Ours is a world which is full of promises that advanced technology, such as autonomous cars, cloud computing, quantum computing, and artificial intelligence will somehow bring forth a future worth living for humanity. I am trying to understand the history and philosophy of this idea; this current obsession of the world with technology.

Some scholars such as Benjamin Farrington, argue that technological mastery is a sufficient condition for the development of the critical inquiry that characterizes the emergence of early Greek philosophy. Is it true then that science was important for the emergence of Western philosophy? What role did it play in shaping it?

Moreover, Heidegger talks about Kehre or the turning (as quoted in Philipse, 1998). Is technology the terminal position in Western metaphysics? What are the contemporary consequences of a technological obsession?

Farrington, B. 1944. Greek Science. London: Penguin Books. Philipse, H. 1998. Heidegger's Philosophy of Being: A Critical Interpretation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  • You can see SEP entry on Philosophy of Technology. Jan 13 '20 at 10:41
  • 1
    It is more like philosophy was instrumental in the emergence of (Western) science, from which it branched off in stages. But natural philosophy was only a part of philosophy. The "terminal position" is a Heidegger-specific meme.
    – Conifold
    Jan 13 '20 at 12:02
  • 1
    There is really very little connection between Heidegger and science or technology. Those come from Aristotle, Newton, Hume, lately Popper, and a few others. But not Heidegger. If you want to understand the philosophy related to science you can quite safely ignore him.
    – puppetsock
    Jan 13 '20 at 14:31
  • 1
    To say that Western people are any more obsessed with technology than any other people is really quite racist. And don't forget that the Amish are western. Jan 13 '20 at 23:55
  • Apologies; I meant the current obsession of the world with technology.
    – Shoaib
    Jan 14 '20 at 7:35

"Man finds himself in a perilous position…A far greater danger threatens [than the outbreak of a third world war]: the approaching tide of technological revolution in the atomic age could so captivate, bewitch, dazzle and beguile man that calculative thinking may someday come to be accepted and practiced as the only way of thinking. What great danger then might move upon us? Then there might go hand in hand with the greatest ingenuity in calculative planning and inventing, indifference towards ‘meditative’ thinking, total thoughtlessness. And then? Then man would have denied and thrown away his own special nature – that he is a meditative being. Therefore the issue is keeping meditative thinking alive."

Martin Heidegger - Speech commemorating German composer Conradin Kreutzer in 1955


What is technology ? (is it only material? aren't abstractions and cognitive processes also technologies in a way?) What about the importance of rationality in Western thought ? Can we think technology as separated of rationality?

See the idea of techno-capitalism for instance to grasp the moral universe (understand it as ethos) gravitating around the rationality-technology couple that I'm trying to depict.

Can we take "technology" per se, i.e. taking it as an **independent variable ?**

But rather, shouldn't we view it as the crystallization of rationality and other moral values ? Aren't we "shaped" by technology because we are morally prone and willing to be shaped by it ?

See the logical and mathematical fundamentals of computation in computer science and physics, see the concept of arbitrage in game theory and in risk-management (finance), economics, politics and geopolitics, etc... All of this is the abstract (or immaterial) technological fundamental of the "material" technology that shapes our everyday lives, even if we - as micro-states - don't always apply it (technology embodies nonetheless these rational-driven processes).

In this sense, religion and ideology, more than technology in itself should be seen as fundamentally trans-formative, and technology being a symptom rather than an independent cause.

Peter L. Bernstein throughout his book Against the Gods, shows us remarkably how probabilities and risk-management through it for example (i.e our progressives detachment of an exclusively speculative view of the world) shaped our vision of faith, shaped technology and science, and thus being the origin of capitalism (among other things) and the Western civilization in general. In a similar vein, Max Weber showed how Protestantism shaped capitalism and the American culture, more broadly he shows how religion shapes culture.

In this sense, technology (whether accepted as material or immaterial - an abstract cognitive-process is a technology too), like probabilities, is more the consequence of the man standing "against the Gods" (i.e "Nature").

Sources that could help you grasp better my point of view :

Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk, Peter L. Bernstein

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber

Also, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_rationality

I really recommend Peter L. Bernstein's book for this topic.


My take - based on The Question Concerning Technology - is that the turning represents the saving power found in the essence of technology. However, the paradox that Heidegger sets up is that technology is also the greatest danger.

One interpretation of this is that technology, while 'bad' is also redeemable. Always keep in mind that Heidegger was raised as a Catholic and was steeped in scholasticism. This is a very Christian kind of paradox.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.