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A different conception of values as normative discriminators is also possible:

(VND) a value is anything that serves as a basis for discriminating between different states of affairs and ranking some of them higher than others with respect to how much they are desired or cared about or how the personal, social, natural, or cosmic order ought to be (Miller 2014A: 70).

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VND is preferable to VM for two reasons. First, VM risks begging the question for VNT by making

values impossible to be embedded in material objects by definition. Despite Pitt’s claim to the

contrary, it remains unclear whether action-motivating endorsements can be embedded in

material objects. By contrast, VND is neutral on the metaphysics of values, and does not rule out

their being materially embedded.

Second, the relation between values and motivations is not conceptually necessary.

Adhering to a value is consistent with mere passive appreciation without any motivation to act. I

may value the beauty of mathematics without having any motivation to practice mathematics or

understand complex proofs. And it makes no sense to have “a motivation to act for mathematical

beauty.” I may value excellence in archery without having any motivation to practice or watch it.

Against this, the pragmatist may deny that I value mathematical beauty or excellence in archery,

because these values have no tangible influence on my conduct. But my point is exactly that VM

stems from Pitt’s extra commitment to pragmatism, rather than a genuine conceptual relation.

 

 

 

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It might be argued that regardless of the conceptual relations between values and

motivations, VNT1 is still correct. This objection, however, fails. For example, a blind person may

value excellence in archery in a way that impacts her life, e.g., she may collect memorabilia

associated with great archers and admire them at bedtime, but she may be unable to recognize

a good archer. Namely, an archer may embody the value of excellence while she cannot recognize

it in the archer.

In fact, values in technology are so effective because they are often hardly empirically

recognizable. In Winner’s (1980) example, restricting Afro-Americans’ access by political means

would have probably raised opposition, whereas using bridge design circumvented political

checks and controls. The low overpasses restricting Afro-Americans’ access to public beaches go

unnoticed. City benches divided into individual seats by high bars are effective in preventing the

homeless from sleeping on them. While their sleep-prevention function may be more noticeable,

it may still go mostly unnoticed because technology tends to become transparent or taken for

granted (Rosenberg 2014: 376), like eyeglasses, which stop being noticed by their frequent

wearers (Lehrer 1995: 162-165).

4. “Show me the values!” Are values in technology empirically unidentifiable?

So far I argued against VNT1, which states that for values to be embedded in technological

artifacts, identifying them from the artifacts must be possible. I now move to argue against VNT2,

which states that values are not empirically identifiable from technological artifacts. There is an

apparent tension between denying VNT1 and denying VNT2 (if you deny that values need to be

empirically identifiable to be embedded, why go on to argue that they are empirically identifiable

nevertheless?) Let me explain my dialectics. I deny VNT1 inter alia by noting cases in which

embedded values go unnoticed. Yet the fact that embedded values go unnoticed does not mean

that they are empirically unidentifiable. Designers, historians and philosophers of technology,

 

 

 

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etc., may still identify them. It is consistent with my argument that we may have blind spots

preventing us from identify all values in a technology.

The first reason, according to Pitt, that values are empirically unidentifiable from

technological artifacts is that values are not directly readable off, or observable from design

schematics or material artifacts. Pitt writes, referring to Winner’s (1980) claim that Moses

embedded the value of racism in the low overpasses over the Long Island Expressway:

Let us say we have a schematic of an overpass in front of us. Please point to the place where we see the value. If you point to the double headed arrow with the height of the overpass written in, you have pointed to a number signifying a distance from the highway to the bottom of the underpass. If you tell me that is Robert Moses’ value, I will be most confused. There are lots of numbers in those blue prints. Are they all Moses’ values or intentions? Some have to do with other features of roads, such as the depth of the roadbed. How do we differentiate the height of the overpass from the depth of the roadbed in a principled fashion as a human value and not arbitrarily? […] if we look at the actual physical thing—the roads and bridges, etc. where are the values? I see bricks and stones and pavement, etc. But where are the values—do they have colors? How much do they weigh? How tall are they or how skinny? What are they? (2014: 95)

There are several problems with this argument, however. First, sometimes values are

directly readable off design documents or material artifacts. Flanagan et al. (2008) discuss a

computer-game environment for teaching girls to program, whose design documents explicitly

state autonomy and gender equity as guiding values. Stating values in design documents is part

of the methodology of value-sensitive design (Friedman and Kahn 2003). To be clear, my claim

is not that design documents are the place that embodies the values of the artifacts they describe,

but that design documents provide an empirical way to identify values that are embedded in the

artifacts. Moreover, some artifacts bear slogans like “designed for fun” or “environmentally

friendly,” which explicitly express the values they are supposed to bear. Technology may also

have expressive meaning that implicitly conveys values. The value of safety can be read off a

“danger” sign. Sexist values in video games can be read off the representation of female

 

 

 

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