Reading Comprehension 017


What Heidegger called "The Question of Technology" has a peculiar status in the academy today. After World War II, the humanities and social sciences were swept by a wave of technological determinism. If technology was not praised for modernizing us, it was blamed for the crisis of our culture. Whether interpreted in optimistic or pessimistic terms, determinism appeared to offer a fundamental account of modernity as a unified phenomenon. This approach has now been largely abandoned for a view that admits the possibility of significant "difference," i.e. cultural variety in the reception and appropriation of modernity. Yet the breakdown of simplistic determinism has not led to quite the flowering of research in philosophy of technology one might hope for.

It is true that cultural studies and constructivist sociology and history have placed particular technologies on the agenda in new ways, but curiously, the basic questions of modernity posed by an earlier generation of theorists are rarely addressed in terms of the general problematic of technology. Where the old determinism over-estimated the independent impact of the artifactual on the social world, the new approaches have so disaggregated the question of technology as to deprive it of philosophical significance. It has become matter for specialized research (1). And for this very reason, most scholars in the humanities and social sciences now feel safe in ignoring technology altogether, except of course when they turn the key in the ignition. Meanwhile, those who continue the earlier interrogation of technology have hesitated to assimilate the advances of the new technology studies.

This is an unfortunate state of affairs. The currently fashionable multiculturalism cannot simply be taken for granted so long as the earlier tradition's expectation of convergence in a singular model of modernity is not persuasively refuted. According to that tradition technology will continue to affect more and more of social life, and less and less will remain free of its influence to constitute a cultural difference. Thus the demonstration, in the course of endlessly repeated case histories, that modern scientific-technical rationality is not the trans-cultural universal it was thought to be may advance the argument, but does not settle the question. The persistance of cultural particularity in this or that domain is not especially significant. Perhaps the Japanese and the Americans will disagree on the relative merits of sushi and hamburgers for generations to come, but if that is all that remains of cultural difference it has really ceased to matter.

The new picture emerging from social studies of science and technology gives us excellent reasons for believing that rationality is a dimension of social life more similar than different from other cultural phenomena. Nevertheless, it is implausible to dismiss it as merely a Western myth and to flatten all the distinctions which so obviously differentiate modern from premodern societies (2). There is something distinctive about modern societies captured in notions such as modernization, rationalization, and reification. Without such concepts, derived ultimately from Marx and Weber, we can make no sense of the historical process of the last few hundred years. Yet these are "totalizing" concepts that seem to lead back to a deterministic view we are supposed to have transcended from our new culturalist perspective. Is there no way out of this dilemma? Must we choose between universal rationality and cultural variety? Or more accurately, can we choose between these two dialectically correlated concepts that are each unthinkable without the other?



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Q1 Your answer was wrong for this question. The correct answer is: b

Q2 Your answer was wrong for this question. The correct answer is: d

Q3 Your answer was wrong for this question. The correct answer is: c

Q4 Your answer was wrong for this question. The correct answer is: d

Q5 Your answer was wrong for this question. The correct answer is: b

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