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If the Truth Be Told of Techne: Techne as Ethical Knowledge

1 January 2005


What are the ethical possibilities of “techne?” To what extent is it a medium that facilitates ethical knowledge in social and political human thought and action? Gadamer suggests that techne as opposed to ethical knowledge is not a sufficient basis for ethical judgments because it is too far removed from Truth to meet genuinely ethical ends. On the contrary, Foucault finds that techne’s detached relationship with truth (or what poses as Truth) is precisely what makes ethics possible. Gadamer and Foucault, therefore, disagree about the worth of techne as a basis for ethics. Nevertheless, they do agree that ethics turns upon the question of whether or not the self internalizes knowledge. To examine Gadamer and Foucault’s opposing ideas about whether or not techne is a medium for ethics, I will initially look at Aristotle’s original distinction between “ethical knowledge” and techne. I will also illustrate the practical implications of their theories for ethical action by applying them throughout this paper to some contemporary social and political contexts. Gadmer’s concerns with the necessary shortcomings that are elicited through the use of techne in ethical contexts will be taken up; and, yet, I will also return to Foucault in order to establish that there is an equally necessary promise entailed in the ethical use of techne. In other words, I will suggest that the exclusive use of what Aristotle and Gadamer call “ethical knowledge” over techne (or vice versa) ultimately undermines the self’s ability to fully respond to the fluctuating social and political demands of ethical contexts. Given the technical difficulties associated with this conclusion, I will reconcile Gadamer and Foucault’s perspectives by showing how both types of knowledge can be either appropriate or inappropriate, because the appropriateness depends on the ethical demands of each new context. Finally, I will return to Heidegger, whose influence is profound in the works of both Gadamer and Foucault; I will reconcile their disparate stances on techne through a consideration of Heidegger’s ideas, in The Question Concerning Technology, wherein he suggests “questioning is the piety of thought.”


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