Philosophies and Technologies

SunriseAs you may have noticed, I am currently unable to keep up my earlier rate of three posts per week. That rather optimistic rate soon became impossible when I returned to London after the summer and found myself swamped with work. However, I will continue to post when I can.

This post is a just a short note, written at sunrise, but it is about something that I think is important and sometimes overlooked.

Technologies change the way we think. Certain technologies encourage us to think in certain ways when we use them. This is summed up in the proverb “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” but the effect can also be much more subtle.

Similarly, certain philosophies enhance or retard the development of certain technologies. I use the word ‘philosophy’ here to mean a way of thinking, or worldview, rather than merely some abstract theory. I dislike the modern tendency to consider philosophy to be a purely academic intellectual pursuit – a real philosophy should change the way you act – but that’s an argument for another time. My point today is simply that different cultures, with different emphases in their worldviews, will develop different technologies.

A good example of this is the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment gave birth to modern science. The particular worldview that developed out of Protestantism was especially favourable to the goals of science and the development of the scientific method. Similarly, the dominance of science in the West today encourages people to think in a certain way, which is often termed Modernism.

But the point that I think is often overlooked is that, regardless of the genesis of a technology or a philosophy, once established they are independent. For example, it is perfectly possible to conceive of a culture that is Modernist but has no significant scientific development. Although such a culture would rapidly produce scientists, there is no contradiction in supposing that it might at one time exist without them. Indeed, this is in fact the state of most people in Europe today. How many Europeans actually have a good understanding of science? How many even understand what the scientific method is? Yet they live with Modernist worldviews.

Perhaps most importantly, the converse is also true. Science does not need Modernism to progress. I do not know whether or not such a worldview was necessary for science, as we understand it today, to become established as a discipline (who knows what would have happened without the spread of Christianity into Europe?) but it is clear to me that science does not now depend on Modernism for its survival or development. Indeed, I might even go so far as to say that Modernism is now detrimental to science, as it tends to prevent a clear understanding of the scientific process.

If this point is not kept in mind then some poor judgments may be made. There are some people who, it seems to me, cling to Modernism largely because they don’t want to give up the benefits of modern science. Equally, there are some people whose desire to free themselves from Modernism impels them to reject science as well. I think both classes of people are mistaken. They are both, to end with another proverbial expression, throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Published in: on November 14, 2006 at 12:00 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Here is an article which you might appreciate, dwelling and thinking upon some of the excellent topics you have considered: think what is most important for us in the task of thinking, of what philosophy *ought* to be, that we are responsible to thinking, that we carry the duty of this task, which is to say that we are responsible to ourselves and the very possibility of Life.

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