Ivan Gutierrez

Institute of Philosophy, Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague

On the Ways Technologically-Mediated Auditory Experience Can Inflect Ethical Inquiry

Experience cannot be set aside while thinking through, let alone resolving ethical issues. Thus, phenomenology – the analysis of experience – is essential to ethical theorizing and problem solving. In my presentation, I will apply phenomenological conceptual tools to the manner in which the technological mediation of auditory experience inflects ethical inquiry. As P-P Verbeek has argued, the Enlightenment/modernist separation of subject and object makes it impossible to see the ways in which subjects and objects are interwoven, and therefore the ways in which technological objects mediate the ways we live our lives. This calls for a broadened ethical approach which aims to overcome the subject-object separation by articulating a heteronomous moral subject whose actions are always closely interwoven with the material environment in which they play themselves out. Such an approach considers 1. how technological objects are constituted morally and how they shape moral interpretations 2. how technological subjects are constituted morally– how objects shape moral subjects. In order to flesh out such an approach, I will argue that whereas in the past ethical concern lay close to the act – our ethical universe was bound by the spatial horizon in which we met other agents and the temporal horizon of our lifespan and the foreseeable future – increasing technological interventions in nature ­– including humanity – has expanded the spatial spread and time span of technological cause-and-effect chains (which are increasingly irreversible and cumulative). Ethical thinking must be commensurate with the causal scale of actions mediated by technology and therefore take into consideration ever wider spatiotemporal horizons (people who live far away and the denizens of the future). The particularities of technical developments inflecting audition – enabling the recording, reproduction and transmission of sound – extended the scope of auditory experience to include sounds from inaccessible parts of the world and the past. These developments have had contradictory effects which are relevant to ethical inquiry. On the one hand, such technologies extend our experience of the presence of other people and therefore expand the range of ethical concern, bringing closer the ethical call of the other discussed by Emmanuel Lévinas (in terms of his concept of the face) and Martin Buber (in terms of his I-Thou relation). The influence of this expanded range of ethical concern can encompass others not only in far-flung corners of the globe, but also in the future. On the other hand, however – and here the particular significance of audition comes to the fore – the individualization of technologically mediated auditory experience and the use of sound technologies on the go – whether wearing earphones or in a car – has had a muting effect on our experience of others, with a concomitant effect on the strength of the ethical call embodied in Lévinas’ face and Buber’s I-Thou relation.