The Competitiveness of Nations

in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy

February 2004

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Carl Mitcham

Thinking through Technology:

The Path Between Engineering and Philosophy


University of Chicago Press, 1994, 275-299




Being-with: From Persons to Technics

Ancient Skepticism

Enlightenment Optimism

Romantic Uneasiness





Three Ways of Being-with Technology

In serious discussions of relations between technology and humanity there readily arises a general question about the primary member in this relationship.  It is difficult to deny that we exercise some choice over the kinds of technics we live with - that we control technology.  But it is equally difficult to deny that technics exert profound influences on the ways we live - that they structure our existence.  “We shape our buildings,” Winston Churchill once remarked (apropos of proposals for a new Parliament building); “thereafter they shape us.” [1]  But which comes first, logically if not temporally - the builder or the buildings?  Which is primary - humanity or technology?

This is of course a chicken-and-egg question, one not subject to any straightforward, definitive answer.  But it is not therefore insignificant, nor is it enough to propose as some kind of synthesis that there is simply a mutual relationship between the two, that humanity and technology are always found together.  Mutual relationship is not some one thing; mutual relationships take many different forms.  There are, for instance, mutualities of parent and child, of husband and wife, or of citizens.  Humanity and technology can be found together in more than one way.  Rather than argue the primacy of one or the other factor or the cliché of mutuality in the humanity-technology relationship, we can better pursue understanding through a structural examination of three forms the relationship itself can take, three ways of being-with technology.


Being-with: From Persons to Technics

To speak of three ways of being-with technology is necessarily to borrow and adapt a category from Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time (1927) in a manner that deserves acknowledgment.  In his seminal


work, Heidegger proposes to develop a new understanding of being human by taking the primordial human condition, being-in-the-world, and subjecting this given to what he terms an existential analysis.  The analysis proceeds by elucidating three equiprimordial aspects of this condition of being human: the world within which the human finds itself, the being-in relationship, and the being who is in the relationship - all as a means of approaching what, for Heidegger, is the fundamental question, the meaning of Being.

The fundamental question need not, on this occasion, be addressed.  What we can briefly consider instead is the central place of technics in Heidegger’s analysis and the disclosure of being-with as one of its central features.  For Heidegger the “worldhood of the world”, as he calls it, comes into view through technical engagements, which reveal a network of equipment and artifacts ready-to-hand for manipulation, and other human beings likewise so engaged.  These others are neither just technically ready-to-hand (like tools) nor even scientifically present-at-hand (like natural objects); on the contrary they are like the very human being who notices them in that “they are there too, and there with it” (1927 [trans. 1962, p. 1541).

The being-with relationship thus disclosed through technical engagements is therefore primarily social; it refers to the social character of the world that comes to light through technical practice.  Such a world is composed not solely of tools and artifacts, but of tools used with others and artifacts belonging to others.  Technical engagements are not just technical but have an immediately and intimately social dimension.  Indeed, this is all so immediate that it requires a labored stepping back even to recognize and state - a distancing and articulation which are in large part precisely what philosophy is about.

The present attempt to step back and examine various ways of being-with technology rather than being-with others (through technology) takes off from but does not proceed in the same manner as Heidegger’s social analysis of the They and the problem of authenticity in the technological world.  For Heidegger, being-with refers to an immediate personal presence in technics.  Social being-with can manifest itself, however, not only on the level of immediate or existential presence but also in ideas.  Indeed, the social world is as much a world of ideas as of persons, if not more so.  Persons hold ideas and interact with others and with things through them.  These ideas can even enclose the realm of technics - that is, become a language or logos of technics, a “technology”

The idea of being-with technology presupposes this “logical” encompassing of technics by a society and its philosophical or proto-


philosophical articulation.  For many people, however, the ideas that guide their lives may not be held with conscious awareness or full articulation.  They often take the form of myth.  Philosophical argument and discussion introduce into such a world of ideas a break or rupture with the immediately given.  This rupture need not require rejecting or abandoning that given, but it will entail bringing the given into fuller consciousness or awareness, from which it must be accepted (or rejected) in a new way or on new grounds.

Against this background, then, it is possible to develop historicophilosophical descriptions, necessarily somewhat truncated, of three alternative ways of being-with technology.  The first is what may be called ancient skepticism; the second, Renaissance and Enlightenment optimism; and the third, romantic ambiguity or uneasiness.  Even in the somewhat simplified form of ideal types in which they will be presented, considering the issues that divide these three ways of being-with technology may help illuminate the difficulties we face in trying to live with modern technology and its manifest problems.


Ancient Skepticism

The original articulation of a relationship between humanity and technics, an articulation that in its earliest forms is coeval with the appearance of recorded history can be stated boldly as “technology is bad but necessary” or, perhaps more carefully, as “technology (that is, the study of technics) is necessary but dangerous.”  The idea is hinted at by a plethora of archaic myths - such as the story of the Tower of Babel or the myths of Prometheus, Hephaestus, and Daedalus and Icarus.  Certainly the transition from hunting and gathering to the domestication of animals and plants introduced a profound and disturbing transition into culture.  Technics, according to these myths, although to some extent required by humanity and thus on occasion a cause for legitimate celebration, [2] easily turns against the human by severing it from some larger reality - a severing that can be manifest in a failure of faith or shift of the will, a refusal to rely on or trust God or the gods, whether manifested in nature or in Providence. [3]

Ethical arguments in support of this distrust or uneasiness about technical activities can be detected in the earliest strata of Western philosophy.  According to the overlooked works of the Greek military hero and historian Xenophon, for instance, his teacher Socrates (469-399 B.C.E.) considered farming, the least technical of the arts, to be the most philosophical of occupations.  Although the earth “provides the goods things most abundantly, farming does not yield them up to soft-

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ness but... produces a kind of humanity... Moreover, the Earth, being a goddess, teaches justice to those who are able to learn” (Oeconomicus 5.4, 12).  This idea of agriculture as the most virtuous of the arts, one in which human technical action tends to be kept within proper limits, is repeated by representatives of the philosophical tradition as diverse as Plato, [4] Aristotle, [5] Thomas Aquinas, [6] and Thomas Jefferson. [7]

Elsewhere Xenophon notes Socrates’ distinction between questions about whether to perform an action and about how to perform it, along with one between scientific or technological questions concerning the laws of nature and ethical or political questions about what is right and wrong, good and bad, pious and impious, just and unjust.  In elaborating on the whether/how distinction, Socrates stresses that human beings must determine for themselves how to perform their actions - that they can take lessons in “construction [tektonikos], forging metal, agriculture, ruling human beings, and... calculation, economics, and military strategy” (Memorabilia 1.1.7) and therefore should not depend on the gods for help in “counting, measuring, or weighting” (Memorabilia 1.1.9); the ultimate consequences of their technical actions are nonetheless hidden.  His initial example is even taken from agriculture: the man who knows how to plant a field does not know whether he will reap the harvest.  Thus whether we should employ our technical powers is a subject about which we must rely on guidance from the gods (cf. also Memorabilia 4.7.10, and Anabasis 3.1).

At the same time, with regard to the science/ethics distinction, Socrates argues that because of the supreme importance of ethical and political issues, human beings should not allow themselves to become preoccupied with scientific and technological pursuits.  In the intellectual autobiography attributed to him in the Phaedo, for instance, Socrates relates how he turned away from natural science because of the cosmological and moral confusion it tends to engender (cf. also Memo­rabilia 4.7.6-7).  In the Memorabilia it is similarly said of Socrates that “he did not like others discuss the nature of all things, nor did he speculate on the ‘cosmos’ of the sophists or the necessities of the heavens, but he declared that those who worried about such matters were foolish.  And first he would ask whether such persons became involved with these problems because they believed that their knowledge of human things was complete or whether they thought they were obligated to neglect human things to speculate on divine things” (Memorabilia 1.1.11-12).

Persons who turn away from human things to things having to do with the heavens appear to think “that when they know the laws by


which everything comes into being, they will, when they choose, create winds, water, seasons, and anything else like these that they may need” (Memorabilia 1.1.15) (cf. Empedocles, frag. 111; see also Academica 1.4.15).  As “the first to call philosophy down from the heavens and place it in the city and... compel it to inquire about life and morality and things good and bad” (Cicero Tusculan Disputations 5.4.10-11), [8] however, Socrates’ own conversation is described as always about human things: What is pious?  What is impious?  What is good?  What is shameful?  What is just?  What is unjust?  What is moderation?  For, as Xenophon says on another occasion, Socrates “was not eager to make his companions orators and businessmen and inventors, but thought that they should first possess moderation [sophrosune].  For he believed that without moderation those abilities only enabled a person to become more unjust and to work more evil” (Memorabilia 4.3).  The whether/how distinction grants technical or how-to questions a realistic prominence in human affairs but recognizes their ambiguity and uncertainty; the science/ethics one subordinates any systematic pursuit of technical knowledge to ethical and political concerns.

Such uneasiness before the immoderate possibilities inherent in technological powers is further elaborated by Plato.  Near the beginning of the Republic, after Socrates outlines a primitive state and Glaucon objects that this is no more than a “city of pigs;’ Socrates replies:

The true state is in my opinion the one we have described - a healthy state, as it were.  But if you want, we can examine a feverish state as well... For there are some, it seems, who will not be satisfied with these things or this way of life; but beds, tables, and other furnishings will have to be added, and of course seasonings, perfume, incense, girls, and sweets - all kinds of each.  And the requirements we mentioned before can no longer be limited to the necessities of houses, clothes, and shoes; but [various technai] must also be set in motion... The healthy state will no longer be large enough either, but it must be swollen in size by a multitude of activities which go beyond the meeting of necessities. (372d-373b)

As this passage implies, and as can be confirmed by earlier references to Homer and the poets, classical Greek culture was shot through with a distrust of the wealth and affluence that the technai or arts could produce if not kept within strict limits.  For according to the ancients such wealth accustoms people to easy things.  But kalepa ta kala, difficult

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is the beautiful or the perfect; the perfection of anything, including human nature, is the opposite of what is soft or easy.  Under conditions of affluence human beings tend to become accustomed to ease, and thus to choose the less over the more perfect, the lower over the higher, both for themselves and for others.

With no art is this more prevalent than with medicine.  Once drugs are available as palliatives, for instance, most individuals will choose them for the alleviation of pain over the more strenuous paths of physical hygiene or psychological enlightenment.  The current techne of medicine, Socrates maintains to Glaucon later in Republic 3, is an education in disease that “draws out death” (406b); instead of promoting health, it allows the unhealthy to have “a long and wretched life” and “to produce offspring like themselves” (407d).  That Socrates’ description applies even more strongly to modern medical technology than to that current in Athens scarcely need be mentioned.

Another aspect of this tension between politics and technology is illustrated by Plato’s observations on the dangers of technical change.  In the words of Adeimantus, with whom Socrates in this instance evidently agrees, once change has established itself as normal in the arts, “it overflows its bounds into human character and activity and from there issues forth to attack commercial affairs, and then proceeds against the laws and political orders” (424d-e).  It is desirable that obedience to the law should rest primarily on habit rather than force.  Technological change, which undermines the authority of custom and habit, thus tends to introduce violence into the state.  Surely this is a possibility that the experience of the twentieth century one of the most violent in history should encourage us to take seriously.

This wariness about technological activity on moral and political grounds can be supplemented by an epistemological critique of the limitations of technological knowledge and a metaphysical analysis of the inferior status of technical objects.  During a discussion of the education of the philosopher-king in Republic 7, Socrates considers what kind of teaching most effectively brings a student “into the light” of the highest or most important things.  One conclusion is that it is not those technai that “are oriented toward human opinions and desires or concerned with creation and fabrication and attending to things that grow and are put together” (533b).  Because it cannot convert or emancipate the mind from the cares and concerns of the world, technology should not be a primary focus of human life.  The orientation of technics, because it is concerned to remedy the defects in nature, is always toward the lower or the weaker (342c-d).  A doctor sees more sick


people than healthy ones.  Eros or love, by contrast, is oriented toward the higher or the stronger; it seeks out the good and strives for transcendence.  “And the person who is versed in such matters is said to have spiritual wisdom, as opposed to the wisdom of one with technai or low-grade handicraft skills”, Diotima tells Socrates in the Symp­sium (203a).

Aristotle agrees, but for quite different, more properly metaphysical reasons.  According to Aristotle and his followers, reality or being resides in particulars.  It is not some abstract species Homo Sapiens (with capital H and capital S) that is in the primary sense, but Socrates and Xanthippe.  However, the reality of all natural entities is dependent on an intimate union of form and matter, and the telos or end determined thereby.  The problem with artifacts is that they fail to achieve this kind of unity at a very deep level and thus can have a variety of uses or extrinsic ends imposed upon them.  As Aristotle observes, if a bed sprouts what grows is not a bed but a tree (Physics 193b10).  Insofar as it truly imitates nature, art engenders an inimitable individuality in its products, precisely because its attempt to effect as close a union of form and matter as possible requires a respect for or deference to the materials it works with.  In a systematized art or technology matter necessarily tends to be overlooked or relegated to the status of an undifferentiated substrate to be manipulated at will.  Indeed, in relation to this Aristotle suggests a distinction between the arts of cultivation - for example, medicine, education, and agriculture, which help nature to produce more abundantly things that she could produce of herself - from those of construction or domination - arts that bring into existence things nature would not produce (compare Aristotle Physics 2.1 .193a12-1 7; Politics 7.7.1337a2; and Oeconomica 1.1 .1343a26-1343b2).

The metaphysical issue here can be illustrated by observing the contrast between a handcrafted ceramic plate and Tupperware dishes.  The clay plate has a solid weight, rich texture, and explicit reference to its surroundings not unlike that of a natural stone, whereas Tupperware exhibits a lightness of body and undistinguished surface that only abstractly engages the environment of its creation and use.  As an advertising argument might say, since synthetic products are “better than the real thing;’ the word “synthetic;’ which implies a “pallid imitation” ought to be discarded.  But whether this is true depends heavily on a prior understanding of what is real in the first place.  For Aristotle there is a kind of reality that can be found only in particulars and is thus beyond the scope of mass production, function-oriented polymer technology.

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For Plato and the Platonic tradition, too, artifice is less real than nature.  Indeed, in Republic 10 there is a discussion of the making of beds (to which Aristotle’s remarks from the Physics may allude) by god or nature, by the carpenter, or tekton, and by painter or artist.  Socrates’ argument is that the natural bed, the one made by the god, is the primary reality; the many beds made in imitation by artisans are a secondary reality; and the pictures of beds painted by artists are a tertiary reality.  Techne is thus creative in a second or “third generation” sense (597e) - and thus readily subject to moral and metaphysical guidance.

In moral terms artifice is to be guided or judged in terms of its goodness or usefulness.  In metaphysical terms the criterion of judgment is proper proportion or beauty.  One possible disagreement between Platonists and Aristotelians with regard to one or another aspect of making is whether the good or the beautiful, ethics or aesthetics, is the proper criterion for its guidance.  Such disagreement should nevertheless not be allowed to obscure a more fundamental agreement, the recognition of the need to subject poiesis and technai to certain well-defined limitations.  Insofar as technical objects or activities fail to be subject to the inner guidance of nature (phusis), nature must be brought to bear upon them consciously, from the outside as it were, by human beings.  Again, the tendency of contemporary technical creations to bring about environmental problems or ecological disorders to some extent confirms the premodern point of view.

The ancient critique of technology thus rests on a tightly woven, fourfold argument: (1) the will to technology or the technological intention often involves a turning away from faith or trust in nature or Providence; (2) technical affluence and the concomitant processes of change tend to undermine individual striving for excellence and societal stability; (3) technological knowledge likewise draws human beings into intercourse with the world and obscures transcendence; (4) technical objects are less real than objects of nature.  Only some necessity of survival, not some ideal of the good, can justify setting aside such arguments.  The life of the great Hellenistic scientist Archimedes provides us (as it did antiquity) with a kind of icon or lived-out image of these arguments.  Although, according to Plutarch, Archimedes was capable of inventing all sorts of devices, he was too high-minded to do so except when pressed by military necessity - yet even then he refused to leave behind any treatise on the subject because of a salutary fear that his weapons would be too easily misused by humankind (Plutarch, “Life of Marcellus,” near the middle).

Allied with the Judeo-Christian-Islamic criticism of the vanity of human knowledge and of worldly wealth and power, [9] this premodern


distrust of technology dominated Western culture until the end of the Middle Ages, and elements of it can be found vigorously repeated by numerous figures since - from Samuel Johnson’s neoclassicist criticism of Milton’s promotion of education in natural science [10] to Norbert Wiener, who in 1947, like Archimedes twenty-three hundred years before, vowed not to publish anything more that could do damage in the hands of militarists. [11]  In one less well-known allusion to another aspect of the classical moral argument, John Wesley (1703-1791), in both private journals and public sermons, ruefully acknowledges the paradox that Christian conversion gives birth to a kind of self-discipline that easily engenders the accumulation of wealth, which then readily undermines true Christian virtue.  “Indeed, according to the natural tendency of riches, we cannot expect it to be otherwise”, writes Wesley. [12]

In contemporary versions of other aspects of the premodern critique, Lewis Mumford has criticized the will to power manifested in modern technology, and Heidegger, following the lead of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, has invoked the metaphysical argument by pointing out the disappearance of the thinghood of things, the loss of a sense of the earth in mass-produced consumer objects.  From Heidegger’s point of view, nuclear annihilation of all things would be “the mere final emission of what has long since taken place, has already happened.” [13]

From the point of view of the ancients, then, being-with technology is an uneasy being-alongside-of and working-to-keep-at-arms-length.  This premodern attitude looks on technics as dangerous or guilty until proven innocent or necessary - and in any case, the burden of proof lies with those who favor technology not those who would restraint it.


Enlightenment Optimism

A radically different way of being-with technology - one that shifts the burden of proof from those who favor to those who oppose the introduction of inventions - argues the inherent goodness of technology and the consequent accidental character of all misuse.  Aspects of this idea or attitude are not without premodern adumbration.  But in comprehensive and persuasive form arguments to this effect are first fully articulated in the writings of Francis Bacon (1561-1626) at the time of the Renaissance and subsequently become characteristic of the Enlightenment philosophy of the eighteenth century

Like Xenophon’s Socrates, Bacon grants that the initiation of human actions should be guided by divine counsel.  But unlike Socrates, Bacon

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maintains that God has given humanity a clear mandate to pursue technology as a means for the compassionate melioration of the suffering of the human condition, of being-in-the-world.  Technical know how is cut loose from all doubt about the consequences of technical action.  In the choice between ways of life devoted to scientific-technological or ethical-political questions, Bacon further argues that Christian revelation directs men toward the former over the latter.  “For it was not that pure and uncorrupted natural knowledge whereby Adam gave names to the creatures according to their propriety which gave occasion to the fall.  It was the ambitious and proud desire of moral knowledge to judge of good and evil, to the end that man may revolt from God and give laws to himself, which was the form and manner of the temptation” (The Great Instauration, preface).

Contrary to what is implied by the myth of Prometheus or the legend of Faust, it was not scientific and technological knowledge that led to the Fall, but vain philosophical speculation concerning moral questions.  Formed in the image and likeness of God, human beings are called on to be creators; to abjure that vocation and pursue instead an unproductive discourse on ethical quandaries brings about the just punishment of a poverty-stricken existence.  “He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils” (“Of Innovations”).  Yet “the kingdom of man, founded on the sciences,” says Bacon, is “not much other than... the kingdom of heaven” (Novum Organum 1.68).

The argument between Socrates and Bacon is not, it is important to note, simply one between anti- and pro-technology partisans.  Socrates allows technics a legitimate but strictly utilitarian function, then points out the difficulty of obtaining a knowledge of consequences on which to base any certainty of trust or commitment.  Technical action is circumscribed by uncertainty or risk.  Bacon, however, although he makes some appeals to a consequentialist justification, ultimately grounds his commitment in something approaching deontological principles.  The proof is that he never even considers evaluating technical projects on their individual merit, but simply argues for an all-out affirmation of technology in general.  It is right to pursue technological action, never mind what might look like dangerous consequences.  Intuitions of uncertainty are jettisoned in the name of revelation.

The uniqueness of the Baconian (or Renaissance) interpretation of the theological tradition is also to be noted.  For millennia the doctrines of God as creator of “the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1) and of human beings as made “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27) exercised profound influence over Jewish and later Christian anthropology with-


out ever being explicitly interpreted as a warrant for or a call to technical activity.  Traditional or premodern interpretations focus on the soul, the intellect, or the capacity for love as the key to the imago Dei. [14]  The earliest attribution to this doctrine of technological implications occurs in the early Renaissance.  The contemporary theological notion of the human as using technology to prolong creation or co-create with God depends on just the reinterpretation of Genesis adumbrated by Bacon.

The Enlightenment version of Bacon’s religious argument is to replace the theological obligation with a natural one.  In the first place, human beings simply could not survive without technics.  As d’Alembert puts it in the “Preliminary Discourse” to the Encyclopedia (1751), there is a prejudice against the mechanical arts that is a result of their accidental association with the lower classes.  In truth,

the advantage that the liberal arts have over the mechanical arts, because of their demands upon the intellect and because of the difficulty of excelling in them, is sufficiently counterbalanced by the quite superior usefulness which the latter for the most part have for us.  It is their very usefulness which reduced them perforce to purely mechanical operations in order to make them accessible to a larger number of men.  But while justly respecting great geniuses for their enlightenment, society ought not to degrade the hands by which it is served. [15]

In the even more direct words of Immanuel Kant, “Nature has willed that man should, by himself, produce everything that goes beyond the mechanical ordering of his animal existence, and that he should partake of no other happiness or perfection than that which he himself, independently of instinct, has created by his own reason.” [16]  Nature and reason, if not God, command humanity to pursue technology; the human being is redefined not as Homo sapiens but as Homo faber.  Technology is the essential human activity.  In more ways than Kant explicitly proclaims, “Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage.” [17]

Following a redirecting (Bacon) or reinterpreting (d’Alembert and Kant) of the will, Bacon and his followers explicitly reject the ethical-political argument against technological activities in the name of moderation.  With no apparent irony, Bacon maintains that the inventions of printing, gunpowder, and the compass have done more to benefit humanity than all the philosophical debates and political reforms throughout history.  It may, he admits, be pernicious for an individual or a nation to pursue power.  Individuals or small groups may well

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abuse such power.  “But if an man endeavor to establish and extend the power and dominion of the human race itself over the universe”, writes Bacon, “his ambition (if ambition it can be called) is without doubt both a more wholesome and a more noble thing than the other two.”  And, of course, “the empire of man over things depends wholly on the arts and sciences” (Novum Organum 1.129).

Bacon does not expound at length on the wholesomeness of technics.  All he does is reject the traditional idea of their corrupting influence on morals by arguing for a distinction between change in politics and in the arts.  “In matters of state a change even for the better is distrusted [Bacon observes], because it unsettles what is established; these things resting on authority consent, fame and opinion, not on demonstration.  But arts and sciences should be like mines, where the noise of new works and further advances is heard on every side” (Novum Organum 1.90).  Unlike Aristotle and Aquinas, both of whom noticed the same distinction but found it grounds for caution in technology [18] Bacon thinks the observation itself is enough to set technology on its own path of development.

Bacon’s Enlightenment followers, however, go considerably further and argue for the positive or beneficial influence of the arts on morals.  In the Encyclopedia, for instance, having identified “luxury” as simply “the use human beings make of wealth and industry to assure themselves of a pleasant existence”, with its origin in “that dissatisfaction with our condition... which is and must be present in all men”, Saint-Lambert undertakes to reply directly to the ancient “diatribes by the moralists who have censured it with more gloominess than light.” [9]  Critics of material welfare have maintained that it undermines morals, and apologists have responded that this is the case only when it is carried to excess.  Both are wrong.  Wealth is, as we would say today, neutral.  A survey of history reveals that luxury “did not determine morals, but... it took its character rather from them.” [20]  Indeed, it is quite possible to have a moral luxury one that promotes virtuous development.

But if a first line of defense is to argue for moderation, and a second to urge neutrality, a third is to maintain a positive influence.  David Hume (1711-1776), for instance, in his essay “Of Commerce,” argues that a state should encourage its citizens to be manufacturers rather than farmers or soldiers.  By pursuit of “the arts of luxury, they add to the happiness of the state.” [21]  Then, in “Of Refinement in the Arts”, he explains that the ages of luxury are both “the happiest and the most virtuous” because of their propensity to encourage industry knowl-


edge, and humanity.”  “In times when industry and the arts flourish”, writes Hume, “men are kept in perpetual occupation, and enjoy, as their reward, the occupation itself, as well as those pleasures which are the fruit of their labour.” [22]

Furthermore, the spirit of activity in the arts will galvanize that in the sciences and vice versa; knowledge and industry increase together.  In Hume’s own inimitable words: “We cannot reasonably expect that a piece of woolen cloth will be wrought to perfection in a nation which is ignorant of astronomy.” [23]  And the more the arts and sciences advance, “the more sociable men become.”  Technical engagements promote civil peace because they siphon off energy that might otherwise go into sectarian competition.  Technological commerce and scientific aspirations tend to break down national and class barriers, thus ushering in tolerance and sociability.  In the words of Hume’s contemporary Montesquieu, “Commerce is a cure for the most destructive prejudices; for it is a general rule, that wherever we find tender manners, there commerce flourishes; and that wherever there is commerce, there we meet with tender manners” (Spirit of the Laws, L20i).

The ethical significance of technological activity is not limited to its socializing influence, however.  Technology is an intellectual as well as a moral virtue, because it is a means to the acquisition of true knowledge.  That technological activity contributes to scientific advance rests on a theory of knowledge that again is first clearly articulated by Bacon, who begins his Novum Organum, or “new instrument;’ with the argument that true knowledge is acquired only by a close intercourse with things themselves: “Neither the naked hand nor the understanding left to itself can effect much.  It is by instruments and helps that the work is done, which are as much wanted for the understanding as for the hand” (Novum Organum 1.2).  Knowledge is to be acquired by active experimentation and ultimately evaluated according to its ability to engender works.  The means to true knowledge is what Bacon candidly refers to as the “torturing of nature”; left free and at large, nature, like human beings, is loath to reveal its secrets. [24]  The result of this new way will be the union of knowledge and power (Novum Organum 1.3).  Bacon is, quite simply, an epistemological pragmatist.  What is true is what works.  “Our only hope;’ he says, “therefore lies in a true induction” (Novum Organum 1.14).

The very basis of the great French Encyclopedia, or Rational Dictionary of Sciences, Arts, and Crafts is precisely this epistemological vision of unity between theory and practice.  Bacon is explicitly identified as its inspiration and is praised for having conceived philosophy “as being

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only that part of our knowledge which should contribute to making us better or happier, thus... confining it within the limits of useful things [and inviting] scholars to study and perfect the arts, which he regards as the most exalted and most essential part of human science.” [25]  Indeed, in explicating the priorities of the Encyclopedia, the “Preliminary Discourse” goes on to say that “too much has been written on the sciences; not enough has been written well on the mechanical arts.” [26]  The article “Art” in the Encyclopedia further criticizes the prejudice against the mechanical arts, not only because it has “tended to fill cities with... idle speculation,” [27] but even more because of its failure to produce genuine knowledge.  “It is difficult if not impossible… to have a thorough knowledge of the speculative aspects of an art without being versed in its practice”, although it is equally difficult “to go far in the practice of an art without speculation.” [28]  It is this new unity of theory and practice - a unity based more in practice than in theory [29] - that is at the basis of, for instance, Bernard de Fontenelle’s eulogies on the practice of experimental science as an intellectual virtue as well as a moral one and the Enlightenment reconception of Socrates as having called philosophy down from the heavens to experiment with the world. [30]

Bacon’s true induction likewise rests on a metaphysical rejection of natural teleology.  The pursuit of a knowledge of final causes “rather corrupts than advances the sciences”, declares Bacon, “except such as have to do with human action” (Novum Organum 2.2).  Belief in final causes or purposes inherent in nature is a result of superstition or false religion.  It must be rejected in order to make possible “a very diligent dissection and anatomy of the world” (Novum Organum 1.124).  Nature and artifice are not ontologically distinct.  “All Nature is but Art, unknown to thee;’ claims Alexander Pope. [31]  The Aristotelian distinction between arts of cultivation and of construction is jettisoned in favor of universal construction.

With regard to Pope, although it is not uncommon to find comparisons of the God/nature and artist/artwork relationships in Greek and Christian, ancient and modern authors, there are subtle differences.  For Plato (Sophist 265b ff. and Timaeus 27c ff.) and Saint Augustine (De civitate Dei 11.21), for example, there is a fundamental distinction to be drawn between divine and human poiesis, both of which must be differentiated from techne.  Also, even though made by a god, the world is not to be looked upon as an artifact or something that functions in an artificial manner.  Thomas Hobbes, Bacon’s secretary however, proposes to view nature not just as produced by a divine art but as


itself “the art whereby God hath made and governs the world” (Leviathan, introduction).  Indeed, so much is this the case that for Hobbes human art itself may be said to produce natural objects.  Or, to say the same thing in different words, the whole distinction between nature and artifice disappears.

This last point also links up with the first; metaphysics supports volition.  If nature and artifice are not ontologically distinct, then the traditional distinction between technics of cultivation and technics of domination disappears.  There is no technics that helps nature to realize its own internal reality and human beings are free to pursue power.  If nature is just another form of mechanical artifice, it is likewise reasonable to think of the human being as a machine.  “Man is a machine and... in the whole universe there is but a single substance variously modified,” concludes La Mettrie. [32]  “For what is the heart,” wrote Hobbes a century earlier, “but a spring; and the nerves, but so many strings; and the joints, but so many wheeles(Leviathan, introduction).  But the activities appropriate to machines are technological ones; Homo faber is yet another form of l’homme-machine, and vice versa.

Like that of the ancients, then, the distinctly modern way of being-with technology may be articulated in terms of four interrelated arguments: (1) the will to technology is ordained for humanity by God or by nature; (2) technological activity is morally beneficial because, while stimulating human action, it ministers to physical needs and increases sociability; (3) knowledge acquired by a technical closure with the world is more true than abstract theory; and (4) nature is no more real than artifice - indeed, it operates by the same principles.  It is scarcely necessary to illustrate how aspects of this ideology remain part of intellectual discourse in Marxism, in pragmatism, and in popular attitudes regarding technological progress, technology assessment and public policy, education, and medicine.


Romantic Uneasiness

The premodern argument that technology is bad but necessary characterizes a way of being-with technology that effectively limited rapid technical expansion in the West for approximately two thousand years.  The Renaissance and Enlightenment argument in support of the theory that technology is inherently good discloses a way of being-with technology that has been the foundation for a Promethean unleashing of technical power unprecedented in history.  The proximate causes of this radical transformation were, of course, legion: geographic, economic,

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political, military scientific.  But what brought all such factors together in England in the mid-eighteenth century to engender a new way of life, what enabled them to coalesce into a veritable new way of being-in-the-world, was a certain optimism regarding the expansion of material development that is not to be found so fully articulated at any other point in premodern culture. [33]

In contrast to premodern skepticism about technology, however, the typically modern optimism has not retained its primacy in theory even though it has continued to dominate in practice.  The reasons for this are complex.  But faced with the real-life consequences of the Industrial Revolution, from societal and cultural disruptions to environmental pollution, post-Enlightenment theory has become more critical of technology.  Romanticism, as the name for the typically modern response to the Enlightenment, thus implicitly contains a new way of being-with technology, one that can be identified with neither ancient skepticism nor modern optimism.

Romanticism is, of course, a multidimensional phenomenon.  In one sense it can refer to a permanent tendency in human nature that manifests itself differently at different times.  In another it refers to a particular manifestation in nineteenth-century literature and thought.  Virtually all attempts to analyze this particular historical manifestation interpret romanticism as a reaction to and criticism of modern science.  Against Newtonian mechanics, the romantics propose an organic cosmology; in opposition to scientific rationality, romantics assert the legitimacy and importance of imagination and feeling.  What is seldom appreciated is the extent to which romanticism can also be interpreted as a questioning - in fact, the first self-conscious questioning - of modern technology. [34]  So interpreted, however, romanticism reflects an uneasiness about technology that is nevertheless fundamentally ambivalent; although as a whole the romantic critique may be distinct from ancient skepticism and modern optimism, in its parts it nevertheless exhibits differential affinities with both.

Consider, to begin with, the volitional aspect of technology.  On the ancient view, technology was seen as a turning away from God or the gods.  On the modern view, it is ordained by God or, with the Enlightenment rejection of God, by nature.  With the romantics the will to technology either remains grounded in nature or is cut free from all extrahuman determination.  In the former instance, however, nature is reconceived not just as mechanistic movement but as an organic striving toward creative development and expression.  From the perspective of “mechanical philosophy” human technology is a prolongation of mechanical order; from that of Naturphilosophie it becomes a participa-


tion in the self-expression of life.  When liberated from even such organic creativity, technology is grounded solely in the human will to power, but with recognition of its often negative consequences; the human condition takes on the visage of gothic pathos. [35]  The most one can argue, it seems, is that the technological intention - that is, the will to power - should not be pursued to the exclusion of other volitional options, or that it should be guided by aesthetic ideals.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850), for instance, the most philosophical of the English romantic poets, in the next-to-last book of his long narrative poem The Excursion (1814), describes how he has “lived to mark / A new and unforeseen creation rise” (8.89-90).

Casting reserve away, exult to see

An intellectual mastery exercised

O’er the blind elements; a purpose given,

A perseverence fed; almost a soul

Imparted - to brute matter. I rejoice,

Measuring the force of those gigantic powers

That, by the thinking mind, have been compelled

To serve the will of feeble-bodied Man. (8.200-207)

Here the rejoicing in and affirmation of technological conquest and control is clearly in harmony with Enlightenment sentiments.

Yet in the midst of this exultation

I grieve, when on the dark side

Of this great change I look; and there behold

Such outrage done to nature. (8.151-153)

And afterward he writes,

How insecure, how baseless in itself,

Is the Philosophy whose sway depends

On mere material instruments; - how weak

Those arts, and high inventions, if unpropped

By virtue. (8.223-227)

Here Enlightenment optimism is clearly replaced by something approaching premodern skepticism.

Clarifying his position in the last book of the poem, Wordsworth admits that although he has complained, in regard to the factory labor of children, that a child is

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subjected to the arts

Of modern ingenuity, and made

The senseless member of a vast machine (9.157-159)

he is not insensitive to the fact that the rural life is also often an “unhappy lot” enslaved to “ignorance;’ “want;’ and “miserable hunger” (9.163-165).  Nevertheless, he says, his thoughts cannot help but be

turned to evils that are new and chosen,

A bondage lurking under shape of good, -

Arts, in themselves beneficent and kind,

But all too fondly followed and too far. (9.187 - 190)

In such lines Wordsworth no longer maintains with any equanimity the Enlightenment principle that the arts are “in themselves beneficent and kind.”  With his suggestion that the self-creative thrust has in technology been followed “too fondly” and “too far,” and that bondage has been created under the disguise of good, he introduces a profound questioning.  But unlike the ancients, who called for specific limitations on technics, with the romantics there is no clear outcome other than a critical uneasiness - or a heightened aesthetic sensibility.

Later, in a sonnet titled “Steamboats, Viaducts, and Railways” (1835), having observed contradictions between the practical and aesthetic qualities of such artifacts, Wordsworth concludes that

In spite of all that beauty may disown

In your harsh features, Nature doth embrace

Her lawful offspring in Man’s art; and Time,

Pleased with your triumphs o’er his brother Space,

Accepts from your bold hands the proffered crown

Of hope, and smiles on you with cheer sublime.

Once again technology, in Enlightenment fashion, is viewed as an extension of nature and even described in Baconian terms as the triumph of time over space. [36]  The “lawful offspring” is nevertheless ugly, full of “harsh features” that beauty disowns.  Yet from the “bold hands” of technology temporal change is given the “crown of hope... with cheer sublime” that things will work out for the good.  In Wordsworth’s own commentary on The Excursion, the problem “is an ill-regulated and excessive application of powers so admirable in themselves.” [37]  But it is


precisely this ill-regulated and excessive technology that also gives birth to a new kind of admiration, the admiration of the sublime.

With regard to the moral character of technology ambivalence is even more apparent.  Consider, for instance, the arguments of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), a man who is in important respects the father of the romantic movement, and whose critique takes shape even before the inauguration of the Industrial Revolution itself, strictly in response to ideas expressed by the philosophes.  In his 1750 Discourse on the Sciences and Arts Rousseau boldly argues that “as the commodities of life multiply, as the arts are perfected and luxury extended, true courage falls away, the militant virtues fade away.” [38]  But what might sound at first like a simple return to the moral principles of the ancients is made in the name of quite different ideals.  Virtue, for Rousseau, is not the same thing it is for Plato or Aristotle - as is clearly shown by his praise of Francis Bacon as “perhaps the greatest of philosophers.” [39]  In agreement with Bacon, Rousseau criticizes “moral philosophy” as an outgrowth of “human pride” as well as the hiatus between knowledge and power, thought and action, that he finds to be a mark of civilization; instead, he praises those who are able to act decisively in the world, to alter it in their favor, even when these are men the Greeks would have considered barbarians.  Virtue, for instance, lies with the Scythians who conquered Persia, not with the Persians; with the Goths who conquered Rome, not the Romans; with the Franks who conquered the Gauls, the Saxons who conquered England.  In civilized countries, he says, “There are a thousand prizes for fine discourses, and none for good action.” [40]  Action, even destructive action, particularly on a grand (or sublime) scale, is preferable to inaction. [41]

With Bacon, Rousseau argues the need for actions, not words, and approves the initial achievements of the Renaissance in freeing humanity from a barren medieval Scholasticism. [42]  But unlike Bacon, Rousseau sees that even scientific rationality, through the alienation of affection, can often weaken the determination and commitment needed for decisive action.  Thus, in a paradox that will become a hallmark of romanticism, Rousseau turns against technology - but in the name of ideals that are at the heart of technology.  He criticizes a particular historical embodiment of technology, but only to advance a project that has become momentarily or partially impotent.

It was in England, however, where the Industrial Revolution found its earliest full-scale manifestation, that this paradoxical critique achieved an initial broad literary expression.  Such expression took a

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realistic turn, rejecting classical patterns in favor of the specific depiction of real situations, often in unconventional forms.  Works such as William Blake’s poem “London” (1794) and Charles Dickens’s novel Hard Times (1854), in their presentation of the dehumanizing consequences of factory labor, illustrate equally well the force of this approach.  Wordsworth, again, may be quoted to extend the issue of the alienation of affections to the social level.  In a letter from 1801 he writes,

It appears to me that the most calamitous effect which has followed the measures which have lately been pursued in this country is a rapid decay of the domestic affections among the lower orders of society... For many years past, the tendency of society amongst all the nations of Europe, has been to produce it; but recently, by the spreading of manufactures through every part of the country… the bonds of domestic feeling... have been weakened, and in innumerable instances entirely destroyed... If this is true,... no greater curse can befall a land. [43]

Romantic realism is allied with visionary symbolism, however, and through this with epistemological issues.  Consider, for instance, another aspect of Blake’s genius, his prophetic poems.  Over a century before, John Milton had in Paradise Lost (1667) already identified Satan with the technical activities of mining, smelting, forging, and molding the metals of hell into the city of Pandemonium. [44]  Following this lead, in Milton (1804) Blake identifies Satan with the abused powers of technology - and Newtonian science.  Satan, “Prince of the Starry Hosts and of the Wheels of Heaven;’ also has the job of turning “the [textile] Mills day & night” (1.4.9-10).  But in the prefatory lyric that opens this apocalyptic epic, Blake rejects the necessity of “these dark Satanic Mills” and cries out

I will not cease from Mental Fight,

Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand,

Till we have built Jerusalem

In England’s green & pleasant Land.

This lyric, “And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time;’ is set to music and becomes the anthem of British socialism.  A visionary imaginative -  not to say utopian - socialism is the romantic answer to the romantic critique of the moral limitations of technology.  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), in another instance, likewise presents a love-hate relationship with technology in which what is hated is properly redeemed not


by premodern delimitation but by the affective correlate of an expansive imagination - that is, love.

Industrialization, then, undermines affection - feeling and emotion - at both the individual and social levels.  And this practical fact readily becomes allied with a more theoretical criticism of the Enlightenment emphasis on reason as the sole or principal cognitive faculty.  The Enlightenment argued for the primacy of reason as the only means to advance human freedom from material limitations.  The romantic replies that not only does such an emphasis on reason not free humanity from material bonds (witness the evils of the Industrial Revolution), but in itself it is (in the words of William Blake) a “mind-forged manacle.”  The focus on reason is itself a limitation that must be overcome; and through the consequent liberation of imagination the historical condition of technical activity can in turn be altered.  In the “classic” epistemological defense and definition of Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

The imagination… I consider either as primary or secondary.  The primary imagination I hold to be the living power and prime agent of all human perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM.  The secondary I consider as an echo of the former, co-existing with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree, and in the mode of its operation.  It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to re-create; or where this process is rendered impossible, yet still, at all events, it struggles to idealize and to unify. [45]

Indeed, it is this power that Blake also appeals to as the source of his social revolution when he proclaims, “I know of no other Christianity and of no other Gospel than the liberty both of body & mind to exercise the Divine Arts of Imagination, the real & eternal World of which this Vegetable Universe is but a faint shadow, & in which we shall live in our Eternal or Imaginative Bodies when these Vegetable Mortal Bodies are no more.” [46]

Finally, with regard to artifacts, the romantic view is again both like and unlike that of the Enlightenment.  It is similar in the belief that nature and artifice operate by the same principles.  Contra the Enlightenment, however, the romantic view takes nature as the key to artifice rather than artifice as the key to nature.  The machine is a diminished form of life, not life, a complex machine.  Furthermore, nature is no longer perceived primarily in terms of stable forms; the reality of nature is one of process and change.  Wordsworth and other English ro-

295 Index

mantics are taken with the “mutability” of nature.  Lord Byron, for instance, at the conclusion of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1818), when he aspires “to mingle with the Universe, and feel / What I can ne’er express” (4.177), describes nature as the

glorious mirror, where the Almighty’s form

Glasses itself in tempests; in all time,

Calm or convulsed - in breeze, or gale, or storm -

Icing the Pole, or in the torrid clime

Dark-heaving - boundless, endless, and sublime -

The image of Eternity. (4.183)

Nature, thus reconceptualized, reflects its new character onto the world of artifice.

For the Enlightenment, at their highest levels of reality nature and artifice both exhibit various aspects of mechanical order, the interlocking of parts in a mathematical interrelation of the well-drafted lines of a Euclidean geometry.  The metaphysical character of such reality is manifest to the senses through a “classical” vision of the beautiful - although there develops an Enlightenment excitement with the great or grandiose (and the consequent projecting of art beyond nature) that contradicts the models of harmonious stability within nature characteristic of classical antiquity and thus intimates romantic sensibilities.  For romanticism, by contrast, the metaphysical reality of both nature and artifice is best denoted not by stable or well-ordered form but by process or change, especially as apprehended by the new aesthetic category of the sublime or the overwhelming and what Byron refers to as “pleasing fear” (4.184).

As an aesthetic category, the idea of the sublime can be traced back to Longinus (third century C.E.), who departed from classical canons of criticism by praising literature that could provoke “ecstasy.”  But the concept received little real emphasis until Edmund Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757).  For Burke, beauty is associated with social order and is represented with harmony and proportion in word and figure; the sublime, by contrast, is concerned with the individual striving and is proclaimed by magnitude and broken line.  “Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain, and danger, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime” is Burke’s famous definition. [47]  Certainly modern technological objects and actions - from Hiroshima to


Chernobyl - have tended to become a primary objective correlative of such a sentiment.

Like premodern skepticism and Enlightenment optimism, the romantic way of being-with technology can thus be characterized by a pluralism of ideas that constitutes a critical uneasiness: (1) the will to technology is a necessary self-creative act that nevertheless tends to overstep its rightful bounds; (2) technology makes possible a new material freedom but alienates from the decisive strength to exercise it and creates wealth while undermining social affection; (3) scientific knowledge and reason are criticized in the name of imagination; and (4) artifacts are characterized more by process than by structure and invested with a new ambivalence associated with the category of the sublime.  The attractive and repulsive interest revealed by the sublime expresses perhaps better than any other the uniqueness of the romantic way of being-with technology.



As analysis of the romantic being-with technology has especially tended to demonstrate, the ideas associated with the four aspects of technology as volition, as activity as knowledge, and as object cannot be completely separated.  Theology ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics are ultimately aspects of a way of being in the world.  Acknowledging this limitation, it is nevertheless possible to summarize the three ways of life in relation to technology by means of the matrix in table 5.

At the outset, however, the argument of this epilogue indicated a relation to Heidegger’s early analysis of technology, although it has taken off in a trajectory not wholly consistent with Heidegger’s own analysis or intentions.  Yet there remains a final affinity worth noting.  In Heidegger’s existential analysis there is a paradox that the personal that is revealed through the technical is also undermined thereby.  Tools are used with others and in a world of artifacts owned by others, but the others easily become treated as all the same and thus become, as he calls it, a They - mass society.  “In utilizing public means of transport and in making use of information services such as the newspaper,” Heidegger writes, “every Other [person] is like the next.  The Being-with-one-another dissolves one’s own Dasein [or existence] completely into the kind of Being of ‘the Others,’ in such a way, indeed, that the Others, as distinguishable and explicit, vanish more and more” (1927 [trans., 1962, p. 1641).

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Table 5: Three Ways of Being-with Technology


Basic Attitudes

Conceptual Elements

Ancient Skepticism

(suspicious of technology)

Enlightenment Optimism

(promotion of technology)

Romantic Uneasiness

(ambivalent about technology)



Will to technology involves tendency to turn away from God or the gods

Will to technology is ordained by God or by nature

Will to technology is an aspect of creativity which tends to crowd out other aspects



Personal: Technical affluence undermines individual virtue

Societal: Technical change weakens political stability

Personal: Technical activities socialize individuals

Societal: Technology creates public wealth

Personal: Technology engenders freedom but alienates from affective strength to exercise it

Societal: Technology weakens social bonds of affection



Technical information is not true wisdom

Technical engagement with the world yields true knowledge (pragmatism)

Imagination and vision are more crucial than technical knowledge



Artifacts are less real than natural objects and thus require external guidance

Nature and artifice operate by the same mechanical principles

Artifacts expand the process of life and reveal the sublime


With regard to the romantic way of being-with technology there is also a paradox.  Not only is there a certain ambivalence built into this attitude, but the attitude itself has not been adopted in any wholehearted way by modern culture.  Romanticism is, if you will, uneasy with itself.  Indeed, this may be in part why romanticism has so far been unable to demonstrate the kind of practical efficacy exhibited by both premodern skepticism and Enlightenment optimism.  The paradox of the romantic way of being-with technology is that, despite an intellectual cogency and expressive power, it has yet to take hold as a truly viable way of life.  Given almost two centuries of active articulation, this impotence may well point toward inherent weaknesses.  Could it be that romanticism has been adopted, but that it is precisely its internal ambivalences, its bipolar attempt to steer a middle course between premodern skepticism and Enlightenment optimism, that vitiate its power?

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Epilogue. Three Ways of Being-with Technology

1. Quoted in Time, September 12, 1960, p. 74.

2. One locus classicus of such celebration is Sophocles Antigone, lines 332 ff.

3. For an interpretation of the specifically religious dimensions of this negative mythology, see Carl Mitcham, “The Love of Technology Is the Root of All Evil;’ Epiphany 8, no. 1 (1985): 17-8. (Correct title: “On the Saying: ‘The Love of Technology Is the Root of All Evil.”)

4. For Plato, see especially the Laws 5.743d, where agriculture is described as keeping production within proper limits and as helping to focus attention on the care of the soul and the body. Cf. also Laws 8.842d-e and 10.889d.

5. For Aristotle, see especially the Politics 1.8-9 and the distinction between two ways of acquiring goods, agriculture and business, the former said to be “by nature” (1258a38), the latter “not by nature” (1258b41).  In the Politics 6.2, agrarian-based democracy is described as both “oldest” and “best” (1318b7-8).

6. Following Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas’s commentary on the Politics terms farming “natural,” “necessary” and “praiseworthy” (Sententia bibri politicorum I, lect. 8), and again in De regimine principum 2.3, Thomas identifies farming as “better” than commercial activities for providing for material welfare.  For Thomas, however, farming tends to be spoken of in relation to all manual labor, and in consequence of the doctrine of the Fall it takes on a certain ambiguity not found in Aristotle.  For instance, in the Summa theologiae 2.2, qu. 187, art. 3, “Whether Religious Are Bound to Manual Labor”, it is argued that all human beings must work with their hands for four reasons: to obtain food (as proof texts Thomas cites Gen. 3:19 and Ps. 128:2), to avoid idleness (Sir. 33:27), to restrain concupiscence by mortifying the body (2 Cor. 6:4-6), and to enable one to give alms (Eph. 4:28).  Note that there is a subtle difference between the first two reasons (which cite the Hebrew Scriptures) and the second two (which cite the Greek Scriptures). For a relevant interpretation of Thomas’s thought that nevertheless fails to recognize the tensions alluded to here, see George H. Speltz, The Importance of Rural Life according to the Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1945). Cf. also Philo “De agricultura,” a commentary on Noah as farmer.

7. “Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue.. Corruption of morals in the mass of cultivators is a phaenomenon of which no age nor nation has furnished an example” (Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia [1782], qu. 19, “Manufactures”).  See also a letter to John Jay, August 23, 1785: “Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens.  They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty


and interest, by the most lasting bonds.  As long, therefore, as they can find employment in this line, I would not convert them into mariners, artisans or anything else.”

8. See also Cicero Academica 1.4.15.

9. On the inadequacy of human knowledge, see the Book of Job, Prov. 1:7, Isa. 44:25, and Col. 2:8.  Power over the world, Satan says in the Gospel of Luke, has been given to him (Luke 4:6).  The prince of this world, according to the Gospel of John, is to be cast out (John 12:31).

10. In his study of Milton (in The Lives of the Poets, 1: 99-100, pars. 39-41), Samuel Johnson criticizes a program of education that would concentrate on natural philosophy: “The truth is, that the knowledge of external nature, and the sciences which that knowledge requires or includes, are not the great or the frequent business of the human mind.  Whether we provide for action of conversation,... the first requisite is the religious and moral knowledge of right and wrong...  Physiological learning is of such rare emergence, that one may know another half his life, without being able to estimate his skill in hydrostatics or astronomy; but his moral and prudential character immediately appears.  [And] if I have Milton against me, I have Socrates on my side.  It was his labour to turn philosophy from the study of nature to speculations upon life; but the innovators whom I oppose... seem to think, that we are placed here to watch the growth of plants, or the motions of stars.  Socrates was rather of the opinion that what he had to learn was, how to do good, and avoid evil.”  Cf. also The Rambler, no. 24 (Saturday, June 9, 1750).

11. Norbert Wiener, “A Scientist Rebels” (1947): 46.

12. John Wesley, Works (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, n.d. [photomechanical reprint of the edition published by the Wesleyan Conference, London, 1872]), 7: 289.

13. Martin Heidegger, “The Thing;’ in Poetry, Language, Thought (1971), p.

166. See also Heidegger’s essay on Rilke, “What Are Poets For?” in the same volume, esp. pp. 112-117.

14. According to the Talmud, “As God fills the entire universe, so does the soul fill the whole body” (Berakhot l0a).  According to the teachings of Jesus, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:44-45).

15. Jean Le Rond d’Alembert, Preliminary Discourse to the Encyclopedia of Diderot, trans. Richard N. Schwab and Walter E. Rex (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrffl, 1963), p. 42.

16. Immanuel Kant, “Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View” (1784), 3d thesis.  Quoted from Immanuel Kant, On History, trans. Lewis White Beck (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrffl, 1963), p. 13.

17. Immanuel Kant, “What Is Enlightenment?” (1784), opening sentence.  Quoted from Immanuel Kant, On History, trans. Lewis White Beck (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrffl, 1963), p. 3.

347 Index

18. See Aristotle Politics 1268b25-1269a25, and Thomas Aquinas Summa theologiae 1-2, qu. 97, art. 2.

19. Charles-François de Saint-Lambert, “Luxury” in Encyclopedia, opening paragraphs.  Quoted, with minor revisions, from Encyclopedia: Selections, trans. Nelly S. Hoyt and Thomas Cassirer (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965), p. 204.

20. Saint-Lambert, “Luxury” Quoted from Encyclopedia: Selections, p. 231.

21. David Hume, Essays (London: Oxford University Press, 1963), p. 262.

22. Hume, Essays, pp. 276 and 277.

23. Hume, Essays, pp. 277-278.

24. See Francis Bacon, The Great Instauration, The Plan of the Work.”

25. D’Alembert, Preliminary Discourse, p. 75.

26. D’Alembert, Preliminary Discourse, p. 122.

27. Denis Diderot, “Art,” in Encyclopedia. Quoted from Encyclopedia: Selections, p. 5.

28. Ibid., p. 4.

29. For discussion of this contrast, see Nicholas Lobkowicz, Theory and Practice: History of a Concept from Aristotle to Marx (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1967).

30. On this interesting topic, see K. J. H. Berland, “Bringing Philosophy down from the Heavens: Socrates and the New Science,” Journal of the History of Ideas 47, no. 2 (April-June 1986): 299-308, a commentary on Amyas Busche’s Socrates: A Dramatic Poem (1758).  One point Berland does not consider is the extent to which this view of Socrates, which is also found in Aristophanes’ The Clouds as well as other sources, might be legitimate; see, e.g., Leo Strauss, Socrates and Aristophanes (New York: Basic, 1966).

31. Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man, 1.289.

32. Julien Offroy de La Mettrie, L’Homme-machine (1748), near the end.  Quoted from Julien Offroy de La Mettrie, Man a Machine (La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1912), p. 148.

33. This is vividly demonstrated by the vicissitudes of development taking place throughout the world.  Geographic advantage, scientific knowledge, imported hardware, political or economic decisions, piecemeal optimism, and envious desire cannot by themselves or even in concert effect industrialization.  Despite the ideological rhetoric of Maoist China and Islamicist Iran, modern technology does not seem able to be adopted independent of certain key elements of Western culture.  The westernization of Japan confirms the argument from the other side of the divide.

34. For one collection of texts that does begin to point in this direction, see Humphrey Jennings, Pandaemonium: The Coming of the Machine as Seen by Contemporary Observers, 1660-1886, ed. Mary-Lou Jennings and Charles Madge (New York: Free Press, 1985).

35. Cf. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882), vol. 1, sec. 12.  For a mundane philosophy of gothic pathos, see Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness (1943); the last sentence of the last chapter declares that “Man is a useless passion.”


36. See Francis Bacon, “The Masculine Birth of Time,” trans. in Benjamin Farrington, The Philosophy of Francis Bacon (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966).  For a complementary interpretation of “Steamboats, Viaducts, and Railways,” see Don Gifford, The Farther Shore: A Natural History of Perceptions, 1798-1984 (New York: Vintage, 1991), pp. 69, 86, and 118.

37. The note is to The Excursion, 8.112, at the beginning of a passage describing the industrial transformation of the English landscape so that “where not a habitation stood before, / Abodes of men” are now “irregularly massed / Like trees in forests” (lines 122-124) and as a “triumph that proclaims / How much the mild Directress of the plough / Owes to alliance with these new-born arts!” (lines 130-132).  “In treating of this subject,” Wordsworth writes in his note, “it was impossible not to recollect, with gratitude, the pleasing picture... Dyer has given of the influences of manufacturing industry upon the face of this Island.  He wrote at a time when machinery was first beginning to be introduced, and his benevolent heart prompted him to augur from it nothing but good?”  Wordsworth, as much as Sophocles (Antigone, lines 331 ff.), is capable of appreciating the benefits of technology.  But, he adds, now “Truth has compelled me to dwell upon the baneful effects arising out of an ill-regulated and excessive application of powers so admirable in themselves.”

38. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discours sur les sciences et les arts, in Oeuvres complčtes, Pléiade edition, 3: 22.

39. Ibid., p. 29.

40. Ibid., pp. 17, 10-11, and 25.

41. Cf., in this same regard, Niccolô Machiavelli’s use of virtú as power in The Prince (1512).

42. Rousseau, Discours sur les sciences et les arts, p. 5.

43. William Wordsworth, letter to Charles James Fox, January 14, 1801.  In this commentary on his presentation of “domestic affections” in the poems “The Brothers” and “Michael”, Wordsworth further remarks that “The evil [of the destruction of domestic affections] would be the less to be regretted, if these institutions [of industrialization] were regarded only as palliatives to a disease [in a manner not unlike that associated with ancient skepticism]; but the vanity and pride of their promoters are so subtly interwoven with them, that they are deemed great discoveries and blessings to humanity [as per Enlightenment optimism].”

44. See John Milton, Paradise Lost, 1.670 ff.  Milton also associates Satan’s legions with engines and engineering at 1750 and 6.553.

45. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria (1817), ed. George Watson (New York: Dutton, 1956), chap. 13, p. 167.

46. William Blake, Jerusalem, pt. 4, “To the Christians;’ introduction.

47. Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), pt. 1, sec. 7, first sentence.



The Competitiveness of Nations

in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy

January 2004

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