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Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology

Volume 24, Issue 3, 2020

Bas de Boer, Jonne Hoek
Pages 306-331

The Advance of Technoscience and the Problem of Death Determination
A Promethean Puzzle

Death determination has long been a topic of intensive technoscientific and medical involvement. Due to advances in twentieth-century medical technology, the distinction between life and death has become less evident. Ambiguities appear when we start to use life-support technologies in order to save lives, bringing about “tragic artifacts” such as brain death and persistent vegetative state. In this paper we ask how this technoscientific and medical involvement shapes our understanding of death. We provide an overview of medical literature that has appeared on (brain) death determination, highlighting thereby the role that technologies played in its establishment. Subsequently, we develop three philosophical interpretations of technological death determination: With Agamben and Marcuse as the installation of political power; with Don Ihde as an existential choice for the inevitable; and with Jacques Derrida as an encounter with the ineradicable mystery of death. To conclude, we argue that technological death determination reveals an intrinsic, paradoxical connection between human’s technicity and its ignorance of death.

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