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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