The Question Concerning Technology
by Martin Heidegger
[Heidegger, Martin. 1977. “The Question Concerning Technology.” In The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays, 3–35. Harper & Row.]
Technology, to begin with, is not a thing, but rather a way of revealing truths.
- “Modern technology too is a means to an end.” “We will master it. The will to mastery becomes all the more urgent the more technology threatens to slip from human control.” (pg 5)
- There are four causes (ways of being responsible for something else) involved in tech’s means
- causa materialis—the material, the stuff a thing is made from
- causa formalis—the form, the material takes, the template
- causa finalis—the intended end use, ritual, application, etc.
- causa efficiens—who (or what) actual forms the material, the craftworker, miner, technician, etc.
- All four causes work together to facilitate the technology’s occasioning (it’s coming onto being in its specific context)
- Plato says: “every occasion for whatever passes over and goes forward into presencing from that which is not presencing is poiesis, is bringing-forth” (pg 10)
- “Technology is a mode of revealing. Technology comes to presence [West] in the realm where revealing and unconcealment take place, where aletheia, truth, happens.” (pg 13)
So what’s the problem?
- Modern technology is different because the type if revealing is different.
- “What is modern technology? It too is a revealing. Only when we allow our attention to rest on this fundamental characteristic does that which is new in modern technology show itself to us. [paragraph break ] And yet the revealing that holds sway throughout modern technology does not unfold into a bringing-forth in the sense of poiesis. The revealing that rules in modern technology is a challenging [Herausfordern], which puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it supply energy that can be extracted and stored as such. [ … ] The earth now reveals itself as a coal mining district, the soil as a mineral deposit.” (14)
- This type of revealing is based on challenging. Whereas the old-school peasant “challenge the soil of the field” (15), new technologies demand that the materials in the earth (like coal) are always ready for use as “it is stockpiled; that is, it is on call, ready to deliver the sun’s warmth that is stored in it” (15)
- H calls this standing-reserve
- Since we do this, we tend to see the objects as only the resources contained in them, as an ordering revealing
- in other words: “The unconcealment of the unconcealed has already come to pass whenever it calls man forth into the modes of revealing allotted to him. When man, in his way, from within unconcealment reveals that which presences, he merely responds to the call of unconcealment even when he contradicts it. Thus when man, investigating, observing, ensnares nature as an area of his own conceiving, he has already been claimed by a way of revealing that challenges him to approach nature as an object of research, until even the object disappears into the objectlessness of standing-reserve” (19).
- H calls this propensity in humans enframing.
- “Enframing means the gathering together of that setting-upon which sets upon man, i.e., challenges him forth, to reveal the real, in the mode of ordering, as standing-reserve. Enframing means that way of revealing which holds sway in the essence of modern technology and which is itself nothing technological” (20).
- OR “the way in which the real reveals itself as standing-reserve” (23)
- OR “Enframing is the gathering together that belongs to that setting-upon which sets upon man and puts him in position to reveal the real, in the mode of ordering, as standing-reserve” (24)
- And Enframing is the essence of modern technology
- Enframing creates a situation wherein humans see the world around around them as a “calculable complex of the effects of forces” (26). We see only resources standing-reserve but no objects in and of themselves.
- When we don;t see the objects as they are (in their truth), we fall for the illusion that humans are the only things around worth noting…
- “as soon as what is unconcealed no longer concerns man even as object, but does so, rather, exclusively as standing-reserve [ … ] he comes to the point where he himself will have to be taken as standing-reserve. Meanwhile man … exalts himself to the posture of lord of the earth. [ … ] This illusion gives rise in turn to one final delusion: It seems as though man everywhere and always encounters only himself” (26-27).
- AND “the challenging Enframing not only conceals a former way of revealing, bringing-forth, but it conceals revealing itself and with it That wherein concealment, i.e., truth, comes to pass” (27)
- “The rule of Enframing threatens man with the possibility that it could de denied him to enter into a more original revealing and hence to experience the call of a more primal truth” (28).
- (yeah, but wtf is ‘truth,’ H?)
- And FINALLY— “The coming to presence of technology threatens revealing, threatens it with the possibility that all revealing will be consumed in ordering and that everything will present itself only in the unconcealedness of standing-reserve” (33).
All is not lost
- “So long as we represent technology as an instrument we remain held fast in the will to master it. We press on past the essence of technology. [ paragraph break ] When, however, we ask how the instrumental comes to presence as a kind of causality, then we experience the coming to presence as the destining of a revealing” (32).
- Techne also used to mean “art,” so maybe art will be the ultimate savior?
- And who knows, maybe “the frenziedness of technology may entrench itself every where to such an extent that someday, throughout everything technological, the essence of technology may come to presence in the coming-to-pass of truth” (35).
Techne—”techne is the name not only for the activities and skills of the craftsman, but also for the arts of the mind and the fine arts. Techne belongs to bringing-forth, to poiesis; it is something poietic. [paragraph break ] The other point that we should observe with regard to techne is even more important. From earliest times until Plato the word techne is linked with the word episteme. Both words are names for knowing in the widest sense. They mean to be entirely at home in something, to understand and be expert in it.” [ … ] “It is as revealing, and not as manufacturing, that techne is a bringing-forth.” (pg 13)