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The Fourth Civilization-Technology Society and Ethics

The Fourth Civilization-Technology Society and Ethics

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Published by Denzyll Jade Arcaya
STS Book
STS Book

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Published by: Denzyll Jade Arcaya on Dec 06, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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11/15/2012

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1.1 The Art and Science of History
Students often think of history as a simple listing of events, names and dates.However, an understanding of such events also requires knowing something of boththe motivations influencing the people who made those events happen, and of methods by which the end results were achieved. In particular, the history of everysociety is intertwined on the one hand with its technological development, and onthe other with the moral and ethical principles upon which the society is built. Thisbook is concerned with all three concepts (history, technology, and ethics) and therelationships among them.One goal of the study of history is attempting to look ahead as well as back,for by understanding the past and present one gains keys to the future. Forinstance, even though the technology that will influence the society of the future isvery different from that which shaped historical events, there is still much to belearned by examining the past. It is possible to see how societies have alreadyresponded to (or developed from) radical technological changes, and thus tosuggest how current trends might shape the future. To assist in this, a brieexamination of the nature of historical studies is in order.
There is a flow to history and culture. This flow is rooted in and has its wellspring in thethoughts of people. People are unique in the inner life of the mind--what they are in their thought world determines how they act. This is true of their value systems and it is true of their creativity, true of their corporate actions, such as political decisions, and it is true of their personal lives. The results of their thought flow through their fingers or from their tongues into the external world. This is true of Michelangelo's chisel, and it is true of thedictator's sword.
--the late Francis Schaeffer in
How Should We Then Live
What Does a Historian Do?
A historian is more than simply a collector of facts about the past or present.In some ways, the "doing of history" is not unlike that of science, for in bothdisciplines it is well understood that a collection of data, however vast, does notbecome useful information until it is organized and interpreted. Like a courtroom judge who must sift through often conflicting eyewitness reports to discover thetruth of events, the historian must reconcile accounts of the events under study thatare often in sharp disagreement. There are various reasons for the contradictions that arise even betweeneyewitness accounts of the same event. For instance, suppose two people standing
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at the roadside witness a traffic accident from different angles, each noticingaspects that the other does not. The first witness observes a car stop at anintersection and another car attempt to pass on the left, whereupon the stopped carsuddenly makes a left turn and is struck broadside by the passing car. Everyone inboth vehicles is killed and little is evident about the cause of the accident from thetangled wreckage. This witness is convinced that the driver of the passing car is atfault for attempting to pass when it was not safe to do so The second witness,however, sees the accident from the front and to the left of the flow of trafficinstead of from the right side and behind as does the first. She observes that thestopped car had a right-turn signal on when the moving car attempted to pass onthe left. To her, the accident is clearly the fault of the driver who signaled to turnone way and actually did the opposite. Yet, despite knowledge of the misleading turn signal, the coroner whoexamines the bodies comes to agree with the first witness. She once barely avoideda similar accident by reacting quickly on the brake pedal to a slight movement of the leading driver's arm. Wondering why the following driver did not pick up such aclue despite the false signal, she tests the body of the passing car's driver and findsthe blood alcohol content to be four times the legal limit. She has little doubt aboutwhere most of the blame lies.Previous experiences, the time of day, road conditions, lighting, the amount of time spent watching, racial and sexual prejudice, and what a witness expected tosee all might also colour the reports that the court hears. Each person takes thestand sworn to tell the whole truth, but even if all do exactly that to the best of theirabilities, there will still be disagreements and contradictions.Likewise, when considering historical events, it is necessary to take intoaccount such things as nationalism, the pride of winners, the shame of losers, andthe tendency of historians to support a particular theory or historical figure. As aresult of such biases, the accounts of world events reaching a later historian willdiverge even more than do those of the traffic accident in the example above. Addin the passage of hundreds or thousands of years and the perils of going throughthird or fourth hand copies of originals--each perhaps embellished with the copyist'sideas--and it may become difficult to sift contemporary fact from later myth.What is more, historians have in the past usually concentrated on the fewoutstanding figures who were at the centre of events--the kings, queens, generals,politicians and other acknowledged movers and shakers. Where there were sourcesavailable from common citizens, these were too fragmentary (and often toovoluminous) to shed much light on the larger events that shaped the time understudy. This is changing as computers allow such material to be assembled andsifted to get a more everyday perspective on events.Establishing the facts in a careful and scientific fashion using the same kind of evidence weighing employed in a courtroom is the first task of a historian. Theaccuracy of available accounts must be assessed by checking them against otherdocuments (perhaps describing related events) whose reliability is better accepted. The personality, motives, and level of education and knowledge of the author of theaccount must also be taken into consideration. For instance, in a society thatattaches great importance to the mythology of a variety of gods and goddesses, the
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