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1 They include Akrich (1992), Bunge (1976), Flanagan et al. (2008), Friedman and Kahn (2002), Latour (2002), Martin (2019), Nissenbaum (2001), Radder (2009), van de Poel and Kroes (2014), and Winner (1980).

2 Here are intuitive examples for each category: Intrinsic Extrinsic Final Wisdom Holiness Instrumental Education Fashionableness

Wisdom is intrinsic-final: intrinsic because wisdom resides in the person who manifests it and is not relative to an external evaluation framework, which is what distinguishes it from mere intelligence (Andler 2012); wisdom is final because attaining wisdom is not a means of attaining something else. Education is arguably instrumental-final: final because being educated is a property of the person herself; instrumental because education is not sought for its own sake, but as a means of attaining another value, such as wisdom. Holiness is extrinsic-final; extrinsic because it is relative to a religious evaluation system (a holy artifact in one religion may not be holy in another); holiness it is final because holiness resides in the thing that manifests it. Fashionableness is extrinsic-instrumental; extrinsic because it is relative to a changing fashion; instrumental because it is not sought for its own sake, but for other values, such as attractiveness.

3 Unlike van de Poel and Kroes (2014), I use the terms “values” to describe both positive and negative values (“disvalues,” in their terminology). Thus, by saying that Moses’ bridges embody racist values, I am not approving of these values.

4 For an extended argument from mediation theory against the value-neutrality of guns, see Selinger (2012). See also Latour (1994).

5 I thank Shaul Katzir for this objection.

6 This is a sufficient condition, not a necessary one. The HP camera and the colour film examples discussed later in this section do not fall under it.

7 I thank an anonymous reviewer for this point.

8 I thank an anonymous reviewer for this objection.

9 For a defence and generalization of Rudner’s argument see Douglas (2009), and Miller (2014B).

10 Or consider a more modest example: a single obsolete 30-year-old Commodore Amiga computer still controls (as of 2015) the air conditioning at nineteen public schools in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A local high school student who programmed it in the 1980s is still occasionally called back to maintain it. Replacing it with a current system would cost between $1.5 and 2 million (Carlson 2015).






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11 Social constructivists of technology, e.g., Bijker (1995), argue that technology has interpretative flexibility: it can accommodate several competing interpretations of its functions and features. Accordingly, for social constructivists, technology remains in place as long as there is a stable consensus about its interpretation and need. This view can indirectly challenge the claim that values are embedded in technological artifacts, since it may be argued that the values are in the interpretation, rather than the artifact. Social constructivist explanation of technological endurance, however, is at the very least partial and oversimplified. While a social consensus may be partly responsible for the longevity of a technology, it is typically not the sole factor. First, as I argued regarding the Virginia Tech football stadium, interpretive flexibility has limits: an artifact’s material features constrain its plausible interpretations. Second, the notion of interpretive flexibility is usually employed for describing early stages in the development of a technology; in later stages “a stabilization of a technological frame [of interpretation] can cross a threshold beyond which, for all practical purposes, it becomes permanently obdurate” (Kirkman 2009, 242). Third, as Hommels writes with respect to the Maastricht highway:

Because technological frames are usually tied to specific social groups, this interactionist theoretical perspective [namely, social constructivism of technology] only provided a partial explanation of what constitutes obduracy. Major urban structures, however, tend to be embedded in a larger built-up urban environment and this generally causes major challenges when for some reason that structure needs to be redesigned. Obduracy here is explained by its relationship to other actants, rather than by the interests and interpretations of relevant social groups (2005, 123).

I thank an anonymous reviewer for these references. 12 Some philosophers recognize a sense of “knowledge” that refers to knowledge that exists in books and documents, as opposed to a subject’s mind. As Humphreys (2009: 221) writes:

In traditional epistemology, sources of knowledge need not possess knowledge themselves […] but we do speak of computers storing and processing knowledge as well as information, language that is not just metaphorical. Printed books contain knowledge and so do their on-line versions.

Such type of knowledge goes by names, such as “objective knowledge” (Popper 1972) “virtual knowledge” (Audi 2003: 265-267) or “thing knowledge” (Baird 2004). According to Humphreys’ analysis (2009: 222), “[a] computational device has knowledge of a system just in case the device possesses a true, evidentially supported model of the system.” Baird (2004) characterizes this knowledge as ideas (of the kind that populate Popper’s (1972) “Third World”) that are physically embedded in material artifacts, and Shew (2017) expands the account to include animal tools. Pitt (2007) objects to Baird’s account because it is incompatible with Peirce’s pragmatist account of knowledge. I am not committed to all aspects of Baird’s or Humphreys’ theories, specifically to Baird’s revised version of Popper’s three-world metaphysics or to Baird’s claim that instruments work because they materially embed their makers’ knowledge. By claiming that replacing existing technology involves recovering lost knowledge embedded in it, I am referring to information that is codified in them and does not necessarily exist in anybody’s mind anymore.

13 I agree with Epting (2016) that infrastructures embed moral values. As a technological infrastructure, a Nazi death camp embeds evil values. However, infrastructures contain people, procedures, standards, and labour – to mention just a few – in addition to material artifacts (Star and Ruhleder 1996). A VNT proponent may insist that within a technological infrastructure, only things other than material artifacts embed values. The stronger claim this paper and Katz (2005) defend is that material artifacts themselves – the bricks and iron parts – can embed values.

14 Cf. Dotson (2015), which makes a similar claim about the effects of the widespread view of technological determinism.





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15 For a plea for STS scholars to engage in ethics of technology, which has been mostly ignored, see Johnson and Wetmore (2008). Dotson’s (2017) book, which explicitly takes a normative moral stance, is an exception that proves the rule.


  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. The arguments for and against VNT
  • 3. Need values be empirically identifiable from technological artifacts to be embedded in them?
  • 4. “Show me the values!” Are values in technology empirically unidentifiable?
  • 5. Is the negation of VNT trivial?
  • 6. Is denying VNT ill-motivated?
  • 7. What is at stake in this debate?
  • 8. Conclusion

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