points on the one hand to an open pre-scientific horizon of experience,
and can be considered as a formal "a priori," and has on the other hand
a historical character as it points to a world shaped by man. The
concept of "life-world" is therefore a starting point from which the
unity of human culture can be reflected, and which, at the same time,
implies the thematization of concrete historico-cultural formations
(1). The "life-world" is
always our "life-world."
Husserl characterizes our life-world as one dominated by the tradition
of scientific objectivity. This tradition is closely interrelated to
the world shaped by modern technology, which is in fact the dominating
feature not only of one particular culture, but o the life-world of
modern-day man. Technology is not simply applied science but has its
own roots and characteristics. This is an assertion which the modern
philosophy of technology quotes repeatedly (2). Our life-world has
often been characterized as a "technical culture." (3)
In the first part of this paper, I shall consider the paradigm of the
technical culture as it is analyzed by modern philosophy. This analysis
is based upon three postulates which have recently been radically
questioned by the Belgian philosopher Gilbert Hottois. (4). In the
second part, I shall explain Hottois' "a-logical" approach to technics
(not technology!). Finally I shall make sobe critical remarks
concerning the relationship between technics, ethics, and the question
The paradigm of the technical culture
modern philosophy a distinction is usually made between the present
shape of technics and its medieval and ancient characteristics. We are
aware of the all-embracing, in some cases almost "totalitarian"
character of modern technics, as expressed for instance in the idea
that it has unlimited power over nature, over matter, and over
ourselves. From this point of view, it may even seem possible to
overcome death. Of course, questions like the meaning of human life
without death (and birth?), the structure of a "deathless" society, the
experiences of being "young" or "old" (individually and collectively),
the concepts of evolution and time, etc. re not usually brought to
The paradigm of modern technics seems to have its roots in the
discovery of subjectivity in the age of Enlightenment, when the duality
between subject and object was conceived as the opposition of a
"capsule-likee" subjectivity and "external" objects. These "external
objects" were soon called "objective reality," which became a term of
reference for modern theory, i.e., science, and modern action, i.e.,
technology. This view of the origins of modern technics is often
related to the cultural history of Europe. It seems as if "homo technologicus" would be a
specific European phenomenon, which is now able to fascinate mankind.
The discussions between "optimists" and "pessimists" concerning the
paradigm of a technical culture is particularly acute at present as the
blessings of technics seem to be indissolubly linked to catastrophic
side-effects. (5) There is also a search for mediation within this
paradigm which is based upon the following postulates:
1) Modern technuics (or technology: both concepts being in many
languages indistinctly used) is a phenomenon which belongs to the human
world. It is not, for instance, a product of cosmic-biological
evolution. This is the anthropological
2) As a human product, modern technics can be considered
to be an instrument which can be used to dominate nature. This is the instrumental postulate.
3) Modern technics can be theoretical understood, although the theory
of technics (as a parallel to the theory of science) is still in its
inititial stages. this is the theoretical
The significance of these postulates is stressed in different ways by
the main modern schools of thought. Marxists, for instance, emphasize
the anthrpological postulate and consider technics to be something
determined by society. (6) The accentuation of the instrumental
postulate has alead to the controversy between socio-technocratic
(e.g. Schelsky) and socio-critical models (e.g. Habermas). (7) Under
the influence of the analytical currents, technology should be
theoretically grasped in a way similar to (but not identical with) the
way in which science has been comprehended. (8)
Gilbert Hotttois has questioned these three leading postulates in his
recent book Sign and Technics (Le signe et la technique) (Hottois
1984). In the following section I intend to analyze some of his
Hottois' "a-logical" approach to technics
his preface, Jacques Ellul criticizes the formula "technical culture"
as being misleading and superficial, because it suggests that classical
thinking and technics can exist in harmony which is in fact true only
on the face of things; what lies behind is mostly ignorance and
banality (Hottois 1984, 8). Modern thinking on technics even uses
indistinctly the terms "technology" and "technics" without reflecting
on the relationship between "technics" and "logos." The analysis of
this relationship constitutes, according to Ellul, the central point of
And, in fact, according to Hottois, the negation of the radical
difference between technics and "logos"
(or "symbol") is one of the
fundamental illusions of twentieth century philosophy (Hottois 1984,
Although some eminent thinkers, M. Heidegger, for instance, have
stressed the necessity of giving reflection on technics a central role,
modern philosophy is mainly concerned with language, and that, as
Hottois explained in a former work (9), in an inflationary way indeed.
Hottois sees this inflation as a kind of defence mechanism on the part
of philosophy (or, better, of philosophers!) against the overwhelming
influence of technics in the modern world. Philosophers seem to have
little or nothing to say regarding the technical world. What role does
technics play in a language-oriented philosophy? Hottois answers this
question by considring some main features of the prevailing anthropologistic philosophy.
Whereas early philosophical thinking was centred in God, Nature,
Matter, etc., modern philosophy, which is some 300 years old, is mainly
concerned with man. Within this horizon technics is seen as a part of
human culture and, more precisely, as an instrument. This view
originated in the following ideas. Nature has produced something
extraordinary to itself, viz., man. Man's "essence," consists of
language and values. Human culture can be defined as the "cultivation"
of these elements. Philosophy, from Plato to Heidegger, has stressed
the significance and interconnectedness of these elements. The
cultivation of language leads to science, and to its application:
modern technology. Philosophy, on its part, has remained within "the
golden prison of language" (Hottois 1984, 46). Anglo-Saxon and
Franco-German thinking meet on this point. But as Hottois ads,
something, namely technics, is pushing man away from his essence.
Philosophy's answer to this challenge has been to enscribe technics
within the anthropologistic paradigm by considering it as an instrument
for the fulfilment of mankind. Messianic visions have been developed
which usually remain illusionary, superficial, and empty. Then too,
technics cannot be "de-signed": we have "la technique inassignable" (Hottois
1984, 59), according to Hottois' central proposition. Let us consider
his arguments. There is a radical difference between today's technics
and former instruments: the latter were subordinated to theory, they
were its application. Today we have "techno-science,"
where primacy has shifted to technics and science has become
operational in its nature. As "logos"
is no longer its guide, its
evolution cannot be predicted. The "techno-cronos"
is essentially open and opaque. The future of technics escapes the
power of "logos" in the same way as the "bio-cosmos" cannot be grasped
within the frontier of cultural evolution. The "techno-cosmos" as a synthesis
between "physis and "techne" breaks the symbolic horizon
of man. he is no longer the measure of technics, but an object of its
manipulation. As the "techno-scientific" future cannot be anticipated,
all anthropocentrism is illusionary. We really do not know what the
consequences of modern technics will be, and we do not even know
whether we (then who?) can "make decisions" on genetic manipulation,
the "information society" etc.
The negation of the irreducible difference between technics and "logos"
(or symbolism, language, and culture) leads, according to Hottois, to
different kinds of ideologies. Technics is worldless and awful ("l'im-monde technocosme"). It is, we
could say, "a-logical." If we summarize the main characteristics (or
the phenomenological "essence") of what Hottois calls "the kingdom of
technics" ("le règne technique")
1) autonomous and "blind" growth of the "techno-cronos": technics grows
just like the "wild" blind, casual, and combination-making "physis,"
this in contrast to what I call the instrumental postulate.
2) technics belongs to the cosmic creation process. The "techno-cosmos"
is a process outside of the human "logos,"
this is in contrast to the
3) the discontinuity or mutation proneness of "techno-science" does not
allow its inclusion in a historico-logical view, this in contrast to
the theoretical postulate.
The question of whether the human "logos"
will eventually become a part
of a "techno-logical evolution" through a mutation of the "logos"
itself, is, according to Hottois, completely open. Information
processing is more a substitute for than integration with the old
"logos." It is the technical
modus of the relationship between man and
The principle "Everything is possible" dominates this technical
process. The "an-ethical" imperative corresponds to this "a-logical"
principle: "If something can be made, it should be made." The technical
system is open to what Hottois calls a "black transcendence," i.e., an
experience of time which engenders a blind and dumb future. But this
"black metaphysics" is not a mask of God. it is just an outlook of
enigma, openness, and (human) impotence.
If "sign" and technics are thus irreducibly different, is there any
place "in-between" for man, not as a "logical" but at leas as a moral
being? Taking the an-ethicity of technics into consideration and
excluding the anthropocentric and instrumentalist views, Hottois sees
in the preservation of ethical
sensitivity, the central criterion of an ethics "between sign
and technics." This does not imply taking man as the measure of
technics. It only balances the situation by actively protecting the
human race. The ethical option in favour of humanity is itself without
ultimate foundational reason when we exclude metaphysical discourse.
Its origin, says Hottois, is not of a logical but of a vital nature. It
implies the decision to respect and help each other, to consider the
other as our neighbour... in short, the whole complex of what we call
love. Without a metaphysical "white transcendence" the ethical
experience of love offers only some light to the view of a senseless
and voiceless future. The cardinal virtue of Hottois' ethics is prudence. It delimits the
anti-criterion, "Everything is allowed," without falling into the
anthropocentric illusion of domination. Prudence means awareness of an
ambivalent situation, without a schizoid unification of opposites, or a
surrender of one of them. We do not know in advance what is definitely
"good" for mankind.
Technics, ethics, and the question of Phenomenology
The question of Phenomenology as it was stated, for instance, by
Heidegger is that of a "logos"
bringing phenomena into language within
their own light, i.e., lelting them be what they are. (10) In this
sense Phenomenology is the opposite of objectivized thinking. The two
kinds of "logos," the
phenomenological and the objective, are, in my
opinion, the condition of possibility of Hottois' "a-logical" approach
to technics. The "logos" the
criticizes is the objectivizing one, the
"logos" of anthropocentrism,
instrumentality, and objectivizing theoty.
His analysis is not at all "illogical" but, as he himself remarks, it
is an attempt at an "integral techno-logy." (Htottois 1984, 186) It is
not, we could say, an "ideo-logical" but a "phenomeno-logical" analysis
since it does not look at technics from the point of view of an "idea"
subjectively preconceived and projected into the object, but it
attempts to think of technics within its own horizon of appearance.
This is done through the patient work of criticism of the prevailing
Hottois fails, I think, to differentiate clearly between these two
"logoi." he conceives the
human "logos" globally as
anthropocentric. But, as Heidegger interpreting Heraclitus states,
(11) the human "logos" is
already inserted in a "Logos,"
rightly points toward it when he speaks of the "black transcendence" as
the source of the unforeseeable possibilities of "being" (in the verbal
sense), one of which is modern technics.
Hottois' criticism of anthropocentrism is not radical enough, in my
opinion, with regard to the metaphysical conception of man as an "axio-logical" being. Hottois
intends to preserve man by preserving values. But in doing so he only
preserves metaphysical entities, although it is cut away from tis
"divine" origin. Being human seems to Hottois to be something which
should be primarily preserved, but why should it not, as Nietzsche
suggested, be "overcome"? In this context we can give a very precise
meaning to the word "overcome": it means an enlargement of traditional
moral thinking to include all kinds of relationships between man and
world. W. Schirmacher calls it life-technics
in opposition to the anthropocentric death-technics
(the technics of Heidegger's "Gestell").
(12) It includes: (world) Openness, the exercise of mortality (movement
and history, instead of "eternal values"), and responsibility.
Responsibility, says Schirmacher, means a careful relationship with
language, i.e., with the world.
Hottois remains within a metaphysical dichotomy between "logos" and
technics, instead of viewing language itself as a paradigm of technical
evolution, which is an "event" ("Ereignis"),
as Schirmacher says, not an instrument. And indeed, if we consider
language non-metaphysically, i.e., as an open and unforeseeable
"event," which is not based on its "form" or "content", but, as E.
Coseriu and K. Ezawa suggest, (13) on its historical use by the human
community, we can then live in more adequate balance with modern
technics. We can see technics within its open and opaque horizon, and
respect its alterity, without opposing it to a metaphysical "logos." A
"dia-logue" can take place, and a "Lebenstechnik" can become the shape
of our "Lebenswelt." Hottois seems to avoid the Scylla of language by
falling into the Charybdis of inflationary technics. The remedy is not
to put ethics "in-between," but to rethink the phenomenological sense
of technics as a "dia-logical" counterpart to a non-metaphysical
"logos," and world-openness
(not man) as the place where such
"contra-diction" takes place. Not only a prudent but a "releasing"
attitude (Heidegger called it "Gelassenheit")
is necessary in order to become moral, i.e., responsible within an
unforeseeable "techno-logical" process.
Cf. E. Husserl: "Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und
phänomenologische Philosophie," II. Husserliana 4, (The Hague,
1952) pp. 190ff.
(2) Cf. Hans Lenk: Zur
Sozialphilosophie der Technik (Frankfurt a.M., 1982) pp. 48 ff;
see also F. Rapp, P.T. Durbin, eds.: Technikphilosophie
in der Diskussion (Braunschweig, 1982).
(3) Cf. my "Das Paradigma der technischen Kultur" In Zeitschrift für Ganzheitsforschung,
18 (1984) 2, pp. 62-68.
(4) G. Hotttois: Le signe et la
technique. La philosophie à l'épreuve de la technique
(Paris, 1984); cf. ibid.: Pour une
étique dans un univers
technicien (Brussels, 1984).
(5) On the controversy between "optimists" and "pessimists", cf. S.
Wollgast, G. Banse: Philosophie der
Technik (Berlin, 1979) from a Marxist point of view; without
this specific background: H. Sachsse, ed.: Technik und Gesellschaft, 3. vol.
(Munich, 1976) as well as H. Stork: Einführung
in die Philosophie der Technik (Darmstadt, 1977).
(6) Cf. S. Wollgast, G. Banse, op.cit.
(7) Cf. J. Habermas: Technik und
Wissenschaft als "Ideologie" (Frankfurt a.M., 1968); H.
Schelsky: Auf der Suche nach
(8) Cf. H. Lenk: "Technik zwischen Wissenschaft und Gesellschaft," Kindlers Enzyklopädie: Der Mensch
(vol. 7) pp. 567-594; F. Rapp: Analytische
Technikphilosophie (Freiburg i.Br., 1978); G. Ropohl: Eine Systemtheorie der Technik (Munich,
(9) G. Hottois: L'inflation du
langage dans la philosophie contemporaine (Brussels, 1979).
(10) M. Heidegger: Sein und Zeit
(11) M. Heidegger: Heraklit (GA
55 Frankfurt a.M., 1979).
(12) W. Schirmacher: Technik und
Gelassenheit (Freiburg, 1983).
(13) E. Coseriu: "Humanvissenschaften und Geschichte" Jahrbuch der Norwegischeen Ak. der Wiss.
(Oslo, 1979), pp. 3-15; K. Ezawa: "Japans Weg in eine
Blätter 41 (1985) 3, pp. 71-73. Cf. my Hermeneutik der Fachinformation
(Freiburg, München, 1986).
update: December 4, 2017