The Competitiveness of Nations in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy

Don Ihde

Instrumental Realism: The Interface between Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Technology

III. Philosophy of Technology

Indiana University Press

Bloomington, 1991, 45-63

The new philosophy of science in both its Anglo-American and European contexts has represented a change in sensibility and in perspective.  It is directed away from what may be called a statics of conceptual and logical relations (the nomological model) toward what may be called a dynamics of “seeing” (the potential praxis-perceptual model).  But if this is so, there remains a certain vestigial Platonism throughout the new philosophy of science.  It remains insensitive to the material embodiments of science, to its technological dimensions.

One clear and crucial domain in which this neglect is obvious is with respect to instrumentation.  In contrast to its ancient antecedents, contemporary science is clearly technologically embodied.  Instruments form the conditions for and are the mediators of much, if not all, current scientific knowledge.  They are the concrete and material operators within scientific praxis.  Yet little has been done, even by the new philosophers of science, regarding the effect instruments play upon the paradigms or epistemes which occur in science.  I shall use this variable to make the transition to a possible philosophy of technology.

It is not the case that instruments are totally overlooked within the new philosophy of science, but they clearly play a background role.  A brief review of the four figures just discussed will illustrate this lack of development: In Kuhn’s case, there is an awareness that instruments play a role in observation.  “Herschel, when he first observed the same object twelve years later... with a much improved telescope of his own manufacture... was able to notice an apparent disk-size that was at least unusual for the stars.” [1]

This observation played a role in the shift of star/planet interpretation, but Kuhn seems to simply assume the instrument, even though it plays here the role of condition of the observation.  Kuhn only hints at what he calls an instrumental expectation.

In short, consciously or not, the decision to employ a particular piece of apparatus and to use it in a particular way carries an assumption that only certain sorts of circumstances will arise.  There are instrumental as well as


theoretical expectations, and they have played a decisive role in scientific development. [2]

Only rarely does Kuhn recognize the crucial role a new piece of apparatus may play as the prelude to a paradigm shift.  One example is the development of the Leyden jar, which in effect opened the way to the discovery of electrical phenomena. [3]

If we turn from Kuhn to his European counterparts, the situation is not markedly improved.  There is some recognition in Husserl, though rarely followed through, of the role of technologies in scientific praxis.  In part, this is noted because at the base level, lifeworld perception is related to material entities.  But given the interest in the accumulation and progress of idealities, this material dimension plays a facilitation role.  One interesting example is the clearly crucial development of the technologies of language, or writing: “The important function of written, documenting linguistic expression is that it makes communications possible without immediate or mediate personal address; it is, so to speak, communication become virtual.  Through this, the communalization of man is lifted to a new level.” [4]

Recalling Husserl’s carpentry or furniture example, we have already noted that praxis involves material processes which potentially hold trajectories (the preference for and following of straight lines, smooth surfaces, etc.).  Yet, given Husserl’s focus upon the acquisition of a pure geometry, the role of material, praxical activity remains, at most, a material condition for this acquisition:

The empirical art of measuring and its empirically, practically objectivizing function, through a change from the practical to the theoretical interest, was idealized and thus turned into the pure geometrical way of thinking.  The art of measuring thus became the trailblazer of the ultimately universal geometry and its “world” of pure limit-shapes. [5]

In short, technologies are conditions for or occasions of advance in idealization.

Of course, Merleau-Ponty’s interests simply do not lend themselves immediately to what I am calling a philosophy of technology, which focuses upon the material conditions and mediations relating to knowledge gathering in general or to science in particular.  Yet his analysis of one set of artifacts in bodily self-awareness is highly suggestive.  The woman whose feathered hat becomes intuitively embodied in her motion within an environment, the tacit bodily knowledge which the automobile driver demonstrates with his “instrument” of motion, and the highly skilled, learned motile knowledge of the blind person with the cane all demonstrate a phenomenological dimension to instrumentally mediated knowledge.


Yet it remains that this analysis of the mediation of perception through technologies is not developed by Merleau-Ponty as an aspect of the philosophy of science.

Foucault actually returns to a much older prejudice by not placing the instrument solely in the role of a mere application of science, but he also seems to disclaim the role of instrumentation as crucial to certain developments of scientific praxis.  Foucault holds that there was both a reduction to visibility and a reduction of visibility which characterized scientific praxis at the outset of the Modern era:

Observation, from the seventeenth century onward, is a perceptible knowledge furnished with a series of systematically negative conditions.  Hearsay is excluded... but so are taste and smell, because their lack of certainty and their variability render impossible any analysis into distinct elements that could be universally acceptable. [6]

This simultaneous reduction to vision becomes also a reduction of vision: “The area of visibility in which observation is able to assume its powers is thus only what is left after these exclusions: a visibility freed from all other sensory burdens and restricted, moreover, to black and white.” [7]

One might observe that this defining of observation is a kind of perceptualization of “geometric method” as then understood.  This “semiotics” of vision clearly would belie what Husserl would claim about the perception of plena, but the potential role of instrumentation to transform this situation is even more strongly discounted by Foucault:

It may perhaps be claimed that the use of the microscope compensates for these restrictions; and that though sensory experience was being restricted in the direction of its more doubtful frontiers, it was nevertheless being extended towards the new objects of a technically controlled form of observation.  In fact, it was the same complex of negative conditions that limited the realm of experience and made the use of optical instruments possible. [8]

I argue against and invert the Foucaultean model later.  However, one could clearly point out that it was the age-old use of instrumentation, such as Galileo’s use of the telescope nearly two centuries earlier, that made the new science possible.  Moreover, Galileo was quite specifically aware that this new “artificial revelation” made a new world visible and publicized this fact in his piece of scientific propaganda, The Heavenly Messenger.  Furthermore, the actual observational or perceptual situation in the seventeenth century with respect to the microscope was a situation in which distinctive coloration was limited.  The use of dyes for specimens was perfected only later.


Concerning observation through microscopes, Foucault notes:

Optical instruments were used above all as a means of discovering how the forms, arrangements, and characteristic proportions of individual adults, and of their species, could be handed on down the centuries while preserving their strictly defined identity.  The microscope was called upon not to be beyond the frontiers of the fundamental domain of visibility, but to resolve one of the problems it posed. [9]

While not denying that there was a paradigm shift between this early classificatory and natural history model and the later invention of “biology,” I would observe that a correlation remained between the reductionist model being employed and the technical capacity of the instruments being used.  The model of comparative anatomy and function began to occur only later, when greater degrees of the microstructure were enhanced by dyeing processes which made them dramatically visible.  In short, the relationship between instrumentation and Foucault’s epistemes may have been much closer than Foucault himself could appreciate.  The point I am making, however, is that at no time do the new philosophers of science make the role of instruments of scientific technologies thematic.  There remains in each a certain vestigial preference for either the purely conceptual or, at most, for aspects of perception apart from its possible material embodiments through technologies.

While each of the new philosophers of science gives a minimal role to science’s concrete embodiments, the technologies of instrumentation remain of secondary importance.  They are cast under the umbra of a vestigial Platonism.  That is why, in contrast to the philosophy of science, a more direct focus upon these material dimensions in a philosophy of technology is called for.  In order to create a new gestalt, a deliberate shift toward such phenomena as instrumentation is needed.  To this degree, philosophy of technology stands in contrast to its seeming near relation, the philosophy of science.

Historically, such a shift may be detected in the work of an important ancestor to each of the European thinkers already mentioned.  Philosophy of technology, in its contemporary development, may be said to have roots in the work of Martin Heidegger.  It began to form as early as 1927 in Being and Time and later took more specific shape in the period around “The Question Concerning Technology” (1950s on).  Moreover, Heidegger stands as an important background figure for Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, and Foucault.  The shift which occurs in Heidegger’s work I shall term “materialist.”  Ultimately, it inverted the standard view of the science-technology relation to that of technology-science.  Whatever else such inversions accomplish, at the very least they do provide radically new perspectives


upon the phenomena caught in the shift.  With respect to this continued discussion of the state of the art, I shall take up the central features leading to this shift in perspective.

Heidegger was a younger colleague and reader of Husserl from whom he adapted the relativistic notion of intentionality.  In the ontological sense, intentionality is the relationship between all consciousness and its world or domain of objects within a field.  But whereas Husserl continued to interpret this relationship as “consciousness,” Heidegger took the notion in a more existential direction.

Husserl spoke of an “ego” “conscious” of the “world.”  Heidegger, in Being and Time, changes this to Dasein-being-in-the-World.  A careful reading of what is implied demonstrates the change of significance.  Dasein, in its ordinary German sense, means existence, and Heidegger clearly wanted to retain that sense.  But in another way, he also wanted to add a technical meaning which he derived from his habits of etymologically literalizing important terms.  Dasein, broken into its components, means literally “here-being” (Da-sein).  This existentialization of experience is one which pushes what had been a kind of self-aware, knowledge-focused consciousness toward a spatio-temporal, concrete bodily sense of position.  Here-being is the place-time I occupy, from which I experience a surrounding world or situation.  Formally, in the technical language of the work, the formula is one which may be characterized in the following way:

Dasein-being in-World.

This tripartite relation contains what I have called phenomenological relativity.  No element of the relation may be separated or divorced from the other; each term is, in Heidegger’s language, equiprimordial.  Furthermore, there is a correlational reversibility to the relation.  If World is to be understood, it is to be from the implied positionality, literally the being-here of Da-sein.

Read thus, there is already conveyed a distinctly “material” sense to being human.  The human being always finds himself or herself already bodily in a situation, in a World.  Moreover, this existential “in” becomes the primitive for all other “ins” which could be abstracted or derived from it.  The geometrical “in” as a dot within a circle is a derivative “in.”  Heidegger’s analysis is to be the explication of the dimensions of that being-in-a-situation.

Finally, world is not only all that is contained or experienceable, but is that which surrounds one, which locates the very “here” which a human “is.”  All of this continues, albeit in what has been called an existential interpretation, the correlational relativity previously adapted by Husserl.


While this thrust is both clearly phenomenological and distinct from the older traditions, the analysis which emerged remained tainted by several of the tendencies of pre-twentieth-century philosophy.  Two of these are worth noting, precisely because they point to the vestigial Platonism I have also found associated with the new philosophy of science.  The first of these may be located in the habitual way philosophers of both the Modern and then of the Critical era tended to interpret the furniture of the world.  The world in the transcendentalist traditions - from Descartes through Kant - was composed of objects; better, objects of knowledge.  Granted, the particular interpretations of these objects varied: extended substance (Descartes) or constituted phenomena (Kant).  But some version of an object characterized by some combination of qualities predicated of it made up the basic furniture of the world.  In the contemporary era, the empirical knowledge of such objects was, of course, increasingly, science.

If one were to do a phenomenologically relative interpretation of this tradition, one would have to relate what is known - the totality of objects of knowledge - of how it is known, by some activity.  The answer would be that the world of known objects implies (reflexively) a knower, and the knower of this “World” would, in all likelihood, be the disengaged observer characterized, for example, by Foucault.  In the Modern era this perception is a bare and reduced perception.

The second tendency of Modern-through-Critical philosophy was to be foundationalist.  Philosophy followed an architectural metaphor in which the foundation “grounded” that which was built upon it.  The foundation was the founding stratum; that which was built upon it was what was founded.  As Richard Rorty has often pointed out, both of these tendencies have been radically called into question in the late twentieth century - but in the earlier decades there were hints concerning the demise of this paradigm.  Both Husserl and Heidegger - the latter only in early works - retained the architectonic of foundationalism.

Heidegger, however, as early as Being and Time rejected and inverted the epistemological thrust of Modern philosophy.  And that is precisely where the praxis-perception tradition first takes its turn toward a philosophy of technology.

Following Husserl’s strategy of beginning with that which is more immediate and familiar, Heidegger proposed to examine everydayness for its hidden existential and ontological implications.  When he does so, he concludes that explicit acts of knowledge are not what characterize most human activity.  Rather, our daily action is pragmatically actional; in its ordinariness it is, from the beginning, involved with equipment (technologies):


The kind of dealing which is closest to us is... not a bare perceptual cognition, but rather that kind of concern which manipulates things and puts them to use; and this has its own kind of “knowledge”… Such entities are not thereby objects for knowing the “world” theoretically they are simply what gets used, what gets produced, and so forth. [10]

But this is not just a simple observation concerning what characterizes much or even most human activity.  Rather, it is the first hint of the shift of perspective by which Heidegger inverts the long primacy of objects of knowledge as the primary constituents of the world of transcendental philosophy.  In this tool analysis he argues that not only are such praxes closer to us, but that only by a kind of rupture in this familiar interaction with the environment does something like an “object of knowledge” arise.

Heidegger argues that there are several ways in which humans relate to their environment, and at least two of these may be contrasted.  One such relation is the way humans engage the environment via the ready-to-hand.   This is the pragmatic relation which implicates equipment or tools (technologies).  It is an engaged, but also ordinary, relation to the environment.  The second relation is - in a limited and special sense – “disengaged,” and is essentially the knowledge relation, a relation to that which is present-at-hand.  Heidegger argues that this second way of relating to things in the environment arises from and is dependent upon the priority of the first or pragmatic relation.  (Here can be seen the seeds for the later Husserlian development of the lifeworld.  Indeed, I would argue that the Crisis was a response to Being and Time, an example of an older master learning from a younger colleague to whom, in typical fashion, he does not give credit.)

If this is so, Heidegger must show why the traditions of Modern and Critical philosophy overlook his now inverted set of priorities.  Heidegger’s answer takes the form of a phenomenological archeology, an archeology which retrospectively may seem to lie behind the concepts of both the late (lifeworld) Husserl and again the epistemes of Foucault.

In its turn, Heidegger’s famous tool analysis relies upon Husserl’s earlier analysis of perception.  To perceive something is never to perceive a bare thing, it is always to perceive a thing within and against its background.  Minimally, there is a figure/ground relationship between a thing and its field.  Thus, there is no “thing-in-itself”; there is always only a situated thing.  Heidegger adopted this insight and applied it directly to the tacit activity which occurs in the everyday use of equipment:

Taken strictly, there “is” no such thing as an equipment.  To the Being of any equipment there always belongs a totality of equipment, in which it


can be this equipment that it is.  Equipment is essentially “something-in-order-to”… A totality of equipment is constituted by various ways of the “in-order-to,” such as serviceability, conduciveness, usability, manipulability. [11]

Human pragmatic action, then, has the same structure as phenomenological perception.  But strictly speaking, this perception is not “Cognitive”; it is, rather, actional.  Just as one may not be explicitly aware that anything one sees is necessarily relative to a field - although, after variations upon gestalts are taken, one does become explicitly so aware.  This unawareness also applies to involvements among tools.  One may be only tacitly “aware” that tool-things are what they are by their belonging to some pragmatic context: “As the Being of something ready-to-hand, an involvement is itself discovered only on the basis of the prior discovery of a totality of involvements… In this totality of involvements which has been discovered beforehand, there lurks an ontological relationship with the world.” [12]

It is clear that Heidegger is implying something quite fundamental about the dimension of everyday, technologically implicated praxis.  It is, in the earlier foundationalist scheme, the inversion of knowledge and action of the present-at-hand or epistemological object and the ready-to-hand or equipment object.

Heidegger’s often analyzed example is the hammer.  A hammer is what it is - not first as an epistemological object, a substance which has such and such a weight or color or extension and only later is recognizable as a hammer - rather, it is first an embodiment which extends some human activity into its pragmatic context within an immediate environment.  But not only is this preliminarily counter-intuitive, it is complicated by the way the hammer occurs within the actional context. -

In use, when the hammer is dynamically its being-a-hammer, its cognitive properties are not only secondary, but as an object, the hammer may be said to “withdraw”

The peculiarity of what is proximally ready-to-hand is that, it must, as it were, withdraw in order to be ready-to-hand quite authentically.  That with which our everyday dealings proximally dwell in not the tools themselves.  On the contrary, that with which we concern ourselves primarily is the work. [13]

When hammering, if attention is directed cognitively to or at the hammer, the result is usually the “wrong nail” accident.  In use, tools have their distinctive kind of being in the dynamic sense and they cease to be primarily “known” objects.  The hammer, in use, becomes “transparent.”

There is a second kind of relativity to the tool: Its dynamic being is


contextual - it belongs to a tool-context.  With the hammer, that context includes the nails, the shingles, the carpentry project, etc.  A hammer isolated, alone, or as a “thing-in-itself,” would only vestigially be a hammer.  Heidegger takes this essentially phenomenological insight a considerable step further.  The tool-context contains, at least implicitly, a way of relating to an entire environment and with it an implicit “world.”

Any work with which one concerns oneself is ready-to-hand not only in the domestic world of the workshop but also in the public world.  Along with the public world, the environing Nature is discovered and is accessible to everyone.  In roads, streets, bridges, buildings, our concern discovers Nature as having some definite direction.  A covered railway platform takes account of bad weather, an installation for public lighting takes account of the darkness... In a clock, account is taken of some definite constellation in the world system... When we make use of the clock-equipment, which is proximally and inconspicuously ready-to-hand, the environing Nature is ready-to-hand along with it. [14]

Through the ready-to-hand, the wider environment is encountered.  It is relative to the human world of praxis and perception.  One can easily see that this praxical perceptual dimension of human experience is manifest in some way within all human communities.  It occurs both without science in its contemporary sense as well as within science.  In this respect, “technology” precedes or is broader than an explicit science.  While this implication of Being and Time was not solidified until later, one can appreciate the shift of priorities which appears here.  It is also worth noting that even if tacit, the accounting of the technological context implies a certain “view” of nature.  The technological context is, anticipatorily, a certain possible way of “seeing.”

The Heideggerian inversion replaces the Modern and Critical eras’ “observer” with a pragmatic and existential human “actor.”  This actional being is, moreover, a materialized or existential being.  Finally, this materialized being is also peculiar, in that he or she is technologically involved with and extended into his or her immediate environment.  The Heideggerian existentialization of the human being simultaneously materializes and technologizes action.  It is a distinctly non-Platonic perspective.

Yet, while action may be said to be foundational in the context of the early works, it does not lack implication for knowledge.  Knowledge is both implicated in, and arises from, the praxical:

Our concernful absorption in whatever work-world lies closest to us, has a function of discovering; and it is essential to this function that, depending upon the way in which we are absorbed, those entitles within-the-world which are brought along in the work and with it... remain discoverable


in varying degrees of explicitness and with a varying circumspective penetration. [15]

If the world is ‘discovered’ through the praxical, the narrower sense of knowledge as epistemological knowledge is derivative.  Here the inversion of action and knowledge is taken a step further.  That which is  ready-to-hand (actional) founds that which is present-at-hand (object-like).  The derivation which Heidegger uses to establish this inverted relationship is of interest.  The hammer returns:

The kind of being which belongs to these entities is readiness-to-hand.  But this characteristic is not to be understood as merely a way of taking them, as if we were taking such ‘aspects’ into the ‘entities’ which we proximally encounter... To lay bare what is just present-to-hand and no more, cognition must first penetrate beyond what is ready-to-hand in our concern.  Readiness-to-hand is the way in which entities as they are ‘in themselves’ are defined ontologico-categorically. [16]

So long as one is using the hammer within its work context, the hammer-as-object “withdraws” and the context of relations of the work project may remain both transparent and familiar but tacit.  But what happens if the hammer is missing, or is broken, or ceases to function?  Its phenomenological transparency is then changed, it becomes opaque, and the hammer may become an “object.”  That is to say, as a result of withdrawal, the hammer, even if missing,, becomes not the means of achieving the work but an obstacle to its attainment, that which stands one against one.  Using Kuhn’s language, this would not be a theoretical, but a praxical anomaly.  Heidegger puts it this way:

Anything which is unready-to-hand in this way is disturbing to us, and enables us to see the obstinacy of that with which we must concern ourselves in the first instance before we do anything else.  With this obstinacy, the presence-at-hand of the ready-to-hand makes itself known in a new way as the Being of that which lies before us and calls for our attending to it. [17]

In short, through the praxical anomaly the explicit occasion for the “object” emerge may occur:

When an assignment has been disturbed - when something is unusable for some purpose - then the assignment becomes explicit...  When an assignment to some particular “towards this” has been circumspectly aroused, we catch sight of the “towards this” itself, and along with it everything connected with the work - the whole workshop - as that wherein concern always dwells. [18]

This derivation of the occasion of “knowledge” makes the totality of the objects of knowledge not only derivative but special cases of


human concern and activity.  “Observer” consciousness is a particular development of actional, prior concerns.  Thus, underneath the presumed disinterestedness of observation lies the engagement of praxis.  But this is not yet sufficient to carry the implication of Heidegger’s version of the technology-science relation to its ultimate conclusion.

However, that conclusion was drawn clearly some twenty-five years later in his essay, “The Question Concerning Technology.”  Being and Time, remained, at best, an anticipation of this possible philosophy of technology.  Its possibility was founded upon the inversion of the usual understanding of the epistemological tradition.  But more, the analysis of tools suggested certain paths toward the analysis of human-technology relations, which in turn open the way to a phenomenologically explicit philosophy of technology.

The simplest and most abbreviated way to show how Heidegger solidified his new philosophy of technology in “The Question Concerning Technology” is to employ a simple set of substitutions.  The realm of the praxical - ready-to-hand - is thus the founding stratum of human-world relations in Being and Time, and entails a technological relation to the environment.  The present-at-hand, which falls within science as a mode of knowledge, is founded upon the praxical relation.

What Heidegger does in this essay is invert the usual understanding of the relationship between sciences and technology.  This is to say, if the dominant view claims that technology is applied science, then in Heidegger’s version of the relationship science may be said to be a peculiar kind of “applied” technology.  At the least, this is an inversion of Platonism and may in a curious sense even continue to be called an existential materialism.  Such an inversion specifically understood as a deliberate gestalt shift may first seem counter-intuitive.  Yet if phenomenology is correct that intuitions are constituted, not simply given, then there must be a way to reverse the standard intuition.

First, the Heideggerian inversion: Science, rather than being the origin of technology or technology as the application of science, becomes the tool of technology.

It is said that modern technology is something comparably different from all earlier technologies because it is based upon modern physics as an exact science.  Meanwhile we have come to understand more clearly that the reverse holds true as well: modern physics, as experimental, is dependent upon technical apparatus and upon progress in the building of apparatus. [19]

This is to say that science is necessarily embodied in instrumental technologies.  This is a stronger claim than that made by any of the new philosophers of science.  But that is only a preliminary point; ultimately, Heidegger claims that physics is dependent upon technology in a much


more basic way.  But this may be seen only if both science and technology are discerned to be ways of seeing.

Modern science’s way of representing pursues and entraps nature as a calculable coherence of forces.  Modern physics is not experimental physics because it applies apparatus to the questioning of nature.  The reverse is true.  Because physics, indeed already as pure theory, sets nature up to exhibit itself as a coherence of forces calculable in advance, it orders its experiments precisely for the purpose of asking whether and how nature reports itself when set up this way. [20]

Under and behind the perspective of modern physical science lies a deeper relation to nature or the surrounding world.  This is precisely the dimension of existence previously noted in Being and Time, the praxical relation to nature as the source of both what is to be modified by work and what is to be taken account of in terms of human action and concern.  This praxis, which was already made apparent within everyday life, is now transformed into a particular technological way of seeing.

Because the essence of modern technology lies in enframing, modern technology must employ exact physical science.  Through its doing the deceptive illusion arises that modern technology is applied physical science.  This illusion can maintain itself only so long as neither the essential origin of modern science nor indeed the essence of modern technology is found out through questioning. [21]

For Heidegger, science as a way of seeing is located within and dependent upon the priority of technology as a material, existential, and cultural way of seeing.  Or as Heidegger puts it, technology is a way of revealing: “what has the essence of technology to do with revealing?  The answer: everything.  For every bringing forth is grounded in revealing.  Technology is therefore no mere means.  Technology is a way of revealing.” [22]

In Western culture and history, the trajectory which leads to the interaction of contemporary science and technology relies upon a particular praxical form, a particular perspective of technology.  “The revealing that rules in modern technology is a challenging, which puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it supply energy which can be extracted and stored as such.” [23]

Nature is seen as the inexhaustible source of “resources” which must be obedient to man’s demands, or what Heidegger calls “Standing Reserve” (Bestand).  For purposes here, what is most important to grasp is that Heidegger makes the human “technological” relation to the world a mode of revealing, or a way of seeing.  Technology, in the deepest Heideggerian sense, is simultaneously material-existential and cultural.


Western or modern technology is then the dominant variable in an arrangement of the praxical.  It is a way of seeing embodied in a particular form.

The Heideggerian perspective upon technology, however, has been both misunderstood and ignored.  Bunge’s claim that Heidegger belongs to the field of antitechnologists who reify technology is somewhat misguided.  Heidegger no more reifies technology than Kuhn reifies science, and for the same reasons.  If technology is a historically-culturally grounded way of seeing, as science in one of its manifestations is the particular paradigmatic way of a particular community’s way of seeing, one can say that both have similar structures.  Kuhnian paradigms are clearly not simply individual, even if some individual first proposes a new gestalt.  Nor are Heidegger’s more grandiose “epochs of being” individual.  Both have cultural dimensions which, as culture, situate us and are not something any one can “control” as such.  Culture displays certain recalcitrant features which are nevertheless clearly recognizable as human products.  And that is precisely what Heidegger does with technology.  Western, or as he calls it, Modern Technology, is a particular and historical, but also existential variant upon the human relation with the surrounding world.

Heidegger clearly had misgivings about modern or scientific technology.  His frequently documented preference for handwork and traditional technologies over high-tech and complex technologies reveals a strongly romantic trait running through his work.  But while such a prejudice may indeed damage the Heideggerian stance - as I believe it does - his does not mitigate the early insights involving technology as a way of seeing. [24]

The very characterization of this way of seeing as placing an unreasonable demand upon nature indicates this.  But Heidegger, to that degree, could clearly be in tune with persons concerned about conservation and the preservation of the environment.  In effect, Heidegger was arguing that the way of seeing which is implied in contemporary technology is Baconian.  While this view may have been latent from the beginning, it comes to dominance only in recent times.  Heidegger, mistakenly in my view, held to a strong distinction between modern or scientific-industrial technology and traditional technologies.  His romantic tendencies create a certain blindness for his insight:

Chronologically speaking, modern physical science begins in the seventeenth century.  In contrast, machine-power technology develops only in the second half of the eighteenth century.  But modern technology, which for chronological reckoning is the latter, is, from the point of view of the essence holding sway in it, historically [ontologically] earlier. [25]

Heidegger also held a somewhat nostaligic view which favored older, and presumably simpler, technologies:

The revealing that rules in modern technology is a challenging, which puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it supply energy which can be extracted and stored as such.  But does this hold true for the old windmill as well?  No.  Its sails do indeed turn in the wind: they are left entirely to the wind’s blowing.  But the windmill does not unlock energy from the air currents to store it. [26]

Were this an argument for the use of renewable energy sources, it might have more justifiable sense: But in a chronological or historical sense, the point is simply romantic.  For if the windmill does not store and control energy, the equally ancient and simple technology of the waterwheel does.

Although perhaps not systematized, the view that the earth is some vast, unlimited source of energy and material is also very old in the Western tradition.  Mining, a very ancient technique with technologies, implicitly views the earth in the same way and with environmental results which were apparent in ancient times.  The current environmental crises had plenty of ancient antecedents.

Heidegger’s romanticism is well evidenced in his “The Origin of the Work of Art.”  He chooses as an object a Greek Temple, which, like the piece of equipment, gathers to itself a context of involvements:

Standing there, the building rests on the rocky ground.  This resting of the work draws up out of the rock the mystery of that rock’s clumsy yet spontaneous support. Thanking there, the building withstands the storm raging above it and so first makes the storm itself manifest in its violence… The temple’s firm towering makes visible the invisible space of air.  The steadfastness of the work contrasts with the weaving of the flowing sea, and its own repose brings out the latter’s turmoil. [27]

Although he analyzes a work of art rather than a technology, the same basic phenomenological structure applies.  The temple, in its stability, contrasts with its surroundings and as a focus yields a gestalt which is shaped in a particular way.  It does what the hammer does in revealing a world.  But virtually all Heidegger’s “good” examples are of such artworks, or of farming, or peasant items (Van Gogh’s shoes, the workshop tools, a windmill, etc.), while his “bad” examples are of high technology (nuclear plant, steel bridges, dams on the Rhine).

Donald Hughes, with unintentional respect to Heidegger, makes the following observation:

Those who look at the Parthenon, that incomparable symbol of the achievements of an ancient civilization, often do not see its wider setting.


Behind the Acropolis, the bare dry mountains of Attica show their rocky bones against the blue Mediterranean sky, and the ruin of the finest temple built by the ancient Greeks is surrounded by the far vaster ruins of an environment which they desolated at the same time. [28]

Hughes, too, sees the Parthenon in a set of involvements, a context.  His view is hardly romantic without necessarily denying the underlying phenomenological point about a focus of vision.

My point is this: What Heidegger discerns as the emergence of technology as a mode of revealing is not simply postscientific.  Its roots lie deep within our (and others) histories.  Yet even more recently and with respect to our own historical trajectory, another essentially technological historical development precedes the rise ofscience.  This development has been well documented by Lynn White Jr., the preeminent historian of Medieval technology. -White’s work was directed primarily at a reinterpretation of Medieval life with respect to technology.  His classic Medieval Technology and Social Change appeared the same year as Kuhn’s Structure (1962).  In this book, White argued that specific technological developments implicated social change (stirrup and warfare, horse-drawn plow and agriculture, etc.).  But more importantly, the overall aim of his work was to show that  what amounted to a virtual technological revolution was well underway prior to the Renaissance and the rise of Modern Science.

By looking at the burgeoning technology of the Medieval Period, White paints a historical picture of a rapidly changing Europe, avidly searching for inventions and hungry for power.  This is particularly evident with the newly invented mechanical devices for extracting power from water and wind.  By the year 983, water power was being used for fulling mills; but within a century the Domesday census revealed that there were already 5624 watermills in operation in England (a harbinger of the Industrial Revolution centuries later). [29]   The windmill is referred to as early as 1180 and is common in much of Europe by 1240.  The search for power in the Middle Ages utilized every source.  Inventions from foreign lands were rapidly experimented with in new ways, often hardly practical but rarely overlooked.  This medieval search for power laid the groundwork for later industrial technology, but it was also intricately tied to a search for knowledge.  For example, in 1420 Giovanni da Fontana designed the forerunners of our robot measurers in the form of swimming fish, flying birds, and running rabbits, all linked to a plan to measure surfaces and distances in water, the air, and out-of-the-way places. [30]

During this period, one dramatic technological development which transformed the human perspection of time, was the clock.  In White’s work: “Suddenly, towards the middle of the fourteenth century… [it]


seized the imagination of our ancestors... No European community felt able to hold up its head unless in its midst the planets wheeled in cycles and epicycles, while angels trumpeted, cocks crew, and apostles, kings, and prophets marched and countermarched at the booking of the hours.” [31]  Time and the movement of the spheres were tied to a mechanical device.  Thus by 1382 the universe itself began to be conceived of according to a mechanical metaphor.

It is in the works of the great ecclesiastic and mathematician Nicholas Oresmes, who died in 1382 as Bishop of Lisieux, that we first find the metaphor of the universe as a vast mechanical clock created and set running by God so that “all the wheels move as harmoniously as possible.”  It was a notation with a future: eventually the metaphor became a metaphysics. [32]

His more recent works have taken account of the unique intellectual climate which encourages technological development in Europe.  By the time he publishes “Cultural Climates and Technological Advance in the Middle Ages,” White can claim, “The technological creativity of medieval Europe is one of the resonant facts of history.” [33]  What he finds is that medieval Europe was highly receptive to the use and development of technology and that several factors encouraged this.  The organization and climate for order, stemming from the earlier monastic reforms, readily adapted technology: The clock, used first to establish the order of time; agricultural techniques; and labor-saving machines were all affirmatively valued.  Indeed, his survey of the literature of the time finds few who fail to praise technology.  On the contrary, praise of invention, machines, and their use is the rule.

Prior to our Bishop Oresmes who declares the heavens to be clockwork, one commonly finds praise and prediction concerning a glorious technological future.  “Roger Bacon, 1260, pondering transportation, confidently prophesied an age of automobiles, submarines, and airplanes.” [34]

This fascination and obsession with the technological stands in stark contrast to other areas of Christian civilization.  Whereas the Latin West, from the monasteries on, accepted technology into the precincts of the holy - every cathedral must have a clock - the Eastern regions forbade such inventions in sacred space.  Clocks must remain outside the realm of eternity, thus outside the church in the Orthodox lands. [35]

The positive evaluation of inventiveness, linked to a desire for machine power, was also accompanied by the willingness to adapt ideas and artifacts from any culture.  What became the bow for our string instruments came from Southeast Asia, a Tibetan prayer wheel may have inspired the windmill, and so the list goes.  In short, the Medieval Period was suffused with interest in and desire for the development of technologies.


White points out that by the late Middle Ages, at the dawn of the time of the rise of Modern Science:

About 1450 European intellectuals began to become aware of technological progress not as a project [... this came in the late thirteenth century] but as an historic and happy fact, when Giovanni Tortelli, a humanist at the papal court, composed an essay listing, and rejoicing over, new inventions unknown to the ancients... It was axiomatic that man was serving God by serving himself in the technological mastery of nature.  Because medieval men believed this, they devoted themselves in great numbers and with enthusiasm to the process of invention. [36]

In short, what White establishes is that by 1500, a period whose image is consolidated by the technological genius of da Vinci, there is a self-awareness of technology, the process of invention, and the desire to master Nature through human artifacts.

By the year 1500, Europe already had developed some of the instrumentation so fundamental to the very investigative possibility of science in the modern experimental sense.  Lenses were invented by 1050, compound lenses by 1270, spectacles by 1285, and by 1600 (Galileo’s period), the microscope and the telescope were in use.  Clocks, essential to measurement, began to be developed in the ninth and tenth centuries and by 1502 were widespread from cathedral to town hall to individual use.

On the industrial side, one can note that Europe is by this time covered with wind and water mills; the lowlands were being drained by wind-power, there were railways in mines, and the massive, sophisticated architecture of cathedrals, suspension bridges, and other large projects were part of daily life.  Yet in spite of the now reflective obviousness of this pervasive technological achievement of the Middle Ages, White is still probably right in claiming that “the scholarly discovery of the significance of technological advance in medieval life is so recent that it has not yet been assimilated to our normal image of the period.” [37]

Such an interpretation belies the view accepted by Heidegger that modern science precedes modern technology.  Not only was the technology of Medieval Europe widespread, but it was sophisticatedly “machine-like” in construction.  Systems of wheels, gears, and pulleys and the complexity of machine works needed only the more autonomous power source of the steam engine in order to begin the later Industrial Revolution.  Here the motto that the steam engine had more to do with science than science with the steam engine takes an earlier form.  Optics and the clock also may have had more to do with the rise of science than science with the rise of either of these technologies.  And in that sense, technology - in Heidegger’s term - not only ontologically but also historically precedes what we take as science.


Heidegger’s apparent lack of awareness of the history of technology causes him to overlook the quite dramatic sources which are also part of the way of seeing which belongs to so much Western history.  White, quite correctly, I believe, has traced this much more macroscopic perspective to the Latin West and its dominant religious sources concerning nature.  Today’s close linkage between science and technology could, moreover, be located at the rise of science itself.  No one is surprised by the notion that knowledge is power, a view which finds both its scientific and technological connections in the work of Francis Bacon.

The very first aphorisms in his The Interpretation of Nature are astonishingly modern and, in effect, unite both science and technology in ways which belie the distinctions made later by both philosophy of science and philosophy of technology:

Neither the naked hand nor the understanding left to itself can effect much.  It is by instruments and helps that the work is done, which are as much wanted for, the understanding as for the hand.  And as the instruments of the hand either give motion or guide it, so the instruments of the mind supply either suggestions for the understanding or cautions. [38]

Condensed here is the recognition that science gains both its knowledge and its power from instruments.  But more, Bacon is already arguing that science in some sense is an “instrument of the mind.”  Kowledge-power is a formula which is both descriptive and uniting of the science-technology relation: “Human knowledge and human power meet in one; for where the cause is not known the effect cannot be produced.  Nature to be commanded must be obeyed; and that which in contemplation is as the cause is in operation as the rule.” [39]

What Bacon wanted was precisely the technological science described by Heidegger as the current state of technology as a way of seeing: “Moreover the works already known are due to chance and experiment rather than to sciences; for the sciences we now possess are merely systems for the nice ordering and setting forth of things already invented; not methods of invention or directions for new works.” [40]

The themes of the control of nature through knowledge, bound to the development of instruments (technologies), were thus well recognized and sought after at the outset of the scientific era.  What for Bacon was a hope and vision becomes, with Heidegger, the operational reality of contemporary praxis.

Heidegger provides us then with the thought-provoking inversion of the relationship between science and technology.  Science becomes, in the Heideggerian model, the necessary tool of a technological way of relating to the world.  In essence, this is what Baconian science also proposed; it was as interested in changing the world as in knowing it.


But Bacon, too, has often been overlooked.  Both the Baconian vision and the Heideggerian (as corrected by White) interpretation of the relationships between science and technology open the way to an interface between science and technology.

Such an interface is actually complex and deep.  I contend that contemporary science - in contrast to its ancient forms - is both technologically embodied in its necessary instrumentation and also institutionally embedded in the social structures of a technological society.  Here, however, I shall look primarily at the interface between science and technology in instrumentation. [41]




III. Philosophy of Technology

1. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, p. 115.

2. Ibid., p. 59.

3. Ibid., p. 61.

4. Edmund Husserl, Crisis, pp. 360-61.

5. Ibid., p. 28.

6. Foucault, The Order of Things, p. 132.

7. Ibid., p. 133.

8. Ibid., p. 133.

9. Ibid., p. 133.

10. Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. Edward Robinson and John Macquarrie (New York: Harper and Row, 1962), p. 95.

11. Ibid., p. 97.

12. Ibid., p. 118.

13. Ibid., p. 99.

14. Ibid., pp. 166-81.

15. Ibid., p. 101.

16. Ibid., p. 101.

17. Ibid., p. 102.

18. Ibid., p. 105.

19. Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology,” pp. 295-96.

20. Ibid., p. 303.


21. Ibid., pp. 304-305.

22. Ibid., p. 294.

23. Ibid., p. 296.

24. See my “De-romanticizing Heidegger” (forthcoming).

25. Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology,” p. 304.

26. Ibid., p. 296.

27. Martin Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art,” Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper/Colophon Books, 1971), p. 42.

28. J. Donald Hughes, Ecology in Ancient Civilizations (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1975), p. 1.

29. Lynn White, Jr., Medieval Technology and Social Change (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962), p. 84.

30. Ibid., p. 98.

31. Ibid., p. 124.

32. Ibid., p. 125.

33. Lynn White, Jr., “Cultural Climates and Technological Advance in the

Middle Ages,” Medieval Religion and Technology (Berkeley: University of California

Press, 1978), p. 218.

34. Ibid., p. 219.

35. Ibid., p. 249.

36. Ibid., p. 250.

37. Ibid., p. 228.

38. Francis Bacon, The Works of Francis Bacon, Vol. IV (London: Longman & Co.,

London, 1960), p. 47.

39. Ibid., p. 47.

40. Ibid., p. 48.

41. Although I have continued to treat Heidegger in the narrative of the text as if he were any other philosopher, no one familiar with Heidegger scholarship of the last few years can ignore the darker side of this admittedly deep thinker, i.e., Heidegger’s involvement with National Socialism.  Indeed, Michael Zimmerman’s Heidegger’s Confrontation with Modernity, published in this series last year, may be the most balanced treatment of that painful topic.  In this context, the romanticism I accuse Heidegger of can be seen in the context of the National Socialist view to expand to the romanticism of volk, the German culture, and a preference for the countryside (which, of course, while rhetorically part of the propaganda of National Socialism, was hardly the behavioral outcome of Blitzkrieg.)  A much longer and sustained close but critical stance can be found in my own Technology and the Lifeworld, also in this series last year.