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The Visions of Technics

Ubiquity, Volume 2005 Issue January | BY Bernhard Irrgang 


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In the 20th Century, with the advancement of technology as a world-historical power, people have spoken of "the end of History" (Gehlen) and "the end of Philosophy" (Heidegger). Technical progress replaces philosophy and reflection, which thereby accompanies the end of cosmologically oriented philosophy, i.e., Metaphysics. Although it focused itself on ecological crisis for a short time at the end of the century, the 20th Century was a revival of nature-philosophical thinking. Also, the cultural unity of a technical kind was threatened and is still threatened in the current period. But the current trends move in an opposite direction, and offer new meaningful thinking about culturally embedded technology, which in turn refers to the cultural understanding of technical development.

Since the Industrial Revolution, the idea of alternative technological futures becomes increasingly central to plans for technical decisions. Thus arises the more general question of the concept for the future of technology, which we want to conceptualise, and for that purpose a technical utopia, perhaps a technical world-view, is necessary. Technical development in its ambivalent form and the future of technical development replaces the paradigm of technical progress. Also the generic future of human beings, to which technical progress has been directed since the Enlightenment, is an insufficiently broad concept, and needs to be changed and integrated into a concept of Sustainable Development. The concrete formation of Human beings in its Bodily Existence [2] should be placed at the center of the evaluation of technical progress. Since the Industrial Revolution, the coincidental technological evolution with its acceleration effects is taken over by an organization model of strongly projected technics.

Most organizational theories want to limit the borders of technics, by not transforming technological development. The formulation of moral limits, which propagates the return to a new simplicity, is the usual approach. However, one must acknowledge the limits of moral and political fixing of boundaries. The western theory means that alternative forms of the Technologization (in other cultures and societies) are not possible. With a culturalistic theory in the background, the idea of an alternative technology can be developed. To analyze, the economical costs of regularization are the dominant factor in the economic culture. Technology is always actually adapted in changing conditions, and so alternative technologies are possible.

The compensation theory of the Geisteswissenschaften of Odo Marquard goes back to the philosophical studies of Hermann Luebbe. Besides, Joachim Ritter perceives an addition of the scientific-technical development in the Geisteswissenschaften. In particular, it maintains a compensation for its own history by Technics and Natural Sciences. However proceeding the compensation theses, an inherent wishful thinking from the erroneous assumption is needed; the Substantiality of past ways of life could mediate over the Geisteswissenschaften.

The compensation theses keeps the myth of the two cultures intact. During this process, the compensation of adversity of modernization is publicized and the complementary function of the historical culture sciences is ignored. The compensation theses refers only to the part of the natural sciences, which produces technical-industrially usable knowledge. Joachim Ritter in his study, gives an analysis for the authorization of existence of the Geisteswissenschaften with his compensation theses, which is functionalistic in its usefulness.

Natural science and technology are embedded into a network of tradition, and innovation is in return is subsequently loaded with transformation of tradition. Technical development is to be understood as a cultural-historical process. Needs and value conceptions resist technical development, whereas cultural perspectives are more important than general subordinates. This kind of resistance, however preferentially made by philosophers, is not analytical, although it would not be uninteresting for ethical evaluations. Also, an ethics of the technical development is not to be understood as a compensation. The theses of dealing with technical knowledge and action implies also another concept of ethics. At this junction, ethics is not added from the outside for technical development, but the ethical evaluation/assessment is a part of technical action from the outset view. This also changes the concepts of modernization. Technical development happens not exclusively over their sake, even if this has sometimes appeared on the ground. A new concept of modernization is urgently needed on the national and global scale.

In accordance with the culturalistic turn, techniques development is taken as a model for cultural development. The fitness of certain means for certain purposes always leaves itself by success and failure, i.e., by reaching and missing the certain purpose (goal)or by certain means to judge. Success does not have to owe the technical action in the actual agreement of any person's groups, but any time it must demonstrate its practical probation transculturally. Technical know-how has not only the courses of the continuation and unreversibleness, but it is also not revisible which shows clearly a cumulative character.

In this sense, technology goes through a progress of direction in principle. Technical progress is defined as progress of the realization is (additional!) methodically restorable and a hierarchically arranged, out-differentiating and always enrich yourself becoming ability for action. Philosophy reconstructs those social practices, which have to do with poietic instrumental action (poesis action) or it is the result of poietic action: Practices of the techniques development and the technique production, practices use of technology and the practices, in which technology must be removed from the use of connection (disposal etc.). So, outstanding feature of these artifacts is their result.

A large number of decisions to form the technique organization runs smoothly, efficiently, inconspicuously; but only relatively few organization let questions the technique organization appear as a precarious conflict-laden business. The large and inhomogenous group of the Technic Designer is to be structured in such a way that itself works in principle, for which relevant differences show bringing in ethical questions. Technics organising individuals usually received no professional training in ethics. Different approaches of business ethics find entrance (an easy access) into an operational practice, increasing in an industrialized countries. But the application of ethical reflection for business technique organization comparatively is still in a very beginning phase.

Technology organising practical men (Men of Practical Wisdom; Phronemos) stand with their needs to receive in concrete individual cases or also continuously ethical assistance outside of the universitaeren system. Most technique organization is missing the information about those different side, whereby in the possible ethical consultation is already prevented, which took part on the other hand. In each case the contact with rather deterring high expenditure is connected. The overview of the existing offers e.g. the demand, on the other hand a mechanism, is missing an offer and a demand together to bring on the one hand. Ethical criteria are an integral component of the new modernization discussion.

Technical progress lies first within the instrumental range and requires a pragmatic & utilitarististic justification. In addition, progress in technical action has an ethical dimension. To that extent, pragmatic and ethical legitimacy of examination can be differentiated methodically, but not completely be separated. The legitimacy regarding a practice must take the borders of the trading and teachableness into an account of a practice. The legitimacy can only happen regarding the uncertainty of the technique sequences and the future development at all. Over complexity, theory deficit and the unsatisfactory causality of the prognosis make the estimation more difficult of future developments, which however these are not completely impossible.

A part of the crisis of acceptance of modern technology could have to be attributed to the fact that, it lacks the visions of technique development of modern days. People have spoken from the frightful visions, which contains no more positive views from utopian perspective. During the earlier times of technical development optimistic progress was allowed. We are in one age of rapid technological change, of which however individual innovations, trend and megatrend are the characteristics. On the Way towards the High Technology Civilization, it gives a whole number of successes within the range of automobiles of the future, the power supply, the High-tech medicine are new building materials etc., which is missing. An example for cross-linking and embedding of these new technologies are the vision for a coherent cultural paradigm, which finally helps to prepare the acceptance. These spells about a bew category of modernization in a new format.

A technical vision is not to be confounded and exchanged with prognosis. They have not prognostice features. It would not like to point out, what would like to occur in the future, but it tries a structuring of individual fields of technology, a security of technology and its cross-linking, not least in the indication a succeeding technical progress i.e. technological practice. However, a practice based on the knowledge around its basic conditions and around their background justifications. Prosperity and use were long time legitimizing horizons for technical or technological practice. Today at a rudimentary level, at least the succeeding life and a succeeding human practice, is now morally, pragmatically, strategically or instrumentally technically are judged by other criteria. This is a starting point for a better human practice. At the same time in addition, a challenge for the progress of technology, which believes that technical working order fulfilment is already sufficient. Well, I would not like to deny that the success and failure of the technical practice belong to the central indicators for the evaluation of technical and technological practice (human practice?).

But technical criteria alone are not sufficient, but cultural-civilization examples with a moral component, such as future ability or long-term responsibility will part of a technology reflection culture, which in exchange to be energized, in order to raise the question of acceptance between the engaging technicians. Engineers and economically transaction on the one hand to be reflected and on the other hand specialists for the Acceptability from technologies. Communication, mobility and knowledge regarding information must be brought together in harmony with ecological, civilization and communicative embedding paradigms, in order to be able to finally clarify the questions of acceptability of technological practice. These must be worked out and examined more in a transdisciplinary research practice.


[1] The paper is translated from German into English language by Arun Tripathi

[2] Irrgang notion of Leiblichkeit


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