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Technology and Subjectivity’, Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, Middlesex University, 29 October 1994

Uneasy Excitement
‘Technology and Subjectivity’, Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy
Middlesex University, 29 October 1994
A few days before the ‘Technology and Subjectivity’

conference there was an item on MTV about ‘surfing on the
cyberspace’ followed by a report on a surfers’ convention
organised to raise awareness of the problem of sea pollution.

This uneasy mixture of technological excitement and
ecological anxiety is, as the participants of this conference
indicated, the symptom of an unsettled account with nature
which has a long and complex philosophical history. In his
opening remarks, Jonathan Ree already suggested that
contemporary philosophical discussion need no longer carry
its analytical and continental safety blankets, and welcomed
the dawn of a ‘European wide’ philosophy (though I suspect
that the European bit must be generously interpreted given that
American pragmatism was, for many speakers, a constant point
of reference).

Andrew Bowie stepped tactfully into that clearing with a

discovers a possible that was not there before. As a result, there
is a lagging behind the actual which hides the fact that
technological progress is after all finite. For Stiegler, therefore,
the appropriate response is a Nietzschean decisionism of the
type ‘What do we want?’. Howard Caygill, who begun with a
question on the relation between ‘technics’ and technology,
wanted to know more both about the politics and the
possibilities for thinking that follow from Stiegler’s diagnosis.

For Peter Dews and Hauke Brunkhorst these possibilities
can be articulated in the context of communicative ethics. In
‘Lifeworld, Metaphysics and the Ethics of Nature in
Habermas’, Dews argued that the question of the ethical
relation between human beings and nature poses considerable
difficulties for Habermas, given his stress on the ‘unique
linguisticality’ of human interactions. For Dews, the most
promising approach goes via Schelling’s notion of natura

paper on ‘Romanticism and Technology’. In it, excitement
about the possibilities of technological progress acquired the

naturans. Although it puts Habermas’ concept of nature under

epistemic persona of the metaphysical realist for whom the

in the audience), the assumption of a natura naturans poiRts to
the limits of a scientized understanding of the world and can
ground a ‘post-technological ethics of nature’.

success of science is sufficient evidence for the legitimation of
scientific knowledge. This philosophical pagan who believes
that truth inhabits the natural world is blissfully unaware that a
conception of truth as a finite set of facts not only points
towards the end of natural science, but also presupposes the
very notion of truth. The epistemic equivalent of ecological
anxiety is the problem of knowing, or better, of knowing that
you cannot know the absolute either as substance or as a selfproductive subject. This epistemic cul-de-sac suggests that
nature is more than an object and therefore opens the possibility
for a pragmatic-ethical approach such as Bowie wishes to
defend. (It was interesting, by the way, to hear that American
pragmatism, a direct descendent of Jena romanticism, is
uncontaminated by Hegel.)
In his reply, which was also an apt introduction to Bernard
Stiegler’s paper later in the day, Simon Critchley queried the
basis for Bowie’ s pragmatism suggesting that the untimeliness
of reactions to technology can become the locus of our
philosophical concerns. In ‘Technology and Objectivity’,
Stiegler, going back to Aristotle, argued that technology is a
unified phenomenon characterised by the functional use of
objects. This phenomenon, which he termed ‘technics’, has
undergone a modern mutation and become technoscience. This
‘new mode of being’ for both technology and science results in
a reversal of the classical actuality/potentiality distinction.

Discovery becomes invention. The genetician, for instance,


Ra die a I Ph it 0 sop h y 69 (J an / Fe b 1995)

considerable strain (and caused some metaphysical commotion

Being sadly finite, I was unable to attend the workshops
held by Joanna Hodge, Nick Smith and Kate Soper though I
did go to the plenary session led by Brunkhorst. In ‘Decentering
European Egocentrism: Heidegger’s “The Age of the World
Picture”‘, Brunkhorst stood by the ethical potential of the
‘communicative experience’. He argued that although in 1924
Heidegger had defined the self-interpretation of Dasein as a
dialogical relation, he was not able to exploit its intersubjective
potential – a potential that was still there in the opening move
of Being and Time, where Heidegger replaces the traditional
question of being with the question of the meaning of being.

Heidegger’s turn sealed the fate of intersubjective discourse
for it prioritised the event-like ‘TRUTH’ of world-disclosing
poetry. By contrast, intersubjectively defined truth discloses a
real public with different perspectives that make up the
communicative community. To this, Jay Bernstein responded
with eleven provocative fragments: the disenchantment of the
world cannot be healed by shifting to the communicative
perspective, for the more communicable a thought is, the more
false it is. Solidarity is mimetic, it depends on an eloquent but
unrepresentable somatic moment which has been silenced and
whose voice needs to be restored. Needless to say, despite a
very full day, lively discussion followed.

Katerina Deligiorgi

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