[Contributions to Phenomenology] Encyclopedia of Phenomenology Volume 18 || T

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  • TECHNOLOGY Philosophy of technology, as distinct from philosophy of NATURAL SCIENCE, is a relatively new arrival within contemporary philosoph-ical subspecializations. Its historical roots, also distinct from those in the philosophy of science, are largely de-rived from severa! European traditions including neo-HEGELIANISM, MARXISM, CRITICAL THEORY, and EXISTEN-TIAL PHENOMENOLOGY, as well as HERMENEUTIC AL PHENO-MENOLOGY and American pragmatism. Philosophy of science, in contrast, became dominated early by LOGI-CAL EMPIRICIST and ANALYTIC PHILOSOPHICAL traditions, particularly in English-speaking countries.

    CARL MITCHAM, the most thorough historian and bib-Iiographer of the philosophy of technology, contends in Thinking Through Technology (1994) that there are two dominant directions in the philosophy oftechnol-ogy: the engineering and the humanities directions. The oldest work actually bearing the title Grundlinien einer Philosophie der Technik was authored by a neo-Hegelian, Emst Kapp, in 1877. But it was not un tii the interstice between the world wars that philosophy of technology in its contemporary sense could be said to ha ve begun, and then the two most prominent ancestors were MARTIN HEIDEGGER in Europe and John Dewey in the United States. It was primarily through Heidegger that philosophy oftechnology received its phenomen-ological rootage.

    Although it was clearly Heidegger who brought technology to the forefront as a philosophical theme, some intimations are also traceable to the founder of phenomenology in its technical sense, EDMUND HUSSERL. But intimations are ali that can be claimed. Husserl's own concems map much more closely upon traditions that are consonant with the theory prefer-ences of classical philosophy of science. And although CONSTITUTIVE PHENOMENOLOGY can aJso be termed "ex-istential" with its emphasis upon PERCEPTION and even more thoroughly upon BODY with respect to the consti-tution ofknowledge, Husserl himselfpays little direct

    attention to the incorporation oftechnologies into per-ceptual and bodily schemata. The most notable excep-tion, and certainly a pregnant one, is the recognition of the ro le of writing in the constitution of a progressively layered LIFEWORLD. Yet for the most part, and even in the Die Krisis der europischen Wissenscha.ften und die transzendentale Phnomenologie ( 1936), Husserl 's major focus remains fixed upon the movement from very simple practices toward increasing idealizations in the construction of natural science. His treatment of Galileo, for example, focuses almost exclusively upon the way Galileo mathematizes science and hen ce drives early modern science in an abstractive and idealizing trajectory away from embodied perception. He thus misses the equally important ro le that instrumentation (technology) plays in the Galilean praxis. The use of equipment is seldom mentioned in ARON GURWITSCH's work and that there are some thoughts about technol-ogy in ALFRED SCHUTz's work has only recently been noticed.

    Even earlier than the Krisis, there had been severa! simultaneous movements in German philosophy that foreshadowed the !ater philosophy of technology. In 1927, for example, the neo-Kantian Friedrich Dessauer (1881-1963) published Philosophie der Technik, an early work in the engineering tradition, which nev-ertheless still maintained the primacy of theory over practice. It was in marked contrast to both Dessauer and Husserl that Martin Heidegger's early Sein und Zeit ( 1927) could be noted as paradigmatically revolu-tionary in initiating contemporary philosophy oftech-nology in its phenomenological sense.

    The model for what was !ater to develop into a more full-blown philosophy of technology was the analy-sis of tool use in his discussion of entities encoun-tered in the environment. First, Heidegger argued that readiness-to-hand experientially precedes the kind Of objectification that becomes presence-at-hand, which is equivalent to placing praxis as prior to theory. This pre-theoretical experience is precisely what occurs in tool use, and under this mode of experience the tool is not experienced as an object, but as a means by which some praxical ACTION within the environment is under-taken. Then, in a model ofphenomenological analysis, Heidegger shows not only how the tool "withdraws" in experience, but also how it belongs to a context of in-volvements. The praxical experience of tools, then, is

    Lester Embree, Elizabeth A. Behnke, David Carr, J. Claude Evans, Jose Huertas-Jourda, Joseph J. Kockelmans, William R. McKenna, 690 Algis Mickunas, Jitendra Nath Mohanty, Thomas M. Seebohm, Richard M. Zaner ( eds.), Encyclopedia of Phenomenology. 1997 Kluwer Academic Publishers.


    a kind of tacit knowledge, not necessarily conceptual, but bodily engaged with an environment.

    The !ater Heidegger subsequently went on to make technology a central theme ofhis philosophy. Modem scientific technology, indeed, was the outcome of the Westem metaphysical tradition. The !ater interpreta-tiau of technology- for example, in "Die Frage nach dem Technik" (The question concerning technology, 1954) - was one that argued ( 1) for the ontologica! priority oftechno1ogy over science; (2) for technology tobe seen as a way of revealing rather than some mere collection of artifacts used by subjects; and (3) for the totality oftechnology tobe seen as a way of enframing Nature itself as a type of"standing reserve" (Bestand). Ali of these themes had already occurred in the tool analysis insofar as praxis precedes theory, tools relate Dasein to a world, and in the process the tool "with-draws" or ceases to be an abject- and, one can say, the engagement is one that presupposes what is acted upon as a kind of use-reserve for Dasein. But only in the !ater Heidegger is modern technology totalized as a metaphysical view.

    In another context, MAURICE MERLEAU-PONTY cou]d be said to have followed a similar trajectory with respect to human embodiment and tool use. In his Phimomenologie de la perception ( 1945), Merleau-Ponty argued that tools such as the blind man's cane are experienced as the extensions of the sooY. The embodied subject's experience of embodiment is ex-tended through the cane and engages the environment through the artifact, a position held by MAX SCHELER in Uber Ressentiment (On ressentiment, 1912), the French translation ofwhich was reviewed by the young Merleau-Ponty. Again the artifact becomes partially transparent and taken into the "body-subject." But un-like Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty did not go on to make such incorporated artifactual experiences into an appli-cation to technologies as such. JEAN-PAUL SARTRE's con-tributions to the philosophy oftechnology are marginal but not uninteresting.

    Technology was of serious philosophical interest to many philosophers in the years before and after World War Il, and virtually every major Continen-tal thinker had something to say about it. Nicolas Berdyaev (1874-1948), ORTEGA Y GASSET, Ernst Junger ( 1895-1984 ), KARL JASPERS, and Jacques Ellul ali wrote about the technologization of contemporary life, but

    Heidegger remained the primary phenomenologically oriented and most systematic ofthese thinkers.

    By the late 1960s and early 1970s, a number of North American philosophers began to adapt pheno-menological themes in the analysis oftechnology. Us-ing published books as a benchmark, o ne ofthe earliest thematic and serious attempts to apply phenomenology to techno]ogy was HUBERT DREYFUS's What Comput-ers Can 't Do: A Critique of Artficial Reason ( 1972). He applied insights of Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, and Heidegger to the then burgeoning "ARTIFICIAL INTEL-LIGENCE" programs that began with radical extrapola-tions ofwhat such programs could do. Dreyfus showed that the weaknesses of such programs revolved around (!) the computer program's failure to recognize pat-terns and gestalts, common perceptual achievements in humans and animals; (2) the failure to deal with open contexts, again a characteristic of any LIFEWORLD in contrast to any closed system; and (3) the failure tobe motile. In short, he argued, in Merleau-Pontyan style, that computers cannot "think" because they do not have (Jived) bodies. Here was a direct application of the phenomenological primacy of PERCEPTION, em-bodiment, and motile action as the hasis ofknowledge to an important aspect of contemporary technology. Dreyfus bas continued this work into the present with a series of publications and has spawned, indirectly, a whole generation of computer designers who have taken his critiques seriously.

    The first book that explicitly identified itself as a philosophy oftechnology and appeared in a major phi-Josophy of science series was DON IHDE 's Technics and Praxis: A Philosophy ofTechnology ( 1979). That work opens with a four-chapter sequence in a "phenomen-ology of instrumentation." Here a phenomenological analysis, based upon both a Husserlian and a Heideg-gerian version of INTENTIONALITY, undertakes to differ-entiate different structural modes ofhuman-technology relations. lhde shows that embodiment relations - a term that he uses to capture the previous analyses of Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty for tool uses as noted above- are relations in which embodied human per-ception symbiotically takes into itselfthe artifact used.

    But in addition to such relations, Ihde describes other types of human-technology relations, includ-ing hermeneutica! relations that are more LANGUAGE-oriented or quantitatively designed and less perceptu-


    ally direct (such as those found in the use of instru-ment panels or other types of display instrumentation) and background relations that are environmental and taken-for-granted technological contexts not explictly brought to the foreground in experience (such as living in the presence of automatic heating or lighting ma-chinery). Ihde has continued this development through a series of subsequent books, the most systematic of which is Technology and the Lifeworld (1990).

    PATRICK HEELAN's Space Perception and the Philos-ophy of Science (1983) comes more directly from the philosophy of science. But although this work is more focused upon the construction ofscientific knowledge, it incorporates significant phenomenological analysis of instrument uses as well. His variant upon the bod-ily, perceptual, and praxis emphasis therein consists in hermeneuticizing the process more fully. He argues that instruments are "readable technologies" that in-corporate and become equivalent to the perceivable, thus yielding a horizonal and hermeneutica! realism to scientific knowledge.

    From the 1980s into the present, there has begun to appear a rather wide range of studies of tech-nology drawing upon phenomenological resources. These studies are notably Heideggerian for the most part. For example, the work most directly descended from this tradition is Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life ( 1984 ), by ALBERT BORGMANN. This analysis of contemporary life is one in which Borgmann draws a strong distinction between a "de-vice paradigm" and "foca! activities." Technological devices, Borgmann argues, may often disrupt previ-ous human engagements with an environment and thus disengage humans. Automatic heating machinery dis-places the hearth, while the latter technology engages a whole series ofactivities that caii upon direct human engagement. Borgmann argues for a reform of tech-nologies that would introduce more foca! activities to reengage basic human actions.

    MICHAEL HEIM analyzes word processing in his Elec-tric Language: A Philosophical Study ofWord Process-ing (1987). Again, often Heideggerian in tone, Heim takes account of the way word processing has altered the process ofwriting. And while he cites Heidegger's distinct dislike for even typewriters (which degrade the "hand") and argues in part for word processing po-tentially being destructive of "books," it is apparent

    that Heim 's own stance is more one of a love/hate re-Jationship with computers. He subsequently takes his technological inquiry into virtual reality as well with The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality ( 1993 ).

    ROBERT CREASE, again related to philosophy of sci-ence concerns, nevertheless takes a phenomenologi-cally oriented inquiry into the ro le of experiment. His The Play of Nature (1993) examines the primacy of praxis in large-scale experiments in the recent history ofscience.

    At present, the philosophy oftechnology is rapidly becoming recognized as a serious subspecialization within philosophy. It is pluralist in approach, but within its pluralism the strands of phenomenological approaches are more obvious and dominant than in cognate areas, such as the philosophy of science.


    Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958.

    Ballard, Edward. Man and Technology: Toward the Measure-ment of a Cu/ture. Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1978.

    Blumenberg, Hans. Lebenswelt und Technisierung unter As-pekte der Phnomenologie. Turin: Edizione di Filosofia, 1963.

    Borgmann, Albert. Technology and the Character of Con-temporary Life, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

    Crease, Robert. The Play ofNature. Bloomington, IN: Indi-ana University Press, 1993.

    Dreyfus, Hubert. What Computers Can 't Do. New York: Harper & Row, 1972.

    -. Mind Over Machine. Glencoe, IL: The Free Press, 1985. Embree, Lester. "Schutz's Phenomonology of the Practica!

    World." In Alfred Schiitz. Neue Beitrge zur Rezeption seines Werkes. Ed. Elisabeth List and llja Srubar. Amster-dam: Rodopi, 1988, 121-44.

    Flynn, Thomas R. "Sartre and Technological Being-in-the-World." In Lifeworld and Technology. Ed. Timothy Casey and Lester Embree. Lanham, MD: Center for Advanced Research in Phenomenology/University Press of America, 1990, 271-87.

    Heidegger, Martin. Die Technik und die Kehre. Pfullingen: Neske, 1962; [selections translated in] The Question Con-cerning Technology. Trans. William Lovitt. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1977.

    Heim, Michael. Electric Language: A Philosophical Study of Word Processing. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987.

    -. The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality. Oxford: Oxford Uni-versity Press, 1993.

    Ihde, Don. Technics and Praxis. Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1979. -. Existential Technics. Albany, NY: State University of

    New York Press, 1983.

  • THEATER 693

    -. Technology and the Lifeworld. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1990.

    -.Instrumental Realism. Bl0omington, IN: Indiana Univer-sity Press, 1991.

    Jonas, Hans. Philosophical Essays from Ancient Creed to Technological Man. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hali, 1974.

    Scheler, Max. "Uber Ressentiment und Moralisches Wert." Zeitschriftfiir Pathopsychologie 1 (1912); extended form in Vom Umsturz der Werte ( 1915). 4th rev. ed. Gesammelte Werke 3. Bem: Franke, 1955.

    Wa1denfe1s, Bernhard. "Reichweite der Technik."...


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