Empirical technoscience studies in a Comtean world

too much concreteness?

Robert Scharff

pp. 153-177

No one doubts the radically transformative power of contemporary technologies and technoscientific practices over the material dimensions of our experience. Yet with the coming of all the exciting changes and the promise of ever better material conditions, what kinds of lives are we implicitly being encouraged to live? One would think that current philosophical studies of technology would make this a central question, and indeed, a few have done so. But many do not. Following the lead of thinkers who have made the so-called "empirical turn," many demur, usually with some remarks about the question being too abstract and general—too likely to suck us into utopian or dystopian speculations—when what is called for are truly informative and "concrete" studies of what it is like to be with actual technologies. My paper considers the good life question—and the philosophical price one pays for not asking it—in light of Auguste Comte's theory of the three stages of intellectual development. Comte's depiction of the third, positive scientific stage is much less dated than one might assume. In fact, it is useful to think of our own era as arriving with a Comtean story attached, that is, a story of life in the "developed" world becoming ever better thanks to modern science and technology. Because this story now seems less deserving of the unqualified optimism Comte had about it, I argue that thinking of our own experience as permeated by Comte's conception of third-stage life gives us a fresh way to consider our misgivings about this default position without either lapsing into utopian or dystopian speculation, or confining one's focus to purely postphenomenological or pragmatic studies of technoscientific life as it now "appears."

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/s13347-011-0047-2

Full citation:

Scharff, R. (2012). Empirical technoscience studies in a Comtean world: too much concreteness?. Philosophy & Technology 25 (2), pp. 153-177.

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