Chapter 38

Technology and Metaphysics


The positivist philosophy that drives most of modern science and technology (and much of contemporary philosophy) takes “metaphysics” to be a meaningless quest for answers to unanswerable questions; but Karl Popper, following the lead of Emile Meyerson, showed that there is no scientific (or, for that matter, technological) research program that does not rest on a set of general presuppositions about the structure of the world. To be sure, those metaphysical views are not empirically testable and they are not amenable to “falsification.” However, that does not imply that they are not interesting, substantial, and that they do not play a fundamental role in the advancement of science. Those who deny metaphysics simply render it invisible, and it is very likely that their hidden metaphysics is bad or inconsistent. To the amazement of those who mistook him for a positivist, Karl Popper claimed that the philosopher or historian of science’s task was twofold: first, unearth and make visible the metaphysical ideas that lie underneath scientific programs in order to make them amenable to criticism; second, proceed to a critical examination of those metaphysical theories, in a way that is different from the criticism of scientific theories, since no empirical testing is here possible, but nevertheless rational.

Two major philosophers from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries can be said to have fleshed out the metaphysics underlying ...

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