The Telos of Technology

“What is the goal of our technologies? What should be our goal? What is off limits and why? What is our operating definition of the good that we are pursuing through technology? Where is the uncrossable line between healing and enhancement, and what are the other proper limits of our technologies? What are people?” Maria Baer and John Stonestreet

Telos: Greek, (noun) the end term of a goal-directed process; esp. the Aristotelian final cause (the end result/purpose).

When my father was born in 1916, the first radio broadcast was still a dim hope, still four years off. KDKA in Pittsburgh wouldn’t transmit the first radio signals ever until 1920. Home ownership of telephones was still uncommon.

Now we carry devices that contain phones, radios, televisions, cameras, clocks, calculators, flashlights, information resources, and social media outlets.

Technology has come a long way since sliced bread and the assembly line.

During the 1990s, I took a college class called Science, Technology, and Society. The professor led multiple discussions of the telos of technology by asking the question, “Will people invent a technology they won’t use?”

Along with others, I asserted that our production of nuclear warheads was fulfilling its telos as a deterrent to nuclear war. We didn’t build bombs so we could use them. We built bombs hoping no one else would feel brazen enough to use theirs against us.

We didn’t think of the self-destructive “bombs” we were developing to finish ourselves off one at a time and with no beneficial result.

Take embryonic stem cell research, for example.

From Baer and Stonestreet:

“Historically, President Bush’s position on embryo-destructive research has been thoroughly vindicated. The additional funding committed to research into adult and induced pluripotent stem cells produced amazing medical breakthroughs. But none of the promises of embryonic stem cell therapies ever materialized, even after his Oval Office successor reversed Bush’s policies, rebuilt the Council around only scientists and medical researchers, and released enormous funding for embryo-destructive research,”

Additional funding. On and off over the years. But not a single benefit.

Harvesting humans. Reaping no benefits. Continuing to take lives and money to repeat the process.

Even if there were a benefit, I would still argue against this barbarity. How can we “benefit” from the death and destruction of innocents? We hope to gain healing for a physical body but harm eternal souls. We become less than we were, less than we can be, when we engage in such practices.

Technologies have good and bad ends. Even a bread slicer can produce a more usable and uniform product or a wounded worker. It’s all in how we use it and what the telos is.

We are letting the end we hope for overcome the meaning every human life always Contains. That purpose never involves becoming spare parts for someone else, directly by transplant or indirectly through research.

God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27, ESV

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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The Desire to Know

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” Romans 15:4

“All men by nature desire to know.” Aristotle

In the Disney Pixar short film La Luna, a grandfather and father initiate their grandson/son about their employment. The viewer realizes that the boy is “going to work” for the first time to follow in the footsteps of his forebears.

The task ahead fills the boy with wonder. The men disagree about the best way to proceed and seem to have arrived at a place of tedium in their duty.

The boy reminds them to marvel at their work.

I taught with a fellow instructor who was learning Ancient Greek. The university’s Latin teacher was fluent in Ancient Greek. The two spent time in lessons every week.

My colleague told me, “I wanted to remember what it’s like to have to learn something hard.” And Ancient Greek is hard. A character in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar explains something he doesn’t understand by saying, “It’s Greek to me.”

Sometimes we have to work at learning. Sometimes it’s hard. Still, it’s in our nature to want to know.

In his Inferno, Dante Alighieri relegates the world’s great non-Christian thinkers to Limbo. In an endnote in Dante’s Purgatorio, Anthony Esolen points out that new knowledge is something unattainable for the souls in this first circle of hell.

Those who sought knowledge in life have no ability to find new ideas in death. In Dante’s view, all that is the wonder of eternity will be lost to those who inhabit the dark and colorless regions.

It’s a challenge to bring wonder into a classroom of young ones today. More than a century ago, education largely stopped being about who students would grow up to become and instead became about what they would grow up to do.

Wonder seeped out of the classroom. Schools became larger, more uniform. Education became about, as Alberto M. Piedras says, “not the communication of knowledge but the sharing of social experience.”

Some students overcome the tedium of colorless education. The vibrant colors of learning for its own sake, wonder, are within them. Too many shuffle through their days feeling like the walls are all gray as is the world around them.

It’s up to us to show them the colors of the real world. The desire to know is within each of us, but someone must feed it or it will die.

“Our job is not to direct the imagination but to raise it from the dead.” Anthony Esolen

True education calls students to be better people, dutiful citizens, faithful family members.

Wonder plants seeds to pursue truth and excellence. A well educated populace is the living fruit of such pursuit.

Photo Credit: Pexels

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”