II. B. Protecting the nature of human work

B. Protecting the nature of human work

The philosopher and scientist Leibniz reminds us of the “majesty” of nature against the pretensions of men. They thought that they were designing machines similar to those of nature. But nature, through the mechanisms of divine wisdom, produce works that are very different and superior to human artifices, that is to say, to man’s pretensions to appropriate nature.

“I am most willing to do justice to the moderns, but I think that they have carried the reform too far, for example by confusing natural things with artificial ones, because they have not had sufficiently great ideas of the majesty of nature. They conceive that the difference that there is between its machines and ours is only of the great to the small. This is what made a very clever man [Fontenelle] say recently that when we look at nature closely, we find it less admirable than we had thought, being only like the store of a workman. I believe that this is not a fair enough idea of it, nor is it worthy enough of it, and there is only our system that finally makes known the truth and immense distance that there are between the least productions and mechanisms of divine wisdom, and among the greatest masterpieces of the art of a limited mind; this difference consisting not only in the degree, but in the kind itself

Leibniz, New System of the Nature and Communication of Substances, § 10L11, 1694

Martin Heidegger pushes the analysis even further. For him, nature is henceforth considered as a “background” put at the disposal of man. He takes the example of a power station. The river is put at the disposal of men, and is not even considered as a river anymore because it allows the power station to function. Thus the man “arrises” the nature, summons him to explain himself.

“The power plant is set up in the Rhine. It commands it to deliver its hydraulic pressure, which in turn commands the turbines to turn. This movement turns the machine whose mechanism produces the electric current, for which the regional power plant and its network are controlled for transmission purposes. The Rhine River also appears to be controlled in the area of these consequences, which follow one another from the establishment of the electric power. The power plant is not built in the flow of the Rhine like the old wooden bridge that has been connecting one bank to the other for centuries. Rather, it is the river that is walled up in the power plant. What it is today as a river, it is by the essence of the power plant. […]

The unveiling that completely governs modern technology has the character of a command in the sense of a provision. […] What is thus commanded has its own position. This position we call the fund available to be exploited. It characterizes nothing less than the way in which everything is present that is reached by the unveiling that makes it available.”

Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), Essays and Lectures, “The Question of Technique”

However, man is soon caught in the gears, a victim of his own system. By submitting to the job, to the workstation, he allows himself to be disposed. He becomes himself, like nature, the “bottom” from which man seeks to draw. It is in this sense that Heidegger affirms: “Man follows his path to the extreme edge of the precipice, he goes towards the point where he himself must no longer be taken except as an available bottom.

This question of the exploitation of nature is posed with even greater vigor as the technological revolution of information technology, made possible by the combined work of the world’s engineers, and global warming, this time accelerated by the work of men, disrupt the understanding of the world.