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When in possession of a plethora of modern technology, like in this day and age, it is tremendously easy to overlook the concerns that these technological advances bring with them. To fully understand the impacts of technology, it becomes necessary to examine the viewpoints stated in such works as Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle and The Question Concerning Technology by Martin Heidegger. Additionally, Descartes opinion must be regarded, as portrayed in his Meditations on First Philosophy. In the past twenty years, technology had made huge leaps and bounds.
The ever-growing industry is now worth trillions of dollars thanks to the nonstop demand for the latest gadgets and machines. This is a commentary on not only personal devices, but also machinery and man-made objects that run according to software and programming, usually without much human handling. With such mindless consumption of these products, technology has become an integrated part of many people’s lives without them even realizing it. People need to be more aware of the types of technology being developed and more mindful of the impacts it can have on their daily lives.
To analyze these concerns, one first needs to recognize both the instrumental and the enframing views of technology. Only then, can modern discussion on the consequences of technology be fully understood.
Instrumentalism measures an object’s worth in terms of how useful it is for its intended purpose. Therefore, instrumentalism looks at technology as tools, as means to an end. Additionally, this way of thinking about the word can categorizes not only technology, but theories and concepts as well.
Thus, this type of thinking is what is employed by many in technological thinking today. Everyone is looking for the newest version, the latest update. Even concerning technology not used everyday, the usefulness and confidence put into a certain technology depends on what features it has and how new it is. Heidegger acknowledges that “technology is, when represented as a means, discloses itself when we trace instrumentality back to fourfold causality” (Heidegger, 3). To understand this, one must become familiar with Aristotle’s doctrine of the four causes. In these, Aristotle outlines the four elements which define an object as distinct from any other thing. The four causes are the formal cause, the material cause, the efficient cause, and the final cause. The formal cause is that which is the form or essence of something. It is what makes the other three causes possible. Without the formal cause, there would be no subject because the concept of it would never have been conceived. The formal cause can also be thought of as the potentiality of an object because the essence of something inevitably involves the purpose it is supposed to serve. The material cause is literally what the object is made out of. Everything needs to be made up of something or else it would not exist in the physical world. If nothing had a material cause we would all be living in a world of concepts and ideas, nothing concrete. This material cause focuses in on not necessarily the parts of an object, but the substance that makes it unique. The efficient cause is what causes the object to move or to be able to move.
In particular, it is that which is the source of primary movement or stability. Without the efficient cause, the telos of many objects would be very different. In fact, the whole dynamic of the world would be thrown off. The final cause is the means of existence for a thing. Nothing is created without a purpose. Of course purposes may change, but the purpose is never eliminated. When thinking of the final cause like this, then the final cause is not just something to reach for and be achieved. Instead the final cause is something that must be lived out. Without any of the four causes present, according to Aristotle, a living organism or an inanimate object would not be able to be properly defined. Aristotle’s way of thinking defines the objects of this world as impersonal items. Essentially, what he is saying is that each thing has a set purpose and it can serve none other because then it would not be what it is. This way of thinking causes an object to become indebted to its essence. It is not free to move within its bounds and cannot have any leeway in its purpose because it is confined to its exact position in the world. Concerning this way of thinking, it is then correct to describe a jug as something with the means to contain. In today’s world, we define the jug by what it is made of, the tangible material that is molded by the maker. Ever since Aristotle proposed his four causes, this type of thinking and reasoning have taken hold of the world. But Heidegger begs the question: is this the best way to evaluate technology in light of its growing stance in the world?
Instead of the view of causality supported by Aristotle and ingrained in many people’s minds, Heidegger proposes the viewpoint of enframing. With this way of thinking, it is crucial to recognize the essence of an object not by its physical, worldly appearance, but by its ability to bring forth and reveal. In other words, the discovery of an object begins at the end of its definition. To advance his argument, Heidegger introduces the concept of enframing. Enframing is the creation of standing reserves. He argues that when dealing with technology, humans naturally embody their ideas into the objects they create. In the production of something, there is more to it than just the materials and labor that physically go into the product. There is also the production of the assembly along with the choosing of materials. The root of all that goes into technology is the human condition known as enframing. Heidegger is then adamant that the world’s modern technology is a direct product of enframing. This concept comes from the human need to contain and organize the world so that it complies with the need for precision and logical reasoning. Since the creation of the four causes, humanity has been consumed by this idea of logic as reason and facts. In contrast, and in order to clearly define his viewpoint, Heidegger brings in the term poiesis. This is the bringing-forth or opening up through language. It is a hermeneutical way of thinking in which logos is thought of as language as a tool to further reasoning.
This way of thinking was first introduced by Descartes. The concept relays that language can be used in order to bring about new and novel ways of thinking. Again, this is not the way humanity is able to readily see the world. Instead there is a need to contain knowledge within logical (in the factual sense) reasoning. It is almost irrational to try and think this way for many people because it is not in alignment with what has been preached to them throughout most of their lives. As described by Heidegger, “enframing means that way of revealing which holds sway in the essence of modern technology and which is itself nothing technological” (Heidegger, 10). Here it is specifically spelled out that the creation, the bringing-forth and the essence of technology, have no basis in the world of technology. Instead, the being of technology comes specifically from the human perception and production. What goes into each piece of technology is not only its physical parts and components, but the human mindset behind the idea of the technology. Furthur more, there is the perception that each person places onto each specific technology they handle. Associations and connotations are what shed light on the actual definition of technology. So what defines technology is instead what it can achieve for its owner and how the action is processed by humanity. But this point of view is far from how most perceive it in this modern age.
Technology today is beginning to go beyond what anyone could have imagined. This is in term of advancements, but also in unforeseen consequences and complications. Technology has been narrowed down to two types: that of machinery and that of personal devices, although many think of the latter when encountering this word. Taking into consideration both senses of the word, the dangers of modern technology can be categorized as malignant and benign. Those that are malignant are plagues of today while those that are benign have yet to fully matriculate, but must still be addressed.
The largest malignant threat is that off a loss of experience. Loss of experience can be described as a loss of emotion as well. This deficit causes a depersonalization of the situation playing out being played out. An example of this would be a machine caring for farm animals instead of humans or someone deleting a contact name from their contacts instead of personally saying goodbye to them. Both instances lack the crucial step of human interaction. Whether it be between the environment and humans, animals and humans, or humans with themselves, this rift of experience can cause desensitization to many causes and other beings. This void of direct interaction goes back to the innate instrumentalist way of thinking. Technology is seen as a means to the completion of a task. Technology is meant to make the means easier and so for the sake of efficiency and because of availability, technology is increasingly being used to substitute human experience. This concern is in accordance with Heidegger’s thoughts on the institution of instrumentalism. The enframing that he proposes holds an inherent connection to the technology. By Heidegger’s way of thinking, the above should not be a problem because humans have poured so much of themselves into the objects without consciously knowing it. But maybe it is because humans perceive themselves through technology that they feel it is an adequate substitution for real-life interactions.
This malignant threat feeds the growing benign threat that is complete automation. With technology already playing such a huge role in most people’s lives and further advancements in the capabilities of many, if not all machines and devices, it cannot be ignored that the world is slowly moving towards a total automation of human activities. Of course, these same advancements that are driving down the road of automation are the ones that are supposed to make human lives that much “better.” As rational beings, it is natural to try and keep pushing for a more streamlined approach to many functions of daily life. But if limits and restrictions are not put on this way of thinking, especially with the advent of the internet and personalized technology, humanity will eventually push itself towards total personal isolation. Instead, all interactions will take place through technology creating the epitome of an instrumentalist world. By adopting Heidegger’s view of technology as a poiesis, it could still be possible to avoid this certain doom. The philosophy of Heidegger would instead bring about a world in which technology is understood, not just used. It would create a society willing to, and knowing how to, branch out and use their experiences to discover truth and knowledge.
Through out the recorded history of man, logic based on reason has triumphed as the sole way of thinking. This is how instrumentalism was able to take hold of basically the entire human race. Ever since the creation of the four causes by Aristotle, there has been an innate inclination to follow the straight, well-reasoned path. Instrumentalism has found its place in technology as well. But there are many dangers in viewing such things as mere means to a foreseeable end. Instead, Heidegger promotes enframing as the premiere method with which to consider technology, both in terms of machines and personal devices. If humanity fails to acknowledge this view of technology, it could lead to the end of interpersonal relationships. The malignant threat pertaining to this is the loss of genuine experiences. Without these, man cannot hope to live out their lives as fully human, only projections of themselves that they display to the world through technology and its own doings. A more benign, but ever looming threat is the ascension of an automated world. Modern society is already well on its way to achieving this with the malignant threat already becoming well established and accepted. Without the world being able to recognize technology as an enframing, a poiesis through which they project themselves, the dangers of technology may come to be a celebrated reality.
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