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Elements of a Philosophy of Technology

On the Evolutionary History of Culture

2018
Author:

Ernst Kapp
Edited by Jeffrey West Kirkwood and Leif Weatherby
Translated by Lauren K. Wolfe
Afterword by Siegfried Zielinski

Elements of a Philosophy of Technology

The first philosophy of technology, constructing humans as technological and technology as an underpinning of all culture

Ernst Kapp’s 1877 Elements of a Philosophy of Technology is nothing less than the emergence of early elements of a cybernetic paradigm. Kapp applies the theory of organ projection to various areas of the material world—the axe externalizes the arm, the telegraphic system the neural network—studying the human body and its relationship with the world that surrounds it.

Ernst Kapp was a foundational scholar in the fields of media theory and philosophy of technology. His 1877 Elements of a Philosophy of Technology is a visionary study of the human body and its relationship with the world that surrounds it. At the book’s core is the concept of “organ projection”: the notion that humans use technology in an effort to project their organs to the outside, to be understood as “the soul apparently stepping out of the body in the form of a sending-out of mental qualities” into the world of artifacts.

Kapp applies this theory of organ projection to various areas of the material world—the axe externalizes the arm, the lens the eye, the telegraphic system the neural network. From the first tools to acoustic instruments, from architecture to the steam engine and the mechanic routes of the railway, Kapp’s analysis shifts from “simple” tools to more complex network technologies to examine the projection of relations. What emerges from Kapp’s prophetic work is nothing less than the emergence of early elements of a cybernetic paradigm.

Elements of a Philosophy of Technology

Ernst Kapp (1808–1896) was a German philosopher of technology and geographer. He was prosecuted for sedition in the late 1840s and subsequently emigrated to Texas where he became a noted early Free Thinker and abolitionist.

Jeffrey West Kirkwood is assistant professor of art history at Binghamton University, State University of New York.

Leif Weatherby is assistant professor of German at New York University.

Lauren Wolfe is a translator in the Department of Comparative Literature at New York University.

Siegfried Zielinski is head of the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design and is Michel Foucault Chair at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee.

Elements of a Philosophy of Technology

Introduction
Jeffrey West Kirkwood and Leif Weatherby
Preface
1. The Anthropological Scale
2. Organ Projection
3. The First Tools
4. Limbs and Measure
5. Apparatuses and Instruments
6. The Inner Architecture of the Bones
7. Steam Engines and Rail Lines
8. The Electromagnetic Telegraph
9. The Unconscious
10. Machine Technology
11. The Fundamental Morphological Law
12. Language
13. The State
Afterword: A Media-Archaeological Postscript to the Translation of Ernst Kapp’s Elements of a Philosophy of Technology (1877)
Siegfried Zielinski