/quality of class participation.

: part of this grade will be determined by your presentation of your short papers: when called upon in class, you must demonstrate that you know what you wrote and why you wrote it; in other words, show clarity of thought, effective communication, and ability to field questions on your paper will all contribute to the participation portion of your grade. (I suggest looking over your short papers briefly before class to prepare.)

Short Writings (10 total)  The purpose of these assignments is to help you clarify your understanding of the readings and to help you think critically about the issues. Follow these instructions carefully, please.

What to write on critical reaction papers:
Short papers should be: one-page, typewritten reactions or questions about some specific issue which you find compelling in the readings. Your paper must not simply sum up the reading or repeat points made there. (I.e., no book reports, please.) Rather, you must try to raise a question or discuss some original insight. You may use these papers to demonstrate your application of a concept/idea in the readings to an experience you have making or experiencing art, but the connection to the reading must be significant (and not a mere "jumping off" point.

  • The first paragraph should state in 1-2 sentences a summary of what the paper is about.
  • Only papers that are written on a reading or topic that will be discussed in the class immediately coming up are acceptable.

See the davidhildebrand.org website link "Writing short, critical papers" for further hints about how to write a good paper.
When to write short papers:

  • You must do 10 critical papers total and you may not hand in more than one paper on the same date. FIVE papers must be done by the course midpoint, March 16th. Students who have not done 5 papers by this date will only be permitted to do 5 more papers.
  • You must attend class for a paper to be accepted.

Grading on short papers

  • Grade: This will be a "graded" assignment only in a loose sense; in other words it will be either S-satisfactory (full credit or 15 points) or U-unsatisfactory (half credit or 7.5 points). A zero (0) will be awarded if nothing (or next to nothing) is turned in.
  • TWO MAKE-UPS: If you get a Unsatisfactory on up to two papers, you may revise and resubmit them. The old grade will be dropped in favor of the revised paper's grade.

Longer Papers: There will be two longer papers required for this class. You will need to start thinking about paper topics well before their due date. NO late papers without prior arrangements. You may email me at any time to discuss your progress on ALL papers/assignments or we can discuss them in office hours.

Plagiarism: Plagiarism is a form of stealing. It occurs when an author uses the words or ideas of others as if they were the author’s own original thought. (It may include word-for-word copying, interspersing one’s own words with another’s, paraphrasing, inventing or counterfeiting sources, submitting another’s work as one’s own, neglecting quotation marks on material that is otherwise acknowledged.) Plagiarism is often unintentional. It can be avoided by always acknowledging one’s debt to others by citing the exact source of a quotation or paraphrase. Since plagiarism is such a serious violation of academic honesty, the penalty for it may be an automatic “F” for this course. The CU handbook has a more complete description of plagiarism and academic dishonesty.

Contact Information and Office Hours
Phone : 303-556-8558  E-mail: hilde@yahoo.com;   Website: http://davidhildebrand.org
Office and Hours: Plaza M108  Hours TW 1-215 p.m.  or by appointment.

Purpose: I strongly encourage you to participate by dropping by during office hours. We can talk about the class readings and lectures,  exams and papers, your progress, or just philosophy in general. Note: If you are a student with a disability, I will make myself available to discuss appropriate academic accommodations. Before accommodations will be made, you may be required to provide documentation. Students with disabilities will be accommodated. Students with disabilities are required to register disabilities with the UCD Disability Services Office, and are responsible for requesting reasonable accommodations at the beginning of the term.

Please note: All course requirements are subject to change at the discretion of the instructor.

Course Schedule and Readings

Schedule of Readings : Course Readings, Assignments, and Exam Schedule

(A rough schedule. Subject to revision. I will let you know in class what is coming up.)



19 -- Introduction to Course
FILM: Evidence (8 minutes) http://www.koyaanisqatsi.org/films/evidence.php on YouTube
21 -- Postman, Foreword, chapters 1, 2
26 -- REVISED from paper syllabus: Postman, ch. 2, 3; ONLINE, Boorstin The Lost Arts of Memory
28 -- REVISED from paper syllabus: Postman, ch. 4, 5, ONLINE: Boorstin: Extravagant Expectations, A Flood of Pseudo-Events


2 -- REVISED from paper syllabus: ONLINE, Gitlin: Media Unlimited Introduction, Ch. 1; Suggested: ONLINE article by Boorstin: Making Experience Repeatable, Extending Experience and article by McKibben, "Sometimes You Just Have to Turn it Off"
4 -- REVISED from paper syllabus: Postman, ch. 6, 7, 9; ONLINE, Boorstin, The Rhetoric of Democracy
9 -- REVISED from paper syllabus: ONLINE: Gitlin: Media Unlimited Ch. 2
11 -- REVISED from paper syllabus: Postman, ch. 10, 11; Suggested: ONLINE Gerbner, Growing Up with Television The Cultivation Perspective


16 -- ONLINE,  Drengson "Four Philosophies of Technology"; What is Technology: Some Preliminaries
Film clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mzsmU5sXM1M (Koyaanisquatsi)
18  -- ONLINE, Mumford, Technics and the Nature of Man
23 -- ONLINE, Ellul, "The Technological Order"
25 -- ONLINE, Winner "Techne  and Politeia",


2 -- ONLINE Larry Hickman, "From Techne to Technology" 
4 -- ONLINE, John Dewey "Nature, Means, and Knowledge" (to p. 114)
9 -- ONLINE, John Dewey "Nature, Means, and Knowledge" (114-end)
11  no class
16  Paper #1 due_also_Course midpoint; fifth short paper due today -- ONLINE Heidegger,  "The Question Concerning Technology" 284-300; GUEST: Prof. Rob Metcalf
18 -- ONLINE Heidegger,  "The Question Concerning Technology" 300-end
23 & 25 -- Spring Break
30 -- ONLINE, Verbeek, Introduction, Chapter 1 (up to p. 31)


1 -- ONLINE, Verbeek, Chapter 1 (pp. 31-46)
6 -- ONLINE, Verbeek,  Chapter 2 (pp. 47-75)
8  -- No lecture today; I suggest you come to class to talk about course material and themes/ideas you're considering for the final paper.
13 -- ONLINE, Verbeek,  Chapter 2 (pp. 75-95)

Media and Technology

15 -- Borgmann, Introduction, ch. 1, 2
20 -- Borgmann, ch. 3, 4, 5 ONLINE, Diamond "Blueprints and Borrowed Letters"
22 -- Borgmann, ch. 6;  ONLINE, Diamond "Necessity's Mother; recommended: chapter7
27 -- Borgmann, ch. 8, 11,12 Suggested: chapters 9, 10
29 -- Borgmann, ch. 13, 14


4 -- Borgmann, 15, conclusion
6 -- ONLINE, Postman [from Technopoly] "The Great Symbol Drain" and "The Loving Resistance Fighter"

11 -- Final paper due by noon

Last updated Oct 07, 2010 11:34:AM