Understanding Heidegger's The Question Concerning Technology

Introduction

It has always been my conviction that the basic insights of the great philosophers can be rendered in pleasing, non-technical prose for everyone to understand. The great ideas arise as a result of experienced reality, a reality shared by everyone. When one strips away the technical language--important in some contexts, but not in others--one is left with that way of seeing and understanding a lived reality that is within the reach of any moderately intelligent mind.

In this way I am trying to render Heidegger's The Question Concerning Technology, a nearly-impenetrable text to the uninitiated. Leaving the various historical influences on Heidegger aside--Kant, Hegel, Brentano, Husserl--I shall be focusing entirely on what the core insight of Heidegger's essay is, an insight which is beautiful and thoroughly comprehensible by the intelligent reader.

Revealing

At the heart of Heidegger's insight is that what constitutes truth has been limited in the history of the Western world. Generally truth is thought to be limited to knowledge, to facts about the world. Heidegger thinks this is a dangerous limitation that history has imposed upon humanity. Truth, for Heidegger, is what he calls 'revealing,' which embraces more than just knowledge; it embraces all the ways in which we can relate to the things of the world. Humans are not just pure knowers. We have lives, goals, desires, personalities, and a position in history that play roles in determining how we relate to the objects around us and how we manipulate them. For instance, if an atheist and a believer both look at a church, the one might see it as a beautiful work of art and sketch it, whereas the other might see it as a sacred place of the divine and want to pray in it. To the atheist, the church reveals itself as beautiful and to the believer as holy. For Heidegger, the church is revealing aspects of its beings differently to different people according to their attitudes towards it. But both are true. Both are aspects of the being of the church. All ways of revealing are true, because revealing is truth. Even emotion is a way of revealing, because it is a way of relating to the world. Being frightened of a spider reveals the spider as scary. Being in love reveals the object of love as lovely. These are true aspects of the spider and the loved-one.

Technology

When Heidegger investigates 'the question concerning technology' he is interested in the essence of modern technology, not just any technology; for it is modern technology that poses the problem. Heidegger presents as an example of traditional technology peasant farming. The relationship of the peasants to the land is one of respect: they tend the land, are stewards of the land, cultivating it, synchronized with its patterns, to let the crop develop out of it. Modern technology, however, exploits the land as pure resource, trying to gain the 'maximum yield at minimal expense'. Modern technology challenges the land, or whatever it happens to be exploiting, to yield more. Objects are thus revealed as pure resource. Objects are exploited for all the energy or use they can yield and are left to stand there until they are to be challenged for more use again. For instance, the dam on the Rhine reveals the Rhine as merely a resource for hydroelectric power. Even viewing the Rhine for its beauty has been made into a tourist industry, again exploiting the Rhine as a resource for tourist gratification and photos.

The problem with modern technology is that, to order the world as pure resource requires that everything in the world be seen in the light of the modern scientific mind. This way of relating to the world views everything as a 'calculable coherence of forces.' Modern physics is a product of this way of relating to the world and it is used to justify it, and to produce the machinery that reveals the objects of the world as mere resource. The problem is that seeing everything in the world as merely resource in this way dominates the consciousness of humanity. Of all modes of revealing, the mode corresponding to modern technology is unique in excluding other modes of revealing. It is this mode of revealing that limits what counts as truth only to (scientific) knowledge. Heidegger does not claim that scientific knowledge is not true, as it too is indeed a mode of revealing; but Heidegger contests that it is not the only truth and it should not have the monopoly on truth. It is only one mode of revealing, one way of relating to the world, amongst others. The objects of the world really do have the aspect of being resources, a calculable coherence of forces, objects of scientific knowledge, mere relations of cause and effect. However, they can be appreciated aesthetically, poetically, religiously, and all of these modes of revealing are also truth.

Danger

As mentioned in the first paragraph, revealing is a relationship between humans and the world. Corresponding to the way reality is revealing itself to humanity is a way in which human consciousness is constituted. It is more than just an attitude; it changes us. Seeing the world as calculable coherence of forces makes us mere calculators destined to keep exploiting reality. The pinnacle of human achievement is seen merely in mastering this reality, dominating nature. All the many facets of nature not being revealed to the mere calculator of a human, the spirit is depleted. It is the ability to reveal nature that gives humans their dignity; by limiting revealing to mere calculation, this way of relating to nature strips away human dignity. The fullness of human consciousness depends upon the fullness with which consciousness allows nature to reveal itself in it. To be richer in spirit we have to experience a greater variety of truth; but reduced to calculators, we cannot. Heidegger thus sees no danger in technological inventions at all, but in the way of relating to the world that has occasioned them which prevents us not just from experiencing alternate modes of revealing, but from even accepting that revealing is truth.

Martin Heidegger
Martin Heidegger

Salvation

The solution, for Heidegger, is not to do away with the technological way of relating to reality. That is not an option anyway. The technological way of revealing arose historically and we are stuck with it. However, we can do away with its dominance, which is the real problem. We can do so by recognizing that this way of relating to the world is really just one way of relating to the world. Heidegger further suggests an alternate way of relating to the world, one which held sway, he claims, in Ancient Greece. It is the way of the craftsman and the artist. For Heidegger, this way is a counter-part to nature. In the way nature lets a tree come into being out of a seed, a craftsman lets a pot come out of some clay. The pot was potential in the clay and the craftsman allowed nature to present itself in this way. One is more a part of nature rather than set against it, in a symbiotic relationship with it that allows reality to reveal itself to us in a myriad of ways.

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Comments 38 comments

FreedomChic1776 7 years ago

Thank you for breaking down Heidegger. His writing both amazes and confounds me. If you ever get a chance, I wouldn't mind hearing your views on Heidegger's "Language." I read it for my Literary Criticism class and feel as if I only managed to get about 35% out of it.


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 7 years ago Author

I'm glad you enjoyed this hub. I don't feel I've quite succeeded it bringing Heidegger's insight all the way down to earth, so I will probably revise it in the future.

I haven't actually read Heidegger's "Language." He wrote so much in his lifetime. But if I ever do, I'll be glad to write about it.

Cheers!


T-Schultz 6 years ago

More Heidegger plz


PH102-S 6 years ago

thank you!


jakob 6 years ago

Great! Now reading QCT myself will be possible and for that I thank you a lot


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

Hi Arthur,

A really interesting post but I'm not sure I get it. What is the great difference between primitive and modern technology apart from complexity? Isn't modern technology an extension of the same idea...ie;the clay pot...using the earths resources to produce something?

As technology develops so does the opportunity for exploitation of the earth but the clay pot didn't just *happen* naturally as the seed did falling from the tree...it had to be conceived of and created through technology..albeit primitive. I can't really see that a craftsman just "let's a pot come out of the earth".


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

Hi Jane,

Thanks for the question. The difference between primitive and modern technology is in the attitudes they express. Heidegger calls the attitude of modern technology 'technicity.' The objects of technology themselves don't concern Heidegger. It is rather the attitude they embody. The attitude of technicity only allows objects to reveal themselves as "standing reserve", mere objects to be exploited for resources. Heidegger sees primitive technology as embodying a poetic attitude toward being, one more akin to stewardship. The craftsman sees the potential for clay to grow into a pot and uses his labour to allow it to reach its potential. By the same token, the clay allows the man's potential for being a craftsman to be actual. If you're familiar with Aristotle, it might help to know that his thought is an influence on Heidegger's view of primitive technology. In fact, ancient Greek society was in general important to Heidegger's view. Maybe another example will help. The traditional shepherd's relationship with his sheep is one of stewardship. In ancient Greece, they didn't kill the sheep. The shepherd tended to them and protected them, helped them live and grow. In return, he got wool and milk that helped him live and grow. The approach of technicity to sheep farming is purely exploitational. They are jammed into pens, forcefed and injected, shorn and milked mechnically, bred, and finally killed and processed into meat.

Heidegger's problem with technicity is just that it doesn't permit other attitudes toward being. From the modern scientific point of view, for example, the traditional shepherd is at best too slow and at worst foolishly sentimental. Or the labour an iconographer puts into his or her painting is viewed with some derision. The iconographer fasts and meditates frequently while working on the icon for weeks. But her attitude toward the icon is not to see it as a mere resource. A mass-produced icon just wouldn't be the same.

I hope that helps.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

Arthur...it does help and thankyou for taking the time to reply,.

I do understand the dangers inherent in modern technology as well as the idea that in continuing to choose modern technology over every alternative we might be missing something, but I'm still a little suspicious of Heidegger's distinctions. It seems to me the clay-pot maker and the shepherd were still employing nature for a useful, exploitative purpose and not to 'reveal truth' so their attitude was the same, even if the method was a lot less destructive. I'm going to have to do some more reading on this...you've inspired me to.

[And by the way...thanks for the welcome comment].


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

It's good that you're suspicious. I think his view in general has a lot of merit, but I don't buy everything he says either. Just one slight nuance I want to bring out. Heidegger thinks modern technology reveals truth as well. All attitudes toward being are truth-revealing, even technicity.

Anyhow, if you're looking for extra reading, there's a complementary work Heidegger wrote called The History of Metaphysics. It's an odd essay. He basically sees all of the Western tradition, starting with Plato's theory of the forms onward, as leading into this attitude of technicity and culminating in Nazism.

Re: Your fan mail - The philosophy degree helped. As did my personal reading. There's a reason the Catholic Church refused to let Teilhard de Chardin publish The Phenomenon of Man. That book changed things for me.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

Thanks for that.


Torch Harrison profile image

Torch Harrison 6 years ago from Michigan, USA

Would you agree with Andrew Feenberg's interpretation of Heidegger when he states "'Being' is Heidegger's term for culture, understood as something that "reveals itself in our encounter with our world and thus we are indeed implicated in the granting but not as the creating subject that commands a passive reality"?

If you haven't read Feenberg's book: "Heidegger and Marcuse: The Catastrophe and Redemption of History", I recommend it as an interesting view!


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

Hi Torch,

That's a very interesting question. I wish I could answer it, but the truth is I can't. I haven't read Feenberg's book and I'm just not familiar enough with Heidegger to construct an argument of my own. Intuitively, however, I'm skeptical of Feenberg's claims. Heidegger could obfuscate his points, but if Being is indeed culture, I think even Heidegger might have plainly said so. On a more theoretical level, it seems more reasonable to see culture as arising from the interaction (i.e. revealing) between Being and Dasein. Again, that's just my intuition. I'm in no position to back it up.

Cheers!


McHamlet profile image

McHamlet 6 years ago

Hey Arthur, really glad to see you writing on this. I'm a big fan of Heidegger's philosophy and I think you've done a great job here of breaking down his very complex thought processes. Part of the problem for people reading any Heidegger or explanations of him is that his writings are so antithetical to the modern mindset, so reeling people into his mind without leaving their minds reeling just isn't easy, but here I think you've succeeded admirably. Now let's have "What is Metaphysics?" please')

(By the way, I've just noticed the 'Being is culture' idea raised by Torch; this is related to what I was trying to get across in my piece Culture Gods, that culture is much more than we normally think, that it's essentially godlike. I'd have to think more on the relation of culture to Heidegger's Being to say any more than that right now, but it's made me think.)


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

Hey McHamlet,

That's a very good point. His thought is deliberately antithetical to not just the modern mindset, but just about every uncritically accepted way of thinking that accompanies it (about truth, thought itself, etc.). Once you change the notion of what constitutes truth, nearly everything ought to follow and that's just what Heidegger's done.

Thanks for dropping by. I'll check out your hub on Culture Gods soon.

Cheers!


frank 5 years ago

Great text. thanks!


R. J. Lefebvre 5 years ago

Arthue,

Interesting, however I'll have to reread it to consume the full intent. Philosophy and human behavior are some of my primary interests. Thanks

Ronnie


Lisa 5 years ago

I am reading Heidegger for the first time in my doctoral courses and I must admit, finding your site has helped ALOT. Thanks


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 5 years ago Author

Hey Lisa,

That's great! I hope you share your doctorate with me. Just a little piece? Ah well, it was worth a try.

Cheers!


Cloud 5 years ago

Arthur,

Hi, I've just recently been introduced to Heidegger and found your explanation to be very helpful. I'm intending to use Heidegger's views to help me on my debate topic for this year which is "The United States Federal Government should reduce its military presence worldwide".

My case will specifically focus on drone usage. I want to argue that the dominance of drones and their calculated usage to have mastery over environments, other people, etc. severely limits the ways of revealing Heidegger discusses. As I stated before, my knowledge of Heidegger is limited, so am I using his philosophy correctly?


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 5 years ago Author

Hi Cloud,

Yeah, just keep in mind that for Heidegger the technology itself isn't the problem. The attitude that gives rise to modern technology is the problem. So the drone usage, for instance, is a result of the attitude of technicity. Drone usage itself is not what limits the ways of revealing, but the attitude of technicity that employs it. There is no contradiction, in Heidegger's view, in using modern technology and being open to multiple ways of revealing.

Hope that helps.


freehans profile image

freehans 5 years ago from Philippines

Great hub, thanks for a very nice information. This is my first time reading about Heidegger


Ryan Jamemar 5 years ago

hello arthur..thanks for bringing Heidegger's thought into a simpler format. This post is a big help for me. I I am writing a thesis about Heideger. But there is one thing that I cannot fully understand. Can you simplify the connection of Heidegger's project, which is the recovery of being that is put into oblivion, and his idea of technology. What is the connection of Dasein and technology?

thank you very much..your reply will be very helpful for my thesis..I will wait for your response.


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 5 years ago Author

Hi Ryan,

Apologies for the slow response. I simply forgot to reply to you.

If you're genuinely writing your thesis on Heidegger, you should be in a better position to answer this question than me. At any rate, I'll assume I can get a little more technical with you.

Dasein is the conscious being (human being) as a locus for the revealing of being. (This insight is borrowed from Husserl, of course, who thought all consciousness is consciousness OF something and that it's our consciousness-of-something, not the something itself, that we must investigate. Heidegger was a phenomenologist.) Technicity is one mode of revealing, one way (standing reserve) being presents itself to Dasein and one way (enframing) Dasein permits being to be revealed within it. Technology itself is not a problem, but modern tech. is a consequence of the way technicity closes off Dasein from permiting any other mode of revealing. Enframing becomes Dasein's only approach to the world and thus the world appears to be entirely a world of standing reserve (a "calculable coherence of forces") to Dasein. This impoverishes both.

Hope that helps. Good luck with your thesis. I recommend talking to your supervisor if you're still confused.


Ryan Jamemar 5 years ago

thanks..for the response. it is very useful for my undergrad thesis. I understand now the concept of heidegger..thank you very much...I think I am more equip now because of your explanation..


areta 5 years ago

thank you so much. that was so so helpful!


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 5 years ago Author

Welcome! If you really want to show your gratitude and support a starving scholar, click the largest ad you see on my Mysterious Places article (there's a link above this comments section). It gives me a few cents.

Cheers!


cjr 5 years ago

Hello Arthur,

I came across this page when I searched "Heidegger, technicity". I've been working through "The Practice of Everyday Life" by Michel de Certeau and he uses the term "technicity" in relation to the way in which "everyday practices" function in society. (It's a fascinating book, by the way.) The term "technicity" was foreign to me and I thank you for the clarification!

Have a nice day!


Druid Dude profile image

Druid Dude 5 years ago from West Coast

Heavy. Very Heavy. Fantastic job. You are well on the path to the Enlightenment of self, and are attempting to enlighten others. Hold high that light,for it is a part of the light that will lead this world from it's current state of perceptual darkness, and evidences the greater reality which must be revealed in this generation. You have been given a special understanding and comprehension which is part of the overall "Big Picture". Voting this up as high as I can. Might have to come here a few times just to "pad" the vote.


louis exbso 5 years ago

someone, somewhere, pointed out that Heidegger' contradicts himself when he sees technological (rational-calculative) thinking as relatively recent. He also point to its origins on classical Greek thought. Comment? Elucidation?


Nonoleta 5 years ago

teaaccchhh meee


ingrid 5 years ago

Great summary. However, I think Heidegger does not say that modern scientific truth is 'one truth among many' - he sees it instead largely as a lesser and misguided truth. This is because of his Platonic influence: modern technology intensifies the illusion of technology as mere instrument, and therefore obscures all other ways of being and seeing - one could say, a la Plato, that there are increasingly more forceful layers of mediation which conceal the essence of the world around us as primarily mysterious. In other words, modern technology makes humans less aware of the true essence of their being, because it forgets about the poetic function of technology that is in fact beyond human control. But of course that poetic function is always there anyway - we just have increasingly trouble seeing it as such, and this poses a danger.


james 5 years ago

hank you for this overview of the tech-in-education environment.


mj 5 years ago

hi arthur

i'm glad that i had encountered you...via hubpage....it would i think help me a lot to understand heidegger...

what are his concepts connected to technology?because i am planning to make thesis about him regarding technology.?t.y. so much..


Melissa 4 years ago

Thanks!! I was reading Heideggers original essay and struggling to abstract the main points due to the way it was written. You've really helped me understand :)


John Sarkis profile image

John Sarkis 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

Hi Arthur,

...really interesting stuff. I'm glad I found someone interested in philosophy....

Perhaps I missed something?... Peasants as well as educated people according to Heidegger are under "Dasein," which is somewhat of a robotic condition (Nietzsche accuses philology for this type of human mental conditioning, but Heidegger says this happens because Human society is too tightly knitted to allow individuals to ever "think outside the box"). Your article assumes that peasants respect the land; you also state that peasants have a relationship with their lands, instead of just cultivating the land for biological reasons - feed themselves and their families. I've never heard of Heidegger interpreted this way before. Nevertheless, you made some really great points in your article which I've enjoyed reading very much.

Take care - voted up and interesting

John


RJ 4 years ago

@John Sarkis: Sorry to be so harsh - but you've completely misunderstood Dasein.


Mohd Fuad Arif 4 years ago

Hi Fuad here from Malaysia. Anyway i'l make this a short one. For people who are interested in understanding Heridegger's works in a 'user-friendly' way, I suggest a book by Barbara Bolt - Heidegger Reframed: Interpreting Key Thinkers for the Arts (Contemporary Thinkers Reframed) - but this one is specifically crafted towards understanding Heidegger concepts in relation towards the Arts and art-lead research (practice-led research in art). But she does go to the trouble of elaborating Heidegger's key concept before connecting it towards her central subject (which is Art.) or try getting a hold of this documentary film - 'Being in the world' by Tao Ruspoli. Cheers...


Martin VK profile image

Martin VK 2 years ago from Copenhagen, Denmark

I really liked your article and your way of simplifying Heidegger while maintaining the important aspects of his philosophy. That must be the goal when writing philosophy on HubPages, and you did that to perfection.

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