University of Tasmania
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A reevaluation of Marcuse's philosophy of technology

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posted on 2023-05-26, 02:22 authored by Kidd, M
This thesis provides a reevaluation of Herbert Marcuse's philosophy of technology. It argues that rather than offering an abstract utopian or dystopian account of technology, Marcuse's philosophy of technology can be read as a cautionary approach developed by a concrete philosophical utopian. The strategy of this thesis is to reread Marcuse's key texts in order to challenge the view that his philosophy of technology is abstractly utopian. Marcuse is no longer a fashionable figure and there has been little substantive literature devoted to the problem of the utopian character of his philosophy of technology since the works of Douglas Kellner and Andrew Feenberg. This thesis seeks to reposition Marcuse as a concrete philosophical utopian. It then reevaluates his philosophy of technology from this standpoint and suggests that it may have relevance to some contemporary debates. Marcuse's writings on technology are the primary focus of this thesis, together with a range of major secondary sources. My discussion is accordingly narrow, although its implications are sometimes extensive. Chapter one introduces the problem to be addressed and locates it in the relevant secondary literature. It explains the strategy and the structure of the thesis as well as the limits of the enquiry. Chapter two reevaluates the influence of Marxian theory on Marcuse's philosophy of technology and shows he appropriated it as a critical-analytical approach to modern society. Chapter three emphasises how Marcuse's critique of the decline of the 'second dimension' of critical reason gives a specific cast to his thought whilst drawing out the implications of his distinction between technics and technology. This chapter also acknowledges the early influence of Marcuse's Heideggerian formation. Chapter four shows that Marcuse's philosophy of technology may have more relevance to contemporary debates about the philosophy of technology than might be expected. It does so by giving a critique of the current emphasis on perpetual economic growth from the perspective of the kind attributed to Marcuse. Chapter five defends Marcuse's concept of nature from a number of prominent contemporary criticisms and suggests that, despite its apparent concerns, it remains relevant to the determination of issues common to philosophers of technology and the environment. Chapter six defends Marcuse's philosophy of technology from contemporary 'instrumental' accounts, and chapter seven undertakes the same task in relation to autonomous accounts of technology.The thesis concludes that dismissals of Marcuse's philosophy of technology as abstractly utopian and pessimistic are one sided and in some respects precipitate. Moreover, there may be something still to be learnt from his approach to this area of research. His philosophy of technology is arguably more valuable than the existing literature suggests because it has concrete philosophical features that can then be applied to developments since his death. This is not to suggest that Marcuse's claims can be made out or that his theorising is free from serious problems, it is to correct the record in certain limited respects.


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