2013. Vol.3, No.2, 179-184
Published Online April 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/sm) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/sm.2013.32024
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 179
The Evolution of Rationality and Modernity Crisis
School of Social Sciences, Tsinghua University, B e i j i n g , C h i n a
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org du.cn
Received January 10th, 2013; revised February 21st, 2013; accepted March 1st, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Chenggang Zhang. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons
Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
As the necessary result of the modernity movement, the technological problems not only reflect the con-
flict between technology and nature, but also reveal the inherent contradiction of the modernity culture.
This study aims at providing a new explanation of modernity crisis partly caused by technology from the
perspective of the evolution of rationality. As one of the core cultural ideas of modernity, rationality is
both the source and the driving force of modernity. There does not exist absolutely pure rationality, and
what really exists can only be a social and historical rationality situated in certain context. This paper
identified three types of rationality in the movement of modernity: enlightenment rationality, science ra-
tionality, and technological rationality. The author considers that the transformation from Enlightenment
rationality to technological rationality and the domination of technological rationality in modern society
will answer for the emergence of technological problems partially.
Keywords: Technology; Risk; Rationality; Modernity Crisis
Since the Industrial Revolution, sustained technological de-
velopment has been proving the myth of man’s domination of
nature and the optimism of the age of Enlightenment. In the
twentieth century which has achieved great success, and which
has brought about enormous material prosperity, it becomes
more and more impossible to ignore the problems laid bare in
modern technology. At the present age, many crises human
beings are facing, such as ecological, civilization, moral and
value crisis, etc, can find their pathological roots in technology.
Just as Loon states, until relatively recently, most risks have
been allies to technology (Van Loon, 2003: p. 56).
Modern technology is not an isolated material system, which
is intertwined with such factors as civilization, mentality, insti-
tutions, and nation, etc.; the development of modern technology
is far from an isolated action, the ideological and cultural con-
text behind which plays an important supporting role, and it is
just this kind of invisible “other things” that sustain technology
and determine the direction of its development. How technol-
ogy dialogizes with nature, depends not on technology itself,
but on the view of nature, on the special cultural ideas. The
culture of knowledge and technology exists before knowledge
and technology, and this culture determine the way of revealing
realistic problems and posing problems through technology.
In The Turning Point, Capra (1982) had shown us how the
revolution in modern physics foreshadows a similar revolution
in many other sciences and a corresponding transformation of
world views and values in society. Modern technology origi-
nated from the modernity culture, so confronting with techno-
logical problem, we should rethink the culture and value behind
As a tradition with sediments accumulated over so many
years, rationality originates in ancient Greece (Buxton, 1999).
Although the ancient Greeks make certain progress in applying
rational experience, and their main achievements manifested in
their rational mythic thinking, as Barber states: what the Greeks
are more interested in is the inner consistency within a system,
but not the objective experience, and Greek thought does not
show consistent concern for the test of its generalized proposi-
tions in their experience (Barber, 1991). In the Middle Ages,
the Greek speculative reason serves as a tool to demonstrate the
legality of religion. Because of religion’s tolerance for rational-
ity, it becomes the core of contemporary cultural values in the
form of religion, becomes the guideline to direct people’s
thoughts and actions, which made the qualitative conservation
and continuation of the ancient Greek thought possible (Grant,
Such events as the discovery of the “New World”, Renais-
sance, and the Reformation, etc, which took place before and
after 1500 DC form the dividing line between modern time and
the Middle Ages, and modernity is the break of western thought,
just as Capra (1984: p. 40) states: “Man’s view of world and
their way of thinking underwent dramatic changes, new spirits
and new views of cosmos brought about by which shaped the
image of western civilization which serves as the characteristic
of modern society, and became the basis of the idea model
which has been dominating over the past 300 years.” Moder-
nity expects to pursue perfection and freedom of central subjec-
tivity in its belief in rationality and progress. Those cultural
ideas co-exist with it include: rationality, subjectivity, progress,
freedom, etc. The emergence of technological problems is in-
separable from those deep-seated cultural ideas underlying
modernity movement. When questioning the contributing fac-
tors of technological problems, the world view and value sys-
tem which exist on the basis of our modern culture should be
C. G. ZHANG
tested again (Avgerou & McGrath, 2007).
The Conception of Rationality in the Context
of “Enlightenment Movement”
The word “enlightenment” originally means making clear,
clarification, illumination, and giving more knowledge, infor-
mation and inspiration to somebody, and “Enlightenment
Movement” means the liberation movement of thought and
society (Horkheimer & Adormo, 1972: p. 3). It castigates fool-
ishness and ignorance, negates ecclesiastical power, royal right,
and privilege with equality and freedom, and its ultimate aim is
to free man from theological domination, and ultimately estab-
lish man’s position of as a subjectivity.
During the process of promoting humanity, Enlightenment
Movement tries its best to extol the rational spirit of demonstra-
tion and analysis, and finally establishes the high position of
rationality. As Marcuse states: “All that contradict rationality
or that are unreasonable are thought to be something that must
be done away with. Rationality is constructed as a court which
makes judgments for anything” (Marcuse, 1989: p. 176). In the
enlightenment project, rationality becomes the motive force and
source of all kinds of progress, and scientific domination of
nature permits freedom from shortage and the violence of natu-
ral calamity; the reasonable form of social organization and the
development of rational model of thought permit the liberation
from myth, religion and superstition. People believe that under
the guidance of rationality, they can free themselves from vari-
ous natural and historical fetters, determine historical direction
and aim relying on their own power, and shape their world and
life freely (Honneth, 1987).
In the period of “enlightenment movement”, rationality per-
meates through the works, speeches, deeds, and actions of those
enlightenment thinkers, who also extend rationality from logi-
cal and epistemological fields to political field, making it a
weapon for the bourgeoisie to criticize unreasonable systems, to
oppose feudalism and religion. With its spiritual pursuit of
criticism and negativity, enlightenment rationality impels the
course of the Renaissance, the religious reformation, the sci-
ence revolution and the bourgeois revolution. The age of Ren-
aissance is an age when the decline of religious theology, the
establishment of scientific thought, the seeking of reasonable
society, and the discovery of man take place; the Reformation
plays a progressive role in opposing Catholic tradition; the
scientific revolution in modern times declares the split of natu-
ral science and theology; the bourgeois revolutionary move-
ment leads to social transformation, social form transformed
from feudal society which integrates church and state and is
based on agricult ure to capitalist society which separates church
and state and is bas ed on industry (G oody, 1993).
During the enlightenment movement period, rationality was a
unified whole originally, when applied to different cultural
fields, it assumed different forms. For instance, Kant once cate-
gorized rationality into the oretical rationali ty, practic al rationa l-
ity and aesthetic judgment, and constructed modern knowledge
on corresponding bases (Friedman, 2002). Later, Weber put
forward the conception of “reasonability”1, holding that ration-
ality could have dramatically different meanings, and dividing
it into instrument reasonability and value reasonability. Actions
with instrument reasonability is based on the estimation of the
instrument which can be used to achieve the end and the
achievement of the end is conditional on calculation and pre-
diction of the consequences, and in essence, it is concerned
with means and end, with the applicability of those means
which are more or less taken for granted, but not with whether
the end itself is reasonable or not. Value reasonability bases
itself on the reasonability of faith and ideal, and this kind of
ideal and faith meet value criterion, so people can accomplish
their actions regardless of conditions and costs, and regardless
of consequences (Kalberg & Stephen, 1980).
Historically, Whether Kant’s theoretical rationality, practical
rationality and aesthetic judgment, or Webber’s instrument
rationality and value rationality, they are all subordinate to the
category of enlightenment rationality, play different roles in
different fields, and are irreplaceable. However, with the de-
velopment of natural science and the rising of industrial revolu-
tion, the unified whole of enlightenment rationality breaks up
structurally and loses balance, with instrument rationality evolv-
in g gradually into dominant rationality (Hindess, 1987).
The Conception of Rationality in the Context of
Since the Enlightenment, rationality and technology become
two main forces which impel the modernity movement. “West-
ern civilization benefits enormously from the new force of ra-
tional thinking produced by the ancient Greek society and new
technology” (Barber, 1991: p. 47). The changes of rational
spirit are closely linked with the course of scientific revolution.
Western society and its ancestor undergo continuous progress
in rational empirical thinking and the control of nature. Every
age makes its contribution to the flow of development, and the
development in modern times is the formation of new knowl-
edge and its new application. (Barber, 1991: p. 56)
Improving people’s life and enhancing social welfare are
important objectives of the Enlightenment Movement. Scien-
tific technology helps develop man’s power of understanding,
helps man acquire rationality, and helps man’s liberation, and
also has practical values in many industries. Also, with the
establishment of enlightenment rationality, scientific technol-
ogy makes rapidest progress. At the same time, with the pro-
ceeding of scientific revolution that started from Copernicus’
“heliocentric theory”, enlightenment rationality combines closely
with the context of the times, and new blood is continuously
instilled into it, so it acquires new contents, and forms scientific
rationality with the mathematicalization of nature as its model
(Zhang, 2005: pp. 125-126).
Just as Barber put it, “The importance of the changes within
rational thinking and empirical science between the sixteenth
and seventeenth century lies in clarifying the merits of combin-
ing rational thinking and direct observation of the empirical
world” (Barber, 1991: p. 61). As the “father of modern science”,
Galileo accomplishes epoch-making achievements which mani-
feste not only in his laying foundation for classic mechanics,
but more importantly, in his originating mathematical experi-
mental methods, in his establishing the basic framework of the
whole methodology of natural sciences and in his creating a
new model of scientific rationality.
1Rationality has been recognized as perhaps the major theme in Max
Weber’s oeuvre. Acturally Stephen Kalberg identified four types o
rationality in Weber’s literatures: practical, theoretical, substantive, and
It is the common faith of those scientific masters to pursue
mathematical harmony, but different from Copernicus and Ke-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
C. G. ZHANG
pler, Galileo no longer concerns himself with such supernatural
things as “celestial music”, “mythic reasons”, etc., and what he
goes for are realistic mathematical relationships and eternal
natural law which exist in nature. When questioning closely the
numerous and complicated natural things mathematically,
Galileo also changes Aristotle’s way to ask questions. In his
mind, people put their energy into questioning closely such
Aristotelian concepts as end, form, nature, and natural position,
etc, to no avail. He admits that he knows nothing of natural end,
ultimate cause, and it is better to say “I don’t know” than to
declare and exaggerate. Therefore, in the problem of the falling
body, what Galileo questions is no longe r the ultimate ca use for
the action, but the mathematical law it goes by. During the
course of seeking certain scientific knowledge, he successfully
creates the scientific method that combines mathematics and
experiment. According to him, this method is much more con-
ducive to human beings than Aristotle’s method of seeking
final cause, because only the knowledge acquired by means of
positivistic method is certain knowledge which is truly useful.
He confines the object of study within the limits of primary
qualities which can be quantified, maintaining that only those
primary qualities which conform to mathematical necessity are
things’ true qualities which exist objectively (Pitt, 1988).
In fact, Galileo’s scientific model is a certain kind of “pro-
ject” of nature according to humanistic spirit with social and
historical practice carried out at that time as the starting point.
He maintains that secondary qualities should be reduced to
primary qualities, that substance should be quantified and ab-
stractized, and that thinking universality, precision and positiv-
ity and determinism of knowledge should be sought after within
the framework of pure mathematics. The core of his idea is the
mathematicalization of n a ture (Hadden, 1994) .
As a representative of rationalism, Descartes makes great
contribution to liberating philosophical thought from the bond-
age of traditional scholasticism. He aims to develop mathe-
matical deduction, making the rationality in the studies of natu-
ral science more purified, and more abstractized. Descartes
excludes the empirical elements Galileo preserved for natural
science from the premise of mathematical deduction, pursues
more complete rationality, and confers greater power on ration-
ality. He holds that observations and experiments can only be
used to explain those deductions that are deduced from directly
given conceptions, but cannot serve as the starting point of
mathematical deduction. He maintains that the content of ideo-
logical experience should be eliminated, and that the pure form
of thinking should be considered as the most reliable standpoint.
He faithfully believes in the possibility of constructing objec-
tive knowledge of the world of “substance” through mathe-
matical methods on the basis of rationality, thinking that pure
rationality itself can provide absolutely reliable concepts and
methods for scientific knowledge (Williams, 2005).
Undoubtedly, Galileo, Descartes, etc., have made outstanding
contributions to the combination of original enlightenment
rationality and the context of the age, and in the spreading of
modernity movement all over the western world they have
played a very important role. Under their manipulation, a ra-
tionalized world begins to come into being.
However, Galileo would necessarily discard other qualities
possessed by natural objects except quantitative qualities when
pursuing abstract scientific knowledge through mathematicali-
zation of nature. These other qualities include various percep-
tual qualitative qualities, and other qualities which have ethical
and aesthetical implications and which are related to human’s
history. The formation and development of this model fore-
shadows later interfluve of rationality. The inquiry into cer-
tainty, positivity, and universality is necessarily related to the
demand for the practicality, utilitarianity of scientific knowl-
edge, “since the hidden structures and law of repetition of all
things can be grasped accurately, then in principle, it is possible
to design an operative aim according to this grasp and then to
reproduce it or produce it by means of technology” (Zhang,
1995: p. 101). Thus, rationality itself is inevitably given an in-
As a matter of fact, there does not exist what Descartes calls
absolutely pure rationality, and what really exists can only be a
social and historical rationality situated in certain context. It is
just because of the social and historical characteristics of ra-
tionality that it possesses the possibility to be integrated into
different levels and different sides of social structure, and that it
can fulfill various social functions, can combine scientific
technology, the carrier of rationality, with specific historical
subject, social life, ideology, and “purport” and “tradition”
which dominate, etc, and make it function as an internal cause;
and these characteristics can also make it possible for rational-
ity to change and adjust its structure and function, and through
a series of technological revolutions, to evolve into technologi-
cal rationality which is shaped by “life world” and is used to
design this “life world”(Gigerenzer, 1996; MacIntyre, 1988).
Industrial Revolution and the Domination of
Technological Rationality in Modern Society
In modernity movement, in order to acquire reliable scien-
tific and technological knowledge that can conquer nature,
enlightenment rationality will necessarily demand to reduce
objects to certain universal quantities, to view nature as quanti-
fied world that can be learned mathematically, and to abstrac-
tize natural knowledge to quantitative mathematicalized sys-
tem.As Marcuse put it: “to enlightenment, anything that does
not go by computing and utilitarian rules is doubtable” (Mar-
cuse, 1989: p. 179). During the course of seeking scientific
knowledge, enlightenment rationality gradually evolves into a
kind of “thinking machine” or “instrument rationality” with
abstract universality and repeatability. And its inherent social,
historical, mankind’s and cultural meanings have potential
dangers of being destructed. With the coming of industrial
revolution, vigorous practice activities of industrial technology
transform this possibility into reality. With the proceeding of
modernity movement, rationality degenerates into a suppressing
force and dominating method gradually, and enlightenment
rational ity degenerates i nto technological rationali ty and gradu-
ally occupying the core position of social culture (Horkheimer
& Adormo, 1972).
In impelling the course of western modernity movement, In-
dustrial Revolution plays a very important role, and just be-
cause of this, the academic values it possesses have received
widespread attention, and many different interpretations from
different points of view co-exist with one another. For example,
Cipolla explain Industrial Revolution from the perspective of
the energy using. He states that the Industrial Revolution “can
be defined as the process by which a society acquired control
over vast sources of inanimate energy” (Cipolla, 1976: p. 274).
Norbert Winer also considered the replacement of human mus-
cle as a source of energy to be the only “industrial revolution”
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 181
C. G. ZHANG
(Weiner, 1950). Bauman, famous for his studies of modernity
and post-modernity, provides another point of view, maintain-
ing that “the liberation of means from ends lies at the heart of
modern revolution” (Bauman, 1993: p. 190). And Ellul move
forward a great step: “Technology is defined by the ‘complete
separation of the goal from the mechanism, the limitation of the
problem to the means, …’” (Ellul, 1964)
It is not difficult to see that it is just in Industrial Revolution
that the priority of instrument over end is established.” Effi-
ciency, precision, objectivity” is exaggerated infinitely, and the
world is placed under the control of instrument rationality, and
the rich meanings of life world have diminished. Technological
rationality that has grown up in modernity movement gradually
occupies the core position of western culture, intrudes into every
side of contemporary social structure, and dominates every
field of modern social life. According to Bauman, we live in a
technological world nowdays, which is a disenc hanted worl d: a
world without meaning of its own (Bauman, 1993: pp. 188-193).
In Technopoly, Postman describes the development and char-
acteristics of a “technopoly”: the domonation of technological
rationality. He states that in modern society “the culture seeks
its authorisation in technology, finds its satisfactions in tech-
nology, and takes its orders from technology”. The technopoly
is characterised by a surplus of information generated by tech-
nology, which technological tools are in turn employed to cope
with, in order to provide direction and purpose for society and
individuals (Postman, 1993: pp. 71-72).
Nowdays Rationality is a social rationality which has both a
technical and normative dimension. Feenberg summarize three
principles to resemble our ideas about rationality in modern
society: 1) exchange of equivalents, 2) classification and appli-
cation of rules, 3) optimization of effort and calculation of re-
sults. Rationality is not necessarily good or even successful, he
points out: Hitler’s Germany exhibited a high degree of or-
ganizatioal rationality with consequesnces both evil and disas-
trous (Feenberg, 2008).
Technology Rationality a n d Moderni ty Crisis
The conception of rationality is closely related to the de-
velopment of modernity movement. Modernity is the historical
condition that characterizes modern societies, and theories of
modernity aim to describe and analyze this historical condition
(Misa, Brey, & Feenberg, 2004). Nowadays the modernity stud-
ies is a very important academic field both in China and bey-
ound, and the interpretations and criticisms of modernity, in
general, go beyond semantic category, possessing very compli-
cated philosophical, cultural and sociological implications. The
different attitudes towards “modernity” even form completely
different thought and knowledge scene (Calinescu, 1987;
Therborn, 1995; Wittrock, 2000). Modernity first can be under-
stood as a historical concept in periodic historical sense, which
is used to describe the historical changes and developments and
the basic characteristics of western society since Renaissance.
As Heidegger say “the fact that whatever is comes into being in
and through representedness transforms the age in which this
occurs into a new age in contrast with the preceding one” (He-
degger, 1977: p. 130). Modernity is not merely a temporal cate-
gory, but represents new thoughts and ideas which underlie
historical changes dominating the philosophical, economic and
cultural fields in modern society.
Modernity movement is a movement that strongly challenges
modern civilization. “In these several hundred years, man has
undergone complete and dramatic changes, with which all those
changes in previous historical periods cannot be compared, and
each pre-modern nation is still running more quickly into it.
These ‘inside’ nations cannot see the prospect of going out of
this specific historical period” (Bao & Stackhouse, 2000: p. 29).
The modern discourse starts when philosophers clearly realize
that the problems man are facing in a new age cannot appeal to
the forces beyond man’s rationality, cannot rely on traditional
myths and religion, cannot appeal to traditional metaphysics,
but should construct code of ethics based on rationality. They
declare that the void left by the now extinct or ineffective moral
supervision of the Church can and ought to be filled with care-
fully and artfully harmonized set of rational rules (Baumman,
1998: p. 6). The basic characteristic of modernist world view is
rationalism, rationality is the key word of modernity movement.
Western modernist culture with rationalism embedded in it is
founded on the priority of technological knowledge over other
cultural values. Modern technology is regarded as the basis of
the progress of rationalism, and people who get involved in
modernity movement believe that technological progress can
lead to moral improvement. Civilization and progress manifest
in knowledge accumulation and technological progress, and
modernity means the potentials of the reasonability of cognition
of theoretical knowledge is transformed into the reasonability
of economic system and administrative system (Hennen, 1999).
As an important word produced by enlightenment movement,
“rationality” is limited with the narrow category of technologi-
cal rationality in its historical evolvement. In modern society,
the dimension of technological rationality and its concrete
forms such as system, scientific technology, and market expand
uncontrollably, which makes rationalized society increasingly
take on an extremized tendency, thus leading to the rebel
against enlightenment itself. Modernity and industrial technol-
ogy system that it sustains bring human beings to dash to the
peak of material wealth, which seems to present a bright pros-
pect before them. However, in the late modern age after the
twentieth century, instrument control system is laid much barer
than before, and its negative consequences are more evident,
and many forms of counteraction appear. Modernity receives
reflection and criticism from more and more scholars (Giddens,
1991; Zimmerman, 1990).
It is not difficult to see that as mathematicalized, abstractized
and positivized treatment of nature, as scientific “design” re-
lated with specific social history, cultural tradition and way of
daily life, technological rationality has deviated completely
from humanism advocated by enlightenments rationality to
fight for man’s freedom and liberation. It expands but at the
same time, devours man’s freedom, with hidden inherent con-
flicts that cannot be solved by itself. Technological rationality
extols the principle of materialization, maximize the benefits,
turns man into objects, instruments and machines; make them
forsake their aims and pursuit of value, becoming rootless, cha-
racterless and meaningless man. Just as Louis Dumont points
out profoundly, “there is no humanly significant world…This
world devoid of values, to which values are superadded by
human choice, is a subhuman world, a world of objects, of
things…” (Dumont, 1986).
As a liberating force, Enlightenment rationality has played an
important role in liberating mankind from feudal rule, espe-
cially from God’s rule, however, with the proceeding of the
course of modernity, rationality begins to go to its opposite,
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
C. G. ZHANG
evolving into means to achieve utilitarian ends, becoming in-
struments to rule and enslave man. Technological rationality
finally grows into a suppressing force, a ruling means, just as
Adorno and Horkheimer point out: there exists certain com-
plicit relationship between enlightenment and myth. “Myth is
already enlightenment, and enlightenment in turn becomes
myth” (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1997). In “technological soci-
ety” where technological rationality prevails, science and tech-
nology is alienated into a new form of control used to replace
traditional political rule by late capitalist society, becomes a
new ideology that has unpoliticized demand, and shapes a one-
dimensional society and one-dimensional man with irresistible
forces in a more hidden manner (Marcuse, 1964).
In short, in modernity movement, a whole set of guiding con-
ceptions, such as mathematicalization of nature, the priority of
means over end, conquer and control of nature, etc, on which
the emergence and development of modern technology relies,
are formed. According to these conceptions, people pay much
attention to the utilitarianity of technology, to the possibility of
knowing and controlling nature by means of such rational
methods as logical deduction and mathematical analysis. This is
the so-called “technological rationality”. Weber’s rationaliza-
tion theory explains the rise of “calculation and control” in
modern societies (Weber, 1958). Under the control of the ideas
of technological rationality, modern technology emerges and
develops. New “technological paradigm” shows the combina-
tion of knowledge and material. In such fields as science, war,
and navigation, technological discoveries of printing, gunpow-
der, and compass can “help us think over those secrets which
have been locked up in the depths of nature”, and “unlike those
old technology which guides natural process in a gentle man-
ner, it uses forces to possess and conquer it, until it shakes its
whole foundation” (Merchant, 1990).
Henceforth, it is possible for people to use entirely new
knowledge and comparatively mature technological means to
know and transform nature again. The breaking out of Indus-
trial Revolution and its spread and development in Euro-
America makes it possible for mankind’s dream of conquering
nature which has slept in spiritual world for several thousand
years to come true. By means of technology, man’s power be-
comes increasingly greater, and finally man appears as the
master of nature on the earth. However, the ruthless massacre
of nature will inevitably result in the appearance of a series of
technological problems (Beniger, 1986).
Modernity movement creates technological rationality, which
dominates in “technological society” and determines such cul-
tural ideas as conquer and measurability of nature, priority of
thinking efficiency, predetermination of material demands, and
bureaucratization of society. Technological rationality develops
or sublates the ancient Greek mathematical rationalism, how-
ever, the dimension of efficiency and material orientation em-
phasized by it is bound to neglect man’s spiritual meanings and
values, which in fact deviates from the original meaning of
enlightenment rationality, and then becomes harmful to moder-
nity itself. If technological rationality becomes hegemonic ra-
tionality in a society and expands to all fields, this society must
have potential crises. (Alario & Freudenburg, 2003) Undoubt-
edly, it will be helpful to correctly understand rationality and
rectify the long-standing mistaken ideas of rationality to inter-
pret the outer cultural context of the contributing factors of
technological problems from the point of view of the evolution
Conclusion and Discussions
This study focus on providing a new explanation of the
modernity crisis caused by technology from the point of view
of the evolution of rationality .This paper identified three types
of rationality in the movement of modernity: enlightenment
rationality, science rationality, and technological rationality.
The author considers that the transformation from the Enlight-
enment rationality to the technological rationality and the domi-
nation of technological rationality will answer for the emer-
gence of technological problems partially. I would like to sum-
marize it as follows.
Firstly, the development of modern technology is far from an
isolated action, the ideological and cultural context behind
which plays an important supporting role and it is just this kind
of invisible “other things” that sustain technology and deter-
mine the direction of its development. As the necessary result
of the modernity movement, the technological problems not
only reflect the conflict between technology and nature, but
also reveal the inherent contradiction of the modernity culture.
It will be helpful to correctly understand rationality and rectify
the long-standing mistaken ideas of rationality to interpret the
outer cultural context of the contributing factors of technologi-
Secondly, rationality originates from ancient Greece. In the
transformation process from traditional society to modern soci-
ety, thinkers of the Enlightenment highly value the rational
spirit of positivism and analysis, and the authority status of
rationality is further confirmed in the period of scientific revo-
lution. Rationality is one of the core cultural ideas of modernity.
Absolutely pure rationality does not exist, and what really ex-
ists can only be a social and historical rationality situated in
Thirdly, with the development of history, the rationality
combine with industrial revolution and modernity, evolved into
a technological one, which possess lofty status in modern soci-
ety. Rationality is both the source and the driving force of mod-
ernity The Enlightenment rationality used to be a unified whole,
and can be applied to different fields with different manifesta-
tions. The rationality is limited to the narrow scope of techni-
cal rationality in the process of its evolution. The expansion of
technological rationality finally makes it a sort of oppressive
forces which lead to the crisis and risk of modernity.
Lastly, the rationality in the context of modernity has both a
technical and a normative dimension and it will change its form
with the development of history .Technology has spilled over
into most aspect of social life, and diverse interest contend for
influence over the construction of technological rationality. The
author considers that the research approach of the “co-construc-
tion” of technology and modernity will provide us with more
insights in the future.
Some of the research discussed here received support from
the Education Ministry Foundation (Award #12YJA720032)
and Independent Research Projects of Tsinghua University
(Award # 20111080990).
Adorno, T. W., & Horkheimer, M. (1997). Dialectic of enlightenment
(2nd ed.). London, New York: Vers o Books.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 183
C. G. ZHANG
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