Technology, knowledge, governance

the political relevance of Husserl's critique of the epistemic effects of formalization

Peter Woelert

pp. 487-507

This paper explores the political import of Husserl's critical discussion of the epistemic effects of the formalization of rational thinking. More specifically, it argues that this discussion is of direct relevance to make sense of the pervasive processes of "technization', that is, of a mechanistic and superficial generation and use of knowledge, to be observed in current contexts of governance. Building upon Husserl's understanding of formalization as a symbolic technique for abstraction in the thinking with and about numbers, I argue that processes of technization, while being necessary and legitimate procedures for the reduction of complexities, also may give rise to politically unresponsive and ultimately dysfunctional "economies of thinking.' This paper is structured in three parts. In the first part I outline Husserl's account of the formalization and technization of thought and knowledge. In the second part I make my case for the political import of this account, departing in this context from positions that (a) regard Husserl's discussions of formalization and its effects as merely epistemological, or that (b) try to mobilize Husserl for a one-sided critique of instrumental reason. In the final part I address a major shortcoming of Husserl's account, namely its neglect of the concrete and historically evolving technological infrastructures of processes of formalization/technization.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/s11007-013-9277-6

Full citation:

Woelert, P. (2013). Technology, knowledge, governance: the political relevance of Husserl's critique of the epistemic effects of formalization. Continental Philosophy Review 46 (4), pp. 487-507.

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