On Ethics and Technology

This paper was presented as a panel reaction in a seminar entitled “Ethics and Technology” organized by the UST Department of Philosophy and the Philosophy Circle of the Philippines, held on October 18 at the Rizal Lecture Hall, St. Raymund’s Bldg. University of Santo Tomas, Manila.


Three days ago we remember the birthdate of Friedrich Nietzsche in 1844. Some of us give value to the insightful aphorisms he left us; while some of us here don’t mind, don’t mind aphorisms at all. We feel for those who cared to ask what an aphorism is for and what an aphorism is all about; to whom it is directed; and from whence it came about —so that Nietzsche may be understood. And yet, if there is anything at all that I as a philosophy student would like this symposium to take home, to carefully pick as a fruit from the garden of wisdom and truth, it would be the desire to include into their vocabulary the word: aphorism —so that a fruit, a blessing such as Nietzsche may carry on through our time.

“When someone asks ‘what’s the use of philosophy?’ the reply must be aggressive, since the question tries to be ironic and caustic. Philosophy does not serve the State nor the Church, who have other concerns. It serves no established power.

The use of philosophy is to sadden. A philosophy that saddens no one, that annoys no one, is not philosophy. It is useful for harming stupidity, for turning stupidity into something shameful. . . . Philosophy is at its most positive as a critique, as an enterprise of demystification.” [from Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy]

I have just cited Deleuze. Again to Deleuze: Philosophy is at its most positive as a critique, as an enterprise of demystification. Let us ‘demystify’ technology, as Martin Heidegger already pointed that it is for us to ‘question’ technology, to concern ourselves in the way of thought to reflect upon technology as such, so as along the way towards it [technology] may finally come to meet us.

And as we ‘demystify’ technology, we shall stumble upon Ethics whose coinage is too evasive of its own scope of coverage and delimitations. Ethics unlike technology is more a ‘human’ discourse than a ‘scientific’ discourse. Ethics does not and cannot be calculated and re-presented by way of placing Ethics against some objective criteria. Ethics —unlike technology— does not and cannot admit of numbers and reliable calculations so as to be exact and rendered immobile. Ethics for more than a thousand years now tracing to Plato and Aristotle, a sub-discipline of philosophy. In short, ethics evades science.

Now what makes for a criteria to which the ethical may be gauged, so that issues including the discourse of medicine and nano-technology could finally be seen in light of some conclusive verdict. A given ethical concern should be resolved if and only if it is sanctioned by a legitimating standard, which we may refer to as its legitimation. Think of legitimation as a kind of a meta-discourse which correspondingly sanctions a sub-, or lower-discourse that adheres to it.

Legitimation works by way of sanctioning or even directing ‘moves’ under its order. With legitimation, nothing much would be reeking from the thematics of Ethics and Technology; and yet there is something that seem to disrupt this homeostasis. In philosophical circles this was recently referred to as the crisis of legitimation, a coinage attributable to Jurgen Habermas. Under legitimation crisis things became harder and difficult to appraise. Issues became problematic, as problematic as Ethics and Technology.

For Habermas, the resolution to the crisis of legitimation is Dialogue, or communicative action. Through this dialogue among experts and decision makers a consensus is deemed to be reachable at which end reason may be utilized in scientific controversies.

But the decision makers have a pre-supposed criterion to judging and appraising issues. Decision makers have performativity as a presupposed principle. The issues to be resolved by the consensus should not disturb the present stable system. In other words the (‘moves’) or possible innovations that may arise have to be pre-governed by the criteria of performativity which calculates the cost of a possible innovation in proportion to its results.

With the advent of postmodernist culture, and post-industrialist societies, the idea of a totalizing and hence clear-cut view of the world has come to pass. It is as if the world has become an unworld, to borrow Martin Heidegger’s term, confusions abound like gadgets and discontentment has become parallel to innovations. And pseudo-problems arise enmeshed with those other issues which urgently need man’s resolve.

Jean Francois Lyotard who authored 1979 The Postmodern Condition has, in consonance with Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, to make ourselves at home in our alienated being. And that is a kind of:
(1) proliferating a rich dissension and instabilities as a practice of paralogy;
(2) aestheticizing an attitude of a schizophrenic as a way of surviving capitalism by producing fresh desires;
(3) incredulity toward meta-narratives to pave way to small and temporary strategies.

Nano-technology offers a way out of the old impasse. Indeed. Nano-medicine for one surely aids people to live a life in a sense better than what was in the olden days. Yet in the input-output matrix of performance that guides efficient technology, lies still an earth concealed. I end this paper by invoking an aphorism, this time from Martin Heidegger’s Poetry Language Thought, “We never come to thoughts. They come to us.”

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