The Conversion of Nature and Technology (3)

This is the third in a series of five posts under the same title—a series consisting of a short text I wrote and published more than forty years ago. For more information, see the opening of the first post in the series.

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At this point, two difficulties with Husserl's account begin to make themselves felt. The first is the ambiguity of Husserl's conception of the relationship between science and the life-world. The second is Husserl's limitation of “science” to that science which belongs to the classical conception of Reason, to which Husserl would have us return.

Concerning the first difficulty, if it is true that the transformation to the theoretical attitude alters the entire meaning of human existence, including praxis as well as theory, then what is involved here is not merely the constitution of intentional structures within or upon the foundation of the life-world, but a fundamental transformation of the life-world itself. With the emergence of the theoretical attitude, as Husserl himself insists, the concrete life of man in the life-world itself becomes subject to ideal objectivities which, as infinite tasks to be realized, provide both the foundation and the end for man's activities. Ideal objectivity now becomes both arche and telos of human existence, and the ideal of universal science comes to provide the pattern and context for the elaboration of that existence.

Thus, insofar as the transformation to the theoretical attitude is a trans formation of the life-world itself, the project of the phenomenological analysis of science cannot be adequately formulated solely in terms of uncovering, beneath science, the pre-scientific structures which provide the intentional foundation for science itself. Instead, an adequate phenomenological analysis would also have to provide descriptions of how ideal objectivities, once they are “constituted,” come to be manifest in the life-world as already given, prior to acts of constitution, and as bestowing meaning on human existence at the level of the life-world itself. This aspect is not a matter of tracing the intentional genesis of science from pre-scientific structures of the life-world, but is already encompassed in the task of describing the fundamental modalities of the life-world itself.

A major facet of the transformation of the life-world itself with the emergence of the theoretical attitude is a dislocation of the dimension of the sustaining, overwhelming, and ineluctable, the dimension once experienced as nature. For the theoretical attitude, nature is no longer that dimension. Instead, nature is now experienced as the “physical,” as distinct from the “metaphysical.” Physical nature is experienced as a reflection of, or an approximation to, or a striving toward, or a degeneration from, the dimension of that which ineluctably sustains and overwhelms man. This dimension, in turn, comes to be identified with the metaphysical—whether in the form of Platonic Ideas, the Aristotelian Unmoved Mover, or the Medieval Divine Creator.

Within the theoretical attitude nature ceases to be the sphere of the inclusively non-human, which has room both for the less-than-human and for the more-than-human, and which, even as non-human, pervades, sustains, and yet threatens man. Physical nature becomes, at best, a mediator between man and the metaphysical (the dimension of the sustaining, over-whelming, and ineluctable), or, at worst, a temptation to man to lose him-self by losing his relationship to the metaphysical. Accordingly, societal institutions and individual habits are no longer connections between man and nature, but between man and the metaphysical and these connections to the metaphysical only at times run through nature.

Although, under the theoretical attitude, the dimension of the sustaining, overwhelming and ineluctable has been dislocated from nature to the metaphysical, still, societal institutions serve to establish a relationship between man and that dimension. The way to that which inescapably sustains and yet overwhelms man is not yet blocked. However, with the emergence of a new transformation of basic attitude (and, hence, of the life-world itself), a transformation beginning with the Renaissance and the birth of modern science, and which might be called the transformation to the “technological attitude,” a more nearly irreparable dislocation occurs of that dimension which nature once was. Consideration of this new attitude involves reflection on the second difficulty with Husserl's account of the relationship between science and the life-world: the identification of science and the classical Ideal of Reason.

Although Husserl himself emphasizes, and attempts to clarify, the fundamental differences between modern and ancient science, he continues to view both in terms of the subordination of the nature experienced in the naive life-world to the constituted nature of ideal objectivities — of “things-in-themselves” and “truth-in-itself.” However, the practice of con-temporary science tends to negate this view.

In its approach to things and beings, contemporary science has turned away from the classical “objectifying” point of view, which leads to the questions “How things and beings are?” and “Why are they as they are?” in the perspective of these two questions, nature in its laws presents itself as the correlate of our searching intention, that can be thematized according to the pattern of our cognitive system and appropriated by man as belonging to his horizon [. . .]. Contemporary scientists, on the contrary, are suspicious of the construction of concepts and other artifacts of mind, and want more the mastery of nature than the truth [. . .] the scientist [. . .]attempts to grasp the inner workings of nature, instead of a picture of “nature,” by entering the game of nature itself. Recent natural science devised models, matrices and other devices as means of reaching below the basic thematizing and reconstructing media of our cognitive system, in order to gain access to the functioning of nature manipulative of its elements according to its own rules of operations.*

Within the technological attitude, as a transformation of the theoretical attitude, nature is no longer subordinated to the theoretically constituted ideal objectivities “things-in-themselves” and “truth-in-itself,” and practical life is no longer subordinated to values constituted as ideal objectivities. Instead, nature, practical life, and theoretization, all three, are subordinated to the desire of “mastery.”

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To be continued.


* Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, “Cosmos, Nature and Man and the Foundations of Psychiatry,” in Heidegger and the Path of Thinking, edited by John Sallis (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, Pittsburgh, 1970), pp. 217-218.