Who or What Do the Social Sciences Serve in The Technological Society? Revisiting the Sociological Description/Prediction of 1954 by Jacques Ellul
Ellul proposes that a qualitative transformation has occurred in our society in which it is no longer possible to regard technique as an isolated social fact, as the word “technology” tends to suggest. We will not understand Ellul if we take machine technology, the industrial hardware that figures so heavily in Marxist theory and common cultural perceptions, as the paradigm of technique. Ellul subordinates the concept of machine to the concept of technique, so that machines are said to embody or be examples of technique. The field of technique also includes the vast network of political administration, the principles of organization, economics, much of psychology and sociology, engaged as they are, in Ellul’s view, in devising the methods that are employed in the adaptation of man to the technical society. He attacks our fundamental assumption that the nexus of institutions which make up our social world is amenable to our values and preferences. Ideological debate or philosophical dialogue aimed at establishing values, however important, is simply irrelevant to the advance of the technical civilization. This presentation will explore the implications of this view for the social sciences and attempt to go beyond the simplistic reactions that (a) Humans are free and in charge of their social milieu, therefore Ellul’s assessment cannot be correct and (b) Ellul’s thesis leads directly to an absolute sociological and historical determinism thereby rendering all human activity hopelessly impotent.
Keywords: Jacques Ellul, Social Philosophy, Philosophy of Technology
Dr. Erik Nordenhaug
Associate Professor of Philosophy, Philosophy Department