Abstract for Foucault’s Care of Self: An Ethical Approach to Technology in the Global Age

(This abstract was accepted by the Society for Ethics Across the Curriculum for the 2015 Conference which will be taking place in Greenville, South Carolina, October 8-10, 2015. I will be presenting a paper based on this abstract. I am honored to be accepted and eagerly anticipating the conference.)

There is no question that technology has become one of the most powerful forces shaping our world. According to mobile-cellular subscriptions, the number of cell phones has now reached over 6.8 billion with the world population being a little over 7 billion. With the gap between the number of cell phones and the number of people rapidly closing, it is evident that at least some form of technology has reached almost every person on this planet. How do we respond to this global invasion of technology? Is there an ethical framework by which we can properly understand and regulate technology?

Drawing mostly on Michel Foucault’s later works, this paper argues that Foucault’s care of self offers us an ethical approach to technology in the global age. First, through his historical investigation, Foucault reveals that the ancient notion of care of self has been eclipsed in the modern age with a reduced notion of knowledge of self. As a result, when we look at modern technology, we find that most modern technology is no longer concerned with a holistic care for self, but only with an obsession for knowledge, especially self-knowledge. And yet, Foucault also claims that technologies can have the power to contribute to a proper care of self. Thus, I believe that his analysis of care of self reveals the shortcomings in modern technology, but also challenges us to discover technologies which do promote a holistic care of self.

Technology: Demonstrating Our Detached, Disinterested Desire to Know

(This abstract was recently accepted by the Institute for Faith and Learning for the 2012 Baylor Symposium on Faith and Culture where this year’s conference title is: Technology and Human Flourishing. The conference will take place at Baylor University, October 25-27, 2012 where I will be presenting a paper based on this abstract. I am honored to be accepted and eagerly anticipating the conference.)

Technology has become the most tangible proof for the validity of scientific knowledge owing to the prodigious complexity of its products and to our daily reliance on their efficiency and functionality. Whether or not we understand how a product works, we take for granted the credibility of the knowledge used to engineer it and expect it to function according to our needs. Technology’s products have been more than successful demanding that there must be something valid in the knowledge and method behind their creation. In other words, the method for producing technology works, because we can see its concrete results all around us. With the success of this method staring us in the face, our curiosity cannot help but be piqued. What kind of method is capable of producing such results? What catalyst is responsible for our great advancement in technology?

In this paper, I will explore the answers to these questions by drawing upon Bernard Lonergan’s work on method in Insight. We will begin by looking at the steps of the scientific method, which fuel the production of technology. Though the steps seem simple enough: asking a question, making a hypothesis, gathering and testing data and then reaching some kind of solution, they reveal something deeper about our humanity. Taking the first step, for example, we see that the method has to start with a human being asking a question; why do humans ask these questions? Certainly, some ask questions motivated by greed hoping that the results will turn out a product for their own financial gain. Others ask questions motivated by selfishness hoping that their findings will bring about their own glory. But, in order for the scientific method to be successful, these questions must come from a pure, unrestricted desire to know; a desire for knowledge for the sake of knowledge itself. The seeker must be open to the answer being different from what he or she expects and be willing to discover something that he or she has never even considered. Just as Archimedes discovered the principle of buoyancy while taking a bath and pondering whether the king’s crown was made of gold, we stumble across knowledge unexpectedly and often find answers when we are willing to think outside the box. Though our biases will obstruct us, every human does have this desire to know: we desire knowledge simply because we are curious and simply because we wonder.

Lonergan calls this uniquely human trait: a detached, disinterested desire to know. Any method, but especially the scientific method, can reveal this desire to know and thus, Lonergan’s formidable goal is to create a method, which will foster this desire to know and lead us to true knowledge. In our investigation, we will, first, see how our desire to know is the root of method, specifically the scientific method as demonstrated by technology; secondly, we will consider this human desire in depth by looking at its biases; and thirdly, we will learn how to cultivate this desire in order to find true knowledge in other aspects of our lives.