Techne and Poiesis; Techne and Episteme


(a response to an email from Ian Delairre)

In this case I’m using the term poiesis in a fairly simple way, as anything that self-develops, rather than something that is developed intentionally, generally by man.

Technology is an obvious case of techne, but if technology itself grows and develops, and is therefore not “controllable” (as both Schurmann and Ciborra, from very different perspectives, convincingly demonstrate) then the distinction between them is porous at best.  It’s not surprising to me, given that technology is as determinative of man as vice versa, that man is incapable of “directing” technology, of “getting it under control”. As it develops (by men socially, but not by any given man) it constantly changes the nature of man as such.

Latour’s work amply demonstrates that research, at any rate, is implicitly productionist, and therefore part of the capitalist thread of metaphysics.  Whether this is applicable to science as knowledge-gathering in general, rather than science specifically in the modern sense, is debatable.  The main intent of research, as with any productionist matter, is simply further research.  It’s difficult to apply that to knowledge-gathering in all its varieties, though, since the specific aim can differ radically from instance to instance.

I often, half jokingly, refer to Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche and Heidegger as the “four thinkers of the apocalypse”, in the sense that the “apocalypse” is the projection of the end of history, possible from the beginning precisely because it is a projection.  The “end of the world” for me means nothing other than the end of the metaphysical world, which determines every meaning, just as the “business world” or “sports world” in less comprehensive ways determine the meaning of anything within them.

Each of the four begins from a different thread that is present in an intertwined manner in every basic metaphysical position, and attempts to untangle it.  Hegel with the notion of being as beingness in general; Marx with the notion of essence, as eventually the substantiality of currency as the means of exchange, which is always a substitute for exchange itself; Nietzsche with the manner in which man is the measure, the source of the value of values; Heidegger with the determination of man as such.  As the last of the four,  Heidegger had the advantage, once the determination of man as metaphysical was untangled (primarily in Being and Time) to go beyond metaphysics, to circle back to the moment in which the first beginning of philosophy began, and thus to render at least in a faint outline the possibility of another beginning.  Of course, all four necessarily go beyond the thread they begin from, since with the intertwining every metaphysical question implies every other.

That substance is primarily currency (until the “new mythos” of Hegel, where it becomes energy), seems at first odd in being so factical compared with the rather abstruse topics of the other threads, but is crucial as the ontological foundation of capitalism itself.  The biggest irony of Marx’s work is that, despite his constant talk of “material preconditions”, he actually missed the material preconditions of the industrial revolution, twithout which captalism could not become an actuality radically affecting people’s lives as opposed to simply an ontological possibility.  Those preconditions included surplus currency, since surplus labour can only exist insofar as surplus currency exists, and surplus currency, in turn, can only exist insofar as there is a mythos that justifies the inherent, absolute value of currency.  That surplus currency had been part of European society for at least a couple of hundred years before having any significant effect, since only via a change in technology could it become effective.

The material preconditions also include oddities in the nature of the area in which it began. From the perspective of feudal society, it came “out of nowhere”, which from the feudal perspective was true to a much greater degree than those who made the statement understood.  The area in which it began was left out of the feudal system, a “part of no part” that still “took part”, which in itself is unusual in any society.  It was ignored, forgotten even, by the feudal system, because as a result of terrain and climate, it was of no use to any feudal lord with the military power to subdue it.  Even prior to the feudal system proper, from as early as the 6th century it was largely undisturbed by outside English society, whether Anglo-Saxon, Norman or English proper.

It consisted of three small villages, which even as late as 1900 comprised less than 20,000 people, yet spun more cotton than France and Germany combined.  The first engineering firm was founded there in 1783, and proceeded to invent the factory, the iron frame building that housed it, and the electrically powered factory with powered equipment among numerous other things.  It still exists today as a high tech engineering firm. Since the area was ignored by the feudal system, and thus had no serfs, nor the lords they served and provided for,, it survived mainly via cottage industry and other crafts-based work, hence the technical ability of the inhabitants, and that cottage industry provided the available labour for the new factories, which was only made available in feudal areas once industry had already gained sufficient strength and political power to command it.

Interestingly, the area also offers an alternative possible history of the industrial revolution, since it didn’t take the form it did elsewhere.  The surplus currency that became the initial capital was gold obtained from North America, which remained surplus despite the lack of anything to purchase with it, rather than simply devaluing gold as currency, due to the belief in gold’s inherent, substantial value.  However the idea that supplying such capital in order to fund the building of a factory implied ownership had not yet taken root, and as a result the initial “capitalists” were only given a small percentage of the total ownership, the rest of which went to the engineers, architects and workers.  The result was an employee-run form of industry that resulted in one of the villages gaining the nickname “golden village”, since it had the most millionaires per capita anywhere in the world for over a hundred years, and many of whom were simply workers in the mills.

Without a feudal background, there is no class system.  If pressed those from the area identify as “working-class” despite the wealth many possess.  “Working-class” simply means you get up and go to work every day, it has nothing to do with economic or professional status.  During the cotton famine (when the US refused to supply England with raw cotton) welfare was invented there – the mills simply paid people to stay home, so that they would still be available once the cotton started flowing.  That pay included things like medical benefits, something unheard of elsewhere in the first half of the nineteenth century. One of the other villages was the place in which the co-op originated, and unions originated in the next town over, which is barely 3 miles away from the closest of the three villages.  To this day police don’t go to those villages, they aren’t wanted or put up with, even though the area is very well off.  The history of the area shows an alternate possible history of capitalism, albeit one that didn’t happen, other than in that tiny area.  In that history, the excesses of the industrial revolution – the overturning of people’s lives, child labour, and the concentration of wealth in the very few didn’t happen, which demonstrates that historians that claim those things as somehow “necessary” are wrong.  Nor was the area less successful, in fact the last mill to close in England, after competition from the far east killed the British cotton indusry, closed as late as 2003, in one of those villages.  They were successful enough, without the excesses of capitalism elsewhere, that not only was the first cotton mill built there, but another mill there was profitable enough for long enough to be the last in England to close.

You might wonder how I know so much about the area, given it has been skipped over even by most historians. Well, I happen to have been born there.  My mother, without thinking of the implications of what she was saying, told my wife as part of a general conversation that she had been 21 before she actually saw a police officer in person.  For her that’s nothing surprising and she would probably disagree that it is even unusual, yet it’s nearly unthinkable anywhere else in the western world.

Your point about Google etc. is in line with the differentiation (which was first looked at by Aristotle) between techne and episteme as modes of knowing. Technology is a mode of revealing, albeit one that reveals only in a specific manner.  Dis-covery, unconcealment, is the result of technology in the widest sense, because it is part of the form of knowing, techne, from which technology is the most obvious derivation.  Science as a form of episteme always comes along afterwards and attempts to account-for what technology happens to reveal.  Only insofar as something is already dis-covered, revealed in some way, can it become an “object for” science, which in itself shows that science cannot on its own reveal or discover anything.  For epistemological knowing, something “is” and can therefore be studied insofar as it “has been”, which places episteme in the mode of seeing everything in the past perfect tense, as history does, and for that reason history is the best example of epistemological knowing.  Technology, far from being applied science, doesn’t even use scientific methodologies, because epistemology is entirely unsuitable to what technologists are engaged with.  It’s truer to say that science is derived from technology, as an accounting-for what is revealed by it, just as accounting itself is derived from exchange and what is revealed by it.

Another way of looking at it is to distinguish between the ontological, located primarily in the imagination, and the ontic, which is located in sensation of the actual.  Techne crosses the line by actualizing the ontological real.  Episteme does the inverse, by imagining, or more accuratly mythologizing, telling a story about the actual and thereby ontologizing it, bringing it into the imagination (though it remains no less real). Insofar as we experience the actual, we experience it only as “that it is”, and that only insofar as it alreeady has appeared.  What it is, including its reality or illusion, exists in the imagination.  Crossing the line is not transparent, however, in each case it requires effort, and the line itself is affected.  This affect is the attunement we call “mood”, which we experience only insofar as it changes. It’s via that attunement and the changes in it, as well as the temporal difference between them, that we have a sense of self, that we are a self in fact.  Only insofar as animals develop an (initially limited) ontological sense do they get fatigued in the sense of needing sleep.  We (and they) need sleep, as opposed to simple physical rest, because in sleep, where experience remains purely within the imaginary, the effort of crossing the line is avoided.  We feel less rested given the same number of hours of sleep to exactly the degree that we do remain aware of actuality, i.e. to the degree that we don’t sleep “deeply” enough.

The self must be distinguished from the “I-subject”, however, which is invented in the “step back” required in order to analyze anything, especially to analyze the self.  The I-subject is invented as that for which representation is represented, and thus has no attributes of its own, it’s simply a fictional perspective with nothing factically occupying that perspective.  Conflating it with the self, however, is the reason that various cognitive scientists and psychologists make the absurd claim that the self is fictional or illusory.  The absurdity can be seen in that if the self is assumed to be an illusion, the questions necessarily arise as to what produces the illusion and what experiences it?  Since the answer to both can only be the self, the assumption of it being illusory must simultaneously assume it as both real and actual.

The “I-subject” is the reason episteme misses the obvious situation that in order for something to “be” as “having -been”, i.e. the durability associated with the substantial, it must have first appeared in some way.  Thus the nominal, which is what episteme can only have in view – even when studying actions it inevitably nominalizes them) is always the result of action:  action is the necessary a priori of anything actual.  Insofar as one is involved, engrossed, either in techne or episteme, the I-subject is simply not there, and as a result the crossing of the line itself is not represented for it.

What is represented in representation is always a simplification, and often an over-simplification.  As the “logistikon”, that measures and thus also judges, the wealth of parameters in any situation experienced by the self and understood intuitively would, if represented to the logistikon or I-subject, make a judgement within the limited timee available, impossible.  That the “pharmakon” is its twin can be understood if the “pharmakon” is not understood as madness, despite Derrida and Foucault, but as habit.  We learn to be rational, to measure a situation and make a judgement, through practice, precisely by making it a habit.  Seeing the pharmakon as habit makes the association with addiction far more understandable than seeing it as madness.

That the basis of the rational is itself non-rational is not surprising, in fact it’s necessary, since only nothing can be its own origin.  The Kantian impasse is nothing other than a recognition that rationality is not based on anything rational, and is not therefore in any proper sense justifiable.  Many miss the distinction Hegel maintains betwen “rationality” and “Reason”, what is rational is not necessarily “reasonable”.  The absoluteness of Reason arises from its being a relation that is a non-relation, since it is only a relationb to itself.  The moment Reason considers anything other than itself, it becomes relative.  Hegel’s “absolute knowing” therefore is so far from being equivalent to “total knowing” that it excludes the possibility of the latter.  What is known absolutely can only be known in that manner insofar as it remains partial.

Nagel’s recent book, Mind and Cosmos, demonstrates the origin of the rationalist, scientific perspective as a mythos (which can only appear as religion or ideology within metaphysics) since the contradiction between the rationalist’s assumption of a rational reality and the requirements of a developmental reality clash to the degree that the two can be maintained only if both rationality and consciousness pre-exist reality itself.  Although Nagel, in attempting to save his atheism, is careful to maintain the separation of rationality and consciousness, since our only experience of reason or rationality is as rational consciousness, the distinction is artificial and unmaintainable.  Yet what would you call a rational consciousness that pre-existed all reality?  Not that I’m claiming some sort of “proof” of anything, other than the fact that rationalist science rests on a mythos, specifically the mythos of Christianity, and thus “scientiific atheism”; is silly.  Any atheist needs to realize that along with their dismissal of god (which usually only amount to a dismissal of a specific, children’s-story version of the notion) modern science goes as well, since the assumptions on which it is founded disappear.  Nietzsche’s story of the “madman” makes fun of the atheists present for that very reason.

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