Philosophy and Transfer Of Technology

Izu M. Onyeocha


  1. Introduction
  2. Reasons for seeking the transfer
  3. The Basin and Possibilities of the Transfer
  4. Implicatiosn for philosophy
  5. How Nigeria Can Gain Access to Technology
  6. Deeper Philosophic Questions about Technology and its Use
  7. New problems facing the scientist
  8. Conclusion
  9. References

Philosophy, as John Shand points out, involves expanding existing ideas, creating new imaginative ideas, and critically assessing the soundness of arguments put forward in support of views claimed to be true.1 Besides, philosophy is not some arcane study that has nothing to do with real life. It is an intellectual activity devoted to understanding the most basic dimensions of what it means to exist as human whether as an individual or in relation with other humans.

An idea (from the Greek idein) means first of all the easily perceptible appearance of things according to its characteristic traits, and then especially the inner nature or essence that is revealed through these traits. To transfer is to relocate or cause to move from one place to another. Technology, for its part, is the application of scientific principles in the solution of human problems. In other words, it makes science work, for humans by serving human needs. Technology involves a whole range of things including knowledge, skills, expertise, know how, tools and machinery that make science work for the ease and convenience of humans. The idea of transfer of technology involves a transfer or at least a sharing of these skills and capabilities to reach those who lack them.

What affects humans everywhere is, without doubt, of prime interest to philosophy and the philosopher. The idea of transfer of technology is one such thing. It is of interest to philosophy on at least two grounds. First, it is the character of philosophy to concern itself with anything that is of interest to humans. Second, it is an important purpose of philosophy to really wake humans up and to sharpen and readjust their perception of reality and respond appropriately to situations. Concerning the first, Plato considers it the real mark of the philosopher to feel no distaste for any branch of study. In his Republic, he wrote as follows:

But the one who feels no distaste in sampling every study, and who attacks his task of learning gladly and cannot get enough of it, him we shall justly pronounce the lover of wisdom, the philosopher, shall we not?

John Shand underscores the same point when he includes open-mindedness in examining various issues with the doing of Philosophy:
Anyone who open-mindedly and critically examines, rather than simply accepts, fundamental ideas, has started doing philosophy. Philosophy cuts very deeply into our beliefs concerning the world and our place in it.3

Reasons for Seeking the Transfer

There is a huge disparity in standard of living, socio-cultural mobility, nutrition, health, economy, communication and military prowess between the so-called industrialized countries and so-called developing countries. This disparity is largely due to the vast and seemingly unbridgeable gap in technology between the two portions of humanity. While the one makes giant strides by the day, the other barely manages to register a feeble and almost negligible presence. A cynical or jingoistic evaluation of the situation might come up with the verdict that the superior party has simply shone out while the inferior party remains in the backwaters. The superiority is both innate and acquired. It is permanent, non-transferable, and irreversible. Each party should therefore calmly content itself with its lot and not seek to eschew, transfer, or exchange it. Both from nature and from struggle each is merely getting what it deserves. From the cynical point of view, therefore, those who currently have an edge in technology should savour their good fortune and hold to it for all it is worth, while those who lack it should keep trailing behind their counterparts, resign themselves and forget about making any efforts to achieve parity with them.

A more compassionate view would be more circumspect in its conclusions. It would recognize that it is not just native incapacity that is the problem; there might also be other internal and extraneous factors involved. When those factors are addressed thee is bound to be an improvement in fortunes of the erstwhile disadvantaged peoples. Such factors, usually historical, political, psychological or economic might not be brought to heel merely by wishfulness, tongue-lashing, scape-goating, but must be faced with intent to produce meaningful solutions. What is sought is not that those who prospered should be killed or dispossessed, but that those who have not yet prospered should chart their own course through the acquisition of what is easily the surest avenue to prosperity in the present age. Since no condition is permanent, all avenues, including transfer of technology, should be left open to enable them gain access to it. They might have other things that others lack and would, in due course, be in a position to share them.

The Basin and Possibilities of the Transfer

One might ask the basis for such a transfer. Is technology a common human heritage that must, as a duty, be unconditionally passed on to all and sundry without obligations and without any strings attached? Is it something that could be negotiated on a quid pro quo basis? But then what could the quo possibly be? Would it involve the transfer of cash or cultural or other goods in barter payment? These questions are pertinent given the meaning and implication of the concept of transfer of any sort. To transfer is to move or remove, to shift or relocate, to convey or reassign from one point or subject to another. What is transferred is thus by definition lost to, and not merely shared between the transferor and the transferee. It has been passed on, or signed over by those that worked for it to those who did not. It is in the nature of things that those who have an advantage do not readily give it up without a light or a trade off. To give up an established advantage in a competitive situation is usually regarded as foolishness.

In the field of education, it is the mark of the good teacher to transfer his or her knowledge as much as possible to the student. In doing this, the teacher empowers the student and thereby reduces, or even eliminates his or her own importance or relevance. No advantaged person wants to be rendered irrelevant in the world of struggle and survival. The power and prestige of the industrialized countries lies in maintaining the status quo of advantage and even widening the gap further if they can. The situation between the developing communities and their technologically advanced counterparts is analogous to that of the proverbial cat and mouse. In the animal kingdom no one will ask the cat to give up, share with, or transfer his powers to the mouse. With regard to the transfer of technology, the truth is that the industrialized countries will never agree either to give-up for, or share with, or the transfer to Nigeria and other developing countries.

Neither considerations of charity, nor in response to entreaty, nor the result of plain-faced negotiation can bring this about. Negotiation could perhaps yield some minor concessions in non-crucial, non-sensitive, and certainly non-military areas like granting landing rights to Nigeria Airways in London, Frankfort, or New York. Beyond that, every bit of progress in the field must be earned by dint of hard work and disciplined application. The United States would sooner broker the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to a Nigerian than show Nigeria the basic formula for the manufacture of Coke. It is thus almost inconceivable that the US would wake up one day and “award” Nigeria computer, communication, aviation, space and missile technology to enable her fulfill her desire to achieve parity in technology! As Herbert Marcuse points out, technological rationality is political and totalitarian.4 It is in the nature of totalitarianism to retain all powers at the top and dish them downwards without fear of any possible opposition.

The quickest and apparently surest way such transfers are achieved is either by a sleight of hand when no one is ‘looking’, i.e. under false pretences, or otherwise by force of arms. In other words, either it is accessed through clever ploys, or it is brazenly stolen without qualm, or it is snatched by force of arms in the course of a military campaign. Those who need to acquire technological skills do not wait for a peaceful transfer but seek to seize every opportunity that offers itself in any way they possibly can. Since the penalty for failure is overwhelming, force is only meaningful if the user is sure that it will succeed. It is foolhardy to contemplate using force against one who is patently stronger. Apart from entreaty and peaceful negotiations, patience must be exercised as aspects are cleverly secured in bits and carefully pierced back together. The whole business of transfer of technology has to be wanted badly and urgently enough – even to the point of obsession – to warrant the contemplation of any of the above ways. The rewards of success are great but the penalties of failure are even greater.

Implications for Philosophy
There are far reaching ethical and scientific implications in contemplating the modes of achieving the transfer of technology. Apart from responding to charity/persuasion/entreaty, each of the options mentioned above – clever ploys/deceit; and theft/use of force – raises engaging ethical questions. Two key ethical principles are here played against each other. From point of view of those who already have it, their right to material, spiritual and intellectual property is being eroded. The seekers of transfer, for their part, can invoke the principle of double effect in choosing the lesser evil of knowingly taking someone else’s property as against the penalties of remaining weak and vulnerable to all forms of assaults even on their own lives, well-being, national pride and prestige.

That is what nations routinely do in their national interests and for their survival. They have agents spying on their friends and foes alike. They call it working for national security but always smile away with any military, scientific or technological secrets they could “steal” even from their best “friends”. Such spies are hailed by their nations and detested by the nations where they carry on their spying activities. Even when nations share their findings with their friends, they do withhold some vital details that give their nation an edge. Nations go to war against each other and cart away any military advantages they could capture as war booty. They sternly interrogate prisoners of war and extort from them the military secrets of their nations. Nations are usually too shy to admit openly that they need help in any field of technology. They often pretend to have it all but would not hesitate to steal what they cannot get either by entreaty of by persuasion.

Besides, relationships between nations are quite unlike those between individuals. While individual relationships are based on “love” in the regular moral, emotional or psychological sense of the word, those between nations are based on expediency of living and letting live. Nations are therefore ready to sacrifice any friendship when something else more profitable is at stake. For example, in the battle for the Falklands, the United States was willing to break ranks with their neighbour Argentina to back Britain. She had considered that she had higher economic, political and strategic stakes in relationships with Britain that with Argentina. That is why it is said in political circles that nations do not have eternal enemies or eternal friends, but eternal interests. In other words, it is national interests that come uppermost before any other considerations.

Besides national interests, other considerations include national power and prestige, national economy, good of the people, international relationships, and world peace—in that order of importance. Thus nations that consider anything to be in their national interests go all out to do or get it sacrificing any other considerations. Any proven infractions are considered as an infringement of international law and resolved accordingly. They are not considered in moral terms of sin and imperfection resolvable within the conscience or at the confessional. Thus, besides being an infraction on the moral order, it is treated as an infraction in the legal and strategic order. That is why those who are found guilty of such infractions are punished by law and not let free to go home and repent.
Scientific advancement has important implications for philosophy and society in general. The great achievements of the scientists and the value of scientific method are almost universally recognized. The fact that practically all sciences have made breathtaking advances in recent years is well known to all educated people. Theoretical advances dealing with matter, space, time evolution, and the like have given us a new outlook on the world. The practical application of scientific knowledge to technology and mechanization touches our lives daily at innumerable points. We are beginning to believe that there is no area of life about which scientific methods cannot produce some information.
The sciences have enabled humans to reduce the barriers of space and time by rapid methods of computation, communication, travel, and transportation. The human voice can now travel distances that would have been considered unbridgeable a few decades ago. The Internet carries voices, images and texts instantaneously across the globe. Science is responsible for the development of the modern age of power, for new sources of food supply and the expansion agricultural production, and for progress in medicine and disease control. Humans have been released from many of the age-old fears and hazards to life and happiness. They have gained control over many of our traditional enemies. Cold, heat, darkness, and storms do not hold the terrors they once did. Their understanding of the processes of their own bodies, as well as of the world in which they live, has been greatly increased.

With the help of certain sciences humans can be forewarned of events like the stormy weather or the arrival of a cyclone or rain or draught so as to be able to escape some of their unpleasant effects. At times science provides the contemplative imagination with new vistas of insight, such as some new theory of evolution or space-time relativity. It may also disclose some objects of great aesthetic charm, such as the order and regularity of the planets as they circle the sun. Mathematicians have sometimes used aesthetic terms to express their elation after the solution of some difficult problem.
Humans often think of technology as a matter of instruments they can use for one purpose or another. Sometimes it is said that technology in itself is “neutral” and can be used for either good or evil, just as a poison may be used to kill disease-infected rats or one’s wealthy aunt or a wicket tyrant. This is not a mistaken way to think about technology but, Heidegger claims, it is shallow. It may be “correct” but is it “true”? Does it disclose the essence or technology?

Today humans are battling many ills brought on by technology; air and water pollution, the population explosion, the extinction of species, the depletion of the ozone layer, waste disposal, the threat of nuclear war. But they tend to think that they can master them; what they need is more and better technology! So they equip their cars with catalytic converters and spend much money on antiballistic missile systems. They think that they can master technology by devising technological “fixes” for technological problems. But what, Heidegger asks, if the essence of technology is not this business of devising means to desired ends? What if technology is fundamentally something quite different? What is technology is basically a way of revealing, of bringing forth, of unconcealing? What if technology were a “place” – a clearing—truth happens? That is indeed what it is.

How Nigeria Can Gain Access to Technology
For any attempt to have fuller access to technology to be meaningful in Nigeria all, or at least most, of the following conditions must be fulfilled:

1 Nigeria must work hard to establish and cultivate a culture of science and mathematics in schools from the earliest stage. South Korea, China, and now India have already implemented that policy and the results speak for themselves in the clear edge their nationals now enjoy over their peers even in the developed world. Now that Nigeria is embarking on the long vaunted Universal Basic Education, there is no better time to address the issue of imparting science and mathematics skills in Nigerian children.
2 Efforts must be made to identify and encourage local talents anywhere they are found and mobilize them for increased national productivity. The legendary Biafran technology happened almost overnight because talents were mobilized and put to productive use. Such talents super abound in Nigeria, but sufficient efforts are not being made to harness them.
3 Nigeria must challenge and encourage local manufacturers to produce quality consumer and other items when they are needed. Even when better foreign-made alternatives exist, they must be kept at bay to enable local productions to stabilize and thrive. India, China, and Japan adopt this method and it has done wonders for their economy and their national pride.
4 Nigeria must work to produce local versions of anything that comes around from minor household appliances to heavy-duty equipment and improve on them through adaption to local needs and local conditions, enhancing their capabilities and even radically altering their initial character.
5 She must challenge her universities and polytechnics to productivity by throwing challengers to them and providing inducements for research to attract them to meet the challenges.
6 Urgent efforts must be made to revamp the educational system by sharpening their capabilities and making them goal-oriented such that it is more responsive to present-day needs.

Deeper Philosophic Questions about Technology and its Use
What is distinctive about modern technology is that it does not just use means that nature supplies, as the windmill makes use of wind. What it does is store up energy in a way the older technology could not. It is:

… a challenging, which puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it supply energy which can be extracted and stored as such … a tract of land is challenged in the hauling out of coal and ore. The earth now reveals itself as a coal-mining district, the soil as a mineral deposit……Agriculture is now the mechanized food industry. Air is now set upon to yield nitrogen, the earth to yield ore, ore to yield uranium, for example: uranium is set upon to yield atomic energy, which can be released either for destruction or for peaceful use.5

Technology reveals everything as what Heidegger calls the standing-reserve. What is characteristic of this mode of openness is that everything presents itself and something to be “set upon” and “ordered” and “stored” for use.

Heidegger calls this challenging of nature that orders it as the storehouse of standing-reserve enframing. Enframing is a mode of disclosure, of revealing the real. It reveals the real as orderable for use. Enframing, while itself nothing technological in the ordinary sense, is the essence or meaning of technology. It is what makes ordinary technology maintains itself.6 We live in a technological world in precisely this sense: that everything in it is revealed as standing reserve. This, concludes Heidegger, is the current meaning for Being. It has not always been so, of course. Other epochs have experienced the world differently. And this fact suggests that the “revealing” characteristic of out time, enframing, hides as much as it discloses. We are “in untruth”, concludes Heidegger, as well as in the truth.

The danger in enframing is twofold, Heidegger tells us.

(1) We ourselves may be taken simply as standing-reserve, to be ordered forth for use. Compare Kant’s distinction between persons and things, and his second formulation of the categorical imperative, that rational beings must never be used as means only, but always treated as and end. Enframing human beings means taking them to be available as standing-reserve for use, not respecting them as persons. But as we relate to ourselves in this technological scientific way, we miss what is peculiar to us: our essence, our Being-open or Dasein. Heidegger goes as far as to say that nowhere do we today encounter ourselves in this essence. Enframing is a drastic and extreme mode of hiding our Being from ourselves.

(2) Since everything looks like material-for-use ordered by our science and technology, it seems we nowhere can get beyond ourselves again: again, subjectivism triumphs! And this, Heidegger consistently holds, is a “delusion.” Enframing exalts man to the position of “lord of the earth” and so misses the phenomenon of enframing as itself a mode of revealing – as a way the truth of being is made manifest.

As Herbert Marcuse points out, a comfortable, smooth, reasonable, democratic, unfreedom is what prevails in advanced industrial civilization, as a token of technical progress. Indeed, what could be more rational than the suppression of individuality in the mechanization of socially necessary but painful performances; the concentration of individual enterprises in more effective, more productive corporations; the regulation of free competition among unequally equipped economic subjects; the curtailment of prerogatives and national sovereignties which impede the international organization of resources. That this technological order also involves a political and intellectual co-ordination may be regrettable and yet promising development.7

The technological processes of mechanization and standardization might release individual energy into a yet uncharted realm of freedom beyond necessity. The very structure of human existence would be altered; the individual would be liberated from the work world’s imposing upon him alien needs and alien possibilities. The individual would be free to exert autonomy over a life that would be his own. If the productive apparatus could be organized and directed towards the satisfaction of the vital needs, its control might well be centralized; such control would not prevent individual autonomy, but render it possible.

Industrial society possesses the instrumentalities for transforming metaphysical into the physical, the inner into the outer, and the adventures of the mind into adventures of technology. The terrible places (and realities of) “engineers of the soul”, “head shrinkers,” “scientific management,” “science of consumption”, epitomize (in a miserable form) the progressing rationalization of the irrational, of the “spiritual” – the denial of the idealistic culture. But the consummation of technological rationality, while translating ideology into reality, would also transcend the materialistic antitheses to this culture.

The translation of values into needs is the twofold process of (1) material satisfaction (materialization of freedom) and (2) the free development of needs on the basis of satisfaction (non-repressive sublimation). In this process, the relation between the material and intellectual facilities and needs undergoes a fundamental change. The free play of thought and imagination assumes a rational and directing function in the realization of a pacified existence of man and nation. And the idea of justice, freedom, and humanity then obtain their truth and good conscience on the sole ground on which they could ever have truth and good conscience—the satisfaction of man’s material needs, the rational organization of the realm of necessity.8

Technological civilization, Marcuse continues, establishes a specific relation between art and technics. The rationality of art, its ability to “project” existence, to define yet unrealized possibilities could then be envisaged as validated by and functioning in the scientific-technological transformation of the world. Rather than being the handmaiden of the established apparatus, beautifying its business and its misery, art would become a technique for destroying this business and this misery.

In the contemporary era, the conquest of scarcity is still confined to small areas of advanced industrial society. Their prosperity covers up the inferno inside out and outside their borders; it also spreads a repressive productivity and “false needs.” It is repressive precisely to the degree to which it promotes the satisfaction of needs that require continuing the rat race of catching up with one’s peers and with planned obsolescence, enjoying freedom from using the brain, working with and for the means of destruction. The obvious comforts generated by this sort of productivity, and even more, the support which it gives to a system of profitable domination, facilitate its importation in less advanced areas of the world where the introduction of such a system still means tremendous progress in technical and human terms.9

Marcuse concludes that it was through the close interrelation between technical and political-manipulative know how, between profitable productivity and domination, that those who possessed technology were able to achieve the conquest of scarcity. To a great extent, it is the sheer quantity of goods, services, work, and recreation in the overdeveloped countries that has brought this about. Consequently, qualitative change seems to presuppose quantitative change in the advanced standard of living.10 He warns that the standard of living attained in the most advanced industrial areas is not a suitable model of development. In view, of what this standard has made of the human being and nature, he wonders if it is worth the sacrifices and the victims made in its defence.

New Problems Facing the Scientist

The scientist has problems that the philosopher does not have, at least not to the same extent. This is because recent developments in the sciences are changing society at a rapid rate and have great implications for good or ill in the future. Science, especially applied science or technology, has become a key factor in the power struggle between special-interest groups on the national scene and between nations or power blocs in the international arena. Scientists are becoming deeply involved in the military affairs, foreign policy, social planning, communication, and economic competition, as well as in fields like engineering and medicine. The UN inspectors in Iraq, for example are primarily scientists, and yet are performing roles that have serious political, military, economic and foreign policy implications.

Until recent times most scientists worked in university of small private laboratories, alone or in small groups, on projects involving relatively small financial outlays, and with little attention from the public. These conditions have changed or are changing for large numbers of scientists. Probably a million were involved in the various projects that led to unclear fission and the first bombs. Political and industrial groups that have a big stake in the results are now furnishing the financial support for a large part of the scientific research under way. These groups frequently want to control or profit by the results of the research. “As the power of scientific research to change the world increases, so concomitantly will the influence of scientists over their research decrease.”11

In the past, scientists worked on problems in which they were especially interested. Their primary aim was the discovery of truth and they usually shared their findings with fellow scientists around the world. Now the scientists work on projects for which money is available, and sometimes they do not know the exact nature or purpose of the work in which they are engaged. This has a tendency to undermine their sense of moral responsibility, The scientists whose research led to in-vitro fertilization probably never gave may special thought to the problems that might soon arise with surrogacy, cloning. Being all-equipped to handle the enormous ethical problems and controversies that arise, they unwittingly created monsters they could not tame and problems they could not solve. As the scientist become the centre of attention and his or her work results in public controversy, a sense of uneasiness may result. Since most scientists are primarily dedicated to the discovery of truth and the promotion of human welfare, they are rightly disturbed when their work comes under criticism and they are charged with lack of concern for their fellow humans.


The philosopher is involved in the work of systematic thinking. His or her skill and expertise is so far removed from the origination of items that John Dewey says that philosophers bake no bread. Even in solving problems he or she does not possess the one and only answer there is to issues. Thus there is no philosophic gospel to which everyone must advert. In the face of the issues discussed and the present-day challenges raised by technology in general, the philosopher should serve and the watchdog and sound the warning about excesses before they assume crisis proportions. To do this effectively, the philosopher must keep abreast with the developments and play his or her traditional role of looking deeper and farther than everyone else in order to be able to guide them. Everyone else could be excused for inattention but not the philosopher.


1 John Shand, Philosophy and Philosophers, Montreal and Kingston, London, Buffalo: McGill-Queen’s University, 1993, ix.

2 Plato, The Republic, 475c.

3 John Shand, Philosophy and Philosophers, ix.

4 Herbert Macruse, One Dimensional Man, Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society, Boston:Beacon Press, 1964, 3.

5 Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology, trans. William Lovitt, in Basic Writings, ed. David Farrel krell, New York: Harper and Row, 1997, 296.

6 Martin Heidegger, being and Time, 370

7 Herbert Marcuse, one Dimensional Man, Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society, Boston: Beacon Press, 1964, 1.

8 Marcuse, One Dimensional Man, 254.

9 Marcuse, One Dimensional Man, 241

10 Marcuse, One dimensional Man, 241-2

11 Pilop Sietevitz, “A new Ethics for Science,” The Nation, 186, March 15, 1958, 223.

Our Motto: "United in Research for Positive Change", summarizes the objectives of this great institution. IRI is an international organization that is registered (RC1621015) under the Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Contact Info


© 2023 Igwebuike Research Institute