Techno-Optimism: An Analysis, An Evaluation and A Modest Defence




Here’s a new paper. This one was a bit of a labour of love. It is an analysis of what it means to be a techno-optimist and how one might defend a techno-optimistic stance. It is due out in Philosophy and Technology. I’ll post the official version when it is available. For now, I’ve posted links to the final prepublication draft.

Title: Techno-optimism: an analysis, an evaluation and a modest defence

Links: Official; Philpapers; Researchgate

Abstract: What is techno-optimism and how can it be defended? Although techno-optimist views are widely espoused and critiqued, there have been few attempts to systematically analyse what it means to be a techno-optimist and how one might defend this view. This paper attempts to address this oversight by providing a comprehensive analysis and evaluation of techno-optimism. It is argued that techno-optimism is a pluralistic stance that comes in weak and strong forms. These vary along a number of key dimensions but each shares the view that technology plays a key role in ensuring that the good prevails over the bad. Whatever its strength, to defend this stance, one must flesh out an argument with four key premises. Each of these premises is highly controversial and can be subjected to a number of critiques. The paper discusses five such critiques in detail (the values critique, the treadmill critique, the sustainability critique, the irrationality critique and the insufficiency critique). The paper also considers possible responses from the techno-optimist. Finally, it is concluded that although strong forms of techno-optimism are not intellectually defensible, a modest, agency-based version of techno-optimism may be defensible.


The paper puts forward the following as an ‘ameliorative’ definition of techno-optimism:

Techno-optimism = A stance (set of beliefs, commitments, desires, intentions etc) that maintains that technology (broadly defined) plays a key role in ensuring that the good prevails over the bad.


I am a lot more precise about this in the paper, going on to argue that techno-optimism comes in a variety of different forms which vary along a number of dimensions. One of those dimensions is whether the techno-optimist is presentist or futurist in their outlook: i.e. thinks technology makes things good right now and/or will do so in the future.

One of key features of the paper is the argument template I map out for any defender of techno-optimism. In short, I claim that in order to defend a techno-optimistic stance one must defend an argument with five key premises:

(1) If (a) the good probably does or probably will prevail over the bad and (b) if technology probably plays a key role in ensuring this, then techno-optimism is the correct stance. (2) The probable current and/or future facts are F1…Fn [Facts Premise] (3) The agreed upon value criteria for determining whether the good prevails over the bad are V1…Vn [Value Premise] (4) The good probably prevails over the bad, given F1…Fn evaluated in light of V1…Vn [Evaluation Premise] (5) Technology probably plays a key role in ensuring that (4) is true [Technology Premise]. (6) Therefore, techno-optimism is the correct stance.

Different techno-optimists will flesh out these premises in different ways, particularly premises (2) – (4), which are the centrepiece of the argument.

Another key feature of the paper is a thorough review of some of the leading objections to techno-optimism and the possible replies that a techno-optimist could make. The table below summarises these objections and replies.

Obviously, I would encourage people to read the whole paper for a fuller picture.

Originally appeared on Philosophical Disquisitions Read More