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Christian social democrat who openly opposed Nazism, Dessauer not only deepened the engineering analysis of technology; he sought as well to open up a dialogue with existentialists, social theorists, and theo- logians. His work spans the first half of the 20th century, from Technische Kultur? (1908) and Philosophie der Technik (1927) to Seele im Bannkreis der Technik (1945) and Streit um die Technik (1956). It is the work of Dessauer that is most often cited in those instances where philosophers of science mention philosophy of technology.

Indeed, one way to summarize Dessauer’s philosophy of technology is to contrast it with standard philosophies of science. The latter either analyze the structure and validity of scientific knowledge or discuss the implications of specific scientific theories for cosmology and anthropology. For Dessauer, both approaches fail to rec- ognize the power of scientific-technical knowledge, which has become, through mod- ern engineering, a new way for humanity to relate to the world. Dessauer attempts to provide a Kantian explanation of the transcendental preconditions of this power, as well as to reflect on the ethical implications of its application.

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To the three Kantian critiques of scientific knowing, moral doing, and aesthetic feeling Dessauer proposes to add a fourth-a critique of technological making. In the

 

 

PHILOSOPHY OF TECHNOLOGY 77

Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) argued that scientific knowl- edge is necessarily limited to the world of appearances (the phenomenal world); it can never make unmediated contact with “things-in-themselves” (noumena). Critical metaphysics is, however, able to delineate the a priori forms of appearances, and to postulate behind phenomena the possible existence of some noumenal reality. The Critique of Practical Reason (on moral doing), and the Critique of Judgment (con- cerned with aesthetic evaluation), go farther; they affirm the necessary existence of a “transcendent” reality beyond appearances as a precondition for the exercise of moral duty and the sense of beauty. Practical and aesthetic experience, nevertheless, do not make positive contact with this transcendent reality; nor can the analyses of these realms of experience articulate noumenal structures.

Dessauer argues that making, particularly in the form of invention, does establish positive contact with things-in-themselves. This contact is confirmed by two facts: that the invention, as artifact, is not something previously found in the world of ap- pearance; and that, when it makes its phenomenal appearance, it works. An invention is not just something dreamed up, imagination without power; it derives from a cogni- tive encounter with the realm of pre-established solutions to technical problems. Technological invention involves “real being from ideas’~that is, the engendering of “existence out of essence,” the material embodying of a transcendent reality.

Although philosophers generally find something naive and crude about Dessauer’s adaptation of Kant, we should not overlook his authentic extension of the Kantian point of view. For Kant, all reasoning is oriented toward the practical; the more prac- tical it is, the closer experience comes to a decisive transcending of its own phenom- enal limitations. With Kant such transcendence as is possible takes place in the realm of moral and aesthetic experience. Dessauer, however, locates the decisive penetra- tion of appearances precisely in a kind of practical experience that Kant failed to recognize as worthy of serious consideration-that is, modern technology.

In harmony with this metaphysical analysis, Dessauer proposes a theory of the moral, not to say mystical, significance of technology. Most such theories limit them- selves to a consideration of practical benefits. For Dessauer, however, the autonomous, world-transforming consequences of modern technology are witness to its transcen- dent moral value. Human beings create technology, but its power-which resembles, he says, that of “a mountain range, a river, an ice age, or planet’~goes beyond any- thing man expected; it brings into play more than this-worldly forces. Modern tech- nology should not be conceived simply as “the relief of man’s estate” (Francis Bacon); it is, instead, a “participating in creation, … the greatest earthly experience of mor- tals.” With Dessauer even religious experience is interpreted in technological terms.

II

Engineering philosophy of technology-or analyses of technology from within, and the understanding of the technological way of being-in-the-world as paradigmatic for comprehending other kinds of human thought and action-may well claim primo- geniture in the order of birth. However, what might be called humanistic philosophy of technology-or the attempt of religion, poetry, and philosophy (the humanities) to bring non- or trans-technological perspectives to bear on interpreting the meaning of technology-may nevertheless make some claim to priority in the order of concep- tion. From the origins of human history ideas about the meaning of human making ac-

 

 

78 MITCHAM

tivities have found expression in sacred myth, in poetry, and in philosophic discourse. The attempt by Francis Bacon (1561-1626) to turn human attention toward and invest human energy in the pursuit of technology in preference over politics and philosophy (not to mention religion and poetry) was itself undertaken by philosophical and rhe- torical means. It was, we might say, the humanities which conceived technology, not technology which conceived the humanities. Technology is a relationship to the human, not the human a relationship to technology.

Although this principle-the primacy of the truly human over the technological-is the foundation upon which humanistic philosophy of technology rests, it is not a prin- ciple which, especially in a highly technological culture, is self-evident or goes un- challenged. For Aristotle it was obvious that making was not an end in itself and was subordinate to various possible understandings of the good as well as to the political orders which they entailed. In the face of the success of Bacon’s challenge to this traditional understanding and the subsequent appearance of a technological society, humanistic philosophy of technology can be seen as a series of attempts to argue for or defend precisely this fundamental idea ofthe primacy of the non-technical.

The defense of the human as larger and more extensive than the technological comes to the fore initially in the Romantic Movement. Jean Jacques Rousseau, for in- stance, in his Discourses on the Arts and Sciences (1750) criticizes the Enlightenment idea that scientific and technological progress automatically contribute to the ad- vancement of society by bringing about a unification of wealth and virtue. According to Rousseau not only have our minds “been corrupted in proportion as the arts and sciences have improved”; “the arts and sciences owe their birth to our vices.” By vices Rousseau refers to selfishness and fear, with allusions, no doubt, to Bernard Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees (1714), in wJ;1ich it is argued that private vice (enlight- ened self-interest) does indeed lead to public virtue (wealth and power). “The politi- cians of the ancient world were always talking of morals and virtue,” observes Rous- seau; “ours speak of nothing but commerce and money.” It is ill an attempt to affirm the primacy of a humanity that transcends such limitations that Romanticism becomes fascinated by the idea of a humanity outside the structures of civilization and the possibility of some vital faculty of mind (for the early Romantics it was imagination) with an access to deeper truths about reallty than the rational intellect.

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