Portrait of Ernst Kapp

Ernst Kapp

Philosopher and Geographer
October 15, 1808 – January 30, 1896

Ernst Christian Kapp was a German-American philosopher of technology and geographer, and a follower of Carl Ritter. He was prosecuted for sedition in the late 1840s for publishing a small article entitled Der konstituierte Despotismus und die konstitutionelle Freiheit (1849) and was subsequently forced to leave Germany. He then emigrated to the German pioneer settlements of central Texas where he worked as a farmer, geographer, and inventor. He was one of the early German Free Thinkers in Sisterdale, Texas. In 1853, he was elected the President of the Freethinker abolitionist organization Der Freie Verein.

After the Civil War he left the US for a visit to Germany, but fell ill during the voyage. Urged by his physician not to risk the return trip at his age, he re-entered the academic world. Reflecting on his frontier experience, Kapp wrote Grundlinien einer Philosophie der Technik (1877). This work, among many other things, formulates a philosophy of technology in which tools and weapons are identified as different forms of 'organ projections', although this idea may have been loosely covered as early as Aristotle. Furthermore, it notably analyses language and the state as extensions of mental life, long before such ideas were popularised by Marshall McLuhan.


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Philip Brey

Technology as Extension of Human Faculties

Marshall McLuhan, Ernst Kapp, and David Rothenberg have each written book-length studies developing theories of technology as an extension of bodily and mental faculties: tools act as prosthetics, amplifying the reach of arms or legs; computers extend memory, calculation, and other cognitive capacities. Philip Brey analyzes these extension theories and asks if the metaphor is valid. Do technologies truly stretch out innate human abilities, or is this mere rhetorical flair? Brey investigates whether there is a substantive sense in which gadgets and gizmos can be seen as extensions of natural human organs. As we increasingly integrate tech into our lives, addressing this question becomes pressing: where does the human end and the technical begin? Brey dives into this ambiguous intersection of person and product.