Jerry Greenfield

Philosophy of Technology


My undergraduate major in philosophy included courses in aesthetics and philosophy of science, and I did further study of philosophy as a graduate student at Harvard University. At Pacific, Prof Crane instilled a lifelong grounding in Plato, while I was steeping myself in the process philosophers Bergson and Whitehead; the existentialists Buber and Kierkegaard, the existential phenomenologists Husserl and Sartre (Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty I would discover later); and the cultural philosopher Cassirer. Into this mix I stirred a miscellany of others I happened upon along the way which have remained integral to how I see the world: Hans Vaihinger, Wolfgang Kohler, and Stephen Pepper. I also read enough logical positivism and analytic philosophy to get a decent score on the Graduate Record Exam in philosophy, which was dominated then by those schools. Although I did not enjoy that reading at the time, it contributed important pieces to my intellectual montage. At Harvard, I read Wittgenstein with Stanley Cavell, whose course on the Investigations I audited in the Yard, and in the Divinity School I was particularly affected by my reading of Karl Barth, Richard Niebuhr, and, curiously, Josiah Royce.

These inputs simmered in the back of my mind as I spent the next decade and a half becoming a photographer and technologist. Then in 1984 I read Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty as a participant in a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar on artificial intelligence led by Hubert and Stuart Dreyfus at the University of California-Berkeley. I presented a paper to the seminar on my investigation of art-theoretical problems concerning the use of computers in making art. In Fall 1992 I began teaching graduate seminar courses on Structure and Metaphor and Art and Society, both of which explored issues is technology, language, aesthetics, and society. In 1994 I participated in a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute on the philosophy of technology in which I did research and conducted a workshop on digital image processing and the evidentiary value of photographs.

Although recently having little time to keep up with the literature, I have a continuing lay interest in areas of machine-human interface, mental models, and bioethics. The wall of books in my studio is a daily reminder of what I have read and want to read again, calling me to reengage, reassemble, and acquire anew the ideas they have such potential to evoke.