A Moral Ground for Technology: Heidegger, Postphenomenology, and Watsuji

Part of the Tetsugaku Companions to Japanese Philosophy book series (TCJP, volume 1)


In the face of growing pessimism over the effects of new technologies on social cohesion, recent trends in ethics show a more positive approach to technology as a mediator of morality. One representative of this trend, Peter-Paul Verbeek, proposes the ethics of technology from the standpoint of “postphenomenology.” Because a morality mediated by technology can conflict with people’s views of the good life, he encourages active engagement in the process of designing technologies. However, he does not sufficiently explain how nonautonomous individuals can judge an action or a life to be “good.”

As part of this discussion, the present essay takes up the question of good and evil along the lines of Watsuji Tetsurō’s ethics. For him, moral agency is a complex dynamic involving both humans and their environment, and it is in this dynamic that good and evil emerge. In his critique of Heidegger, Watsuji proposes grounding technology in social relationships. His guiding idea is that we best understand our tools and natural surroundings when we see them as expressions of aidagara or human relationships in “betweenness.” Mediated by these expressions, we can undertake a “coming back” to the past or the unity of aidagara. This process is the basis of trust, which, in turn, determines good and evil as a response to or betrayal of trust. In addition to Verbeek’s proposal of engagement with technology, Watsuji’s ethics suggests, therefore, that such engagement entails sustaining the rhythms of life that hold us together and enable trust.



This work was supported by Grant-in-Aid for JSPS Research Fellow, Grant Numbers 15 J10833. I would also like to thank the staff and fellows of the Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture for the kind assistance during the final stages of completing this essay.



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Authors and Affiliations

    • 1
  1. 1.Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information StudiesUniversity of TokyoBunkyo, TokyoJapan

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