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Philosophy of Technology

Philosophy and Technology

Liana Pop
UTCN - Universitatea Tehnica din Cluj-Napoca, Romania

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ABSTRACT: This paper deals the place of technology in contemporary culture, and the relationship between science and morality. A definition of technique as a social process has to emphasize the fact that technique means developing and enabling different fabricated material systems; it is also the action of environment transformation according to human necessities. The area of culture is not limited to classical values, conceived with traditional meanings, arts and human sciences, but also covers the values of the natural and technical sciences as well as the whole set of values implied by technique and technology. Far from being a marginal component of culture, technology interacts internally with philosophical fields such as epistemology, ontology, value theory, and ethics. It also partly overlaps partly with other fields. I suggest that science should not be considered as free of value and neutral from a moral viewpoint both because the scientist makes valuable judgments during scientific activity and because the applications of science have moral value and raise moral problems. There is thus a need for moral control that would deter the scientists from evildoing. The need for wisdom and a clear scientific attitude in our contemporary technical civilization is emphasized.

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Technology and culture. Some of the philosophical problems the nowadays technique and technology are confronted with are related to the definition of concepts, the cultural value contained in them, and place they have in the European culture. In what it concerns the concepts of technique and technology, a consensus does not exist. The Romanian Encyclopedic Dictionary (1966) gives the following definitions, according to a wide-spread conception:

Technique = "the set of the material production factors (tools and other working equipment), of the working methods and procedures used by society to obtain and transform the natural products to satisfy its needs";

Technology = (1) "the science that deals with the study, elaboration and determination of the processes, methods and procedures of materials transformation", (2) "the set of processes, methods, procedures, rules, operations, phases, technical conditions applied or executed with the aim of obtaining (producing) a certain product".

Similar definitions may be found in the greatest part of traditional works. Le Dictionnaire Lalande (1956) remains in the same frame (with a certain plus of accuracy): "the set of well defined and transmissible procedures meant to produce useful results", but signals two acceptations different than the current sense. There are mentioned the definition of A. Espinos (1891), who says that the technique would be "an organized set" of methods based on the scientific knowledge, and the meaning used mostly in the experimental biology and psychology, according to which the technique is "the set of processes used to perform a certain function". Saint Bernard observes that the concept of technique necessarily contains not only the category of instrument, but also that of using an instrument. Le Dictionnaire Micro Robert de Poche (1992) defines the technique as "a set of methodological procedures, founded on the scientific knowledge, used in production", and the technology as "the study of techniques, equipment and machinery".

A definition of technique as a social process should emphasize the fact that it means setting in action some material systems built by humans, a material action to transform the environment according to the human needs considered as goals. In other words, the technique or the technological action is a material system of actions concretized and realized with the help of an instrument (tool, machinery, automation, automata system) adequate to develop some determined transformations of the material environment or of some subsystems of it. In technical sciences the main object is the technological action, and, only as a component of it, the technical instrument. The technological action is the material interaction between the social human and its environment, through some mechanics, composed by material systems. In a pure objectual vision, the technique would be considered as a determined application of the results obtained by other sciences. They have a specific object, irreducible to the object of other sciences: the technological action, the conditions of its efficiency (optimal output, economy) with respect to the global social activity, using the information with respect to the object of action, the goal and means of its achievement. Unlike natural sciences, in technical sciences the object does not pre-exist, it is a product of social activity, it is the result of some construction (effective and ideal). This ideal (formulated in a symbolic or conceptual abstract language) or real construction (having the form of a substantial model) forms the object of technical sciences.

Tudor Vianu, approaching the problem of the means of culture, underlined that "the sum of all objective cultural means is what is named with a single word: technique" [8, pg. 261]. The technique is, as a certain philosopher said, the science of human activity placed in the service of some cultural aspirations. The technique contains the industrial machinism, but also the special method of sciences, the procedures of activity from the chemistry laboratory, physics laboratory, and so on. The fine arts procedures are also contained in the notion of technique, as is the sum of all measures of social foresight and amelioration, and finally, the cultural propaganda.

The technique, being the modality of achievement of a certain idea, the action itself to finalize the science through its relation to the goal and the efficiency of its achievement, represents the main modality to fulfill, at a social scale, the civilizing function of culture. What is generally omitted from the definitions given to the techniques is its cultural quality. The technique is not only an instrument or a set of tools to realize the social transforming potentials of the cultural values, is not only a civilizing factor, it is also a cultural value. The sphere of culture is not limited to the classical values, conceived in a traditional way (the art and the human sciences), but it also contains the values promoted by science in general, including those promoted by natural and technical sciences. The totality of values contained in the technique itself is also included. The technical culture is an inseparable part of the culture. The genesis of culture in the history of the human species is, actually, the genesis of the technical culture, because the first cultural elements were the working instruments the primitive man interposed between him and environment, to get the things necessary to live and to protect himself against an enemy world. There exist distinct levels of technical knowledge, but no matter whether the technique is based on an empirical experience or on a scientific experience, it is always the concise expression of the power of relieved knowledge, the constructive character of practice, of the grade of adequacy and efficiency for human, of his cognitive and transforming experience.

The technique is knowledge, value and creation. By its attribute of originality, we enter in the field of science and, also, of philosophy [8, pg. 266]. Because it is a cultural value, the technique is also an important factor of civilization, a modality to amplify both the human's physical powers and his intellectual ones. It is both a factor of culture and of civilization. Seen as a unity, as a synthesis between ideal and real, between idea and action, between theoretical and practical, the culture and the civilization appear to us simultaneously as an instrument of the detachment of human with respect to the natural and social environment, and as a result of this detachment. The procedures and the means that allow the human to integrate and to dominate his existential environment have a logical and technique nature. If the logical means strengthen his transforming action, the technical means allow the realization of these potencies, intermediate the passing from culture to civilization. The technique gives an objective finality to the culture, and directs the human action to its object and subject, "the human being".

Dealing with the problem of the technology place in the contemporary culture, the science philosopher Mario Bunge underlined on one side the system character of the culture of industrial societies, composed (as any culture) by interacting components, and on the other side its interaction with two other subsystems of the society: the economy and the political regime. Sharing his position, we find a proposed three levels system of contemporary culture, with unclear (fuzzy) delimitation [1, pg. 398]. At the inferior level are the most rigorous components, mathematics and science — the factual, fundamental science. The intermediate level is occupied by more flexible components, the technology and the humanist sciences. Philosophy is situated exactly at the intersection of these four areas and partially overlaps them. Finally, the superior level is occupied by "soft" components, arts and ideologies. Technology is the youngest component, and that's why we may not always realize the central position it occupies in the contemporary culture. Far away from being a marginal component of the culture, technology is in an internal interaction with all other components. Art and ideology do not interact almost at all with mathematics and science. Actually, technology and philosophy are the only components of the contemporary culture that interact whit all other components. Technology interacts with many fields of philosophy, such as epistemology, ontology, the theory of values, ethic. It is not only situated at the intersection of technology with art. A great part of physics and chemistry is both engineering and science. The genetics applied in agronomy and agriculture is hardly distinguished from pure genetics. Medicine and veterinary medicine overlap and have many things in common with biology.

We cannot ignore the organic integration of technology with the rest of the modern culture, and we cannot consider the technologists as "qualified barbarians" that need an infusion of culture [1, pg. 400]. They themselves are people of culture and for this reason they should be regarded like this. From here arises the need of a much larger epistemology, an epistemology of technologies (scientific, philosophical, humanistic preparation). We cannot afford to ignore the nature of technology, not to speak of the possibility to despise it, if we wish to obtain a full control over technology to prevent its use with harmful purposes. That's why we have to elaborate disciplines that should study technique and technology, as philosophy of technique, history of technique, sociology of technology and psychology of technology.

Science and moral. Many times it has been said that pure science is, in its whole, good, or at least without any value, because it only deals with improving our models about world, and knowledge is good in itself. As compared with technology, which may be valuable, useless or dangerous, depending on the goals it has to serve. Consequently, only the use of science (technology) has to be put on a moral and social control. Another frequent opinion does exist, that, because both science and its application (technology) are objective, they imply neither evaluations, nor moral principles. This opinion has often been used as an excuse for absolving scientists and technologists of social responsibility, leaving the clarification of these concepts as a task only for philosophers. Such opinions are not correct, because each human being is responsible to the society.

Two questions arise: May the science be free of value? May the science be morally neutral? The contemporary epistemology tries to solve the problematic of science — values relationship, combining traditional elements with new solutions, with obvious influences from the studies of psychology and sociology of knowledge. The problematic of the scientific knowledge — values relationship is oriented on two directions. The first one has to answer to the question whether it is possible a rational reconstruction of science, from which values should be eliminated. The second has in mind the analysis of the actual science — social-cultural framework correlation, the reciprocal influences of science on the development of the system of values, and of it on science development. The scientific spirit supposes some elements of a moral degree. It is essentially made of love for the truth, intellectual conscience and a mastering of the will over judgment, which guards it from any influence external to reasoning [3]. We believe that it is not exaggerate to affirm, together with Goblot, that the scientific spirit would be composed essentially of moral qualities. And among these, the love for truth is neither the only one, nor the most important. The love for truth, without which the scientific spirit cannot be conceived, supposes the understanding of its superior value with respect to egocentric interests and a strong disposition of self-giving. Similarly, the method, i.e. the inclination of always guiding on a certain norm, is equivalent to an elimination of subjectivism, of particular and arbitrary impressions. Does this method not bring in its consequences a certain moral value? The skepticism of the method, its inclination of not getting anything ready-made, of controlling everything, generates certain moral consequences. Each human action is value-oriented, both when it is spontaneous (because it aims to achieve objectives valuable for the agent), and when it is deliberated (because each decision is preceded by evaluation).

Most of the time, the authors who talk about science morality note that research is subject to two moral codes, an intrinsic morality and an extrinsic one. Intrinsic morality is a self-imposed set of norms that promote the search for the truth and its communication, that lead research toward the well-being of the whole society, set of coordinated behavioural codes, covering a large range from theoretical to applicative research, to politics elaboration and actions. Extrinsic morality is meant to protect humanity of abusive use of research results. Every human activity may be controlled or criticized based on a behavioural code, which is, also, partly moral. Bunge draws the model of a moral code of scientific research in general and of technological research in particular. This moral code is structured on three levels: (a) a universal code, necessary to every human being, no matter its place in the life; (b) a code of fundamental and applicative sciences, that rules the activity and protects the search for the truth and its dissemination; (c) a moral code that rules the thinking and action of those who elaborate technological politics and take decisions related to technology [1, pg. 439].

The scientific research and a part of the technological research are valuable not only by offering a knowledge of the reality and a certain power over it, but also by moral aspect. Some researchers may violate the intrinsic moral code of the science by falsifying or hiding the truth, masking dogmas or robbing scientific results, and other may ignore the extrinsic moral code of science by using the knowledge for evil goals, by using their ability to abuse either economically, or politically or culturally, or to destroy life through war. "The moral for healthy technological development seems to be not interfere with its spontaneous evolution by attempting to control or plan its development by centrally directing and curbing technological entrepreneurship on the basis of technological forecasting, but to be severely critical of any adverse effects." [2, pg. 223]

We state, together with Bunge, that the efficient modality of preserving the moral purity of science is society remodeling in such a way that scientists and technologists be deprived of any possibility of producing damages. Scientists have to be subjected to moral control that will restrain them from doing evil. In science is needed a moral guard over the goal, means, side effects, because even if both means and goal are positively evaluated, the goal may be associated with extremely dangerous side effects. A wise action supposes to weight both practical and cognitive means, and goals, based on qualified knowledge and controlled by moral considerations. Science must not be seen as free of value and morally neutral. The scientist himself makes valuable judgments during its whole activity, and applications of science have moral values and rise moral problems. The scientist, the human being in general, does not have the right to believe that the universe is aimed to his own usage. We have the obligation of being responsible with respect to ourselves, to our fellow men, to all those who will follow us in time. The scientist's actions, cognitive and active, have to be moral. The development of science and technique is favourable to creation, expansion of human thinking and action. The progress of science and technique does not automatically lead to human emancipation or to destruction. The dual character does not arise from inside the science, but from the given social context. This determines a correct application of science and a much greater responsibility of scientists, of society in general. The scientific and technical progress does not lead by itself to the progress of society. It creates a larger freedom in mastering the human natural and social relations, when they realize the goal: "not the human being in the service of technique, but the technique in the service of human being".

Due to its power, extension and huge tasks, the science has to use philosophy and moral for the axiological formation of its undertaking. It becomes more and more obvious that we may act efficiently in a limited environment and related to a certain goal, without humanist revaluation of scientific and technical facts, but we cannot act correctly from the perspective of human interests other than through these values. The science and technique in general and its creation aspects suppose personal involvement and social responsibility. Being responsible for the world he creates, the researcher needs to prove lot of wisdom. The words of the Romanian philosopher P.P. Negulescu come into our memory. Back in 1941 he stated that: "Through its amazing technical applications, science offered the people from today unexpectedly large powers, not few people seem to be attracted of, many seem to feel the impulse to abuse of. On this slope full of important risks, philosophy could prevent, at least some people, from sliding much too unconsciously" [4, pg. 12]. How actual these requirements are, considering that they were stated with over half of a century ago, if we are looking at the extraordinary development of war technique at a planetary level, at the spectacular results of genetic engineering of today. The true wisdom supposes deep knowledge and rationality, equilibrium, measure in everything, correct evaluation of environment, lucid attitude facing the existence, respect for the creative spirit and for fundamental human values, respect for others' thinking, avoiding excesses and other actions that would jeopardize the human being. The true wisdom the contemporary civilization needs, the civilization built on science and technique, joins the truth with good and offers both of them a usage compatible with the human freedom and dignity.

Being wisdom that tells, protects and completes fundamental truths about world so that the man, by appropriating them, be supreme being for man, philosophy necessarily impose itself in the framework of contemporary life. The need for philosophy emphasizes the responsibility of philosophical act. The progress, recognition and practice of values commit the philosopher. "Philosophy bears the responsibility for everything happening in the man's world and on the man's world" underlined Constantin. Noica, in 1950. "Either because it is about the moral-political sense of our human regulations, or because it is about scientific knowledge and its theoretical horizons, as well as its understanding and sometimes the danger of its application, or because it concerns the man of artistic enlightening or religious unrest, for the contemporary conscience it became clearer that all these are found in and fulfill from the philosophy morality" [5, pg. 124]. Today, in the conditions of the impetuous development of science and technique, the man needs philosophy, needs a global representation of its existence and an axiologic attitude towards the values of material and cultural-spiritual civilization created by him. More than any other historic age, the contemporary age is unrest by questions related to the place and the role of man in the world. We live a crucial moment, when visions and ideals collapse in the search of some models of existence. The individual and social necessity of philosophy, the need of asking global questions, to renew them and to search answers, are outlined with different accents.

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1. Mario BUNGE, Stiinta si filosofie (Science and Philosophy), Editura Politica, Bucuresti, 1984

2. Anthony O'HEAR, Introduction to the Philosophy of Science, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1989

3. Edem GOBLOT, Traité de logique, A. Colin, Paris, 1941

4. P.P. NEGULESCU, Istoria filosofiei contemporane (The History of Contemporary Philosophy), Monitorul Oficial si Imprimeriile Statului, Bucuresti, 1941

5. Constantin NOICA, Incercare asupra filosofiei traditionale (Essay on Traditional Philosophy), Bucuresti, 1950

6. Liana POP, Nevoia de intelepciune in civilizatia stiintifico-tehnica contemporana (The Need of Wisdom in the Contemporary Scientific and Technical Civilization), Scientific Journal of the Polytechnic Institute of Cluj-Napoca, 32, 1989

7. Liana POP, The Place of Technology in the Contemporary Culture, Proceedings of International Symposium Constructions 2000, Cluj-Napoca, Romania, 1993

8. Tudor VIANU, Studii de filosofia culturii (Studies of Philosophy of Culture), Editura Eminescu, Bucuresti, 1983

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