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Keywords:

  • anarchic mentality;
  • artifact;
  • instrument;
  • obscurantism;
  • practical intelligence;
  • praxis;
  • speculative intelligence;
  • technology;
  • vertical integration

Abstract. My comment on Ethics in an Age of Technology, volume 2 of Ian G. Barbour's Gifford Lectures, acknowledges the excellence of Barbour's depictions of the social-cum-technological problems facing humanity in the coming millennium. Barbour's proposed solutions, too, are reasonable—but usually presuppose fundamental reforms in social values, especially within the powerful industrialized societies. Without further analysis of technology and values, this seems to make such solutions “impossible dreams.” My thesis is that clear analysis of the ideal aspects of technology (as itself the embodiment of knowledge and values), plus clues from Alfred North Whitehead on the dynamics of social change, can reinforce hope even in “impossible” dreams. First, technology, though embodied in solid material machinery and powerful social institutions, is no more “solid” than constant reaffirmation of the values behind it (as was the case with the Berlin Wall). Second, great ideals, over time, have the power to help create the conditions of their own possibility. Social change is both “pushed” by coercive forces (e.g., climate changes) and “pulled” by great values (e.g., human dignity). Therefore there are practical benefits to be gained from attending to, and celebrating, even currently “impossible” dreams as they work to make themselves possible.