Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Technology and the Possibility of Tyranny

In his discussion of the problems in the historical approach (historicism), Leo Strauss makes the following point on Aristotle’s view that technology should be under moral and political control (Natural Right and History by Leo Strauss; Page 23):
It is obviously untrue to say, for instance, that Aristotle could not have conceived the injustice of slavery, for he did conceive of it. One may say, however, that he could not have conceived of a world state. But why? The world state presupposes such a development of technology as Aristotle could never have dreamed of. That technological development, in its turn, required that science be regarded as essentially in the service of the "conquest of nature" and that technology be emancipated from any moral and political supervision. Aristotle did not conceive of a world state because he was absolutely certain that science is theoretical and that the liberation of technology from moral and political control would lead to disastrous consequences: the fusion of science and the arts together with the unlimited or uncontrolled progress of technology has made universal and perpetual tyranny a serious possibility. Only a rash man would say Aristotle's view—that is, his answers to the question of whether or not science is essentially theoretical and whether or not technological progress is in need of strict moral or political control—has been refuted. But whatever one might think of his answers, certainly the fundamental questions to which they are the answers are identical with the fundamental questions that are of immediate concern to us today. Realizing this, we realize at the same time that the epoch which regarded Aristotle's fundamental questions as obsolete completely lacked clarity about what the fundamental issues are.
Strauss goes on to reject radical historicism by noting that history seems to prove “that all human thought, and certainly all philosophic thought, is concerned with the same fundamental themes or the same fundamental  problems, and therefore that there exists an unchanging framework which persists in all changes of human knowledge of both facts and principles…. If the fundamental problems persist in all historical change, human thought is capable of transcending its historical limitation or of grasping something trans-historical.” This, I think, is a clear articulation of Strauss’s dialectical and skeptical philosophy.

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