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Radical Philosophy Review

Volume 12, Issue 1/2, 2009

Art, Praxis, and Social Transformation

Andrew Feenberg
Pages 199-217

Radical Philosophy of Technology
From Marx to Marcuse and Beyond

The most effective way to silence criticism is a justification on the very terms of the likely critique. When an action is rationally justified, how can reason deny its legitimacy? This paper concerns critical strategies that have been employed for addressing the resistance of rationality to rational critique especially with respect to technology. Foucault addressed this problem in his theory of power/knowledge. This paper explores Marx’s anticipation of that approach in his critique of the “social rationality” of the market and technology. Marx got around the silencing effect of social rationality with something very much like the concept of underdetermination in his discussion of the length of the working day. There are hints of a critique of technology in his writings as well. In the 1960s and ‘70s, neo-Marxists and post-structuralists demanded radical changes in the technological rationality of advanced societies. Marcuse proposed the most developed Marxist theory of alternative technology, based on a synthesis of aesthetics and technical rationality. The concept of underdetermination was finally formulated clearly in contemporary science and technology studies, but without explicit political purpose. Nevertheless, this revision of the academic understanding of technology contributes to weakening technocratic rationales for public policy. A new era of technical politics has begun. It is time to reevaluate the history of technology critique in the light of this unprecedented situation.

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