Preamble: Philosophies of Sciences, Philosophies of Techniques

Gilbert Hottois, trans. Sylvia

from: Philosophies des sciences, philosophies des techniques, Paris: Odile Jacob, 2004, pp. 9-12

           On the occasion of these lessons, I have the intention of examining questions that I have kept in a corner of my mind for some years. It is about the relationship between philosophy of sciences and philosophy of techniques.

           Is the philosophy of sciences interested in technics and in philosophy of technics? And if not, what are the reasons for this indifference and what recovers, therefore, the notion of contemporary science for the philosophy of sciences?

           My hypothesis is that the dominant current of philosophy of science has come under philosophy of language. This assimilation postulates a conception of science as being an essentially language-related and theoretical activity, blind to technics.

           Inversely, is philosophy of techniques interested in sciences and in philosophy of sciences?

           My hypothesis is that the essential of philosophy of techniques developed within indifference or ignorance of the philosophies of sciences. Furthermore, the absence of communication between the philosophies of sciences and the philosophies of techniques has been only rarely thematized and analyzed by philosophers.

           I have taken these questions and assumptions as the guiding thread of these lessons, keeping in mind a notion that I have used for a long time: the notion of technoscience, which appears to me appropriate for designating contemporary science. It postulates that science and technics do not ignore each other, that they are articulated, on the contrary, very closely. I have thus also tried to give body to another question: what about this notion of technoscience in the philosophy of sciences and techniques? How was it received, how has it evolved?


The lessons follow a plan of which the following are the major articulations:


Lesson 1:

Philosophy of Sciences as Philosophy of Language


           After highlighting the philosophical issues of philosophy of science[1], I show that science is found problematized there from questions proper to the philosophy of language. My thesis is that this problematization has its source in two classic approaches to language and signification, namely reference and signifiance. Hence the two central parts of the lesson: (1) the problematization of the philosophy of science from the primacy of reference (Wittgenstein, Hempel, Nagel, Popper); (2) the problematization from the primacy of signifiance (Kuhn, Quine, Feyerabend). In conclusion, philosophy of sciences externalizes technics; however, only an internalization of technics within philosophy of sciences would make it possible to tear it away from an approach to science essentially dependent on the philosophy of language which continues to this day (Kripke, Putnam). This first lesson is the most classic and also the most synoptic.


Lesson 2:

From Philosophy of Sciences to Philosophy of Techniques


           As a transition and an outline of the articulation between philosophy of sciences and philosophy of techniques, I interrogate three important moments in the work of Ian Hacking. Then, I turn to philosophy of technics, commencing with a general inventory in Germany, in France and in the United States. I examine whether it is a question of science and philosophy of science, by following, most particularly, the work of Paul T. Durbin. Finally, I present the work of Don Ihde, philosopher of technics who defends an instrumental realism and who strives to articulate philosophy of science and philosophy of technics.


Lesson 3:

The Limits of Philosophy of Technics and the Notion of Technoscience


           I highlight the limits of philosophy of techniques tempted to dissolve within social and political philosophy. Then, I show how the question of technics resists a hasty and superficial philosophical recuperation in Pierre Ducassé and Gilbert Simondon. The lesson ends with a critical history of the notion of technoscience. After recalling the context of the creation of this term in the 1970s, I analyze the use of it by Jean-François Lyotard and Bruno Latour. I traverse its diffusion especially in America, within the framework of postmodernism and, briefly, in France.


Lesson 4:

Essay on Philosophy in a Technoscientific Civilization


           The first part of this last lesson defends and justifies the notion of technoscience, notably against the critiques of Jean-Pierre Séris. I develop, then, a number of more personal reflections which proceed from taking seriously this notion of technoscience associated with that of TSRD (Technoscientific Research and Development). This essay on philosophy in a technoscientific civilization successively addresses temporality, the question of man, as well as the notions of responsibility and solidarity. In classical terms, we are thus moving from a philosophy of science centered mainly, or even exclusively, around reason to a philosophy of technosciences more centered around the will.


           Although the guiding threads, recalled many times, run through the four lessons and articulate them in a progressive research, it is perfectly possible to read each lesson separately as a largely autonomous totality centered around a few theses.



[1] [trans.]: “philosophy of science” in English in the original