The Insignificance of a Technological Conception

Scott Hanson


At the end of this century, the status of computer technology has become central to modern culture. Equally astonishing, dialogue in the media on the moral significance of technology reveals a historical and cultural peremptoriness. Have the advancements of computer technology contributed to the moral capacity of an individual? In this paper, I discuss the nature of computer technology as a potential moral source, and argue that the effect of the Internet, as a prime example, is largely quiescent to, what Rousseau describes as a source of joy and contentment: “le sentiment de l’existence.” Rousseau articulates that moral sensibility depends on inner contact with oneself. If the Internet compromises our reflections on what we ought to do with our lives, then a technological conception is negligible because it fails to address questions of what is good in human activity.

Outlined initially as largely an historical investigation, I assess the plausibility of this idea that the progress of computer technology has contributed to the moral capacity of the individual. I focus on two intertwined positions of Nietzsche: namely, his mistrust on arriving at a narrow sense of morality and his sympathy toward a naturalistic understanding of reality. At this point, I revise the question “Have the advancements of computer technology contributed to the moral capacity of an individual?” to “Have the advancements of technology enabled a ‘higher’ transformation of our selves?” I analyze this revised question with respect to Rousseau’s balanced skepticism of the benefits derived from the arts and sciences, which is articulated most forcefully in his Discourse on the Sciences and Arts. I conclude from both Rousseau and Nietzsche that the current progress of the sciences has led to the disparagement of the virtues. The achievements of technology have been naively interpreted and are subject to superficial reasoning and distortion.


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