Calling tool talk into question

On the assumption that the world is broken, one of the concepts that would come in handy (so to speak) would be that of the tool. The tool is an instrument for working on some bit of reality in order to improve it, repair it, or restore it. The tool is to be wielded in such a way that one can do greater work, get greater leverage on reality. Tools begin to come into prominence, it could be hypothesized, once it becomes self-evident that reality is mainly ‘here’ in order to be worked on and, in some stronger cases, bent to our wills. By saying this, I do not mean to imply that humans have not been using and availing ourselves of tools for as long as we have been around; we surely have. I mean instead that there is now greater talk of abstract tools (ideas as tools, concepts as tools, approaches as tools, models as tools, etc.) than ever before. And this new phenomenon has to be accounted for.

After we become well-equiped, so to say, with tool talk, it would then come to seem natural that tools would be various and heterogenous–some would come from this tradition, others from that one, and the word bricolage would appear–yet all would fit into one’s toolkit. That toolkit is what one carries around with one in order to work on the world. Yet all of this is strange not because hammers and nails cannot be put into a toolkit and not because a first-aid kit can’t accommodate gauze, needles, and scissors but because, in a more abstract sort of way, those who are said to be more well-adapted to living at the present historical moment are said to have a more robust toolkit. Moreover, more and more teaching could be said to consist of showing others what tools there are and how to use them more effectively for achieving certain immediate aims.

And that last is just the point. Talk of tools is also, but not always, connected with talk of what is to be done most effectively or efficiently. Nobody speaks of tools unless one is concerned with what can be done with things. Indeed, just as no one speaks of having tools in order to perceive the properties of a Pink Dawn tree, so no one would say that cultivating one’s life just means achieving greater facility with a certain set of tools. (What tools would fit into a Toolkit for Human Flourishing anyway?)

Given the thesis that the world is broken and thus in need of fixing, what would need to be invented would be a better set of tools in order to fulfill this task. Also more technicians–more engineers of reality, more architects of reality. I suppose we might call them designers or re-designers. A philosopher has to wonder how it happened that so many concepts could get transformed into tools so that they could become operationalized. I do not have an answer.

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