Democratic Theory and Technological Society

By Richard B. Day; Ronald Beiner et al. | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

Political deliberation and political action require, at the very minimum, a sense of efficacy, the possibility of controlling human affairs. Aristotle remarks in the Nicomachean Ethics. "Practical wisdom [is concerned with] matters about which deliberation is possible ... no one deliberates about things that cannot be other than they are, nor about things that are not directed to some end, an end that is a good attainable by action" (11416812). That is, to the extent that we are confronted, in our lives, with a feeling of inexorable fatality, political deliberation is meaningless. Politics can only address itself to contingencies, things that could be otherwise; to conceive of ourselves as enmeshed in necessary and irreversible processes is to assume that politics is obsolete, no longer relevant to the direction of human affairs. Yet it is just this sense of contingency highlighted by Aristotle that we today can no longer count upon. Technology promises efficacy, promises to give us control over our own affairs. But its effect upon us, as social and political beings, is the very opposite. It removes not only the sense of efficacy but real efficacy, not efficacy as technological beings to be sure (beings who shape and reshape nature), but our efficacy as social and political beings (that is, beings who try to shape and define our own purposes). We are debarred from the exercise of Aristotelian phronesis, the practical wisdom by which we discern worthy ends of human life, because the commitment to technological goals is so deeply entrenched that the question of the good has become a closed question. As Hans Jonas writes, "science, with its application governed solely by its own logic, does not really leave the meaning of happiness open: it has prejudged the issue, in spite of its own value-freedom. The automatism of its use ... has set the goal of happiness in principle: indulgence in the use of things. [Hence] the direction of all effort

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