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The subsequent romantic critique of modern technology as somehow obscuring or covering over essential elements of human life is a rich and varied tradition. In the first half of the 20th century existentialist and almost existentialist philosophers such as Henri Bergson (1859-1941), Jose Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955), Karl Jaspers (1883- 1969), and Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973) all make use of a Lebensphilosophie frame- work to point up problematic aspects of modern technological society. Even the sociologists from Marx to Ellul can be read as exhibiting an affinity with this ap- proach. For present purposes, however, it is best to concentrate, against the indicated background, on two contemporary but commonly unassociated representatives of the romantic tradition who make the strongest case for a humanistic philosophy of tech- nology, namely, Lewis Mumford (1895- ) and Martin Heidegger (1899-1976).

Lewis Mumford

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The subsequent romantic critique of modern technology as somehow obscuring or covering over essential elements of human life is a rich and varied tradition. In the first half of the 20th century existentialist and almost existentialist philosophers such as Henri Bergson (
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Mumford’s theory of human nature is in the American tradition of worldly idealism that runs from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Paul Goodman. The tradition is worldly in

 

 

PHILOSOPHY OF TECHNOLOGY 79

its concern with the ecology of the American environment: the harmonies of urban life, the preservation of wilderness, and sensitivity to organic realities. It is idealist in insisting that material nature is not the basis of organic activity, at least in its hu- man form. The basis of human action is mind and man’s struggle for creative self- realization.

Mumford makes such an argument in The Myth of the Machine (2 vols., 1967 and 1970) in the following manner. Although human beings are necessarily in worldly ac- tivities, the species is not properly understood as homo faber but as homo sapiens. It is not making but thinking, not tools but mind, which confers humanity. Against what Mumford considers a technological-materialist image of man, he maintains that tech- nics in the narrow sense of tool making and using has not been the main agent in human development. All human technical achievements are, Mumford maintains, “less for the purpose of increasing food supply or controlling nature than for utilizing his own immense organic resources … to fulfill more adequately his superorganic demands and aspirations.” The elaboration of symbolic culture through language, for instance, “was incomparably more important to further human development than the chipping of a mountain of hand-axes.” For Mumford “man is preeminently a mind- making, self-mastering, and self-designing animal.”

On the basis of this anthropology, Mumford constructs a distinction between two kinds of technology: polytechnics and monotechnics. Poly- or biotechnics is the pri- mordial form of making; at the beginning (logically if not historically), technics was “broadly life-oriented, not work-centered or power-centered.” This is the kind of technology that is in harmony with the polymorphous needs and aspirations of life; and it functions in a democratic manner to realize a diversity of human possibilities. In contrast, mono- or authoritarian technics is “based upon scientific intelligence and quantified production, directed mainly toward economic expansion, material reple- tion, and military superiority’:””-in short, toward power.

Although modern technology is a primary example of mono-technics, this authori- tarian form did not originate in the Industrial Revolution. Its origins go back five thousand years to the discovery of what Mumford calls the “megamachine’:””-that is, rigid social organization. Standard examples of the megamachine are large armies or organized work forces such as those that built the Pyramids and the Great Wall of China. The megamachine often brings with it striking material benefits, but at the ex- pense of a delimitation of human activities and aspiration which is dehumanizing. Large armies can conquer territory and extend power, but only by enforcing among its member soldiers a discipline which either does away with or rigorously subordinates family life, play, art, literature, and music to military ends. The consequence is the “myth of the machine,” or the notion that megatechnics is both irresistible and ulti- mately beneficent. This is a myth and not reality because the megamachine can be resisted and is not ultimately beneficial. Mumford’s work as a whole is an attempt to demythologize megatechnics and thereby initiate a radical reorientation of mental atti- tudes to transform monotechnical civilization.

An important feature of Mumford’s work is that his negative criticisms of mono- technics was complemented by positive studies of urban life, culminating in the wide- ly acclaimed The City in History (1961). Mumford is clearly not arguing for a simple- minded rejection of all technology. He seeks to make a reasoned distinction between two kinds of technology. one of which is in accord with human nature, the other of which is not.

 

 

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