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A Companion to the Philosophy of Technology by Vincent F. Hendricks, Stig Andur Pedersen, Jan Kyrre Berg Olsen Friis

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Chapter 53

Technology and Culture

LUCIEN SCUBLA

The impressive development of techniques over the course of the last few centuries has not been accompanied by a better understanding of what technical activity entails. Whereas Aristotle saw in it an “imitation of nature,” modern thought readily pictures it as a demiurgic power: the power to “make oneself master and possessor of nature” (Descartes), to capture or “enframe” it (Heidegger), sometimes even to destroy it. Although a Samuel Butler or an André Leroi-Gourhan had no trouble showing that every technique, ancient or modern, is a natural extension of the living organism, the opposite view tends to prevail. Conventional wisdom no longer places man within nature, but face-to-face with it, the author of his own essence and able to reshape it at will, replacing it, for better or worse, with a wholly artificial world. This vision was embraced by the young Marx, elaborated by existentialist philosophers, and even sanctioned by a certain anthropology which, reviving the old distinction between nomos and phusis, sets up an opposition between “Culture” as the totality of specifically human creations and “Nature” conceived as an alien reality.

This resurgence of the Sophists’ point of view in the contemporary world is a reminder that the Promethean conception of Homo faber has roots deep in the past. It is not due to a belatedly achieved awareness of the “essence of technique,” but rather to a perennial misapprehension that is exacerbated ...

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