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  • Dao, Technology, and American Naturalism
  • Joseph Grange

The onset of the new spirit is the product of a widespread upheaval in various forms of culture, and the prize at the end of a complicated tortuous path.... But the actuality of this consists in ... [its] newly acquired meaning.

Hegel, "Preface" to The Phenomenology of the Spirit1

New spirit, violence, effort, and new meaning. These are some of the themes involved in this conference on technology and human experience. I wish to extend and deepen Hegel's thoughts on the qualities involved at the onset of a new world situation. I do so by returning to two old texts: the Dao De Jing and one of the classics of American naturalism, John Dewey's Art as Experience. Technology is fundamentally about doing. In the act of doing there resides a mystery called creativity. It is to this moment of experience that I direct my remarks.

The Dao tells us that activity in the form of ceaseless becoming and perishing constitutes the ultimate character of reality. The very first saying in the Dao De Jing proclaims a double aspect to this fundamental way of passage:

Nameless (wu-ming), the origin (shih) of heaven and earth;Named (yu-ming), the mother (mu) of ten thousand things2

There is a dual source for the way things are. I take "the origin" and "the mother" as exceptionally apt metaphors for expressing the very being of reality. The named Dao refers to the realm of the practically true. The unnamed Dao lets this actual world of concrete practice express itself. Why are two aspects necessary for Dao? The answer resides in the relation between wu and yu.3 Neither is independent of the other, for wu as the act of letting go and yu as the act of being are always tied to each other. How else could beings be if they were not let be? Western thought loses this double insight when it speaks of Being and Nothingness. To be and not to be are moments in the same process of becoming and perishing. They do not stand opposed. Origin lets be and in so doing turns over the ten thousand things to the care of their mother.

Dao as causal agency demands that the West stretch its notion of causal efficacy beyond the customary emphasis on material and efficient causality.4 The best way to do this is to concentrate on Plato's theory of the Good as that which gives simply because it is good.5 The reason why beings are is because they are good. To the extent that they are good they are also intelligible. Thus being, goodness, and intelligibility form a reciprocal causal relationship.6 The unnamed Dao is the source of the goodness that the named Dao mothers in the world of concrete practice. [End Page 363]

Understanding the quality of goodness that this kind of doing creates brings us back to technology's place in the Third Millennium. There are two kinds of doing. There is the agency that provokes reality in such a way as to bring about a certain specific result. There is also the agency that evokes from reality the creativity latent in its processes. The first kind of doing often marks the contemporary use of technology. Outrageous provocation of the environment and the displacement of the human person for the sake of bureaucratic form are two familiar forms of this bad way of doing. Its irresponsibility resides in its thoughtlessness. The good way of doing is to be understood as the evocation of goodness from the womb of process. I use the maternal organ deliberately, for our word "technology" has its roots in the ancient Greek word for giving birth, tikto. Unnamed and named Dao meet when evocation replaces provocation.

I regard such evocative practices as aesthetic achievements. They are characterized by intense ways of engagement that flow seamlessly from part to part by reason of the mediation of the whole. Goodness guides activity so as to produce a feeling of consummation when an experience is completed. All the stops and starts, the hesitations and the leaps forward, that usually characterize our way...


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pp. 363-377
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