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George Grant -- Technology & Justice

If one were to attempt to summarize the thematic scheme of Grant's Technology & Justice one could do worse than to characterize it as the drama of the transformation of the figure of an ancient human-being into the character of technological Man, and that being's decent from just living into nihilism. One could, under those circumstances, be forgiven for seeing in Grant's essays a philosophical retelling of The Portrait of Dorian Gray, particularly given his thematic quotation of the Spanish proverb: “Take what you want,” said God, “Take it, and pay for it.”

Thusly armed with an expectation of purpose to these writings one may proceed fluidly in the process of reworking the seemingly unrelated topics of Grant's investigation into a whole; to perceive an apparently random collection of essays as part of a thematic work rather than an assortment of vaguely related polemics. As is often the case however, simply identifying the presence of meaning does not cause it to be known, and one may rarely – excepting the shallowest of case -- in either literature or philosophy, merely summon-forth the work in such a manner which would cause it to reveal itself. Few things may be found upon the surface of a page which may be fully presenced, independent of the context, the art, and the tacit knowledge involved in its writing. One need necessarily be able to “read between the lines”.

It thus behooves one to delve deeper into the thematic scheme of Grant's book, and to say more than that it is merely the story of the degeneration of a good, clean, Christian kid into a degenerate, Godless technologist. Though to say such a thing is not to miss the point, it does contribute to missing the rest of the horn, and also the bull which precedes it. It is to miss the nature of the beast, its purpose, its mood, and the reason for which one should therefor be concerned by the aforementioned point and its direction. As a matter of practicality, one must necessarily be mindful of points which are being aimed at one-self.

An analysis may therefor be in order of the two figures of Grant's concern, the Ancient and the Modern (if we may be allowed to name them as such), and consideration may be given to the consequences of Grant's narrative if we allow that his characters are metaphorical stand-ins for the story of the West.

In so far as the character of the Ancient is concerned, his essential disposition may be painted in three points:

1.He considers scientific knowledge (epistemé) to be a category of knowledge separate from the technical knowledge of artisans (techné).
2.He is disposed to seek knowledge in a spirit of humility or supplication, in a process by which the holder or thing of knowledge is permitted to be unveiled or revealed on terms that are not of the seeker's making.
3.He is disposed to believe, or at least is taught, that to know something may only proceed from a love of that something; that knowledge of something cannot be had independent the acceptance and embrace of the other in its otherness.

In counterpoint to this description, the Modern – technological Man – exists in sharp contrast:

1.He believes in the radical co-penetration of scientific knowledge and of making; of epistemé and techné; in the form of the new positivistic knowledge: technology (techné- logos)
2.He believes in the necessity of objectifying all things which are to be known; of holding all objects of knowledge at arms length, and of handling them with emotional detachment.
3.He mistrusts any claim, even from himself, of knowledge which cannot be proven empirically; that is to say, that he believes knowledge is made manifest and evident by the demonstrated ability to control, to make, and to transform, and that which cannot be controlled must consequently not be “known”.
4.That, as a consequence of this rejection of all knowledge which is not empirical, he is left without any manner of recognizing meaning or purpose in the world, and that this manifests itself as the drive to know purpose by creating purpose, and that technology is thus re-christened as soter.

These then are the figures of our story – figures who are in fact nothing other than a single character (the West) at different stages in its life. One should hesitate here to use any apparent synonyms for “life”, such as “development” or “maturity”, for all the reasons that one may imagine; for to use the later terms in favour over the former, one may unconsciously predicate, to the transformation, a positive improvement which is not at all suggested by Grant himself. By analogy, as one may find it unseemly to say that the aforementioned Dorian Gray “matured” over the course of his story, it is, to Grant's mind, unseemly to idly impute such a judgment to modernity.

What can be said less cautiously is that the character in question has undergone drastic change, and that this change in disposition and thought must necessarily impact upon his conduct and perceptions. While the general change in perceptions of this new character of the West and modernity have been made explicit, the titular concern of Grant's collection of essays is technology and justice. What then of Man's perception of justice? What then of Man's conduct?

In response to these questions, posed by himself, Grant proposes something akin to the following:

1.That modern, technological Man, having been transformed by first the obscuring of the noumenal-order by Descartes and Hume, and its complete removal from Man's sight by Kant and Neitzsche, has finalized the desacrilization of the world in his own mind.
2.That hand-in-hand with the desacrilization of the world, Man proceeds in acceptance of first Kant's assertion that teleological knowledge is epistemologically impossible, and then Neitzsche's assertion that teleological metaphysics are ontologically vacant.
3.That freed from teleological metaphysics, Man is left with no concept of justice for things which are not other Men.
4.That Man, being unable to perceive a teleological purpose for even himself, must resort to a rationally-derived contractualism for a means to order his civilization.
5.And that, finally, with Neitzsche, the very basis of rationality, of the universal “good will” and “categorical imperative” of Kant's contractualism, is over-turned, and justice is given over once again to the possession of the strong, the creative, the willful.

Therefor, one may summarize Grant's account of humanity's transformation and the attendant fall from justice simply as the creeping retreat from the ancient conception of Dike – in which justice is a given property of the cosmos which precedes humanity's artistic interventions – to a quintessentially modern conception of justice as a convention which springs from the creative will of men. Humanely however, Grant's concern with the fall from the principle of justice is not separated from a narrative telling of its effects upon human beings. It likely not for naught that so often are there references to various attempts by individuals at escaping the arid, public world of liberal contractualism by way of sex, drugs, entertainment, and a general avoidance of the public sphere in Western civilization.

Whatever the truth there may be to Grant's analysis of the condition of human beings under the agis of technological civilization, there can be little question as to his opinion of it. For, recalling once again The Portrait, his description quite pointedly calls to mind the image of a flamboyant dynamism expressed in the unfettered pursuit of a libertine existence, in pointed ignorance of one's reflection.

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