Practical reason and technology : a philosophical study

Baughan, Hugh Simpson (2015-04)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2015.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Practical reason can help make sense of the decisions that face humankind in a complex planetary age, and notably so regarding the development and use of technology. Human agency and functioning as a self-understanding person, as well as certain ideas related to complexity and co-evolution are crucial aspects of this side of practical reason. Exploring these aspects from different perspectives can help uncover some constructive insights into the special nature of the moral goals, and the uniquely human significance of some of our intentions and actions that inform our decision-making on the development and use of technology. The insights gained here can furthermore serve to expand certain mainstream conceptions in Western intellectual culture on the character of reason as such, which proceed from a classical, or naturalistic stance. In the latter case reason typically calls for the use of explicit criteria, and is foundational and procedural in nature. This view is important and useful. However, the model of practical argument that accompanies it paints a characteristically sceptical picture of rational choice in the moral sphere. Yet such scepticism is not always warranted. Instead, an expanded model of practical reason is called for, notably if human agency and self-understanding, as well as ideas related to complexity and co-evolution are taken seriously. In this thesis it is demonstrated that such an approach can serve to express in richer, less sceptical terms the sense of significance we find in our societal choices, and particularly so in those decisions for technology that confront humanity in an inclusive, interdependent age. In light of the above, the thesis discussion attempts to review some central naturalistic beliefs in Western intellectual culture on the nature of reason and related patterns of practical argument. The thesis aim is to point out some of their ontological and epistemological assumptions, note their particular strengths and weaknesses and relate them to models of reason employed in the natural and human sciences – especially those that concern the nature of explanation and understanding. Furthermore, these beliefs are linked to a generally sceptical, but at times unwarranted attitude towards the sphere of practical moral argument. Such matters are treated in the first two chapters of the thesis discussion. Other ways of picturing this attitude of doubt towards the moral sphere can be found in alternative notions about human agency and self-understanding, as well as from complexity and co-evolution. The concepts behind these perspectives point to certain ontological and epistemological insights which arguably take thinking beyond the normal range of naturalistic abstractions. As a result, different characterizations, or patterns, of practical reason become possible, the nature of which can help to rework the usual warrants for scepticism when it comes to judging the significance of our intentions and actions. Thinking in terms of human agency, self-understanding, complexity and co-evolution holds another advantage. These conceptualisations can also serve to formulate a defining link between practical reason and consultation, be it among individuals, communities or the institutions of society. Such ideas speak in part to emerging notions of collective maturity in the organization of human affairs, and the well-being of all peoples. More particularly, consultation can offer additional resources for replacing entrenched patterns of conflict in society with patterns that are more unifying and just. It can as well provide for a certain quality of understanding of the principles and issues involved. The exploration of these and similar ideas begins with the discussion in Chapters Three and Four, and continues into subsequent chapters. In addition to their naturalistic counterpart, these patterns of practical reason also suggest some useful notions regarding the broader import of our societal and developmental choices on a planetary scale. The thesis discussion will attempt to explore some of these ideas. Among other things, it considers the implications they have for notions of development in general viz the unfolding of humankind’s social, cultural, ethical and spiritual potential, as well as for conceptions of technology that speak to that unfolding. It will include in its study the notion of future-regarding social choices and the transformative potential of time. From there the focus will shift to what it might mean to recast existing technology aspirations in light of the urgent requirements of a co-evolving world, and with it the need to safeguard the interests of humanity as a whole. These and related topics are addressed in Chapters Five and Six. Finally, three broad questions have played an important background role in carrying out this study. First, what is the nature of the unity that exists between our capacity to know the world in an epistemological sense, and our ability to judge the moral significance of our actions? Second, on the basis of what can we make sense of our decisions about technology in so far as they might be said to contribute to an advance or a decline in human social well-being? Third, what insights can we gain into our patterns of practical reason and decisions for technology when viewed in the context of a planetary age, and considered in light of the principle of the oneness of mankind?

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die praktiese rede kan help sin maak van die besluite wat die mensdom in ʼn komplekse planetêre era in die gesig staar, veral met betrekking tot die ontwikkeling en gebruik van tegnologie. Menslike agentskap en funksionering as ’n persoon met selfbegrip, sowel as sekere idees oor kompleksiteit en ko-evolusie is almal deurslaggewende aspekte van hierdie sy van die praktiese rede. Deur hierdie aspekte vanuit verskillende perspektiewe te ondersoek, kan konstruktiewe insigte blootgelê word in die besondere aard van die morele doelwitte en die uniek-menslike betekenis van die bedoelings en handelinge wat ons besluitneming oor die ontwikkeling en gebruik van tegnologie onderlê. Die insigte wat hier verwerf word, kan daarby help om bepaalde hoofstroom-opvattings in die Westerse intellektuele kultuur oor die aard van die rede as sodanig te verruim – opvattings wat uit ’n klassieke of naturalistiese standpunt stam. Volgens laasgenoemde standpunt vereis die rede gewoonlik duidelike maatstawwe, en lê dit in wese grondslae en stel prosedures daar. Só ʼn siening is belangrik en bruikbaar, maar op grond van die model van praktiese redenering wat hiermee gepaardgaan, word ’n tipies skeptiese beeld geskets van redelike keuses binne die morele ruimte. Hierdie skeptisisme is egter nie altyd geregverdig nie. ’n Verruimde model van die praktiese rede word eerder benodig, veral as menslike agentskap en selfverstaan, asook die idees wat met kompleksiteit en ko-evolusie verband hou, ernstig opgeneem word. Só ʼn benadering kan help om die betekenis wat ons in ons maatskaplike keuses vind in ryker en minder skeptiese terme uit te druk. Dit geld veral vir daardie besluite vir tegnologie waarvoor die mensdom in ʼn inklusiewe, interafhanklike era te staan kom. In die lig hiervan is die proefskrif ‘n poging om ’n oorsig te gee van ’n paar sentrale naturalistiese opvattings binne die Westerse intellektuele kultuur oor die aard van die rede en patrone van praktiese argumentvoering wat daarmee verband hou. Die proefskrif poog om sommige van hierdie opvattings se ontologiese en epistemologiese voorveronderstellings uit te wys, hulle sterk- en swakpunte aan te toon en hulle in verband te bring met rasionele modelle wat in die natuur- en menswetenskappe gebruik word, veral dié oor die aard van verklaring en verstaan. Daarby word hierdie voorveronderstellings gekoppel aan ʼn algemeen skeptiese, maar by tye ongeregverdigde, ingesteldheid teenoor die sfeer van praktiese morele argumentvoering. Hierdie aspekte word in die eerste twee hoofstukke van die tesis behandel. Hierdie twyfel ten opsigte van die morele sfeer kan egter anders voorgestel word as alternatiewe idees oor menslike agentskap en selfverstaan in ag geneem word, asook kompleksiteit en ko-evolusie. Die begrippe wat hierdie perspektiewe ten grondslag lê, dui op bepaalde ontologiese en epistemologiese insigte wat stellig kan help dat ons denke die gebruiklike grense van naturalistiese abstraksies kan oorstyg. Die gevolg is dat die kenmerke of patrone van die praktiese rede anders verwoord kan word, wat kan bydra tot die hersiening van die gebruiklike regverdiging vir skeptisisme wanneer ons die betekenis van ons bedoelings en handelinge beoordeel. Om in terme van menslike agentskap, selfverstaan, kompleksiteit en ko-evolusie te dink, hou ook ’n verdere voordeel in. Sodanige konseptualiserings kan ook dien om ’n beslissende verband te lê tussen die praktiese rede en raadpleging [oftewel konsultasie] – of dit nou op die vlak van individue, gemeenskappe of samelewingsinstellings plaasvind. As sodanig vind hierdie gedagtes gedeeltelik aanklank by opkomende idees oor kollektiewe volwassenheid in die organisering van menslike aangeleenthede, en die strewe na die welsyn van alle samelewings wêreldwyd. In die besonder, raadpleging kan bykomende hulpmiddels bied om die ingewortelde konflikpatrone in die samelewing te help vervang met patrone wat meer verenigend en regverdig is. Dit kan ook voorsiening maak vir ʼn soort volwasse begrip van die beginsels en kwessies wat ter sprake is. Die verkenning van hierdie en verwante idees begin met die bespreking in Hoofstukke Drie en Vier en word in die daaropvolgende hoofstukke voortgesit. In onderskeiding van die naturalistiese interpretasie kan hierdie patrone van die praktiese rede vir ons ook help om die belang van ons keuses oor die samelewing en ontwikkeling op planetêre vlak in ‘n breër perspektief te plaas. Die bespreking in hierdie tesis beoog om ’n paar van hierdie idees van nader te ondersoek. Dit wil onder meer let op die implikasies van hierdie idees vir die konsep van ontwikkeling in die algemeen, met ander woorde vir die ontsluiting van die mensdom se maatskaplike, kulturele, etiese en spirituele potensiaal, asook vir die voorstellings van tegnologie wat direk op hierdie ontsluiting afgestem is. Die studie konsentreer ook op die idee van toekomsgerigte sosiale keuses en die omvormende potensiaal van tyd. Van daar verskuif die fokus na wat dit sou kon behels om bestaande tegnologiese aspirasies te herontwerp in die lig van die dringende behoefte aan ’n ko-evolusionêre wêreld, en daarmee saam die noodsaak om die belange van die mensdom in die geheel te beskerm. Hierdie en verwante onderwerpe word in Hoofstukke Vyf en Ses aangespreek. Laastens het drie oorkoepelende vrae ʼn beduidende rol gespeel as agtergrond tot die studie. Eerstens: Wat is die aard van die verband tussen ons vermoë om die wêreld in ’n epistemologiese sin te kan ken en ons vermoë om die morele betekenis van ons handelinge te kan beoordeel? Tweedens: Op grond waarvan kan ons bepaal of ons besluite oor tegnologie ‘n bydrae maak tot die bevordering van die mens se sosiale welsyn, of tot die ondermyning daarvan? Derdens: Watter insigte kan ons verkry oor ons patrone van praktiese redenering en ons besluite oor tegnologie wanneer ons dit binne die konteks van ’n planetêre era en in die lig van die beginsel van menslike eenheid beskou?

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