- Technics and the Philosopher
by Daryl Lee
Pierre Ducassé published Les techniques et le philosophe during a period of rich reflection on society and technology, not to mention on the cusp of a major rethinking of culture and the human in continental philosophy in the 1960s. Yet Ducassé’s contribution is a forgotten piece in the modern history of the philosophy of technology. Following in the wake of the publication in France of rather diverse landmarks such as Lewis Mumford’s 1934 Technics and Civilization (Technique et civilisation, 1950) and Martin Heidegger’s “La question de la technique” (in Essais et conférences, 1958), Les techniques et le philosophe is overshadowed in a French context by the work of his contemporary, Gilbert Simondon. Simondon’s Du mode d’existence des objets techniques (1958) provided an object-oriented phenomenology of “technicity” the very same year. If we take “technicity” to be, as Arthur Bradley and Louis Armand propose, the name for “something which can no longer be seen as just a series of prostheses or technical artifacts—which would be merely ‘supplemental’ . . . to our nature—but the basic and enabling condition of our life-world,”1 then Ducassé’s work has been utterly excluded from recent discussions of technicity in this digital age that has returned to Plato and Aristotle through other mid twentieth-century thinkers.
Drawing from research on both ends of the lifespan of the “human”—from the protohuman to the posthuman—humanity has been redefined not apart from or outside of technology but by its intrinsic technicity. In Gesture and Speech (Le geste et la parole, 1964), the paleoanthropologist André Leroi-Gourhan advanced a theory of the codevelopment of manual articulation (i.e., tool-based existence) and symbol-making that determined that the species homo comes into being precisely because of its technicity. It is no surprise, then, that the likes of Leroi-Gourhan or Simondon became touchstones for Bernard Stiegler’s exhaustive deconstruction of technics in his multi-volume work Technics and Time (La technique et le temps, 1994–2001). To oppose technics to civilization, says Stiegler, is to deny their “indissociability.”2 Ducassé may justifiably find himself overshadowed by Simondon’s prescient conceptualization of technicity. Yet [End Page 25] reviving Ducassé’s work at the very least demonstrates that French thinkers in the post-war era were refashioning the philosophy of technology in ways that have only been spottily visible until recent years (overshadowed as they were in the United States by structuralism and post-structuralism). This speaks to the timeliness of the current issue of diacritics.
Ducassé, like Simondon, is part of the techno-philosophical zeitgeist of the late 1950s, a layer of history the recent “technological turn”3 has not entirely excavated. Ducassé deserves a role in the technological turn’s return to moments of conceptual breakthroughs such as those of the 1950s. But that role must be more than coincidence to make him valuable here. I point to two elements of the excerpt translated here that seem pertinent. First, Ducassé is of interest for how he frames “technicity,” a term subject to an array of uses in French as in English. If “the meaning of technicity remains very much in question” in the 2000s, as Bradley and Armand argue, then we follow their call for “a sustained or concerted debate about the larger implications of our technological condition.”4 We find that Ducassé uses “technicity” in shifting ways, now as “technology,” now as “technicality,” and now as the logical set of “technics.” In this Simondon is far more forthright in defining it as a concept. Nevertheless, Ducassé’s efforts to articulate the philosopher’s role in thinking technicity reveal a drive to conceptualize a phenomenon we are still grappling with. And Ducassé seems fully aware of the fluidity of meanings in the core terminology of this problem and its relationship to “culture” and human activity:
The appearance of something decidedly new in human behavior more often than not changes the current meaning of the word “technique” in all of the corresponding field and sometimes beyond. History, even the history...