The empirical-transcendental debate in philosophy of technology, as debates go, took a turn toward the counterposing of the two perspectives, ‘empirical’-pragmatic-pragmatist versus ‘transcendental’-critical. Postphenomenology aligns itself with the former standpoint, and it is in this spirit that commentators have criticized it for its too-instrumentalist stance and lack of overarching, i.e., transcendental orientation. But the positions may have become too starkly delineated in order for the debate to reach any breakthrough: a seemingly unbridgeable gap yawns between the stances of ‘technology with a small “t”’ and ‘Technology with a capital “T.”' Is there any way to reorient the debate? In this paper I propose to do so by considering whether there would be some way of arriving from one end of the spectrum to the other—crossing the gap. Exploring the purported wasteland in between “technology” and “Technology” by way of object-oriented ontology (OOO)—Harman, Morton—we can find it actually filled with countless gaps, adhering to every thing. Following the radical insights of OOO, we’d have to attest to a ‘thing-transcendentality.’ The ‘gap,’ then, that seemed so threatening and all-encompassing, becomes smeared out, levelled down to a multiplicity of perspectives. And this casts the debate, with its purported strict tension between ‘empirical’ and ‘transcendental’ positions, in fresh terms, opening up new ways for studying how the two interrelate.
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From There Is a War on the New Skin for the Old Ceremony album (1974).
I elaborate this discussion in Van Den Eede (2020), as part of the special issue “Critical Constructivism and Postphenomenology: Ethics, Politics, and the Empirical” of Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology, edited by Lars Botin, Bas de Boer, and Tom Børsen. Cf. also Van Den Eede 2013. Interestingly, furthermore, there are authors who argue that Feenberg is actually akin to postphenomenology in that both offer merely "reactive" recipes in the face of the structures of power relations (Rao et al. 2015). So seen from a postphenomenological perspective, Feenberg ‘goes too far,’ but seen from other, more ‘radical’ perspectives, he can be perceived to not ‘go far enough.’
I develop this issue more elaborately in Van Den Eede (2019b).
Graham Harman used to refer to his theory as "object-oriented philosophy," but certainly since Object-Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything (2018) he has also been developing his work under the umbrella term “object-oriented ontology,” coined originally by Levi Bryant.
A volume has just come out in which Harman takes up important critiques of his approach: Harman (2020).
This resonates with Stiegler’s metaphor of the flying fish which can only temporarily perceive the water which enables its life, just as humans can only intermittently ‘escape’ the technical ‘medium’ through which they exist (cf. “How I Became a Philosopher” in Stiegler 2009). (I thank Pieter Lemmens for drawing my attention to this similarity.).
Sven Grampp proposes to read McLuhan as a Rortian ironist (Grampp 2011, 216–17).
Interestingly, though, purpose is something that characterizes all ‘environments’/ ‘objects.’ For much more on purpose, and a reading in fact of technology as purpose, cf. Van Den Eede (2019a).
This is again notwithstanding certain attempts by some of the concerned authors to go into the direction of what I conceptualize here and try to make explicit, with OOO and slightly provocatively, as ‘thing-transcendentality.’ Indeed making it explicit should help in redefining the terms of, and thus reorienting, the debate.
Or, “we are no longer able to think history as exclusively human, for the very reason that we are in the Anthropocene” (Morton 2013a, 5).
For an argument exhibiting a dynamic not unlike this one, cf. Conty (2017).
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Van Den Eede, Y. Thing-Transcendentality: Navigating the Interval of “technology” and “Technology”. Found Sci 27, 225–243 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10699-020-09749-y