Heidegger, Technology and Our Future
by Martin Jenkins
Understanding ourselves as defined by school league tables, by vocational qualifications, earning power and contribution to Gross Domestic Product, by ever expanding fields of market prices and exchange, by our consuming ability to purchase, by materialist ontologies of the mind, genetics and cybernetics, against a background of impending Environmental crisis: the supremacy of this perspective is what philosopher Martin Heidegger [1889-1976] called Technology and its way of Thinking appears supreme.
Heidegger's philosophical project is guided by the question 'What is Being?' The ancient pre-Socratic Greeks best understood this question. Subsequent Western Philosophy has however, taken thought away from the thinking of this, the fundamental question. This trajectory or Destining has its origins with the post-Socratic Greeks and Thinking in this trajectory constitutes the history of Western Philosophy and Science. Consequently we view ourselves, others and the world ordered as en-framing or con-struct [Ge-Stell] this is the Essence of Technology. Seeing the world revealed to us through the framework of en-framing, we value it only insofar as it ordered for its potential and scope to be used immediately by us or as ordered and stored for later use. Heidegger terms it 'Standing-Reserve' potential resources on-call waiting to be used. Human being and all that is, is mapped, ordered and valued as resource to be stored or used.
What Heidegger literally calls 'The Danger' is that we will fail to see en-framing as only one mode of the revelation of Being. Continuing in this one mode of revelation, we will be closed off to the many other ways Being discloses itself to us and so fall from our privileged position of being open to the disclosure of Being [ek-static, Ek-sistence]. We will define ourselves in en-framing and wrongly posit ourselves as the 'Lord of the Earth' reigning over an en-framed world domain of both created and manipulated 'natural' resources on call for our use. Lording over all we survey and own, we are in poverty having lost what is most fundamental.
Being is, What Is. How it reveals itself to us is 'the question' of genuine Thinking [Sein Frage] for Heidegger. Human beings exist in the openness of the 'unconcealedness' [Aletheia] of Being; whereby its Truth appears. Unfortunately, human beings fail to notice this and Being conceals itself. We fail to notice both because we fail to be receptive to the unconcealment of Being and historically, we have been saturated in the destining of a thinking that takes us away from the unconcealing of Being as already mentioned. How did this come about?
Destining and the Occidental History of Being
According to Heidegger the pre-Socratic Greeks had a non-appropriative, non-conceptual and non-objectifying relation with Being. Being disclosed [Aletheia] itself in a un-thematised, self-unfolding emergence [Phusis]. The thoughts of Plato and Aristotle mark a departure from this as both attempted to objectify Being in instantiated Forms and formed matter. Being or What Is, now thematically discloses itself before us in definite and expected ways. Primordial unconcealment of Being has been smothered and What Is, is mapped out through theoretical categories of Philosophy, Logic and Mathematics.
Emerging here is a way of Thinking that destines subsequent Occidental Thought. Standing ever before it, what Michael Zimmerman calls 'Productionist Metaphysics' now holds sway. Here, owing to the metaphysical schemes of Plato and latterly of Aristotle, the being of things is valued as product or artefact arising out of their essence. Just as the artisan gives form [Techne] to the material of his artefact, whatever exists has a purpose [telos] in the totality of things.
The translation from Greek to Roman Latin further obscures Being. The unconcealedness [Aletheia] of Being from itself is now understood as Truth [Veritas] or the correspondence of a thing in its usefulness to its Representation. What Is, or Being, is perceived through intellectual categories especially in the applied Aristotelianism of Medieval Theology. The Prime Cause [Prima Causa] of all that is, is God. God causes all things to exist in a hierarchy of metaphysical Substances whose realities are respective to their proximity to the Prime Cause.
This Metaphysical Philosophy/ Theology diverges into Natural Philosophy which becomes modern Science when the realities of such substances are subject to the mathematical charting and experimental surveying in the 16th and 17th centuries. Substances become Objects to be mastered by the technics of human Reason and knowledge obtained is subordinated to human use. What holds sway with Reason is Being revealing itself only insofar as there is certainty in representation, calculability and control over all that is known including people and nature creating a totality of exploitable objects on hand for use. What Is, or Being no longer reveals itself to us, it is now perceived to lie transparently before us, defined and on call, ready for our use.
The River Rhine gathered by the hydroelectric power plant through en-framing reveals itself only as an energy source. Whereas the Windmill worked with the Wind to move its sails as and when, the Power Plant sets upon the Rhine to manipulate it, re-direct it and subject it to calculation for permanent on-call usage. Note the violence of the words 'set-upon'. How different is this revelation of the River from its revelation to a poet like Frederich Holderlin [1770-1843].
Through en-framing all Being including nature and human beings themselves are revealed as resources. As written, this mode of thinking destined from the past has hegemony standing over, against and before us. World War Two solved little according to Heidegger, as en-framing still held and holds sway. In fact, the militaristic technology of atomic bombs and other means of self-annihilation now stand before human beings defined as resources contributing to the growth of the GDP of nations immersed in globalisation. Heidegger perceived both American capitalism and Soviet communism as symptomatic of destining two sides of the same technological coin. At the very time when Humanity defines itself as supreme Lord and Master of a World it technologically en-frames and represents to itself, it is blind to the loss involved and 'The Danger' of so understanding, defining and thereby limiting itself through the ordering of En-framing the essence of technological Thinking.
When en-framing is the only way that Being reveals itself, other ways of its unconcealment are forgotten. Heidegger is not asking people to become luddites and reject all technology; he is calling for people to become aware of the essence of technology and for its monopolisation of the revealing of Being through en-framing to be challenged. There are other ways for Being to reveal itself. That we humans forget this and continue to see ourselves only as resources to each other and to the economy, that we see materialist physiology as explaining our being and cybernetics, artificial intelligence as our progressive development; that we continue to think within the essence of technology alone, closes us off from other ways of the revelation of Being and from appreciating ourselves as the unique site of this revelation of Being. And it is the revelation of Being that discloses the meaning[s] of Being, of What Is of what its all about to human beings. In forgetting this, far from being at home as supreme Lord and Master, we are homeless and without roots. What is humanity to do?
The Saving Power
Heidegger quotes the German poet Holderlin:
But where the danger is, grows
Where the danger of totalitarian Thinking within the essence of Technology holds sway, there is also present a clue as to what we are to do. Man's essential nature is that he is a 'world discloser' as Dreyfuss says. He stands out in his ek-sistence, into the unconcealment of Being, a revealing that can happen in many ways. En-framing forecloses this 'world disclosure' thereby closing man off from his essence but not totally. Being can also reveal itself through for instance, poetry or the poetic. Poetry brings the true into that which shines forth most purely pervading every essential unfolding of Being to human beings.
A sight, a landscape, an event and so on can be so profound; it moves the human being to disclose it in poetry. Poetry can reconfigure existing language in new ways so as to try and point towards the disclosure of Being so experienced. Words may fail to capture or fully, adequately articulate the experience. And that is the point. We stand amazed, astonished, moved by the unconcealment of Being so experienced. Being is beyond full, final, complete definitive description; it stands before us perpetually disclosing itself in infinite ways. We human beings have the unique ability to receive the disclosure of Being. This is the Saving Power as world disclosers we are receptively open to the disclosure of Being in ways that go beyond en-framing. This awareness of our nature sits irreconcilably with the institutionalised thinking of ourselves simply as ordered resources on hand for use to each other as defined by thinking within the essence of Technology.
So a return to a new un-thematised, non-appropriative Thinking of Being beyond the limitations of destined productive metaphysical thinking is needed. It heralds a return of humanity to its essential nature as 'world discloser' and to the appreciation of What Is: Being.
It is about stepping out of the ordered linear, means-end thinking and activity we have with others, the world and ourselves; to stop, stare and receive their disclosure in ways we never usually do. With the disclosure of Being, What Is inspires us for as Percy Bysshe Shelley stated, poets and philosophers are the unacknowledged legislators of the World.
1. 'I see the essence of technology in what I call the con-struct....The workings of the construct mean: Human beings are caught [gestellt], claimed, and challenged by a power that is revealed in the essence of technology' P. 11. Der Spiegel Interview with Martin Heidegger.
2. Ek-Sistence can be defined as the essence of Dasein. We are by our nature open to the disclosure of the Being of beings. Being open as such, our existence is standing out into the disclosure. We are not a closed Cartesian subjectivity separated from the Objectivity of others and the World; our being is, by being-in-the-world.
3. P. 47, Timothy Clarke. Heidegger. Routledge 2002.
4. Martin Heidegger. Time and Being. University of Chicago Press 2002.
5. P. 9. Der Siegel op cit. P. 40 Martin Heidegger. Introduction to Metaphysics. Yale University Press 2000.
6. P. 333. Martin Heidegger The Question Concerning Technology. The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. Translated and Introduction William Lovett. Harper and Row 1977.
7. Hubert Dreyfuss. Highway Bridges and Feasts: Heidegger, Borgmann and How to Affirm Technology.
8. #342. Percy Bysshe Shelley. Defence of Poetry. 1821.
Timothy Clark Martin Heidegger. Routledge 2002.
Martin Heidegger. The Question Concerning Technology and other Essays. Translated and Introduction William Lovett. Harper and Row 1977.
Martin Heidegger. Poetry, Language, Thought. Translation and Introduction Albert Hofstadter. Perennial Classics 2001.
Martin Heidegger. Being and Time. Basil Blackwell 2002.
Martin Heidegger. Time and Being. University of Chicago Press 2002.
© Martin Jenkins 2006