Blind reason, Leibniz and the age of cybernetics

I would like to introduce an article resulting from a talk I recently held. I had the chance to speak at a conference for young researchers in philosophy held at the Université Paris-Est Créteil. The global frame was the criticism of ratio and rationalism during the 20th century. In order to illustrate such a criticism, I tackled the idea of blind reason in an article entitled ‘La Raison aveugle ? L’époque cybernétique et ses dispositifs‘, which I made available online (PDF file).

Brief summary

In a late interview, Martin Heidegger states that philosophy is bound to be replaced by cybernetics. Starting from this contestable point of view, I try to describe the value of the cybernetics paradigm for philosophy of technology.

I already mentioned the work of Gilbert Hottois on this blog (see the philosophy of technology category). In this article, I shed light on the relationship between what Hottois calls ‘operative techno-logy’ (in a functional sense) and the origins of this notion, dating back, according to him, to the calculability of signs by Leibniz, who writes about this particular type of combinatorial way to gain knowledge that it is ‘blind’ (cognitio caeca vel symbolica).

On one hand, that which …

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Lord Kelvin, Bachelard and Dilbert on Measurement

Lord Kelvin

Here is what William Thompson, better known as Lord Kelvin, once said about measure:

« I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely in your thoughts advanced to the state of Science, whatever the matter may be. »
William Thompson, Lecture on “Electrical Units of Measurement” (3 May 1883)


I found this quote in an early essay of the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard on what he calls “approached knowledge” (Essai sur la connaissance approchée, 1927). For him, measures cannot be considered for themselves, and he does not agree with Thompson on this point. According to him, the fact that a measure is precise enough gives us the illusion that something exists or just became real.

I quote in French, as I could find a English edition nearby, the page numbers refer to the book published by Vrin.

« Et pourtant, que ce soit dans la mesure ou dans une comparaison qualitative, il …

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Approaches to philosophy of technology

I held a presentation last week at the Easterhegg conference in Hamburg, which aim was to give a few insights into this topic and a few notions that could explain aspects of the hacker culture.

My talk was entitled Denkansätze zur Philosophie der Technik, as it dealt with approaches to philosophy of technology.

I started with a historical description of technology as a given fact that no one puts into question, then I spoke from the contempt regarding technicians and the difficulty to consider philosophy of technology as a subfield of philosophy.

The main part of my presentation consisted of a few main themes like the critical perspective on technology and the political dimension of technology assessment. I also suggested a typology of tools and instruments/devices grounding on the work of Gilbert Simondon. Then I briefly described the notion of technoscience.

At last, I presented a broader idea of technology, including for instance government technologies through apparatuses as described by Michel Foucault and more recently Giorgio Agamben, taking the position paper of the German CSU-party as an example.

There is a paper in German regarding this talk that may be found online. Here are the references I used …

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Philosophy of technology, how things started: a typology

In my previous post, I presented a few references. I went on reading books and articles on this topic, and I am now able to sort them in several kinds of approaches.

This is mostly thanks to these books in French on philosophy of technology:

  • G. Simondon, L’invention dans les techniques : cours et conférences, Paris: Seuil, 2005.
  • G. Hottois, Philosophies des sciences, philosophies des techniques, Paris: Odile Jacob, 2004.
  • J. Goffi, La philosophie de la technique, Presses Universitaires de France, 1988.
  • G. Hottois, Le signe et la technique : la philosophie à l’épreuve de la technique, Paris: Aubier, 1984.

In his second lesson at the Collège de France (Philosophies des sciences, philosophies des techniques, p. 94-118), Gilbert Hottois tries to provide a state-of-the-art in philosophy of technology: he describes several traditions and backgrounds. Here is how things started:

  1. A German origin of the reflexion on technology (Ernst Kapp, Friedrich Dessauer) which is mostly analyzed by engineers who shed a new light on this topic and try to think it as a system. The VDI (Verein Deutscher Ingenieure) continues this tradition. From 1956 onwards, this association organizes a series of meetings entitled Man and Technology which notably sees the question …
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Philosophy of technology: a few resources

As I once studied philosophy (back in the classes préparatoires), I like to keep in touch with this kind of reflexion. Moreover, in this research field where everything is moving very fast, it is a way to find a few continuities and to ground the peculiar questions regarding the analysis of language in a more conceptual framework.

Here is a list of texts available on the Internet (some of them partly) that seem important to me. Some are written in English, some in French or in German, as I chose the original ones.

It does not have the pretension to be complete ! Other references may follow.

  • Denis Diderot wrote the article Art in the Encyclopédie. It is a state of the art introducing the word and its different meanings (which by that time included arts, techniques and technology). Diderot is speaking in favor of the techniques developed by the craftsmen and give an account of the ideas of the time about liberal arts, theory and usage.
    The whole text was made available by the ARTFL Encyclopédie Project.

    Les Artisans se sont crus méprisables, parce qu’on les a méprisés; apprenons - leur à mieux penser d’eux - mêmes: c’est le …

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