Mitcham, C.: "Three Ways of Being-With Technology"

Mitcham, C. (2003). Three Ways of Being-With Technology. In R. Scharff & V. Dusek (Eds.), Philosophy of technology (pp. 490-506). Malden,  MA: Blackwell Publishing. Orig. published 1990.

Identifies issue as "what is primary, humanity or technology?" (490)-- but says non starter. Will focus instead on relationship between humanity and technology, "three ways of being-with technology" (490). 

Will explore three "equiprimordial aspects" of the human condition:

  • the world within which the human finds itself
  • the being-in relationship
  • the being who is in the relationship (490).

Explains Heidegger as stating that  "the worldhood of the world...comes into view through technical engagements" (490). "They are like the human being who notices them in that 'they are there too, and there with it'" (490). Being-with social in character: "it refers to the social character of the world that comes to light through technical practice" (491). 

Argues that other approaches to "being-with" technology starts from Heidegger but doesn't account for H's analysis of "They" and the issue of authenticity in the tech world. Points out that the being-with may seem logical/philosophical, but that's not most people's experience-- few are fully "present" in the sense of critical analysis/awareness. Philosophy, therefore, seems abstract, unrelated, perhaps irrelevent. 

Mitcham proposes format of analysis, developing "historicophilosophical descriptions...of three alternative ways of being-with technology" (491).

Ancient Skepticism

"technology is bad but necessary" (Tower of Babel, Icarus, Prometheus)

Technology may be required,even celebrated, but can just as easily turn against humans (Mitcham states, "severing it [the human] from some larger reality" [491])--perceived as failure of faith, refusal to relun on or trust God/gods.

Roots in early philosophy: Socrates "considered farming, the least technical of the arts, to be the most philosophical of occupations" (491). Believed it taught justice (the farmer can only choose what to plant; cannot force the harvest). Xenophon relates Socrates's distinction between questions of whether to perform and action and how  to perform it (ties in to philosophical/ethical concerns/ good bad/ right wrong). Socrates also privileges higher concerns of ethical and political issues, so humans should not become preoccupied with scientific and tech pursuits. 

Socrates-- what was important was moderation-- an uneasiness with technology as it could lead to conspicuous consumption (492). Under affluence, people get used to ease, will soon choose less over more perfect, lower over higher. Explains this is most true with medicine (think quality vs. quanitity of life). 

Another example of tension between politics and technology found in Plato: generally, danger of change threatens stability of society, undermines authority, can lead to violence. "Wariness of technological activity on moral and political grounds..." (493). Technai "cannot bring about a conversion or emancipation of the mind from the cares and concerns of the world" -- always oriented to "remedy the defects of nature, is always toward the lower or the weaker" (493). (Compare with eros--seeks good, strives for transcendence.)

Aristotle-- more metaphysical. "reality or being resides in particulars" (493). "The reality of all natural entities is dependent on an intimate union of form and matter, and the telos or end determined thereby. The problem with artifacts is that they fail to achieve this kind of unity at a very deep level" (493). Aristotle differentiates between arts of cultivation (medicine, agriculture) and arts of construction or domination ("arts that bring into existence things that nature would not" [493]). Mitcham illustrates difference by comparing handcrafted ceramic plate and Tupperware. 

Plato-- artifice is less real than nature. Physics-- Socrates says natural bed, made by god, is primary reality; beds made in imitation by artisans secondary reality, and portrayals of beds by artists tertiary.Techne is at best 2nd or 3rd generation.

Metaphysics-- criterion of judgment is proportion or beauty. Aesthetics. "insofar as technical objects or activities fail to be subject to the inner guidance of nature (phusis), nature must be brought to bear upon them consciously, from the outside (as it were) by human beings. Again, the tendence of contemporary technical creations to bring about environmental problems or ecological disorders to some extent confirms the premodern point of view" (494).


Ancient critique is a fourfold argument:

  1. "the will to technology or the techological intention often involves a turning away from faith or trust in nature or providence
  2. technical affluence and the concomitant processes of change tend to undermine individual striving for excellence and societal stability
  3. technological knowledge likewise draws the human being into intercourse with the world and obscures transcendence
  4. technical objects are less real than the objects of nature" (494).

Application: view dominated Western culture until end of Middle Ages. Mitcham locates this in Judeo-Christian-Islamic view of vanity of human knowledge/ worldly wealth and power. 

"Guilty until proven innocent"-- "uneasy being-along-side of and working-to-keep-at-arms-length" (494).

Enlightenment Optimism

innocent until proven guilty.

Bacon--Mitcham identifies as "an epistemological pragmatist. What is true is what works" (497). Human actions should be guided by divine counsel, but God has given humans a "mandate" to alleviate suffering. Adam/Eve expulsed not for natural knowledge, but pursuing moral knowledge (good and evil). Human being are to be creators. "The contemporary theological notion of the human as using technology to prolong creation or cocreate with God depends precisely on the reinterpretation of Genesis adumbrated by Bacon" (495).

Influence of Bacon-- D'Alembert's Encyclopedia (1751) notes prejudice against mechanical arts b/c associated with lower classes-- yet these arts are necessary for survival.

Kant-- Mitcham claims "Nature and reason, if not God, commanded humanity to pursuue technology; the human being is redefined not as homo sapiens but as homo faber. Technology is the essential human activity...Kant explicitly proclaims, 'Enlightenment is man's release from his self-incurred tutelage'" (496).

Bacon takes different tack with moral issue-- printing, gunpowder, compass have done more to benefit humanity than all philosophical debates and reforms throughout history (close para). More noble to extend power over the universe. Rejects that tech is corrupting.

Bacon's Enlightenment followers take further, argue for tech's positive effects on morals. 

Hume-- technical arts beneficial (luxury adds to happiness of the state). Science 'galvanizes' arts and vice versa, knowledge and industry increase. More arts and sciences advance, 'the more sociable men become'-- tech promotes civil peace b/c siphons off energy. 

(In Enlightenment view) "Technology is an intellectual as well as a moral virtue, because it is a means to the acquisition of true knowledge...true knowledge is acquired only by a close intercourse with things themselves" (497).

Metaphysical rejection of natural teleology--pursuit of final causes 'corrupts' unless in relation to human action. Doesn't make ontological distinction between nature and artifice. 

"Metaphysics supports volition" (497). No technics to help nature realize its internal reality; people free to pursue power (close para). --> Man is a machine.


Being-with technology, for Enlightenment/Modern view:

  1. "the will to technology is ordained for humanity by God or by nature
  2. technological activity is morally beneficial becase, while stimulating human action, it ministers to physical needs and increases sociability
  3. knowledge acquired by a technical closure with the world is truer than abstract theory
  4. nature is no more real than--indeed it operates by the same principles as--artifice" (498).

Romantic Uneasiness

f/x of industrial revolution (cultural / social disruption, pollution)

more critical of technology; Mitcham argues that romanticism is a form of questioning. 

"With the omantics the will to technology either remains grounded in nature or is cut free from all the extrahuman determination...the most that seems to be able to be argued is that the technological intention, that is the will to power, should not be pursued to the exclusion of other volitional options--or that it should be guided by aesthetic ideals" (498-99).

Lots of Wordsworth. Didn't see technical arts as "benificent," but maintains uneasiness. Technology is an extension of nature, can be good, or lead to sublime (terror). Morally ambiguous. 

Rousseau: "as the conveniences of life increase, as the arts are brought to perfection, and luxury spreads, true courage flags, the virtues disappear" (qtd. on 500). Money doesn't buy morals. But destruction better than inaction. Like Bacon, criticizes moral philosophy as outgrowth of human pride; praises those who act decisively. Actions, not words. Differs from Bacon that "even scientific rationality, through the alientation of affection, can often weaken the determination and commitment needed for decisive action" (500). Mitcham states this is the romanticism paradox: turning against technology in the name of the ideals at the heart of technology (500). 

Milton id's Satan with mining, forging, smelting. Blake adds Newtonian science to Milton's Satan list. (echoes in mills and factories). 

"A visionary, imaginative--not to say utopian--socialism is the romantic answer to the romantic critique of the moral limitations of technology" (501). Frankenstein, industrialization (undermines affection). Reason becomes a "mind-forged manacle" (Blake, qtd. on 501). 

Nature is the key to artifice...; the machine a diminished form of life, not life a complex machine" (501).

Nature and artifice best denoted by "pleasing fear" -- the sublime (analagous to terror).


Critical uneasiness

  1. "the will to technology is a necessary self-creative act, which nevertheless tends to overstep its rightful bounds
  2. technology makes possible a new material freedom but alienates from the decisive strength to exercise it and creates wealth while undermining social affection
  3. scientific knowledge and reason are criticized in the name of imagination
  4. artifacts are characterized more by process than by structure and invested with a new ambiguity associated with the category of the sublime" (502).


Notes four aspects of technology: volition, activity, knowledge, and object (502).

"In Heidegger's existential analysis there is a paradox that the personal that is revealed through the technical is also undermined thereby. The use of tools is with others and in a world of artifacts owned by others, but the others easily become treated as all the same and thus become, as he calls it, a They-mass society" (503).

"The paradox of the romantic way of being-with technology is that, despite an intellectual cogency and expressive power, it has yet to take hold as a truly viable way of life" (503).