Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 23

RO

G E

yl
Ta

From Vita Contemplativa to Vita


Activa: Modern
Instrumentalization of Theory
and the Problem of Measure

or

G
&F
r a n c is

Elizabeth Brient

Abstract
In this paper I examine three historically signicant readings of the epochal
transition from the Middle Ages to the modern world: that provided by
Alexandre Koyr in From the Closed World to the Innite Universe, that of
Hans Blumenberg in The Legitimacy of the Modern Age and that of Hannah
Arendt in The Human Condition. Each of these readings isolates crucial
aspects of the epochal transition which contribute to an understanding of
the loss or transformation of traditional measures for knowing and doing
consequent upon the shift from the contemplative to the active life.
Blumenberg provides a philosophical explanation for the cosmological shift
which Koyr describes, while Arendt thematizes the dangers inherent in the
loss of an ethical measure which accompanies this transition. Yet both
Blumenberg and Arendt conclude that the search for a world-immanent
epistemological measure, which would allow us to gauge the adequacy of
our descriptions of the world, is not simply a problem for the modern
philosopher to address, but rather an impossibility already abandoned in the
transition to the modern age. I argue that, on the contrary, such a measure
is a requisite of the modern scientic enterprise.
Keywords: Blumenberg, Arendt, contemplation, action,
instrumentalization, measure

The epochal transition from the medieval to the modern world has long
been understood as fundamentally determined by the emergence of the
new science and the radical changes in self- and world-understanding
which accompanied it. The otherworldly orientation of the theocentric
Middle Ages with its overriding emphasis on transcendent goals had to
give way to the immanent aims of modern man in this world if the shift
International Journal of Philosophical Studies
ISSN 09672559 print 14664542 online 2001 Taylor & Francis Ltd
http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals
DOI: 10.1080/09672550010011436

ro
up

In te rn a ti o na l Jo u rn a l o f Ph i lo so p h ic a l S t ud i es Vol . 9 (1 ) , 1 9 4 0 ;

T E
U L D

I N TE R NAT IO NA L J O U R NA L O F P H ILO S O P H ICA L ST U D IES

from the vita contemplativa to that of the vita activa was to be realized.
In this transition human self-understanding gradually shifted from that of
the spectators and admirers of divine creation to that of (as Descartes put
it) lords and masters of nature.1 If knowledge of the world is gained
passively by contemplation in the Middle Ages spelled out in terms of
either divine illumination or abstraction from sense perception it is won
through active reconstruction in the modern age. Hence, the shift in human
self-understanding is mirrored by a corresponding change in the function
and nature of theory. Similarly the world, as object of theoretical inquiry,
itself undergoes a radical transformation. The cosmos of the Middle Ages
is a nite, well-ordered whole, a closed hierarchy whose order and value
(indeed its very being) are granted by an innite and benevolent God.
In the transition to the modern age, the world comes to acquire the
divine attribute of innite being, but only at the price of the destruction
of this ancient order and the unmooring of humanity from its place in
that meaningful totality.
In what follows, I propose to look at three historically signicant readings of this transition: that of Alexandre Koyr in From the Closed World
to the Innite Universe, that of Hans Blumenberg in The Legitimacy of
the Modern Age and that of Hannah Arendt in The Human Condition.2
Each of these readings isolates crucial aspects of the epochal transition
which contribute to an understanding of the loss of traditional measures
for human action and for human knowing consequent upon this radical
transformation in self and world understanding. Blumenberg provides a
philosophical explanation for the cosmological shift which Koyr describes,
while Arendt thematizes the dangers inherent in the loss of an ethical
measure which accompanies this transition. Yet both Blumenberg and
Arendt conclude that the search for a world-immanent epistemological
measure, which would allow us to gauge the adequacy of our descriptions
of the world, is not simply a problem for the modern philosopher to
address, but rather an impossibility already abandoned in the transition
to the modern age. I will argue that, on the contrary, such a measure is
a requisite of the modern scientic enterprise.
I
Alexandre Koyrs From the Closed World to the Innite Universe provides
the framework for what has become a standard reading of the transition
from the medieval to the modern world-view.3 Here Koyr outlines the
gradual process of the destruction of the medieval cosmos and the innitization of the universe from the fteenth to the eighteenth century. This
was a process, Koyr writes, in which man lost his place in the world, or,
more correctly perhaps, lost the very world in which he was living and
about which he was thinking, and had to transform and replace not only
20

F RO M VITA C O N TE MP LATIVA TO V ITA AC TI VA

his fundamental concepts and attributes, but even the very framework of
his thought.4 This revolution entailed the disappearance from philosophical and scientic thought of the conception of nature as kosmos, that
is, as a well-ordered, teleologically determined whole, in which the hierarchy of value determined the hierarchy and structure of being.5 In its
place arose an innite universe, bound together only by the identity of
its fundamental components and by the universality of the laws which
governed their motion. In the new cosmology innite, eternal, homogeneous space is lled with atomically structured bodies, in turn governed
by universal, mathematically articulated, laws.
Implied in this shift, Koyr underscores, is the discarding by scientic
thought of all considerations based upon value-concepts, such as perfection, harmony, meaning and aim, and nally the utter devalorization of
being, the divorce of the world of value and the world of facts.6 Hence
Koyr concludes his study with the following observation:
The innite Universe of the New Cosmology, innite in Duration as
well as in Extension, in which eternal matter in accordance with
eternal and necessary laws moves endlessly and aimlessly in eternal
space, inherited all the ontological attributes of Divinity. Yet only
those all the others the departed God took away with Him.7
The innite universe of the new science presents itself as strangely
purposeless, bereft of the value and meaning which had dened the very
nature of the ancient cosmos. That value came to be located more and
more outside this stark, factical reality would seem to be a natural consequence of the move toward the mechanization and mathematization of
the world picture.8
Indeed, the commitment to objectivity which governs the new science
demands the translation of the particular experience into a language that
is non-perspectival, a language that is not essentially tied to the sensate
and interested perspective of a particular knower. Objective reality
is thus dissociated from the meaningful and the sensible and is understood as the ideal object of an equally ideal disinterested, disembodied
a-perspectival subject.9 Thus, only primary qualities are recognized as
having a basis in reality, and secondary qualities (the building blocks of
Aristotelian science) are irrevocably tied to sensible appearance. Similarly,
the new science moves to eliminate all but efcient causes from the interpretation of nature, that is, to interpret all physical phenomena as matter
in motion. Mathematics provides the ideal language for a science of nature
whose form of description is based on measurable and thus objectively
determinate and determinable primary qualities.
While Koyrs discussion might lead to the assumption that the divorce
of the world of value and meaning from the a-perspectival, objective world
21

I N TE R NAT IO NA L J O U R NA L O F P H ILO S O P H ICA L ST U D IES

of facts is a consequence of the world-view instituted by the new science


and this is an assumption that is all too often taken for granted in
contemporary discussions historically, I believe, it can be shown that the
reverse is the case. It was actually the transformation of the ancient kosmos
into a mute world of facticity in the theological speculation of late medieval
nominalism which made possible the radical shifts in self and world understanding which characterize the modern era. It is here that Blumenbergs
reading of the epochal transition in The Legitimacy of the Modern Age
is particularly illuminating and provides an important corrective to the
standard account provided by Koyr.
II
Blumenberg holds that the turn to active, reconstructive engagement in
the world so characteristic of the modern age was rst made possible,
indeed, was impelled by a fundamental shift in the character of the worlds
signicance for humanity at the end of the Middle Ages.
A disappearance of order [Ordnungsschwund], causing doubt
regarding the existence of a structure of reality that can be related
to man, is the presupposition of a general conception of human
activity that no longer perceives in given states of affairs the binding
character of the ancient and medieval cosmos, and consequently
holds them to be, in principle, at mans disposal. . . . The reality that
at the end of the Middle Ages comes to be seen as fact [factum:
something done or made, i.e. a contingent state of affairs] provokes
the will to oppose it and concentrates the wills attention upon it.10
The modern turn to a self-assertive, self-realizing stance in the world thus
presupposes the facticity of reality concomitant upon the loss of a cosmos
teleologically ordered to human needs. Blumenberg, in turn, traces this
Ordnungsschwund to the theological absolutism of William of Ockham
and the school of late medieval nominalism.
In the wake of the Condemnation of 1277, 11 nominalist theologians of
the fourteenth century were concerned to defend the doctrine of divine
freedom from any apparent necessities philosophically derived from the
order of nature. Gods absolutely free will was posited as the fundamental
theological premise, and Gods omnipotence was elevated to the rank of
the primary divine attribute. This intensifying of the attribute of divine
omnipotence had a destructive effect on the medieval cosmos insofar as
the created world came to be grasped by the nominalists as the expression not primarily of Gods goodness or of his wisdom, but rst and
foremost of his absolute power. 12 The result was a world whose underlying aspect was no longer its beauty and order, or its rational intelligibility,
22

F RO M VITA C O N TE MP LATIVA TO V ITA AC TI VA

but its utter facticity, its radically contingent existence as the immediate
result of an absolute will.
Such immediacy undermined the security and stability of the ancient
world system. For Ockham, Gods potentia ordinata (the way things are
in fact at each moment) is only a particular expression of his potentia
absoluta (Gods absolute power to arrange the world however he chooses
at any given time).13 Hence, an innity of possible worlds corresponds to
Gods potentia absoluta, with the principle of non-contradiction acting
as the sole limitation on the range of possibilities. And although the
potentia ordinata represents the divine choice of one actual world, this
choice cannot be rationally accounted for. As a result, the world ordained
by Gods unbounded will no longer presents itself as divinely ordered to
human reason and human needs. It is an indifferent and essentially arbitrary reality, indeed, one in which the term reality no longer connotes
an order of being or a degree of perfection, but simply comes to mean
that which is the case.
It is Blumenbergs thesis in the Legitimacy of the Modern Age that it
was precisely this alienated and alienating quality of the world which
opened up a new horizon of existential possibility: active engagement in
the world aimed at the alteration and transformation of this now indifferent reality.14 The utter facticity of the world became, according to
Blumenberg, an irritation and provocation for a rehabilitation of theoretical curiosity15 and a radical turn toward technicity. The perceived
deciency of nature vis--vis human needs became the motive force behind
mans activity as a whole, and human self-assertion 16 the existential
programme of the modern age.
The success of this programme, Blumenberg points out, depended on
the prior restriction and refocusing of traditional epistemological pretensions carried out by the late medieval nominalists. Confronted by the
absolutism of divine omnipotence, divine reason could no longer function as a meaningful measure for human knowledge of the world.
Theological voluntarism had thus necessarily humbled human epistemological pretension, so that hypothesis rather than theoria emerged as the
appropriate theoretical attitude when faced with the mute facticity of
nature. Since nominalist theoreticians still maintained the ancient and
medieval cognitive ideal of truth as adequacy to what is, however, they
were compelled to resign themselves to the impossibility of conclusive
demonstration in the science of nature. The emergence of modern science
depended, according to Blumenberg, on surrendering the theoretical claim
to adaequatio, and reconceptualizing theory as hypothesis.
Nominalistic explanations of the world further provided the structural
framework, Blumenberg claims, for an understanding of reality which
gradually came to be reoccupied17 by early modern materialistic and
mechanistic explanations of nature. 18 Since the actual quality of the world
23

I N TE R NAT IO NA L J O U R NA L O F P H ILO S O P H ICA L ST U D IES

remained hidden from human reason, pure (qualityless, homogeneous)


matter was postulated as the minimal substrate of nature. And since
the postulated matter was meaningless in itself, it presented itself as a
malleable substratum subject to human rationality and technical mastery.
We may not know how nature actually operates, reasoned the early
modern theoretician, but we can construct mathematically sound models
which can accurately predict its behaviour. The production of desired
phenomena then becomes a (sometimes simple, sometimes complicated)
matter of the reconstruction of, or articial intervention in, observed
processes.
In this way hypothesis, experiment and technicity became tools for
human self-assertion in the face of a natural world which is not teleologically ordered with an eye toward human interests. Modern man took
it upon himself to make up for the perceived inadequacies of natures products through productions of his own. This shift in mans theoretical relation
to the world, from the blissful repose of the vita contemplativa to that of
laborious reconstruction in the vita activa, is characterized on the one hand
by surrender of the traditional claim to truth as adaequatio, and on the
other by this new use of theory to recreate the world, this time in a human
image.19 Indeed, Blumenberg claims that modern consciousness is neither
directed to nor sustained by a correspondence between our ideas of nature
and what actually exists. Human classication is set over and against the
abundance of authentic reality, not in an attempt to prove itself adequate
to that reality, but in order to project onto the factically given reality the
human reality to be produced.
Insofar as Descartes had attempted to secure a guarantee for the correspondence between our clear and distinct ideas and the world in his
Meditations, Blumenberg claims, he was still operating within a medieval
epistemological framework, and it wasnt until he relinquished this cognitive ideal in his Principles of Philosophy, insists Blumenberg, that he
arrived at a modern measure for theoretical accomplishment. There
Descartes grants that the scientist as model-builder can have no guarantee
that his models of natural processes accurately reect the actual workings
of nature. But if they save the appearances, i.e. give a consistent, plausible account, then they provide a sufcient certainty for application to
ordinary life, even though they may be uncertain in relation to the absolute
power of God.20
The modern approach to knowledge of nature, Blumenberg holds,
is characterized by a rational expediency directed at the production of
phenomena rather than at a share of the truth possessed by God.
As an instrument of self-assertion, theory has no need of the luxury
of relating its hypotheses to and taking part in the truth possessed
by divinity itself. The involvement with technique integrates theory
24

F RO M VITA C O N TE MP LATIVA TO V ITA AC TI VA

and the theoretical attitude into the functional complex of the immanent teleology of human self-assertion, and weakens its until then
irreducible claim to truth.21
Hence both the function and nature of theory is radically transformed in
the modern age. Theory no longer means theoria; it is no longer the
contemplation of truth, no longer the vehicle for the reception of reality,
where reality is the meaningful expression of divine wisdom and order.
Once theorys essential and immediate connection to truth was broken in
late medieval nominalism, it was freed up to be used as a tool of selfassertion. Theory directed toward nature had already become hypothesis,
and its adoption as an instrument of self-assertion in the modern age transformed hypothesis into a theoretical construct to be tested by manipulating
nature in the experiment, and then applied for the betterment of human
life in this world.
Once theory is identied with hypothesis in this way, however, it loses
its status as an end in itself. For the ancient and medieval theoretician,
contemplation of the truth was not a means to some further end, but
an end in itself, constitutive of human happiness and fullment. The
modern theoretician, however, no longer nds fullment in the quasidivine life of contemplation, but uses theory instrumentally as a means
to world reconstruction.22 The [early-modern] investigator of nature,
writes Blumenberg, had to reconstruct the connection between cognitive
truth and nding happiness in a different way if, following Francis
Bacons new formula, domination over nature was to be a precondition
of the recovery of paradise. 23 Again, however, as Blumenberg is quick
to point out, the loss of the immanent value of theory (the bond
between the contemplation of truth and human happiness) cannot be
viewed as the result of theorys instrumentalization, but is, rather, its
precondition:
Theory that can no longer be anything but hypothesis has really
already lost its immanent value, its status as an end in itself; thus
the functionalization of theory for arbitrarily chosen ends, its entry
into the role of a technique, of a means, is a process subsequent to
the loss of its status as an end in itself.24
Be that as it may, the functionalization of theory as a means to the reconstruction of reality clearly raises new and pressing problems for the modern
age. What is to be the measure of our making (or remaking) of the world?
What the measure of human happiness and fullment? Can self-assertion,
as an existential attitude toward the world, ground meaningful human
existence? It is to the problematic raised by these questions that I would
now like to turn.
25

I N TE R NAT IO NA L J O U R NA L O F P H ILO S O P H ICA L ST U D IES

III
Hannah Arendt would agree with Blumenberg that the emergence of the
modern age is characterized by the reversal of the traditional hierarchy
between the vita contemplativa and the vita activa, and that it is the
mentality of homo faber (man the maker) which guides the early modern
theoretical enterprise. She would also agree with Blumenbergs assessment that the power and success of the new science depended on
relinquishing the traditional measure of truth as adaequatio in the turn
to modern world reconstruction. Arendt would be made uneasy, however,
by the apparent readiness with which Blumenberg identies the instrumentalization of theory with the modern theoretical enterprise as a whole,
so that he reads progress of knowledge immediately in terms of modern
self-assertion, that is, in terms of the extension of the mastery of reality.25
Indeed, Arendt thematizes the threat of world-loss which results from the
elision of value in the theoretical commitment to universal objectivity
which guides the new science, that is, loss of reality as it is given in concrete,
context-imbedded, meaningful experience.
Like Blumenberg, Arendt emphasizes that the modern age is heralded
by a fundamental transformation of the traditional concept of truth
and of theory. The traditional assumption that reality is given to the human
knower, i.e. that what truly is will appear of its own accord to the contemplative beholder, whose capacities are adequate to receive it, gave way to
the conviction that only interference with appearance indeed, only the
doing away with appearances altogether could offer any hope for a true
science of nature. Cartesian doubt, in its radical and universal signicance,
Arendt insists, was rst of all a response to the recognition that nature
does not give itself up to the eyes either of the body or of the mind; that
being does not appear to the contemplative beholder; and that, In order
to be certain one had to make sure, and in order to know one had
to do.26 Theory became hypothetical and had to be tested in the
experimental process. Hence homo faber, man the maker and fabricator,
came to the aid of the modern theoretician who could no longer trust
reality to appear to the contemplative gaze.
Where formerly truth had resided in the kind of theory that since
the Greeks had meant the contemplative glance of the beholder who
was concerned with, and received, the reality opening up before him,
the question of success took over and the test of theory became a
practical one whether or not it will work. Theory became hypothesis, and the success of the hypothesis became truth. 27
Unlike Blumenberg, however, Arendt emphasizes that this standard
of success is not tied to practical considerations of the utility or the
26

F RO M VITA C O N TE MP LATIVA TO V ITA AC TI VA

applicability of theoretical knowledge, or to the technical developments


which might or might not follow in the wake of specic scientic discoveries. The criterion of success is inherent in the very essence and progress
of modern science quite apart from its applicability.28 Arendt is quite
right, here, to underscore the fundamental independence of theory from
technicity, where Blumenberg is too quick to see in the appropriation of
theory as a tool of self-assertion an essential connection. Historically,
Arendt is surely right to insist that the early modern scientist was guided
rst of all by theoretical considerations in the active reconstruction of
nature in the experiment. 29 Even Francis Bacon, the great early modern
champion of human self-assertion, who had insisted that the true ends of
knowledge consist in its usefulness and benet to human life,30 warned
the scientist not to let his experimentation be guided by external standards of utility. By merely aiming at the production of useful works,
Bacon insisted, the scientist is acting as a mere mechanic, failing to
investigate the underlying causes of things generally, and simply halting
at a supercial investigation of particulars.31 Only a methodical search
for and commitment to the discovery of truth, he held, would lead to a
subsequent harvest of works useful to human life.32
Be that as it may, however, Arendt is quick to point out that the fundamental experience behind the modern reversal of the traditional hierarchy
between contemplation and action lay in the conviction that the search for
knowledge had to be grounded in action. The point was not that truth
and knowledge were no longer important, but that they could be won only
by action and not by contemplation.33 Further Arendt would agree with
Blumenberg that this transformation in the nature of the theoretical enterprise was accompanied by a shift in the measure for the success of theory.
Once truth was no longer given in contemplation, it had to be actively
reconstructed as hypothesis, and then tested again through more
doing in the experiment. 34 The tremendous power of the theoretical
reconstructions generated by the new science resulted from what Arendt
metaphorically describes as the discovery of the Archimedean point, the
ability to reconceptualize our particular, context-speci c, earthly reality
from a universal perspective.35
Crucial here is the distance gained from our imbedded, contextual experience in the world, by the modern theoretical commitment to an objectivity which aims at the elimination of sensuously given reality as it
appears, by reducing the multitude and variety of the concrete to universal
patterns and symbols. On Arendts reading, the conviction that man can
only know with certainty what he has himself made36 lies at the root of
the modern understanding of mathematics as the model of certain and
transparent knowledge. 37 Descartes, she claims, moved the Archimedean
point into man himself. He chose as ultimate point of reference the pattern
of the human mind itself, which assures itself of reality and certainty within
27

I N TE R NAT IO NA L J O U R NA L O F P H ILO S O P H ICA L ST U D IES

a framework of mathematical formulas which are its own products.38 The


search for a mathematical translation of our experience of nature may thus
be seen as an attempt to ground our knowledge of nature on a secure
foundation.
Here the famous reductio scientiae ad mathematicam permits replacement of what is sensuously given by a system of mathematical
equations where all real relationships are dissolved into logical relations between man-made symbols. It is this replacement which
permits modern science to fulll its task of producing the
phenomena and objects it wishes to observe. 39
Even if one can no longer grasp truth as something given and disclosed
to the human mind, the mathematical language of the theoretical reconstruction is itself transparent to the mind which made it.
Further, the modern turn toward experimentation as a means of checking theoretical hypotheses itself re ects the modern conviction that we can
only know what we ourselves have made. In order to gain knowledge of
the natural world, which is clearly not man-made, natural processes must
be imitated in the experiment, and nature remade, as it were, in the laboratory.40 Hence the element of making and fabricating is inherent in the
experiment itself insofar as it aims at the reconstruction of the processes
by which natural phenomena are produced. The modern turn toward experimentation thus re ects a profound shift in the interrogative orientation of
the theoretician seeking knowledge of nature. The traditional contemplative questions of what or why something is, questions which focused on
the intrinsic meaning and value of things, were left to the side in favour of
that asked by homo faber, man the maker: the question of how something
came to be.
Like Koyr, Arendt assumes that earth alienation is a phenomenon
which emerges as a result of the objectivization of reality in the new
science. 41 As we have seen, Blumenberg convincingly argued that, on the
contrary, late medieval nominalism had already transformed the valueladen medieval cosmos into a brute world of facticity, and that the shift
to modernity was not characterized so much by earth alienation as it was
by the human response to an already alienated reality by the adoption of
an active, self-assertive stance in the world. The rise of the new science,
then, should more properly be viewed as an expression of this new existential attitude. But whereas Blumenberg focuses almost exclusively on
the origins of this shift from the vita contemplativa to the vita activa,
Arendts analysis attends specically to the existential consequences of the
rise of the principles and ideals of homo faber in the modern age. 42
Indeed, Blumenberg is too quick to see in his account of the origins of
modern worldly self-assertion an argument for the legitimacy of the
28

F RO M VITA C O N TE MP LATIVA TO V ITA AC TI VA

modern age. While he has argued compellingly that it was not the new science which rst led to the devalorization of being which Koyr describes,
and that modern science is not somehow to blame for the disappearance
of the value-laden cosmos of the ancients, nevertheless, as Arendts analysis makes clear, the turn to self-assertion in the world-transforming activities of homo faber brings with it new and pressing problems.
As we have seen, the shift from the vita contemplativa to the vita activa
was characterized not only by the loss of the ancient cosmos, but the loss
also of the traditional function of and measure for truth. The elimination
of contemplation as it was experienced in the ancient and medieval world
led to the loss of the permanent and xed measures which had traditionally guided human action and judgment. By making homo faber,
man the maker and fabricator, the measure of all things, the problem of
nding meaning and value in the newly reconstructed world became acute.
In the fabrication process, Arendt points out, it is the end which justies the means. The means are utilized in order to attain the end, and it
is the end that guides and justies the choice of means. The problem with
the utility standard which is inherent in the activity of fabrication, Arendt
underscores, is that every end, once realized, may itself become a means
to some further end in another context. 43 Utilitarianism, the philosophy
of homo faber par excellence, is inevitably caught in the potential endlessness of this endmeans chain, and is itself unable to arrive at some principle
which would justify its category of utility. That is, Arendt argues, utilitarianism is unable to make sense of the distinction between utility (the in
order to) and meaningfulness (that for the sake of which). The in order
to has become the content of the for the sake of; in other words, utility
established as meaning generates meaninglessness. 44
The only way to put a stop to this endless chain of ends and means and
the meaninglessness which it generates, Arendt argues, is to fall back on
the subjectivity of use itself and to declare the human subject, man the
user and instrumentalizer, an end in himself.45 The problem with making
man the ultimate end of utility, however, is that it robs everything else
that exists the whole of nature as well as the products of human activity
of its own intrinsic worth and independent value. It is for this reason
that Arendt insists that
while only fabrication with its instrumentality is capable of building
a world, this same world becomes as worthless as the employed material, a mere means for further ends, if the standards [of usefulness
and utility] which governed its coming into being are permitted to
rule it after its establishment. 46
Arendt underscores that the issue at stake is not instrumentality as such,
which is indeed necessary to build a world, but rather the generalization
29

I N TE R NAT IO NA L J O U R NA L O F P H ILO S O P H ICA L ST U D IES

of the fabrication experience so that the standards and measures of homo


faber become the ultimate standards for human life. The tendency toward
the limitless instrumentalization of everything that exists inherent in the
mentality of homo faber must be countered, Arendt insists, by an openness to our experience of the earth, and by the human capacity for thought
and for action within the political realm where political realm is understood broadly as the space of individual appearance with others. It is here,
according to Arendt, that we must look for a measure of value and
meaning which transcends the endless chain of ends and means generated
by the utilitarianism of homo faber.
IV
Up to this point I have focused on the ethical or practical problems posed
by the instrumentalization of theory in the transition to the modern world,
in particular the problem of nding an ethical measure for human action
and judgment. A directly related problem which interestingly enough
both Blumenberg and Arendt fail to address arises concomitantly once
theoria becomes hypothesis, the problem of nding an epistemological
measure for determining the validity of human conceptual reconstructions
of the world. Both Arendt and Blumenberg take for granted that progress
in science is not only possible, but has resulted in an astounding degree
of technological mastery of nature (accompanied, Arendt would say, by an
unprecedented loss of world). Yet, both grasp the essence (indeed the
productive power) of that mastery in terms of the imposition of human
conceptual schemes onto a fundamentally transcendent reality.
Arendt, we recall, spoke of the reduction of concrete phenomena to
a mathematical order by translating all that man is not into patterns which
are identical with human, mental structures.47 Modern science, she insists,
aims at the reduction of all appearances through the force inherent in
distance.
Under this condition of remoteness, every assemblage of things is
transformed into a mere multitude, and every multitude, no matter
how disordered, incoherent, and confused, will fall into certain
patterns and congurations possessing the same validity and no more
signicance than the mathematical curve, which as Leibniz once
remarked, can always be found between points thrown at random
on a piece of paper. 48
Hence, Arendt argues, the mathematical description arrived at in this way
does not reect an underlying rational order inherent in the phenomena
given in experience. It is not an order discovered in nature, as it were,
but one produced by the human mind and imposed from without, from
30

F RO M VITA C O N TE MP LATIVA TO V ITA AC TI VA

a universal perspective which reduces all real relations in the multiplicity


and variety of the concrete to abstract patterns woven about a mere collection of objects. The mathematical order arrived at in this way, Arendt
claims, has no more ontological signicance than the curve generated
between points randomly scattered on a page. 49
Indeed, Arendt insists that our ability to produce a mathematical translation of experience demonstrates neither the inherent beauty and order
of nature nor the adequacy of the human mind for grasping the truth
about that order. She categorically rejects the idea that the applicability
of mathematics to the physical world indicates any sort of harmony
between mathematics and physics, between mind and matter, or between
man and the universe. 50 To the scientist who would point to technological
achievements as concrete proof that science deals with an authentic order
given in nature, Arendt replies that this demonstrates no more than that
man can always apply the results of his mind, that no matter which system
he uses for the explanation of natural phenomena he will always be
able to adopt it as a guiding principle for making and acting.51
But doesnt Arendt move too quickly, here, from the fact that some
curve can be found between random points on a page, and from the fact
that we can always adopt our scientic systems as principles for making
and acting, to the conclusion that the pattern discovered on the page
or in nature actually resides in the mind and is imposed from a distance
which disregards the immediacy and coherence of the concrete? After all,
while some curve can be found, even between random points on a page,
not any and every curve will do the trick. Indeed, most will not. The points
on the page, themselves, dictate what curve can or cannot be chosen.
Similarly, while it may be the case that we can always apply theories about
nature to our action in the world, this does not mean that all systems are
equally successful, either in their explanatory power or in the range
and extent of their applicability. The Ptolemaic description of our solar
system, for instance, would be decidedly unhelpful when planning the
course of a Pathnder or Voyager. The natural phenomena themselves
dictate the applicability and workability of a given theoretical order.
Early modern theorists were well aware that the decision between
hypotheses generated in the search for a universal, objective description
of nature was inherently problematic; that any given phenomenon could
potentially be explained by any number of equally valid hypotheses. It is
for this reason that the early modern theorist turned to experimentation
in order to counter this potential for arbitrariness in the application of a
given hypothesis.52 Arendt argues, however, that this recourse to experimentation involves the theorist in a vicious circle: scientists formulate
their hypotheses to arrange their experiments and then use these experiments to verify their hypotheses; during this whole enterprise, they
obviously deal with a hypothetical nature.53 The world of the experiment,
31

I N TE R NAT IO NA L J O U R NA L O F P H ILO S O P H ICA L ST U D IES

she insists, does not serve to connect theory with nature, but rather puts
man back once more . . . into the prison of his own mind, into the limitations of patterns he himself created.54 Once again, however, Arendt
ignores the resistance which the natural phenomena themselves offer to
these patterns which we create and apply in the experimental process.
Her suspicion that the entire enterprise is hopelessly caught in a vicious
circle, and that our results really have nothing to do with a genuine natural
order, but that we deal only with the patterns of our own mind, the mind
which designed the instruments and put nature under its conditions in the
experiment,55 would be immediately borne out if it were the case that
every well-conceived and executed experiment produced the desired
result. Any experimental scientist, however, would be quick to point out
that the hypothetical nature with which the scientist has to deal in practice is rarely so co-operative. There is a certain recalcitrance to the
material given in experience, so that, as Plato already recognized, 56 matter
itself tends toward certain forms. Concepts (however we grasp their origin)
cannot be successfully applied arbitrarily, as though the world as it is
given in experience were actually homogeneous material to be formed
and reformed at will. Indeed, it is the very resistance of the phenomena
to the arbitrary imposition of conceptual schemes which drives the
experimental process.
Hence Arendt moves much too quickly from the observation that the
modern theoretical enterprise is grounded on the general premise that
we only know what we make to the conclusion that we therefore
only know the man-made, the patterns of our own minds. In fact, the
modern dictum that we only know what we make is an expression of
the conviction that the way to knowledge is through making, that truth
is not given immediately in contemplation (theoria) but must be won
through active reconstruction (hypothesis). Concern with measurement
and experiment arises precisely in order to counter the threat of epistemological arbitrariness, to answer the need for an epistemological measure
for the truth of theory, by checking the validity of a given hypothesis
against the resistance offered by the phenomena in question.
While Arendt, like Blumenberg, is right to characterize the epochal shift
in our theoretical relation to the world from the vita contemplativa to the
vita activa in terms of the transformation of theoria into hypothesis, both
are mistaken when they insist that this transformation in the nature
of the theoretical enterprise was accompanied by a fundamental shift in
the measure for the success of theory. Both claim that in the modern age
adequacy to what is, as the measure of theoretical success, is relinquished
in favour of a new criterion: the successful production of desired
phenomena. Hence, both Arendt and Blumenberg view the experimental
process as the testing ground for theorys ability to re-produce desired
phenomena in the laboratory. Theory, writes Blumenberg, projects upon
32

F RO M VITA C O N TE MP LATIVA TO V ITA AC TI VA

[the given reality] the reality to be produced and checks the latter,
once produced, against it.57 Arendt concurs. She writes, we recall, that in
the modern age, The test of theory became a practical one whether
or not it will work. Theory became hypothesis, and the success of the
hypothesis became truth.58
What is missing from both accounts is a consideration of the extent to
which the recalcitrance of the given reality serves as a measure for the
success or failure of the hypothesis. Further, the success of the hypothesis becomes truth only in a provisional sense, and is always subject to
revision. Hence, Blumenberg and Arendt are mistaken when they claim
that the measure of theoretical success in the modern age is no longer
thought in terms of adaequatio. In fact the adequacy of theory to what is
remains, in a crucial sense, the measure for truth. This measure, however,
has been transformed into a purely regulative ideal, constantly directing
theory, but never nally attaining that immediate unity of thought and
being which had characterized the contemplative conception of truth. The
successful hypothesis is always conceived of as provisional relative to
the regulative ideal which is projected into nature itself, and experienced
in terms of the resistance of natural phenomena to the imposition of
theory. Once theory becomes hypothesis, truth is understood as provisional and conjectural, and progress in science is determined (among other
criteria59) by the relative responsiveness of theory to the recalcitrance of
reality.
In order to account for the viability of this process, however, a minimal
t between mind and nature (a harmony of the sort too quickly rejected
by Arendt) must be assumed. It turns out that faith in a world-immanent
logos, an immanent structure of harmony in the content given in experience, is necessary if there is to be a science of nature at all. Norbert
Wiener, the philosophically oriented mathematician and inventor of cybernetics, understands Einsteins dictum that The Lord is subtle, but he isnt
mean to be a statement of just this faith.
I have said that science is impossible without faith. By this I do not
mean that the faith on which science depends is religious in nature
or involves the acceptance of any of the dogmas of the ordinary religious creeds, yet without faith that nature is subject to law there can
be no science. 60
It is precisely this world-immanent logos which serves to ground conceptformation and which safeguards the relative accuracy of human conceptualization. Concepts remain innitely inadequate to the richness of objects
given in experience. Recognition of this gap motivates our attempts to
narrow it, so that our descriptions of reality (though never adequate) may
be evaluated as better or worse. It is the very inexponability of reality, the
33

I N TE R NAT IO NA L J O U R NA L O F P H ILO S O P H ICA L ST U D IES

innite richness and unique nature of each individual, which both counters
and grounds human attempts to name it.
Thus, I would argue against Blumenbergs and Arendts assessment that
Descartess modernity consists solely in his approach to certainty through
the cogito. His attempt to secure a guarantee for the correspondence
between our clear and distinct ideas and reality by proving the existence
of a non-deceiving God may be understood as an attempt to rationalize
his faith in the attunement between reason and nature. The circularity of
this proof may be understood as an unfolding of this cognitive faith, and
the failure of the proof does not serve to discredit that faith, but rather
to make explicit the fact that this cognitive faith is not itself reasonable,
but rather a presupposition of reason. Thus the mathematization of nature
characteristic of Cartesian science depends on an understanding of the
essence of nature as res extensa. In this Descartes shares Galileos faith
that God wrote the book of nature in the language of mathematics. Without
this presupposition even the Descartes of the Principles would be unable
to claim that his scientic models are well-founded conjectures.
I have suggested that faith in something like a world-immanent logos
(i.e. faith that the world itself exhibits a rational, law-like structure) is a
necessary presupposition of modern science, that without such faith there
can be no knowledge of the world, no science of nature. With the destruction of the old world-order, the ancient kosmos at the end of the Middle
Ages, it became necessary to provide a new account of world-order.
Blumenberg points to the immanent self-assertion of reason through the
mastery and alteration of reality. The new world-order would then be
precisely that order to be produced. The measure of our knowing would
no longer be the world with its logos, but the coherence, the internal
necessity and (most importantly) the utility of our conceptual constructs.
Such epistemological utilitarianism, however, insofar as it is rooted in
the mentality of homo faber, driven by the demands of the endsmeans
schema, has no answer to the problems posed by loss of value and the
threat of epistemological arbitrariness. Faith in a world-immanent logos
as measure, I want to assert, is an inescapable need of human reason
(practical as well as theoretical). The integrity and richness of the individual person or thing, indeed of the world, of reality, is given in
experience and is presupposed by experience, and remains the paradoxical measure of that experience. Paradoxical, because in our attempts to
grasp reality we immediately run up against the paradoxes of unity and
plurality, of totality and innity. Each particular being presents itself as a
coincidence of measure and boundlessness. The given experience is itself
innitely rich and every particular utterly unique. And yet the rose
itself remains the measure of my naming it a rose only because it itself
exhibits a logos-like structure, is already a determinate thing. Thus
we must recognize the philosophical need for a principle of ontological
34

F RO M VITA C O N TE MP LATIVA TO V ITA AC TI VA

determinacy which would insure the connectedness of human conceptualization and the world. Such a need is precisely that, a need. The positing
of such a principle remains an act of faith.
University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia
Notes
1

4
5

Ren Descartes, Discourse on Method, Part Six, trans. in The Philosophical


Writings of Descartes, Vol. 1, trans. John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff and
Dugald Murdoch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985). The larger
passage reads as follows: For they [my speculations] opened my eyes to the
possibility of gaining knowledge which would be very useful in life, and of
discovering a practical philosophy which might replace the speculative philosophy taught in the schools. Through this philosophy we could know the power
and action of re, water, air, the stars, the heavens and all the other bodies
in our environment, as distinctly as we know the various crafts of our artisans; and we could use this knowledge as the artisans use theirs for all
the purposes for which it is appropriate, and thus make ourselves, as it were,
the lords and masters of nature. This is desirable not only for the invention
of innumerable devices which would facilitate our enjoyment of the fruits of
the earth and all the goods we nd there, but also, and most importantly,
for the maintenance of health, which is undoubtedly the chief good and the
foundation of all the other goods in this life (14243/612).
Alexandre Koyr, From the Closed World to the Innite Universe (Baltimore:
The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1957); Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy
of the Modern Age, trans. Robert M. Wallace (Cambridge, Massachusetts and
London: The MIT Press, 1983), translation of Die Legitimitt der Neuzeit
(erweiterte und berarbeitete Neuausgabe) (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1973,
1974 and 1976); Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago and London:
The University of Chicago Press, 1958).
See also Amos Funkensteins more recent study, Theology and the Scientic
Imagination: From the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Century (Princeton, New
Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1986). Like Koyr, Funkenstein describes the
transition from medieval to modern world-views as gradual transplantations of
divine attributes from God to the world. Where Koyr focuses on the transference of the divine attribute of innity, Funkenstein traces the migration and
transformation of the divine predicates of omnipresence, omnipotence and providence. Like Koyr, however, Funkenstein does not attempt to provide a philosophical explanation for the cosmological shift which he describes. As to the
question why such transitions came about at the time they did, more often than
not I do not know. Perhaps it is the sign of revolutionary periods that radical
departures, paradigm shifts, take inspiration and courage from each other;
Funkenstein, op. cit., p. 18. See also Louis Dupr, Passage to Modernity: An Essay
in the Hermeneutics of Nature and Culture (New Haven and London: Yale
University Press, 1993. Dupr provides a reading of the transition to the modern
age which attends both to the role of nominalist theology and to the impact of
Italian humanism in shattering the traditional synthesis that had united cosmic,
human and transcendent components in the medieval conception of nature.
Koyr, op. cit., p. 2.
Ibid.

35

I N TE R NAT IO NA L J O U R NA L O F P H ILO S O P H ICA L ST U D IES

6
7

10
11

12

13
14

15
16

Ibid.
Ibid., p. 276. This is an interesting conclusion in that it serves to underscore
the discrepancy between medieval and modern conceptions of reality, i.e. in
what counts as an ontological attribute. Koyr presupposes a modern conception of ontology here, which understands the nature of being in physicalistic
terms. A medieval conception of ontology, on the other hand, would focus
on the four transcendentals (unum, verum, bonum, esse) and their essential
interrelations.
I borrow the phrase of course from E. J. Dijksterhuis classic study of the
origins and development of the physical sciences, The Mechanization of
the World Picture, trans. C. Dikshoorn (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton
University Press, 1986).
Hence, for Descartes nature is conceived of as extended substance, as the
possible object of study for the pure thinking ego, and Kants transcendental
idealism distinguishes between objective and subjective appearance. See
Karsten Harries essay, Copernican Reections and the Tasks of Metaphysics,
International Philosophical Quarterly 23 (1983), pp. 23550. On pp. 23743
Harries describes the objective reality of the new science as resting on a
twofold reduction of experience which dissociates the meaningful from the
sensible and then the sensible from the real.
Blumenberg, op. cit., pp. 1378.
See J. Wippel, The Condemnations of 1270 and 1277 at Paris, Journal of
Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 7 (1977), pp. 169201; Edward Grant, The
Condemnation of 1277: Gods Absolute Power and Physical Thought in
the Middle Ages, Viator, 10 (1979), pp. 21144; and Blumenberg, op. cit.,
pp. 1602, 346.
Thomas Aquinas had already concluded that Gods goodness does not direct
his creative act, since divine goodness is not in need of anything, and Duns
Scotus argued further that Gods will must have primacy even over his wisdom.
This was the line, of course, followed by William of Ockham and later
nominalists. See Aquinas, De potentia q.3 a.17; and Scotus, Ordinatio I d.39
q.u. n.14. See Funkenstein, op. cit., pp. 1312. For an alternative reading see
Marilyn McCord Adams, William Ockham (Notre Dame, Indiana: University
of Notre Dame Press, 1987), Vol. II, Chapter 29, Divine Omnipotence and
the Charge of Theologism, pp. 123355.
For a history of the distinction between potentia dei absoluta et ordinata see
Funkenstein, op. cit., pp. 12452. See also Adams, op. cit., pp. 11861207.
This was, needless to say, not at all Ockhams intention, or that of later nominalist theologians. On the contrary, the radical destabilizing of the medieval
cosmos carried out in this school was intended to make the existential choice
between engagement in this world and hope in the next a foregone conclusion in favour of the world to come. Ironically, Blumenberg notes, the
meaningfulness of that choice was blocked by the reappearance of divine
omnipotence in the realm of individual salvation as well, where the doctrine
of predestination makes the absolute separation of the elect from the rejected
itself also a matter of absolute divine willing. See Blumenberg, op. cit.,
pp. 137, 151, 345.
See Part III of Legitimacy, The Trial of Theoretical Curiosity, especially
Chapter 7, Preludes to a Future Overstepping of Limits, pp. 34360.
Blumenberg describes self-assertion as an existential program, according to
which man posits his existence in a historical situation and indicates to himself
how he is going to deal with the reality surrounding him and what use he
will make of the possibilities that are open to him; op. cit., p. 138.

36

F RO M VITA C O N TE MP LATIVA TO V ITA AC TI VA

17

18

19

20

21
22

23
24
25
26

Reoccupation is a technical term Blumenberg employs in his understanding


of the continuity of history as a succession of positions (in the matrix of
questions and answers concerning mans interpretation of the world and of
himself) that are reoccupied (with new contents, or answers) in the transition from one epoch to the next.
The modern mechanistic thesis, Blumenberg writes, established the material
substratum of the world as something meaningless in itself, and consequently
as a potentiality open to mans rational disposition. The reoccupation that
took place between the absolutes will and matter dened the world as
that which is precisely not pregiven, as a problem rather than as an established state of affairs, op. cit., p. 151. Blumenberg goes on in the same passage
to address the question why the turn to self-assertion was not made in late
antiquity from the framework of ancient atomism: [T]he question why
atomism could have this signicance as the successor of voluntarism, but
not in its original situation in the ancient world, leads us to a recognition of
the irreversibility of this reoccupation: only after nominalism had executed a
sufciently radical destruction of the humanly relevant and dependable
cosmos could the mechanistic philosophy of nature be adopted as the tool of
self-assertion. See op. cit., Part II, Chapter 3 for A Systematic Comparison
of the Epochal Crisis of Antiquity to that of the Middle Ages, pp. 14579.
See also Margaret J. Osler, Divine Will and the Mechanical Philosophy:
Gassendi and Descartes on Contingency and Necessity in the Created World
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994). Osler examines the transformation of medieval conceptions about Gods relationship to the creation
into seventeenth-century ideas about matter and method in early articulations
of the mechanical philosophy.
Hypothesis, which from one point of view is the formal expression of the
renunciation of the claim to truth in the traditional sense of adequacy [adaequatio], becomes from another point of view a means of self-assertion, the
potential for human production of that which nature makes scarce or does
not provide for man at all. Blumenberg, op. cit., p. 199. See also p. 353.
Ren Descartes, Principles of Philosophy, in The Philosophical Writings of
Descartes, Vol. 1, trans. John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff and Dugald
Murdoch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), Principle 205, pp.
28990. See also Principle 204: although this method may enable us to understand how all the things in nature could have arisen, it should not therefore
be inferred that they were in fact made in this way. Just as the same craftsman
could make two clocks which tell the time equally well and look completely
alike from the outside but have completely different assemblies of wheels
inside, so the supreme craftsman of the real world could have produced all
that we see in several different ways. I am very happy to admit this; and I
shall think I have achieved enough provided only that what I have written is
such as to correspond accurately with all the phenomena of nature, p. 289.
Blumenberg, op. cit., p. 208.
The absolutism of the hidden God freed the theoretical attitude from its
pagan ideal of contemplating the world from the divine point of view and
thus ultimately sharing Gods happiness. The price of this freedom is that
theory will no longer relate to the resting point of a blissful onlooker but
rather to the workplace of human exertion, ibid., p. 200.
Ibid., p. 232.
Ibid., p. 200.
Ibid., p. 499.
Arendt, op. cit., p. 290. See also pp. 27380.

37

I N TE R NAT IO NA L J O U R NA L O F P H ILO S O P H ICA L ST U D IES

27
28
29

30

31

32

33
34

35

36

Ibid., p. 278. See also p. 298.


Ibid., p. 278.
It is a matter of historical record that modern technology has its origins not
in the evolution of those tools man had always devised for the twofold purpose
of easing his labors and erecting the human artice, but exclusively in an altogether non-practical search for useless knowledge, ibid., p. 289.
Lastly, I would like to give this general admonition to all men, namely,
that they reect on the true ends of knowledge, and that they seek it
not from any intellectual satisfaction, nor for contention, nor to look down
upon others, nor for reward, or fame, or power, or any of these baser things;
but to direct and bring it to perfection in charity, for the bene t and use of
life, Francis Bacon, Preface to The Great Instauration, in Novum Organum
with Other Parts of The Great Instauration, trans. and ed. Peter Urbach and
John Gibson (Chicago and La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1994), p. 15.
Again, despite an abundance of mechanical experiments, there are very few
that yield much information and help to the understanding. For the mechanic,
who is in no way concerned with the investigation of truth, neither directs
his mind nor turns his hand to anything unless it serves his work. Further
progress in knowledge, in fact, can only be looked for with any condence
when a large number of experiments are collected and brought together into
a natural history; experiments which, while they are of no use in themselves,
simply help the discovery of causes and axioms, Bacon, Book I, Aphorism
99, p. 108. See also Book I, Aphorism 121, pp. 1222 and Aphorism 124,
pp. 1256.
[F]irst, I propose a natural history that does not so much charm with its
variety or gratify by the immediate fruit of experiments, as provide light for
the discovery of causes. . . . For though I am principally in pursuit of works
and the active part of the sciences, I am nevertheless content to wait for
harvest-time, and do not attempt to reap moss or the green corn knowing
well as I do that axioms rightly discovered bring with them hosts of works,
not in ones and twos but thick and fast, Bacon, Plan of the Work, p. 25.
Arendt, op. cit., p. 290.
Certainty of knowledge could be reached only under a twofold condition:
rst, that knowledge concerned only what one had done himself so that its
ideal become mathematical knowledge, where we deal only with self-made
entities of the mind and second, that knowledge was of such a nature that
it could be tested only through more doing (ibid., p. 290).
For whatever we do today in physics whether we release energy processes
that ordinarily go on only in the sun, or attempt to initiate in a test tube the
processes of cosmic evolution, or penetrate with the help of telescopes
the cosmic space to a limit of two and even six billion light years, or build
machines for the production and control of energies unknown in the household of earthly nature, or attain speeds in atomic accelerators which approach
the speed of light, or produce elements not to be found in nature, or disperse
radioactive particles, created by us through the use of cosmic radiation, on
the earth we always handle nature from a point in the universe outside the
earth. Without actually standing where Archimedes wished to stand (dos moi
pou sto), still bound to the earth through the human condition, we have found
a way to act on the earth and within terrestrial nature as though we dispose
of it from outside, from the Archimedean point (ibid., p. 262).
This reects interestingly enough a conception of knowledge modelled after
what was taken to be the immediacy of Gods knowledge for his creation, a
relation not of correspondence but of identity. On the theological sources of

38

F RO M VITA C O N TE MP LATIVA TO V ITA AC TI VA

37

38
39
40

41

42

43
44
45

46
47
48
49

the emergence of the new ideal of knowing by doing, see Funkenstein, op. cit.,
Section V, Divine and Human Knowledge: Knowing by Doing, pp. 290345.
The Cartesian method of securing certainty against universal doubt corresponded most precisely to the most obvious conclusion to be drawn from the
new physical science: though one cannot know truth as something given and
disclosed, man can at least know what he makes himself. This, indeed, became
the most general and most generally accepted attitude of the modern age,
and it is this conviction, rather than the doubt underlying it, that propelled
one generation after another for more than three hundred years into an everquickening pace of discovery and development. Arendt, op. cit. pp. 2823.
Ibid., p. 284.
Ibid.
The experiment repeats the natural process as though man himself were
about to make natures objects, and although in the early stages of the modern
age no responsible scientist would have dreamt of the extent to which man
is actually capable of making nature, he nevertheless from the onset
approached it from the standpoint of the One who made it, and this not
for practical reasons of technical applicability but exclusively for the theoretical reason that certainty in knowledge could not be gained otherwise,
ibid., p. 295.
For a discussion of Arendts analysis of the worldlessness of the modern age,
see my paper, Hans Blumenberg and Hannah Arendt on the Unworldly
Worldliness of the Modern Age. Journal of the History of Ideas 61 (2000),
pp. 513530.
Among the outstanding characteristics of the modern age from its beginning
to our own time we nd the typical attitudes of homo faber: his instrumentalization of the world, his condence in tools and in the productivity of the
maker of articial objects; his trust in the all-comprehensive range of the
meansend category, his conviction that every issue can be solved and every
human motivation reduced to the principle of utility; his sovereignty, which
regards everything given as material and thinks of the whole of nature as of
an immense fabric from which we can cut out whatever we want to resew
it however we like [Henri Bergson, Evolution cratrice (1948), p. 157]; his
equation of intelligence with ingenuity, that is, his contempt for all thought
which cannot be considered to be the rst step . . . for the fabrication of
articial objects, particularly of tools to make tools, and to vary their fabrication indenitely [Bergson, op. cit., p. 140]; nally, his matter-of-course
identication of fabrication with action, Arendt, op. cit., pp. 3056.
Ibid., p. 154.
Ibid.
Arendt notes that Kants formula that every human being must be regarded
as an end in himself, with which he had hoped to exclude the category of
endsmeans from the ethical and political realm, has its origin in utilitarian
thinking (ibid., p. 156).
Ibid.
Ibid., p. 266.
Ibid., p. 267.
Arendt cites Bertrand Russell here, who had insisted that if it can be shown
that a mathematical web of some kind can be woven about any universe
containing several objects . . . then the fact that our universe lends itself to
mathematical treatment is not a fact of any great philosophical signicance,
ibid. Arendt cites Russell as quoted by J. W. N. Sullivan, Limitations of Science
(Mentor ed.), p. 144.

39

I N TE R NAT IO NA L J O U R NA L O F P H ILO S O P H ICA L ST U D IES

50
51
52
53
54
55
56

57
58
59

60

Arendt, op. cit., p. 286.


Ibid., p. 287, my italics
See, for example, Ren Descartes in Discourse on Method (Part Six).
Arendt, op. cit., p. 287.
Ibid., p. 288.
Ibid., p. 286.
In his account of genesis in the Timaeus Plato felt compelled to describe chaos
as already exhibiting faint traces of the Forms in the pre-cosmic receptacle.
That is, it was not sufcient simply to posit an unlimited (the indeterminate
receptacle), which is then delimited and determined by the Forms imposed
by the demiurge. The divine craftsman was obliged to take these inherent
tendencies into account, work with them and utilize them, in bringing order
and proportion to the cosmos.
Blumenberg, op. cit., p. 200.
Arendt, op. cit., p. 278.
A theoretical hypothesis will also be preferred because it is in keeping with
generally accepted scientic principles and practices or because it exhibits
certain aesthetic criteria such as simplicity or elegance. However, a hypothesis
will only be considered adequate to the extent that it is able to account for
experimental results, and a proliferation of experimental anomalies which
run counter to scientic hypotheses or general scientic principles must
ultimately undermine the acceptability of these theoretical commitments.
Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society
(New York: Avon Books, 1967), pp. 2623.

40

Copyright of International Journal of Philosophical Studies is the property of Routledge and


its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the
copyright holder's express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email
articles for individual use.