Program for a Critique of Technological Reason

François Laruelle, trans. Sylvia

from: Le Cahier (Collège international de philosophie), No. 1 (octobre 1985), pp. 119-29

This program summarizes two years of conferences at the Collège International de Philosophie (1983-1985) and a project for a supplementary year.


I. The Project of a Critique of Technological Reason

            It supposes at least two tasks be replenished. We give these two tasks in a “pedagogical”, i.e., still philosophical order. The real order would have wanted us to start with the second. But is the proper of a critique, exactly, above all if it is presented as an autonomous and first operation (that it is within philosophy, that it is not quite there anymore, is what we suggest) to part, for reasons that are also that of pedagogy, from experience, here: that of “the” technology and technological rationality, to analytically go back up to its transcendental conditions of reality.

            The first task: a description of the technological field itself, i.e., of techno-logies, or different forms of technological rationality. This description is an absolutely necessary and preliminary task, we cannot be content to report on technological reason in general without knowing if such a unitary reason exists or if it is not itself a fantasy. It corresponds—every proportion kept—to the transcendental dialectic of the Critique of Pure Reason. This technological field is what we call the Nouvel Esprit Technologique (NET) for reasons given later.

            The second, in reality the first and principal: a description of the essence of technics, a rigorous science, theoretically and transcendentally founded on technical practice. I suggest doing it in the frame of the One rather than of Being. To take a point of comparison: it corresponds to the analytic of truth in the Critique of Pure Reason, i.e., that it describes the positive conditions of the truth or the means of operating the critique of technological rationality and denouncing its congenital illusion to its puissance to exhaust the essence of the real, to being all of reality (the ideology of the All-machine, of the All-technology).

            A critique of technological Reason consists in “intersecting” these two descriptions and in measuring the first to the criteria of the second.

            This is evidently the principal. It is the transcendental re-foundation of the anti-philosophical skepticism that vehicles triumphant technology. The NET would already be precisely this non philosophical description of technological Reason, a description made necessarily with the hinter-thought of its critique and as a function of it. Briefly, the idea of “techno-logical Reason” is only evident for philosophy, it is no longer it for us and our problem is rather to found it in a mode both scientific and transcendental and to tear it from its unitary fantasies.

            It is in effect impossible to lead this description techno-logics since the interior of a pretended unique technological field, by pretending to be “objective”—philosophy is not science: it cannot be it—and contenting itself with “flying over” this field. It is the analytic of the truth of technical essence (the first real moment) that is the authentic point of view from where the different possible logics of technics can be written. Here we exclude two things:

  • The historizing and sociologizing description, always indifferent, of different logics of technics. The plurality of philosophical logics of technics that we claim and that constitute the field of technological rationality, is not at all the indifferent plurality of the historian or sociologist of techniques, the historian of the spontaneous philosophies of technologists, and spontaneous technologies of philosophers.

  • The description, enclosing in itself, of a unique logic of technics, i.e., a description and a critique or else “Nietzschean” or else “Platonic”, or else “Heideggerian”, etc. of technics: we struggle against the philosophical monocentric, that consists, moreover according to philosophy’s ordinary gesture, in projecting onto technics a philosophical point of view, and, consequently, only one (be it Nietzschean for example).

Therefore, we will not proceed empirically from economic, political, ethical, social, physico-biological etc. givens to “new technologies”. Nor even logically = philosophically, since these logics are rather what a critique should describe as its material. But from the real essence—theoretical and practical—of techno-logics, which is our transcendental point of view on these techno-logics, i.e., on the description of the NET. It is what permits the description, if not the analytic, of technological categories. What Reason for technology, what modes of thought, what technological logic? Which a prioris? Is there a specific technological rationality? And it is it that apperceives within this techno-logical rationality the equivalent of a dialectic, of a critique showing why, regarding technology, philosophy, above all the classical, but the contemporary also, is not pertinent, without validity.


II. The Nouvel Esprit Technologique (NET) and the Problem of its Critique

            We should firstly define a certain “ideological” context, a certain milieu of exchanges between techniques, the positive knowledges consecrated to them, and finally philosophy. This kind of fuzzy nebula, this field of the all-technological, we will call the NET for reasons that will be said. Philosophy is obligated, like every knowledge, to identifying and delimiting (if it is possible) its object. Now, this cannot be “simple” technics or techniques supposed existing “in itself”, these probably do not exist, but the blends, mixeds, or combinations of technics, science, philosophy—what we call the “techno-logics”. In any event, the old distinction must be abandoned: technics would be the thing itself (material, force, instruments, machines, arts, etc.), technology would the knowledge (science, doctrine, description) of this thing. Because, henceforth, the “thing itself” is knowledge, logos. What is important is the combinations of technics and “science”—it is technology, the techno-logical in every technique. Techniques have always been techno-logies. In a general manner, we have probably crossed the threshold of the epistemological and philosophical unblocking of a thought of technology as such. Economic, scientific, political conditions (cf. the grand ideological project of the regime: the synthesis of Culture, of Training [Formation], and New Technologies…) are condensed and concentrated, overdetermined, to give birth, not only to technologies themselves, but to this Nouvel Esprit Technologique that is constituted as our present ideological horizon (for how long?). To take up two old types of formulation again, we will say that technology has relayed linguistics as pilot-science or that it has become the principal productive force. This is at least what draws our conjuncture.

            Among all of these conditions, the principal or determinant one is probably the massive investment of techniques by the exact sciences. We could emit the hypothesis of a changing of terrain or of a graft of technology onto science as onto its principal productive force. If a critique of technological Reason has always been necessary, it becomes so today and forms a moment of our conjuncture because the technologies have acquired another dimension, that of contemporary science. There is, perhaps, a simple possibility inscribed in whatever elementary technology, but this is not at all one condition among others. The graft of technics onto science, indeed the passage from a philosophical form of techno-logies to their scientific or dominant scientific form, is not a continuous phenomenon, but marks a veritable rupture or break that comes to upset until the problem of rapports of philosophy to technics. If there is a threshold of emergence of technology or a technological break in relation to techniques (not only a threshold of reaffirmation of technology as such and being historically produced as our conjuncture), it is because the contemporary exact sciences have taken the relay and the that techniques, in lieu of simply prolonging the organic and vital adaptation of the individual body, are grafted onto the project of modern science and have thus differed (displaced? relayed?) adaptation. That they are massively dominated and conveyed by mathematics, physics, and biology, makes one ask if this domination has modified the very concept of techno-logy, beyond every intensification of technical potentialities. If finally, we respond to this question in the affirmative, moreover to our surprise as a philosopher, since an unforeseen effect of our research must be seen there, all of the problem is of knowing to whom we are indebted for this surprise: to philosophy, or, indeed rather, to science itself?

            The problem is therefore of knowing if these determinations make all equivalent, if the philosophical logos and the scientific “logos” are necessary in the same manner and in the same functions to constitute technics and the NET, and even if the sciences are still modes of the logos. In the NET, the task of critique (would it still be purely philosophical?) would be to “decide” the respective parts of techniques, sciences, and “ideological” (in the broadest sense) values and positions. And, at first, it would be of asking to what extent such a sharing is possible or not, or under what form inside these techno-logical complexes and their system?

            A critique of the NET or technological Reason is therefore not evident, since it is style itself and the fundaments of the critical operation that are in play. Will it be made on a philosophical basis—but is this still capable of rendering justice to science, even when it wants to be absolute or “transcendental” (Descartes, Husserl) science? Or indeed on a scientific basis, but such that this is capable of founding itself, that there is a “transcendental science” that is not an avatar of the philosophical logos, a science in the rigorous sense of the term, very close to the sciences said “empirical”, but also capable of auto-founding like philosophy itself albeit on a non philosophical mode?

            The distant hypothesis that already guides this description of the NET and evidently the critique of it is in effect that reflection on the Sciences, the Techniques, and Philosophy ordinarily encumbered by a Greco-occidental presupposed in fund that is a unitary presupposed: we postulate the unity, be it distant, of science and philosophy, the unity of the logos and its modes, of knowledge and the manners in which knowledge is said: a distant unity, lost and torn apart; a unity to be retrieved in a philosophical foundation, legitimation, or critique of science, etc. We have, on the contrary, been conducted to postulate an irreducible duality of the philosophical logos and scientific knowledge and, consequently,—the two things make a system—the possibility for science to found itself, to be legitimated, and critiqued without running back to the good offices of philosophy. We postulate—above all here, where it cannot be a question of showing it in reality—a particular science, rigorous in its order, but transcendental or “auto”-founding and capable carrying out a critique of technologies. An evidently non logical, non philosophical critique. On the “scientific” interest of this non “exact” science, that only takes up Husserl’s project again by definitively expelling it outside of philosophy—on its non vicious, non circular, non reflexive character, on its naivety, its positivity, and their scientific value, etc. we will later make some suggestions. But we seek to progressively show the possibility of this “human” science of techniques, that is at the same time a real critique of techno-logics and of the NET. In the “STS” tripod, we agree to constitute techniques in the object of a “social science”: of this particular and transcendentally founded social science, not of “social sciences” such as they exist. From this point of view, STS is a local condensation, a point of effervescence in the nebulous NET, and all of our problem is to theoretically establish between these three components a really scientific or theoretically founded rapport rather than this Brownian effervescence that would permit philosophers to come perturb the movement a little more.

            Our problem is not to reconciliate the opposites of “empirical” science and “transcendental” philosophy, to opposes them a new time (the naivety of technologists, their philosophical insufficiency, the forgetting of the question, of essence, etc.), to reunite them or indeed to differ them by bearing them beyond their thus displaced closure. It is to place us at the precise point where a science of technology but an intrinsically transcendental science, not a Husserlian or Cartesian reconciliation of science and philosophy, becomes possible or is real. The rock or fundament of this science of technics (that is neither a philosophy of technique, nor its avatars), we can only indicate here: the One rather than Being. We will come back here, nevertheless. It is evident that it has to do with, for example, the Cartesian Cogito and the transcendental Husserlian Ego, but it is no longer about these two, still philosophical, forms of this principle.

            We cannot already empirically confront, term by term, philosophical categories and “equivalent” concepts utilized by the technologists to define their object and their field of research. This work would suppose an itself philosophical condition: the putting in parentheses or the suspense of an impossibility of principle to be directly opposed, bi-univocally, socio-technological concepts (those of STS for example) and philosophical concepts. This impossibility holds to the specific dimension of the philosophical that is both of retreat or recoil and of conditioning or possibility. This dimension is evidently the major obstacle to a practical intervention, empirically efficacious, of philosophy. It transforms this retreat, this distance, in order that it longer be the means of a domination and a violence and that it permits an efficacious investment. It is an “overhaul” of the Greco-occidental problematic and its “unitary” (and not only “representative” or “metaphysical”) invariants. These invariants, given the hegemonic logic that is necessarily theirs (foundation, validation, legitimation), precisely constitute a hindrance to the development of technology, a hindrance that has as its sanction a crescent obsolescence of philosophy in the face of this development. Whence the imperative to change the paradigm of thought. The ultimate question that philosophy should pose is maybe this one: does a “critique” of “the” techno-logy necessarily pass through the form of a de-limitation of it? A critical de-limitation in the Kantian manner (but is there still a locatable technological fact? and supposing that yes, what new type or not of technological a prioris can we pretend to disengage from this fact?) A retroceding step in the Heideggerian manner? a lag, a delay, differance, etc. put to the reconstitution of the interiority of a pretended system of technology?

            We will orient ourselves towards the theme of the existence of “techno-logical a prioris”. But is the question of such a prioris still valid? Do regularities of formation and functioning of contemporary technological “facts” exist, but such that the development that they program of modern technology is still another thing than the prolongment of “metaphysics”, contrarily to the Heideggerian hypothesis? Would there not be properly technological limits to the most general philosophical style that has developed in the Occident?

            We think that a critique of technological Reason is necessary. But that it is possible only on the condition of considerably modifying, and according to ways that are not more Heideggerian than Nietzschean, our concept and our practice of “Critique” (of the technological fact, of a prioris, of conditions of possibility, etc.).


III. Man as Subject (of) Science

  1. Science is not a mode of the ontological project, but an essence absolutely autonomous in relation to philosophy; its global posture in regard to the real is no longer fixed by philosophy but is absolutely specific and miscognized to philosophy that therefore still pretend to legislate on it.

  2. This specificity and this autonomy, science takes them from what its naivety (cf. Husserl, etc.), far from being a deficiency in philosophy, in reflexivity, and consciousness of self, is contrary to its essential and positive structure, what gives it its autonomy and consistency. On the condition of interpreting it as an immediate “rapport” (to) the real. Briefly: the essence of science is not given by philosophy but experienced directly by itself and under the form of what I have called the One to “oppose” it to Being. The essence of science—i.e., its real essence, what contains the principle of its rapport (to) the real and that founds it in a transcendental manner—is the One as radically transcendentally unreflected or immanent experience.

Science is realist but not at all in the sense that philosophy can be, sometimes, “realist”; neither in the sense that it experiences the real in general: as transcendence or affected by transcendence. It is realist in the sense that it straight away knows itself to be non thetic science (of) the real; immediately identical to that it and its radical immanence (the One) without having to pass through a process of identification to a transcendent real.

      Science is thus an intrinsically dual activity or traversed by an absolute cleavage:

  1. it knows itself (of) the real in itself and not science of “properties” of the being [l'étant] of which only philosophy could furnish the being [l'être] or presence. There is a real in itself that is neither Being nor the being nor their “difference”. Science exits, has already exited from—has never entered in the equation of metaphysics: logos = being, thinking = real, an equation that always supposes a transcendence of being or from the real to thought. Science immediately inhabits the real—and it knows it (against philosophy): its essence is therefore a transcendental experience of which philosophy does not have the secret (this is not what it calls a “transcendental realism”). Science founds itself: across the One, we pass from empirical sciences to transcendental science, in which they found themselves and guard their naivety become “transcendental”, without passing through the philosophical operation…

  2. Although knowing itself to straight away inhabit the real and not having to identify itself to it (the One: real identity…) or to pose it, science knows itself at the same time to only be a representation of the real, a simple reflect that does not constitute, does not determine the real as philosophy always believes. It is therefore a non thetic reflect (of) the real, what explicates—finally? —the necessity of a permanent “rectification” of concepts at the same time that science’s “certitude” of fund that is therefore not at all the metaphysical certitude that Heidegger, who continues to be dazzled by philosophy’s prestiges, wants to put there.

      The One is therefore what absolutely shares [départage] science and philosophy, what dissolves their “epistemological” mixed and what assures the precession of science over philosophy.

      If it is no longer science that “dreams” (Plato, Heidegger), it is therefore philosophy… These results can be read as a generalization of the Kantian critique.

      The One is the primitive unity of science and man: the radically subjective subject (deprived of transcendence) is the subject (of) science. Not the subject subjugated by science, but the non thetic subject (of) science, what it is. In the One we have the reality of a sphere of immanent givens to be described without having to proceed, like philosophy, to preliminary operations of cutting, constitution, reduction, etc. of the object: our attitude, albeit transcendental, is rigorously naïve, scientific and not philosophical.


IV. Man and their Real Distinction from Automata

            On one hand it is about completing the preceding research on a point become more and more crucial and that is revealed during this project: the distinction of man and the automaton. Whence the necessity of examining a part of the abundant literature on the subject (including that of Artificial Intelligence) and of understanding the critique of technological Reason in automatological images of man as in anthropological images of the automaton. It is inevitable that the distinction of man and the automaton—that is never radically trenched in philosophy, that refuses the existence of such a principle of choice or decision between them—becomes imperative in this problematic. It—I refer to the precedent exposition—reposes on the absolute distinction, the unilateral or irreversible duality of the One and Being; still, here at least, of man and the World, of man and the Technology in which they are inalienable. What are the theoretical and critical effects of this duality on the metaphysical conceptions of the Automaton? the contemporary conceptions of Artificial Intelligence? the philosophical and anthropological images of man?

            We propose, from this point of view, to proceed to a redistribution of man “as such” and their automatological doubles; to suggest that unitary philosophy, its anthropology and its humanism, their intra-philosophical critiques as well, were only an automato-logy founded on the forgetting of the real essence of man.

            On the other hand, inside the problematic of the One utilized in this research, a profound modification of perspective in relation to philosophy “in general” is produced. This discovery touches the status of science. I will come there. Given this problematic of man and their radical distinction with the World, History, Technologies, etc., we should proceed to a redistribution of rapports of man and their automatological doubles; displacing in any event the Cartesian partition of man and the automaton since the One is not quite anymore the Cogito. In reality, the problem is vaster.

  1. We will take up the Kantian motif of paralogisms of rational psychology again to, after Fichte, for example, concentrate every transcendental illusion of metaphysics on the conception of the subject that develops it; then we will show that, on the basis of the One and a real and no longer philosophical critique of philosophy, it is in its fund animated by an illusion, indeed an automatological hallucination of man. This means that, more profoundly than its local (mechanist and informational) theories of automata, these are the philosophical conceptions of the subject, of man, even the most “humanist” and the most apparently opposed to automata, that are still quasi-human artefacts; anthropoid, indeed android, entities rather than man itself. The philosophies of the subject, the subject in philosophy, even in anthropology or humanism, are in reality, as soon as they are measured to the One or to “ordinary man”, mixeds of man and artefact (a prosthetic essence of man). These are the manners of the repression of the non technological essence of man. Humanism also is an automatological forgetting of man, but because it is opposed to technology in lieu of putting a unilateral or irreversible, etc. distinction between it and man.

  2. We will equally interrogate the presupposeds or requisites of Artificial Intelligence: not exactly its ontological presupposeds in view of a deconstruction of sedimented experiences of Being that have rendered the concept possible; but the real phenomenal givens across which finite man, that brings them with it and the essence of which is no longer defined by intelligence (nous, dianoia, mens, etc.) can be affected by the technologies of intelligence and still entertain, and under what form, rapports with it. In reality, the problem of artificial intelligence is extremely complex for us since science in its fundamental posture or its rapport to the real, expresses man (subject = subject (of) science) more directly than philosophy. We cannot therefore content with the rejection, or of a “humanist” and “mentalist” critique, of artificial intelligence of which the physico-mathematical aspect profoundly expresses a humanity and subjectivity to which philosophy has wrongly opposed a pretended scientific “objectification” that is only the work of philosophy.

  3. The last flap of this research is evidently the effect, on ethics, of this redistribution, of this extension of the automatological sphere towards the man-of-philosophy, who is not real man. If the essence of man excludes philosophical reason, a break would without doubt pass within “artificial intelligence” itself between mathematics and the “mind”, but more profoundly the domain of what is permitted on man in matters of “prosthesis” would be revamped and perhaps enlarged. To man no longer belongs their body at least such as rational anthropology was able to seize it. At the same time, the radical distinction of man and the World, Reason, Technology, etc. cannot signify something like the metaphysical distinction of the Soul and the Body, of Consciousness and the object whatever be their phenomenological correctives (Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty), but another distinction that passes across what we indistinctly name “body”. Something of the body is radically human, finite and subjective, and this element is in any event inalienable in technologies and their “project”. The problem would evidently be to explore the subjective, affective, and ethical effects of this “border” of man and technologies and that, precisely—it is here that we distinguish from other research on this theme done at the Collège International de Philosophie—is no longer an anthropo-technological or anthropo-medicological border, surface, or interface.

      There is as well an immense field of research that is opened as soon as we admit as we do here, and against all of philosophy and its deconstructions, that the essence of man is inalienable in technologies and that they are not a homo ex-machina: how then, i.e., in their reality as finite subject, can man receive, support, and send back to their contingency the technological project on them? Of course, we cannot bring here, now, a response that we do not yet possess.