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Technology and the Evolution of the Human: From Bergson to the Philosophy of Technology

1 January 2005


Philosophy of technology is gaining recognition as an important field of philosophical scrutiny. This essay addresses the import of philosophy of technology in two ways. First, it seeks elucidate the place of technology within ontology, epistemology, and social/political philosophy. I argue technology inhabits an essential place in these fields. The philosophy of Henri Bergson plays a central role in this section. Second, I discuss how modern technology, its further development, and its inter-cultural transfer constitute a drive toward a global “hegemony of technology”. The crux of the argument is that the technological impulse within humanity insinuates itself into nearly every aspect of human existence. The structures of the state, the economy, and culture, are each framed by this impulse. In the final analysis, it is argued that only a thorough examination of the intimate connection between humanity and technology can lay the foundation for a comprehensive philosophy of human existence.

Why philosophy of technology? Surely there must be experts more qualified to discuss technology...

At very least, one would hope that the last few decades of thought have managed to surpass the premise of this question. There is an increasing awareness that humanity has cast in its lot with highly integrated technological systems, as such systems have become absolutely necessary for the continued survival of the current level of world population (5 to 10 billion). Without enormous systems of intensive food production, transportation, and their attendant communication and trade networks, there is no doubt that such population levels would be impossible to sustain. Growing awareness of the potential danger that technological instruments possess if they are misused for political purposes, or if they break down due to wear or sabotage, has thrust technology to the forefront of discourse in the media and across the dinner table. Unfortunately, the discussion has been monopolized by the perceived need to secure ourselves from a potential technological catastrophe. The question of technology is dominated by concerns with how we can control the potential misuse of technology by putting in place more intensive technical means of surveillance, monitoring and preemptive action. This growing consciousness has in no way disclosed the true subtlety of the meaning and status of technology in our current historical milieu let alone for humanity. In this essay I will explore the import of philosophy of technology and elucidate a number of levels of approach that must be explored and integrated if we are to understand the ramifications of technology. Ultimately, the justification for philosophy of technology is beyond both pragmatic and utilitarian reasoning. Instead, I argue that any philosophy that ignores this essential element of the human condition is fundamentally flawed and intrinsically incomplete. What follows will begin by situating philosophy of technology with reference to how our existence is inextricably entwined Essays in Philosophy with technology. The argument is grounded in the philosophical works of Henri Bergson. I will then turn to concrete issues concerning technology and culture, specifically, how cultures are subverted by the introduction of technologies through both intra-cultural development and inter-cultural transfer. The most topical thinkers addressed in this part will be Don Ihde and Andrew Feenberg.1 My thesis is that technologies are polyvalent both within and across cultural contexts. Despite the fact that the introduction of a new technology may be ambivalent to technological hegemony, it in no way threatens the hegemony of technology.


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