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Chapter 44 ~ “Technical Progress and the Social Life-World” by Jürgen Habermas September 13, 2009

Posted by Shon in 5369, Carter, Philosophy of Technology, TCR.
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Chapter 44 ~ “Technical Progress and the Social Life-World” by Jürgen Habermas
From Jürgen Habermas, Toward a Rational Society: Student Protest, Science and Politics (1970)

Habermas uses Aldous Huxley’s Literature and Science, to examine the relationship between science and literature and how science fits within the social life-world.

Essentially, Huxley sees two separate cultures, that of literature and science.

Literature is private, subjective, and makes statements that can’t be repeated by others. Literature deals with the nuances of a person’s world – all the things that occur from the moment of birth to the time of death.

Science, on the other hand, is public, contains intersubjectively accessible experiences and can be expressed in a formal language that, through general definitions, can be made universally valid. Science doesn’t concern itself with the life-world as literature does. It is not based on culture or ego. It’s not about the ordinary language of social groups and socialized individuals. It looks at structures and regularities.

Through his separation of literature and science, Huxley juxtaposes the social life-world and the worldless universe of facts, and for Huxley, knowledge is the key to embed science and its information about the worldless universe into the life-world of social groups. Knowledge is power and because science is true and exact, it is the knowledge; therefore, it wields a lot of control and power over people. For Huxley, the world would be better if literature assimilated “scientific statements… so that science can take on ‘flesh and blood’” (530).

What Huxley fails to mention and Habermas does add is that the sciences enter the social life-world through the technical exploitation of their information.

For Habermas, only as technological knowledge (knowledge that would aid us in our power for technical control) can scientific knowledge infiltrate the action-orienting self-understanding of social groups.

[aside: But are social groups primarily action-oriented? Doesn’t that also include the need to understand things – whether you plan to do anything with the knowledge?]

When scientific knowledge is communicated as technological knowledge to the social life-world, it can become a “part of practical knowledge which gains expression in literature” (531).

Habermas adds that “only when information is exploited for the development of productive or destructive forces, can its revolutionary practical results penetrate the literary consciousness of the life-world: poems arise from consideration of Hiroshima and not from the elaboration of hypotheses about the transformation of mass into entergy” (531).

[aside: does how it (the scientific-now-turned-technological knowledge) makes the world work, how we as a society come to be, how we’re connection, disconnected come into play in this? Or would studies of that nature be more likely to be found within literature as opposed to science? The idea that we would only be concerned with information that answers the questions WHAT CAN IT HELP ME DO…and…HOW/WHAT CAN IT HELP ME DESTROY seems quite constricting.]

This brings us to a question posed by Habermas: “How is it possible to translate technically exploitable knowledge into the practical consciousness of a social life-world?”

[aside: Couldn’t help but to think of recent conversations – in and out of class – in which we were talking about The Matrix and Lost and other forms of popular culture. There is so much HEADY stuff that only a select few know through study and everybody might know or might not know. It’s important to be able to reach people where they are and provide understanding. These days, I’m having issues with words like “practical” because it seems like for the most part, they are used to mean “put to use,” as in ACTION. Is “understanding” a part of the practical consciousness, too? Sometimes, I want information merely to understand how the world works. I don’t plan to do anything with the knowledge, but understand it and open my eyes more to the world around me.]

This question sets Habermas to ask yet another question: “How can the relation between technical progress and the social life-world, which today is still clothed in a primitive, traditional, and unchosen form, be reflected upon and brought under the control of rational discussion?”

[aside: Considering it’s been nearly 40 years since the publication of this work, I wonder if we’re still clothed in a primitive, traditional, and unchosen form. And “unchosen” meaning what? We got what we were birthed with? We are what we are, what we are?]

And unlike before, where literature had to learn to infuse itself with science to become “flesh and blood,” now science must learned to integrate itself into a world in which “a rational discussion that is not focused exclusively either on technical means or on the application of traditional behavioral norms” are demanded (531).

It seems, in essence, that science has to make concession to literature and realize the world is more complex than knowledge and application.

This idea that scientific knowledge was a source of culture caused a separation between universities and technical schools because technical schools were not influenced by theoretical guidance.