Techne, Logos, Technology, Technique

In Nature, Technology and the SacredBronislaw Szerszynski writes:

“Aristotle had only conjoined the words techne and logos once, and this in the Rhetoric, seeming to use the term to refer to the way that words, divorced from their, in our terms, vertical relation to universal reason, could be used solely as a means to quotidian, horizontal ends. The Greek word technologousi was used in this sense up to the twelfth century — not as craft subordinated to reason, but as reasoning subordinated to craft and artfulness. But with the Reformation, and particularly with Puritanism, came a new emphasis on reducing the arts to universal, univocal methodological principles — on finding the logos of techne itself, the science that defines all the arts, and thus overcoming the recalcitrance of matter and making it subservient to logos. Technologia, and its synonym, technometria, emerged as Latin terms in the work of the sixteenth-centruy French Protestant rhetorician Peter Ramus, who used them in the more modern sense of ‘the logos of all relations among all technai‘. But it was in the eighteenth century, for example in the work of Johann Beckamann, that the concept of technology as a ‘functional description of the process of production’ emerges in its recognizably modern sense [citing Carl Mitcham].”

Szerszynksi describes this as the “extension of logos, of speech and reason, deeper into the fabrication process, expunging the residual animism that was involved in conceiving the craftworker as having to co-operate with matter.”

Later in the same chapter, after offering a discussion of Heidegger and Foucault, Szerszynski turns to Ellul:

In The Technological System Jacques Ellul seeks to capture features of this new technological condition — both the way that technology in modern society seems to promise a this-worldly salvation by removing uncertainty from human affairs, and its distinctive, self-reproducing dynamic. He distinguishes between traditional ‘technical operations’ and the ‘technical phenomenon’, in terms of the way that the latter takes what was tentative … and ‘brings it to the realm of clear, voluntary and reasoned concepts’. The technical phenomenon (la technique) is a uniquely modern form of making and using artifacts — ‘the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency … in every field of human activity’. He explores the way that technique resists incorporation into non-technical contexts, and becomes the measure for itself. Traditional technai were located in the context of a non-technical matrix of human ends, with accounts of human flourishing incorporating ideas of beauty, justice and contemplation. But with modern technique, the ends-context of any specific technological application is itself construed in technical terms, so that there is no non-technical context to which technology is understood as subordinate. Technique thus becomes ‘self-directing’, a closed, self-determining phenomenon. Further, technique expands, linking together different techniques in relations of mutual dependency, and absorbs non-technical activities into its orbit. Fundamentally, technique becomes an end in itself, in which elements are functional — adapted not to specific ends but to the needs of the system as a whole. Thus no individual steers the technological process; rather than individuals being the wielders and directors of technology, they are ‘responsible only for seeing that the technical act is done correctly’ [citing Robert Daly, all other quotations in paragraph from Ellul].

Here’s my summary: “Technology” brings together making and thinking. To the Greeks, making was clearly subordinate to thinking. In the early modern period, making is deeply invested with thinking. In the end, the making that emerges from the infusion of thinking is such that its emergent properties as a system triumph over thinking by binding thinking to the logic of making.

Earlier, Szersynski, following Robert W. Daly, offered the following breakdown of tool use according to Aristotle’s four causes:

“… the tool user was the ‘efficient cause’ of the final product, the resource substance used the ‘material cause’, the specific goal of the technological intervention the ‘formal cause’, and the lifeworld context within which that goal was intelligible the ‘final cause’.”

Borrowing these categories, the trajectory outlined above, and Ellul’s position, seems to be that the tool user has become the material cause and the technological system itself simultaneously the efficient, formal, and final causes. This certainly amounts to a strong technological determinism.

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