The Prometheus Myth and the Limits of Technology
Investigate various approaches to the Greek myth—and what they say about technological advancement—in this discussion with Basic Program instructor Clare Pearson.
About the Event
This talk will explore the core Greek myth of Prometheus, the Titan who gave fire to human beings, and, with fire, the mental capacity to use their minds to technologically transform themselves and the world itself. In its various versions, the Prometheus myth centers on the tensions between the seeming limitlessness of human curiosity and capacity for technological advancement on the one hand and the demands of civic life and political power on the other.
It occurs in several versions, appearing in Hesiod's Theogony, in an Aeschylean trilogy of plays beginning with Prometheus Bound, and in a discussion in the Platonic dialogue Protagoras; the Greek versions all ultimately require some form of reconciliation between Prometheus and Zeus, who rules over balance and justice (among other things). In later European thought the Prometheus story is picked up again, with Shelley writing his own very modernist and political version of Prometheus Unbound.
This talk will address the different approaches to the myth, focusing on the specific dangers the Greeks associated with the unlimited pursuit of technological mastery, as contrasted with Shelley's modern humanist rejection of limits on the human mind and human advancement.
Basic Program Instructor
Clare Pearson joined the Basic Program staff in 1997 after ten years of undergraduate teaching at the University of Chicago and the honors college at Valparaiso University. She did her undergraduate and graduate work with the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago, where she worked on the intersections of literature and philosophy with special attention to the interrelationship of literature and ethics. While in graduate school, she studied in Germany on a DAAD fellowship, then taught for three years in Germany in a study-abroad program for American undergraduates. She has given papers and published articles on Martin Heidegger and lectures regularly for the Basic Program. In addition to her work in higher education, she also spent a year as lead teacher and acting principal at a Chicago area alternative high school. From 2004 to 2008, she chaired the Basic Program and co-designed the Asian Classics program, which she also chaired from 2006 to early 2009. She is the 2008 recipient of the Graham School Excellence in Teaching Award for the Basic Program, and also teaches in the Humanities and Philosophy Department at Oakton Community College.