Contents Index

Technology in a Free Society: The New Frankenstein

Dominic J. Balestra

Thought, 65:257 (June 1990), 155-168

Science as Liberator

Galileo: That's the earth. For two thousand years man has chosen to believe that the sun and all the host of stars revolve about him. Well. The Pope, the cardinals, the princes, the scholars, captains, merchants, housewives, have pictured themselves squatting in the middle of an affair like that.

Andrea: Locked up inside?

Galileo: (triumphant) Ah!

Andrea: It's like a cage.

(Brecht, Galileo 48)
{155} Brecht's opening image is followed by Galileo's taking up his telescope to assist him in unfolding a "new science," one that liberates us from an earth-bound Aristotelian age. It serves as a bold reminder that the seventeenth-century scientific revolution was an integral part of the bourgeois revolution of the Renaissance and its movement from a medieval feudalism to the {156} modern liberal state. While there can be no doubt that Galileo was a leading champion and originator of the new scientific reason, it is René Descartes who was its master architect. He saw more fully than any of his peers the revolutionary implications of a realistic interpretation of the Copernican astronomy. Like Galileo, Descartes had recognized that acceptance of the Copernican thesis would entail the rejection of the two domain physics of the Aristotelian-Ptolemaic world system -- a rejection that places in serious jeopardy the qualitative, teleological physics of Aristotle. More than this, Descartes realized that such a radical overthrow of the most fundamental order of nature would send a shockwave which in turn would generate a crisis of knowledge with political and religious ramifications.1 And since Montaigne already had given a vibrant voice to a Pyrrhonian skepticism2 in response to a reformation that had already shattered a theology of one church, the atmosphere was too explosive to rush into print.

Descartes also knew very well that to break from the Aristotelian cosmos without an articulated alternative, rival world system could only force the advocates of the rising new science into a skepticism. For if Aristotle and Ptolemy were mistaken, how can we be so sanguine about a would-be Galilean-Copernican or Cartesian alternative? Indeed, if what stood for so long and was so well confirmed as true -- even by today's standards of testing and margin of error -- turns out to be false, then where and how might a Galileo or a Descartes turn to find the truth about the sun and the stars? Recognizing the implication of this, especially when coupled with the shattering wake of the Reformation, the sixteenth-century French essayist Michel de Montaigne mounted a sweeping wave of Pyrrhonian skepticism that attacked authority, sense perception, and even reason as reliable sources of knowledge and truth. The following lines of John Donne (1611) express and capture the mood before that early dawning of the infinite universe.

{157} And new Philosophy calls all in doubt,
The element of fire is quite put out;
The Sun is lost, and th'earth, and no man's wit
Can well direct him where to look for it.
And freely men confess that this world's spent,
When in the Planets and the Firmament
They seek so many new; they see that this
Is crumbled out again to his Atomies. (lines 205-12)
The early seventeenth-century intellect was a confused and embattled territory on a number of theoretical fronts -- religious, social, and scientific. Pushing ahead in the posture of Montaigne's skepticism, Descartes skillfully transformed its distrust into a methodic doubting which is made to function as a therapeutic instrument for cleansing the cluttered house of that intellect.

The weight of Descartes' writings fosters the prevalent view that his philosophy is a highly theoretical enterprise, an exclusive concern of pure science, a project of pure, theoretical inquiry. But Descartes' theoria is not a politically neutral, pure science devoid of any praxis. Admittedly the Discourse on Method I and Il, seems to support a reading of his "four rules of method" as guides for the mind's reaching purely theoretical truth. And the four maxims of conduct of Discourse III, (Descartes 18-21) suggest a political position that clearly opts for conserving the status quo of the state. The portrait that unfolds is that of Descartes as theoretical revolutionary and political conservative.

But Descartes explicitly alerts his reader that these four maxims of conduct are "a provisional code of morality for myself." Indeed, using the metaphor of rebuilding one's house, he instructs us that to do it well, one must build a firm foundation upon which the new house (which will be that of modern reason) can be reconstructed. He also tells us that it is not enough to plan, gather the materials and the workers, "we must see that we are provided with a comfortable place to stay while the work of rebuilding is going on" (18). These temporary lodgings for his philosophical work of reconstructing a new, rival world system are his four maxims of conduct. A more careful reading of the Discourse, one that is mindful of Descartes' instructive metaphors and his autobiographic revelations rather than merely focused on a distilled "rules of method," makes it clear that Descartes' method unfolds a theoria with political implications.

Although he first discovered method in the movement of his own mind's arriving at mathematical truth, he methodically pushed and doubted his way back to the mind, the cogito -- that thinking, doubting, mathematizing reason -- behind the method. In doing so, Descartes has withdrawn from the doubt-filled world of an Aristotelian common-sense realism into his Archimedian starting point -- the autonomous recesses of his own reason. Descartes' cogito is this autonomous reason and it is his legacy to us, for within it are the two pillars of modernity: freedom and rationality.

Descartes opens Part I of his Discourse on Method proclaiming that "Good {158} sense is mankind's most equitably divided endowment . . ." (3). Herein lie the seeds for the fundamental notion of a democratic or free society in its modern sense, for if each of us has this basic human ability to "judge correctly, and to distinguish the true from the false, which [Descartes informs his reader] is really what is meant by good sense or reason" (3), then each of us is entitled to self governance -- however we think this through individually or socially. Although Descartes subsequently went on to stress the rational to the virtual exclusion of any significant treatment of the ethical, he did so in order to secure reason and its freedom from the threat of skepticism. In fact, he reminds us at the outset of his modern project, that "it is not enough to have a good mind [i.e. a sharp and powerful intellect]: one must use it well" (4). It is clear to him that intellectual responsibility devoid of an ethical dimension will be insufficient. For Descartes, the respect for freedom summons a not merely intellectually responsible but an ethically responsible power of reason. In its turn the respect for reason cautions us to be tolerant of differences. Since when honest, this respect includes an appreciation of reason's power as well as an acknowledgment of its limits.

Though Descartes was well aware that despite a common reason3 or, if you will, intellectual power, there will be differences of opinion, and though he recognized a limitation to this intellectual power, it was John Locke who traced the source for the inevitable differences of opinion to the limits of reason. Furthermore, Locke saw that the ethically responsible attitude in the light of this recognition was that of tolerance. But Locke failed to sustain his principle of tolerance between the two spheres of reason and freedom. Inadvertently, he, among others, initiated a project of the dissolution of human reason by underwriting a new mechanistic materialism. Heir to this, the Scottish philosopher David Hume construed the basic rivalry as a struggle between rationalist reason and the feeling of freedom and opted for freedom over reason in his contention that "reason is, and ought ever to be, slave of the passions."4 While Hume clearly identified freedom as the superior value, he retained reason as the handmaid of freedom and not the enemy.

In response to Hume's devaluation of rationality -- at least the rationality of pure theoretical or scientific reason -- the German philosopher Immanuel Kant mounted a formidable, critical argument the task of which, as he an- {159} nounced, was to "delimit knowledge, in order to make room for faith" (Kant 29). Insofar as he succeeded, Kant in effect critically restored, but now at a deeper epistemological level, the principle of tolerance -- one that could caution against entitling theoretical [scientific] reason to an exhaustive claim on rationality. Among Kant's legacy is his exhibition of reason's exercise of tolerance with respect to itself. Briefly, Kant argued for reason's responsibility to accommodate freedom and the converse. This reason exercising tolerance with respect to itself in a critically responsible way displays a more fully developed sense of rationality.

John Stuart Mill extended this line of development, and its inherent tensions, by his combining tolerance and freedom into a nurturing soil for "the cultivation of individuality which alone produces, or can produce, well-developed human beings . . ." (Mill 258). Undoubtedly the modern liberal tradition, which has brought forth the Western democracies of Britain, France, and the United States, is heir to the twin seeds of reason and freedom that go back to Descartes. Indeed, the history of our Western world since the Copernican-Cartesian revolution might legitimately be read as that of freedom advancing reason as reason advances freedom. This is progress, a progress the testament of which is an unprecedented era, the modern era of justice, equality, and happiness.

Science as Power

And so these twin objects, human knowledge and human power, do really meet in one. . . .

Francis Bacon, The Great Instauration

The above sketch of the progress of freedom and reason is too Whiggish5 in its historical standpoint, for it suggests that the unbridled development of reason basically parallels the growth of human freedom. But the Enlightenment's optimistic prognosis for Western society has not been borne out. At best its progress has exhibited an ambivalent path whose every advance for freedom and human happiness has carried with it an unprecedented increase {160} in the human power to do evil. There is, to be sure, another side to this story, one in which modern reason comes forth as scientific reason and it technology. If the presumption that this reason is value-neutral were correct, then the other side of the story would not be significant. Indeed, the view that the progress of science is synonymous with progress has a great deal of currency today. But the relationship between reason and freedom, and so between science and democracy, is not an unambiguous one. For the presumption of a value-neutral scientific knowledge is highly questionable at best. Although recent work in the philosophy of science provides a strong case that all science is value-laden in an ideologically significant way,6 our reading has tried to show the praxis side of Descartes' reason and therein of modern science. An even more inclusive historical reading of the development of reason from Descartes, one that recognizes the role of Bacon, reveals another dimension to modern reason -- that of techne.

If Descartes is properly called the "Father of Modern Philosophy" and Galileo the same for Modern Science, then their contemporary -- Sir Francis Bacon -- might appropriately be dubbed the "Father of Modern Technology." Although he was no engineering genius etching a place in respect to technology like that of either Galileo or Descartes to science, Bacon was the chief propagandist of the new science and its technological promise. More than any of his peers he penetrated and articulated what this new way of knowing nature held for the future, for us today. Sharply breaking away from an Aristotelian notion of contemplative truth, Bacon disclosed the hallmark of genuine knowledge to be the power of manipulative control over that which is known (28). In short, to know X is to have power over X. In his work The New Atlantis Bacon portrays a new "Promised Land," one that eclipses Augustine's "City of God" with its transcendent horizon in the eternal, by a vision of the "city of man" whose horizon is that of an infinitely perfectible, earthly progress propelled by the power knowledge of the new science. In so doing he extended the equation of "knowledge and power" to the sphere of human security and thereby to the eschatological plane of human hope. Despite the seventeenth-century revolution and Bacon's non-Aristotelian understanding of theoria, the contemplative conception of theory and truth is often smuggled in and retained for the rhetoric of a value-neutral science -- a science which, since value-neutral, it is argued, ought to be left to flourish on its own by freely pursuing its research. The root source of this illicit conception of a "pure science" lies with a truncated reading of Descartes' theoria as void of praxis. In the above discussion I have tried to indicate that this common reading is a serious misinterpretation. Its significance is that a dis- {161} tortive understanding of Cartesian reason has persisted in the myth of a value-neutral, scientific reason, whose only responsibility is that of "research and contribute" to the stockpile of "truth." Under this myth, logic counsels that questions of moral, social, and political issues be relegated to the sphere of the use of science and its many possible benefits for us. Just how this science ought to be used, and a fortiori pursued for its own ends, escapes the domain of the scientists' responsibility qua scientist. Of course, the standard retort is that the responsibility for such questions of use is a distinctively human and not a scientific one. The poverty of this response is that by its own logic it can locate such moral concerns only in the realm of the subjective which, given its fact-value distinction, reduces to the irrational. Thus, in its perspective, to be human is to be irrational!

Though Descartes had not intended such a leap to the eschatological, he did make a turn in this Baconian direction when, in the last part of his Discourse, he insisted that he was obliged to "promote as far as possible the general good of mankind" by employing the reason of the new science precisely because it is well suited to "make ourselves masters and possessors of nature" (45). Moreover, as I've indicated above, Descartes knew that his theory held eventual implications for praxis. What I am now suggesting is that he had an intimation, albeit much more vague, of the techne intrinsic to the new science. It is no accident that the age of industrialization follows an age of political revolution spawned by the age of reason.

Modern science is born of suspicion and doubt with respect to the way things appear. Indeed, Galileo knew quite well that he would have to begin by rendering the appearances of the heavens, whether the rising and setting sun or a wandering mercury, doubtful if the Copernican thesis was to get a full hearing. Ironically, Galileo initiated his argument by providing empirical observations of a moon's surface that was scattered with mountains and valleys and so, he inferred, more like the earth's than that of a perfect celestial sphere. From that observation he turned his telescope to the moons of Jupiter and the phases of Venus to deliver a message that we are not caged within an earth-centered armillary prison.7 That was the moment when science took root, the point where the spade turns in our modern quarry of nature.

Galileo's empirical case rested on evidence obtained through the instrumentation of the telescope. In spite of Brecht's caricature of the suspicious Aristotelian who refused to look through Galileo's telescope before the latter would provide a disputatio on the telescopic evidence (Scene 4), the Aristote- {162} lian's request was not unreasonable. For the evidence was obtained through the mediation of the telescope, an artifact then referred to as a "spy scope," a newly constructed instrument, crude and distortive of its image, whose operation was not adequately understood. Today we take its legitimacy for granted, which is one small manifestation of how thoroughly science and its technologies have permeated our everyday experience and the public understanding. In this case the experience of seeing, observing nature has now become legitimately and fully assimilated to a highly developed and extremely powerful technological extension of our senses via the optical microscope of the microbiologist or the radio telescope of the astronomer.

But in 1611 when Galileo had already published his findings and constructed his case for Copernicus, there was no universally accepted theory of light. Yet nothing short of such a theory, or disputatio as an Aristotelian might call it, could warrant unqualified acceptance of the "empirical" evidence advanced by Galileo. Only an optics could legitimate telescopic observation in the service of both further scientific, to be more precise, modern scientific evidence and discovery. It was no coincidence that a flurry of scientific work on light, by Descartes and Snell, followed by Huyghens to its completion in Newton, burst on the scene by the mid-seventeenth century. All of this work spawned by the need to explain the new instrument and its prospects for "liberating" us from the closed world of an Aristotelian nature. Each of these early modern theories of light share the hallmark of modern scientific theory -- the postulation of underlying explanatory mechanisms.8 The discovery of correlations between observables, far from constituting the end of science, is but its beginning. Modern science begins when, having noted correlations, it seeks an explanation of the pattern in the hypothetical postulation of underlying, "hidden" explanatory mechanisms -- theoretical entities and their activities as the deeper reality. Though we can find this tendency in the early Greek atomists, neither Plato nor Aristotle went with it. A major reason for its rejection in antiquity, which Aristotle recognized, was the absence of any way, of any canon of method, to warrant claims of a hidden, material reality behind the sense appearances. For Aristotle, our only access to a knowable nature was the intellect's power of abstracting from our sense experience of things. Accordingly, a theoria of nature need never nor could ever depend upon a techne of observing, of experiencing nature.

If we have correctly identified a distinctive feature of modern science and its development today, viz., the construction of more and more abstract theory, then it becomes clear that rationality and legitimation of even "pure" science, especially its theoretical progress, intrinsically requires increasingly more powerful instruments of experiment and observation, i.e., technologies. For example, the new theory of Copernicus needed the telescope to {163} produce evidence in its support; this, in its turn, brought about the need for an optics to justify the telescope. And in general, there has emerged a pattern of producing more powerful instruments, whose technologies require, in their turn, more and more advanced scientific theory. When seen in the historical context, one that is internal to science as knowledge, the dynamic interdependence between theory and instrumental technologies, each demanding more and more power from the other as each forges "ahead," becomes an unmistakable feature of modern science as theoria.

The upshot here is that from its outset modern science was dependent upon technologies of instrumentation for its epistemic claims. Virtually all of its observations are instrument-laden in such a way that any advance in theory demands better technologies. In turn, these more powerful instruments demand higher level theory for their legitimation. There unfolds a dialectic of advancing hypotheses and ever newer instrumentations. In short, there is a dynamic interdependency between theoria and techne which is constitutive of modern science and which reveals its knowing as more and more a making. Just because the power of modern scientific theories, whether the molecular theory of the gene or the quantum theory of the atom, resides in the theoretical postulation of underlying explanatory mechanisms such as DNA or quantum spin, its theoria is dependent upon its techne in an essential way. This dialectic of theory and technology is an essential and distinctive feature of modern science.

Once we recognize that modern, scientific reason is a "power knowledge" whose concrete manifestation is technology, then it becomes quite clear that either technological or scientific progress will, at best, be ambivalent. For every advance in the power of manipulative control carries with it an increase in the potential threat to our human freedom. Likewise, we must concede, that genuine choice opens the risk of possibly restraining or even -- though virtually unthinkable today -- ending public support for science and technology.

I realize this sounds extreme, but what if we performed a cost-benefit analysis of the fruits of scientific technologies, which must include the mounting pile of problems that it leaves in its wake -- nuclear weapons, pollution, depletion of resources, and the risk of an Andromeda strain, as well as the more subtle ways of threatening our political freedoms. Pause to consider how technology has restructured the context for our political processes. An example that immediately comes to mind is how the media has eroded the lifeline of participation in the electoral process of a democratic society. Consider what today's media calls a debate between candidates, such as the so-called Reagan-Mondale debate of 1984; then think back and recall the Lincoln-Douglas debates of a century past! What if the total citizenry -- responsibly informed of the full range of possible consequences, both good and evil, of our technology -- were given the choice? How might it use its freedom to determine the fate of technology? From what standpoint of rationality would {164} it deliberate? The scientific technological rationality that has given us the bomb, the swine flue, and perhaps the AIDS virus? Or would it be a kind of rationality not unlike that which guided those who fashioned the architecture of balance contained in our constitution? A kind of wisdom displayed in a Shakespeare play or a Greek mythic tragedy?

At this point the reader might retort "The poor author is losing touch!" He has let his imagination carry him away by images of mushroom clouds lighting up the winter's day and of an AIDS virus silencing the human prospect, leaving artificial intelligences to record the event. Perhaps you are thinking that my concerns are all too Frankensteinian!

It is true that out of the seventeenth century the triumph of Newton's physics, built on Descartes and Galileo, combined with Bacon's prophetic vision of a "New Atlantis" to inspire the eighteenth-century Enlightenment optimism about the technological prospect, conceived only in service to freedom. But the nineteenth century bears witness to the romantic rebellion against reason which, by then, had emerged as all too scientific.


Andrea: But you have contributed. Science has only one commandment: contribution. And you have contributed more than any man for a hundred years.
Galileo: Have I? Then welcome to my gutter, dear collegue in science and brother in treason.

(Brecht, Galileo, scene 13)

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus articulates this rebellion in a remarkable, and hopefully, unforgettable way. Quite unlike the movie, there is no crazed assistant, no criminal brain, no violent rampage of random terror. Though the deficiencies of technics are embodied in the monster, it is Victor Frankenstein who recoils with fear and is seized with misgivings when he brings his artificial man to life. "Now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room and continued a long time traversing my bed chamber, unable to compose my mind to sleep" (Shelley 61). After the monster walks to Victor's bedroom and tries to communicate, it is Fran- {165} kenstein who flees the laboratory and house, not his newborn "creation." It is Frankenstein who takes flight from responsibility, seeking to forget that the creature is still alive, still benign, and left abandoned in a world -- alien because nothing can be familiar, for the creature there is nothing to remember.9

The next encounter between father and technological son comes more than two years later. The monster has taught himself to read, has finished Milton's Paradise Lost, and Dr. Frankenstein's diary which gives him something to remember -- that Frankenstein is his maker. When he catches up to Victor, he makes an eloquent plea. Here is Shelley's vision of an autonomous technology personified, finding its voice and speaking. The monster's argument emphasizes the perils of an unfinished, imperfect creation, recalls the obligation of the creator, and describes the consequences of further insensitivity and neglect. Though the monster's first preference is to be with the human community, and despite Victor's stream of invective, the creature comes to agree, regrettably, that it is too late for him to enter human society. The two reach a compromise, the Doctor will build a companion. With this Shelley discloses the hallmark of the internal dynamic of technology: the problems of technology turn to technology for their solution. But Victor realizes a flaw in the scheme -- the would-be companion has not foresworn to "quit the neighborhood of man and hide herself in deserts, . . . she might refuse to comply with a compact before her creation" (167). So he destroys the body waiting for life, and the creature in waiting takes revenge for this condemnation to a life of isolation. In his first act of violence he kills Victor's wife; later Victor dies and the monster commits suicide. For the reader Shelley already signaled the theme by placing on the title page the following quotation from Milton's Paradise Lost:

Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me man? Did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?
Her understanding, captured in Frankenstein's relation to his creation, is a penetrating foresight into our relation to an emerging autonomous technology: the plight of things created, but outside of a context of sufficient care. Victor never abandons the dream of progress through science, nor does he lose the thirst for power that propels the dream. Nevertheless, he is baffled and fearful, totally unable to respond to his imperfect creation in any context of care. He only desires to forget what he, man, has created, for in the face of an autonomous technology the maxim "What man has made he can also undo" becomes increasingly scandalous (Winner 314).

Mary Shelley's art endures as a dramatic reminder of the nineteenth-cen- {166} tury romantic rebellion against a fallible, scientific reason and its technology, the failure of which is compounded by an imperfect embodiment in its technics-put-to-use in the mechanical environment of the industrial age. In our century Alduous Huxley's Brave New World and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey replace the nineteenth-century fear of the deficiencies of technics, a fear which sought to forget by a realistic anxiety, that has already succeeded in forgetting its source as it stands before the horizon of an all too excellent technics in this post-industrial age of miracle and wonders. This anxiety is intensified in its reluctant awareness of the dreadful possibilities of a successful technology, already self-moving, in an artificial environment of increasingly exacting law and calculation. Its source is the power knowledge of modern reason (Descartes' "good sense") and its technologies, its fundamental way of thinking, or failure to think. Inasmuch as it holds out the promise of controlling that which it knows, it presents itself as a ubiquitous means to virtually any end. (Remember Bacon's promised land -- the "New Atlantis.") Ultimately, the fulfillment of this promise requires complete control over that which science knows. Thus, its best guarantee is a project of total transformation of the world into an object ideally suited to such scientific knowing -- viz., an artificially reconstructed world. So long as this world remains on the side of the object, it appears to be a potentially beneficial reserve, a means to serve us, to propel progress. However, as soon as it, call it techne, and its way of knowing turns upon the subject -- as it has in our so-called social sciences -- it discloses itself as a threat. At the least, it conceals a potential threat of rendering us as objects, whereby we would become situated within the sphere of means. Ironically we, as subjects whose ends were to be served by this techne, would be displaced and relocated among the technologically manufactured environment, having become "lost in the cosmos."

If Mary Shelley's Frankenstein has captured the feel of the nineteenth century's romantic rebellion, its feeling of fear in the face of an imperfect techne, the new Frankenstein of our late twentieth century is the prospect of an all-too-excellent techne, and the realistic anxiety that permeates both our conscious and unconscious life. One that is ubiquitous and offers a sleep that gives no rest.

Inasmuch as twentieth-century technology has become quasi-autonomous,10 if not autonomous, the defensive response is to forget -- whether by refusing to face the dreadful possibilities of a too successful technology already remaking the earth into an artificial environment of exacting law and calculation, or by a more subtle telling ourselves that this technology has prolonged the average lifespan, overcome disease and famine, and given us more free time to do what we want -- despite the lingering prospect that a {167} future HAL might at best, if we are relegated to a peripheral role in the technological process, merely tolerate the only remaining source of error in its world -- the human. But such a world, by its own technological rationality, should not provide any space for a context of sufficient care. In the absence of such a space for so human a phenomenon, we simply come to forget our more fully human responsibilities. If, as Heidegger has tried to show, our age's "technologizing of the earth" is transforming the world into a "standing reserve" of means to be used by the subject, then the arrival of AI (artificial intelligence) in our time continues on a steady course toward absorbing the subject into this "reserve" and thereby rendering all the world as "means without end." The New Frankenstein is an excellent technology, so autonomous as to render the maker neither divine nor human and whose creation, unlike that of Frankenstein's, is too artificial to need or desire human care. Once Descartes' reason was wedded to Bacon's prophetic vision of a "New Atlantis," his moral counsel to "use our intellectual powers well" evaporated, distilling an empty intellectual responsibility to produce knowledge and advance power, all the while forgetting the wisdom that sees the arrogance of power. Regrettably this intellectual responsibility has become the sole "moral" imperative of the scientist qua scientist in our day, shielding him or her from genuinely moral response. Such intellectual responsibility alone is no responsibility at all and is "thinkable" only in the context of a world without end.

Works Cited

Adam, C., and P. Tannery, Eds. Oeuvres de Descartes. Paris: J. Vrin, 1969.

Balestra, D. J. "The Case of Galileo and the New Priesthood." Realism: Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association. 59 (1984): 319-30.

Bacon, Francis. Novum Organum. The English Philosophers: from Bacon to Mill. Ed. E. A. Burtt. New York: Modern Library, 1939.

Brecht, Benolt. Galileo. Ed. Eric Bentley. Trans. Charles Laugh ton. New York: Grove, 1966.

Descartes, René. Discourse on Method. (1637) and Meditations. (1641) Trans. Laurence J. Taflem. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1960.

Donne, John. An Anatomy of the World: The First Anniversary. 1611.

Drake, Stillman, Ed. and Trans. Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo. New York Doubleday, 1957.

Hume, David. A Treatise of Human Nature. Ed. L.A. Selby-Bigge. London: Oxford UP, 1967.

Jonas, Hans. "Toward A Philosophy of Technology." The Hastings Center Report. February (1979): 34-43.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. Trans. N.K. Smith. New York: St. Martin's, 1965.

Kearney, H. Science and Change 1500-1700. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971.

Locke, John. Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Vol. 1. Ed. A.C. Frase. New York: Dover, 1959.

Madigan, P. The Modern Project to Rigor: Descartes to Nietzsche. Landham: UP of America, 1986.

Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty. The Philosophy of John Stuart Mill. Ed. Marshall Cohen. New York: Modern Library, 1961.

Newton-Smith, W.H. The Rationality of Science. Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981.

Olscamp, P., Ed. and Trans. Discourse on Method, Optics, Geometry, and Meteorology. By Rene Descartes. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965.

Popkin, Richard H. The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Descartes. New York: Harper, 1964.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. New York: Airmont, 1963.

Winner, Langdon. Autonomous Technology: Technics-Out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought. Cambridge: MIT P, 1977.


1. In 1633 Descartes had completed a work entitled The World, or Essay on Light. In November 1633 after learning of the Vatican's condemnation of Galileo's Dialogues on the Two Chief World Systems, Descartes informed his friend Pere Mersenne that he would not publish it. He wrote, "But as I would not for the world want a discourse from me where the least word could be found of which the church would disapprove, and so I would prefer to suppress it than to have it appear maimed" (Adam and Tannery I:271). This did not end Descartes' work on a new theory of nature; rather, it altered his strategy for communicating his new ideas. He simply remained quiet on the question of heliocentrism while he forged ahead to refine a theory of matter and light, one that continued the central theme of The World, viz., that all of physical matter as we experience it can be explained solely in terms of size, shape, and motion. At that time he also added a new means for the investigation of nature under this theme, his famous discovery of analytic geometry. These sustained efforts resulted in his first published writings in 1637, three scientific essays, The Optics, The Geometry, and The Meteorology, which were prefaced and introduced by Descartes' much more familiar Discourse on Method. The three scientific essays were intended to exhibit the power of the new method sketched in the Discourse, as the method and its metaphysics of mind and nature were to ground the new science. See Olscamp.

2. For a very lucid scholarly treatment of this topic see Popkin especially Ch. 3, "Michel de Montaigne and The 'Nouveaux Pyrrhoniens'," and Ch. 9 "Descartes: Conqueror of Scepticism."

3. See Locke's "Epistle to the Reader," especially 9, and the "Introduction" 25-31. In these opening remarks Locke recalls a meeting among "five or six friends" and their inability to come into agreement on certain matters of morals and religion. See Fraser's introduction, pp. xvi-xvii. The problem of determining who is right in such disagreements motivated Locke to "search out the bounds between opinion and knowledge; and examine by what measures, in things whereof we have no certain knowledge, we ought to regulate our assent and moderate our persuasion" (27). In this light the Essay is in part an epistemological underwriting of Locke's position on tolerance.

4. Hume (415). For a succinct but deft reading of Hume as a critique of a technical Enlightenment rationality vis à vis Descartes and Locke, see Madigan, Ch. 5, "Descartes and Hume," 78-101.

5. A Whig interpretation of history, whether it be the history of nations or the history of science, refers to a specific historical outlook on the past which divides events essentially into two simple categories: progressive or forward-looking, regressive or backward-looking. Such a perspective, as the noted historian, Sir Herbert Butterfield, has argued, leads to gross distortions. For a succinct presentation of this theme see Kearney 17-22.

6. In today's post-Kuhn generation of the philosophy of science, the theory-ladenness of observation is a sine qua non in any account of scientific knowledge. There is a line of argument that arrives at the position that all science is value-laden, via the two successive theses that all theory is interest-laden and all interests are value-laden. For a brief presentation of this line of argument see Balestra.

7. Galileo's telescopic observations of the moon and discovery of the moons of Jupiter (he called the latter the Medician stars) were reported in his The Starry Messenger, 1610. The observations of the phases of Venus were discussed in his "Letters on Sunspots," 1613. These are included in Drake. For Galileo these findings indicated that the celestial phenomena were more earth-like than not. So construed, these results began to chisel away the hardcore distinction between the celestial and the terrestrial domains of Aristotelian natural motion and thereby threatened the entire Aristotelian world system.

8. The philosopher of science, W.H. Newton-Smith, treats this as "The Rupture with Refined Common Sense" (210-11).

9. For this section I am indebted to Langdon Winner's formidable and very valuable study. See especially Ch. 8, "Frankenstein's Problem" 306-35 for the full and more elaborate analysis.

10. For a clear analysis and a concise and cogent argument that modern technology has become quasi-autonomous, see Jonas.