The Ideology of Technology

The technological age has been in gestation since the late Middle Ages, when the Sorbonne professors (Oresme, Buridan), the Catalan Ramón Lull, and the German Nicholas of Cusa directed their quest away from the Scholastic philosophy of essences toward a method that explores relationships. This quest was at the heart of modernity, and for centuries great thinkers subscribed to its objectives, trying to refine method. It followed that in the 17th century the mechanical sciences with their mathematical ideal conquered the foremost minds, lay and ecclesiastical alike. The former (Descartes, Hobbes) saw in method the key to an ideal society (utopia) based exclusively on reason and calculable appetites (social calculus); the latter (Malebranche, Mersenne) saw in the mechanical laws of the universe proof of God's reliability as a master-mechanic, a supreme watchmaker. (Cusanus, two centuries before, had made room for a "geometrical god," which was to inspire Copernicus and Galileo.) Only Pascal, Leibniz, and Bossuet pointed out the other, nonmechanical, dimensions of God and the universe.

These brief preliminaries help us to measure the social—and ideological—impact of technology. It is easy to assert that technology is an assemblage of neutral instruments that provides shortcuts to generally desired goals. If this were the case, if technologues did not aim at organizing a smoothly...

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