Free Human Action in the Modern Technological World

Rebecca Davies Wilson


Human life is inconceivable without technology because technology is bound to both the scope and nature of the way the human operates in the world. Modern technology, however, has fundamentally and irrevocably altered human action in such a way as to threaten not only the course of human history, but also the continued existence of human life. In this paper I will examine the problem of modern technology and its impact on human action as articulated by Martin Heidegger and Hans Jonas. I will explore how these two thinkers deal with the possibility of human freedom in light of human action’s fundamentally new character. In their differing articulations of responsibility, I find that Heidegger and Jonas reveal both the merits and the limitations of their positions. What is at stake here is not the content or direction of modern technology as such, but rather how positive individual freedom, in light of this qualitative shift in human action, is possible at all. Ultimately I will argue that human responsibility can only be meaningful as an expression of positive freedom grounded not in an oppressive power dynamic, but in reciprocity

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