Bernard Stiegler has reframed the question concerning technology around the concept of human becoming. Stiegler sees an intrinsic relationship between the evolution of human beings (anthropogenesis) and technology (technogenesis). Stiegler makes two central claims: (1) that human beings are inherently technological and (2) that they develop through the evolution of technology. For Stiegler, the question concerning technology is not “How shall we act?” or even “How shall we live?” but rather “What shall we become?”
Stielger claims that human beings are intrinsically technological. His claim rests on the connection between technics and time as he explains:
There is today a conjunction between the question of technics and the question of time, one made evident by the speed of technical evolution, by the ruptures in temporalization (event-ization) that this evolution provokes, and by the processes of deterritorialization accompanying it. It is a conjunction that calls for a new consideration of technicity. The following work aims to establish that organized inorganic beings are originarily and as marks of the de-fault of origin out of which there is [es gibt] time—constitutive (in the strict phenomenological sense) of temporality as well as spatiality, in quest of a speed “older” than time and space, which are the derivative decompositions of speed. Life is the conquest of mobility. As a “process of exteriorization,” technics is the pursuit of life by means other than life (Stiegler, Bernard, Technics and Time, I: The Fault of Epimetheus, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998, Originally published as La Technique et le temps, 1: La faute d’Epiméthée, Galilée: Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, 1994, 17.)
While Stiegler agrees with Heidegger’s claim that Dasein is a temporal being, who is thrown into existence and stretched along between birth and death which constitutes the historical temporality of Dasein (Being and Time. Translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1962. Originally published as Sein und Zeit. Tubingen: Neomarius Verlag, 1926. Ibid., 174, 425, 427.) he questions whether this temporality is a intratemporality and criticizes Heidegger for overlooking the fact that human temporality is externalized in technics. As such, Dasein is essentially “prosthetic,” that is, Dasein is always seeking to temporalize itself externally through artefacts (Gaston, Sean, “Technics of Decision: An Interview,” Journal of Theoretical Humanities, Vol. 8, no. 2 (August 2003): 156.) Stiegler explains:
Mortals are prosthetic, that is to say they are endowed with artefacts and are capable of altering the artefacts which they adopt. In this sense, they are not doomed to a predestination, they “have to be” what they are, they are destined to decision, that is, to time understood in this sense, which is not that of life (Ibid., 156.)
Additionally, Dasein temporlizes itself technically as Stiegler points out.
Dasein is outside itself, in ec-stasis, temporal: its past lies outside it, yet it is nothing but this past, in the form of not yet. By being actually its past, it can do nothing but put itself outside itself, “ek-sist.” But how does Dasein eksist in this way? Prosthetically, through pro-posing and pro-jecting itself outside itself, in front of itself. And this means that it can only test its improbability programmatically (Stiegler, Technics and Time, 234.)
The temporality of Dasein is constituted prosthetically which also means that time is constituted through technology or what Stiegler prefers to call “technics”. Time is therefore inscribed in technics which leads Stiegler to conclude that human becoming, that is its temporality, is through technology. He calls the mode of human becoming “epiphylogenesis” which involves “the evolution of the living by other means than life (Ibid., 135.)” Whereas, Heidegger saw being and time as constitutive of Dasein’s facticity, Stiegler argues that it is constituted in an “epigenetic layer of life” which is an “epigenetic sedimentation, a memorization of what has come to pass, is what is called the past, what we shall name the epiphylogenesis of man, meaning the conservation, accumulation, and sedimentation of successive epigeneses, mutually articulated (Ibid., 140.)” At a very primitive and basic level, language can be seen as an epigenetic layer and therefore a technic through which human beings temporalize themselves. If we now return to Heidegger’s notion of technology as a mode of disclosure we can see the implications of Stiegler’s claim. If Dasein is temporal, and time is constituted through technics as Stiegler claims, then technology becomes the mode of human becoming.
The contrast between Heidegger and Stiegler could not be more stark. Whereas Heidegger sees an ontological distinction between Dasein and the tools it takes up, Stiegler sees both as intertwined. This intertwining is a process of externalization which he refers to as instrumental maieutics. Instrumental maieutics is the process whereby human temporality is externalized through the use of instruments and simultaneously given back to the human being. Stiegler puts it this way, “the cortex is determined by the tool just as much as that of the tool by the cortex: a mirror effect whereby one, looking at itself in the other, is both deformed and formed in the process (Ibid., 158.)” This claim is similar to Marx’s claim that “man’s consciousness, changes with every change in the conditions of his material existence, in his social relations and his social life (Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, trans. Stanley Moore (New York: Penguin Books, 2002), 241.)” Human becoming is intrinsically linked with technological development.
Stiegler’s anthropology gets its metaphysical bearings by returning to the myth of Prometheus retold by Plato in the Protagoras (Plato, “Protagoras,” in Plato: Complete Works, eds. John M. Cooper and D.S. Hutchison (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1997), 320d-322d.) In Plato’s retelling of this myth the gods assigned Prometheus (forethought) and his brother Epimetheus (afterthought) the task of assigning powers and abilities to mortals. Epimetheus begged Prometheus to let him have the exclusive responsibility of assigning powers and abilities to the mortals. Prometheus agreed, and Epimetheus began assigning powers and abilities in such a way as to bring harmony and balance to the natural world. But, by the time Epimetheus came to the human being he was out of powers and abilities and Prometheus had to steal the art of fire (empuron technen) (Plato, “Protagoras,” 321e.) from Hephaestus in order for the human being to have a power and ability. Stiegler sees this myth as pointing to a fundamental “lack” or “de-fault” (défaut ) in the metaphysical origins of the human being which is overcome through technics; that is to say the art of fire compensates for the human beings lack of power and ability. Human beings are metaphysically undetermined and contingent; that is, human beings are finite. This leads Stiegler to claim that “discovery, insight, invention, imagination are all, according to the narrative of the myth, characteristic of a default.” The origins of human technology are therefore bound up with the origins and finitude of humanity. Thus, for Stiegler, the question concerning technology is not “How shall we act?” or “How shall we live?” but rather “What shall we become?” As Sean Gaston, has put it:
For Stiegler, the technical is more than the tool, more than the machine: it involves the invention of the human. Life is already reliant on technics. Technics makes the transmission of the past and the anticipation of the future possible. Without technics there can be no memory, no heritage, no adoption, no invention. Technics give us time (Gaston, Sean, “Technics of Decision: An Interview,” Journal of Theoretical Humanities, Vol. 8, no. 2 (August 2003): 151.)”
Stiegler views technics as “the horizon of all possibility to come and of all possibility of a future” which philosophy has “repressed as an object of thought (Stiegler, Technics and Time, ix.)” In response to this repressive approach Stiegler has argued that “the modern age is essentially that of modern technics (Ibid., 7.)”
In this article, I have attempted to present three ways the question concerning technology has been re-framed in order to bring into relief what is really at stake in the question. I began with Hannah Arendt’s reframing of the question around human activity. Arendt’s analysis of the question concerning technology pointed to a Janus-faced problem. On the one hand technology makes us masters of our world through machinery. On the other hand, it also puts the capability of destroying the world in our hands. Next, I presented Martin Heidegger’s reframing of the question around the human being. Heidegger recognized both the danger and the possibilities for human life in its relationship with technology and highlighted art is a way of coming closer to the dangerous power of modern technology so that its saving power may shine forth. Finally, I presented the view of the contemporary French philosopher Bernard Stiegler who reframes the question around human becoming. Stiegler’s insight into the interrelationship between technics and time and his conclusion that human temporality is constituted technologically helped to bring into relief what is really at stake in the question concerning technology, namely, that the future of humanity will be determined through technology.
Technology has been part of human life since the dawn of consciousness and it will not fade from the mortal horizon. Human beings are inherently technological, in fact we are human because we are technological, and therefore our destiny is bound up with a Janus-faced system full of threats and promises. To face Janus we must learn to act and live in a free and reflective relationship with technology, mindful of the dangers and hopeful of the promises so that who we become will remain human and not monstrous.