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"The Question Concerning Technology"

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Martin HeideggerEdit

[1889-1976] German philospher, fundamental for his consideration of existential and phenomenological inquires into the nature of being. His primary work is Being and Time.

The Question Concerning Technology [1954]Edit

In this essay, Heidegger explores the essence [Wesen] of technology, seeking to uncover what it is beyond our instrumental relationship to it. Heidegger is seeking a true meaning of essense, by the way of the 'correct' meaning. Essence is not merely what something is, but the "way in which something pursues its course, the way in which it remains through time as what it is" (a metaphysical essense) [ft. 1]. We must have a "free" relationship to technology, and only a free relationship will expose us to the essence of technology.

The Essence of TechneEdit

The essence of technology is not itself technological. The "technology" that pervades all technologies is nothing itself technological (4). Heidegger shies from the "current conception" of technology as a means to an end, or a human activity, which he considers to be instrumental and anthropological definitions. Although these definitions are "correct" insofar as they fix upon something pertinent to technology, they do not unconceal the essence of technology. Thus, we must go beyond these definitions.

Poiesis is a significant word for Heidegger, and here he turns to Plato's Symposium, in which poiesis is made synonymous with bringing-forth: "Every occasion for whatever passes over and goes forward into presencing from that which is not presencing is poiesis, is bringing-forth" (10). "Occasion" in this sense is understood like a verb, to occasion or an occasion being the occasioning of something. Heidegger wishes to consider "bringing-forth" in both the Greek sense and in it's "full scope". For the Greeks, handcraft manufacturing and poetic work--"bringing into appearance and concrete imagery" (10)--is bringing-forth something not in the material, but in the craftsman. So too is physis, or nature, a bringing-forth, "For what presences by means of physis has the bursting open belonging to bringing-forth, e.g., the bursting of a blossom into bloom" (10). In conclusion, "Through bringing-forth, the growing things of nature as well as whatever is completed through the crafts and the arts come at any given time to their appearance" (11). Bringing-forth elicits a process from concealment toward unconcealment, but it also comes to pass only when something concealed comes into unconcealment. Thus bringing-forth is both cause and condition of unconcealment. This process is somewhat synonymous with revealing, which the Greeks called aletheia and the Romans translate as veritas, or truth. Thus, revealing, the process the comes to within bringing-forth, is a direction toward truth, or the correctness of an idea.

Revealing, for Heidegger, has everything to do with the essence of technology. Here he goes to the root of the word, techne, which for the Greeks referred to both the skills of a craftsman and the arts of the mind and the fine arts. Techne "belongs to bringing-forth, to poiesis". Since techne infers bringing-forth, and bringing-forth is a revealing, or aletheia, related by the Romans to veritas, we thus arrive at the "truth" of techne. Additionally, techne was archiacally linked to the word episteme, wherein "both words are names for knowing in the widest sense" (13); both words imply an expertise, or "to be entirely at home in something". Techne can reveal what does not bring itself forth and what does not yet lie before us, in the sense that a craftsman employs his techne to build a house, bringing-forth or revealing in his materials what does not yet stand before us. The revealing that is techne "gathers together in advance the aspect and the matter of ship or house, with a view to the finished thing envisioned as completed, and from this gathering determines the manner of its construction" (13). Apparently here is the pre-determination of techne, the intentions of the craftsman which bring forth the idea out of the materials--but the revealing involves an end intention. And for Heidegger, it is in the revealing that techne is a bringing-forth, not in the manufactor of the thing (thus the essence of technology is nothing expressly technological). All of this explanation is what allows Heidegger to propose that technology is "a mode of revealing. Technology comes to presence in the realm where revealing and unconcealment take place, where aletheia, truth [veritas], happens" (13). Its essence, then, is locked into its nature as a revealing of a bringing-forth.

Challenging and the Essence of Modern TechnologyEdit

However, Heidegger recognizes that modern technology is has something "new" to it that cannot be collapsed into our defintion of craftsmanship or ancient technology: "the revealing that holds sway throughout modern technology does not unfold into a bringing-forth in the sense of poiesis" (14). Rather, the revealing that operates in modern technology is a challenging [Herausfordern: to summon to action, the demand positively, to provoke]. Challenging, according to Heidegger, "puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it supply energy that can be extracted and stored as such" (14). Here, Heidegger provides the useful example of the tract of land. Traditionally, the peasant would not challenge the soil of the field, but simply watch over its increase. Now, agriculture demands certain levels of crop output, while the air must yield nitrogen, the field ore, the ore uranium, uranium atomic energy, and so on. This second process involves a "setting-in-order" that sets upon nature (the revealing is that of the challenging which sets upon nature the demand for energy and resources). Thus, the setting-upon that "challenges forth the energies of nature" (15) is doublely a process of expediting:

  1. it unlocks and exposes (through maximum yield at minimum expense)
  1. it is stockpiled rather than being used in the moment, so that the energy within can be called forth at will

The challenging of modern technology has the capacity to determine what the earth is, rather than the earth simply being what it is. Thus, in regards to Heidegger's example of the Rhine and the hydroelectric power plant, "what the river is now, namely, a water power supplier, derives from out of the essence of the power station" (16). Even though the Rhine is still a river in a landscape, it is only that "in no other way than as an object on call for inspection by a tour group ordered there by the vacation industry" (16). This entire process can be most discretely summarized as: "The revelaing that rules throughout modern technology has the character of a setting-upon, in the sense of a challenging-forth. That challenging happens in that the energy concealed in nature is unlocked, what is unlocked is transformed, what is transformed is stored up, whats stored up is, in turn, distributed, and what is distributed is switched about ever anew. Unlocking, transforming, storing, distributing, and switching about are ways of revealing" (16). Thus rise the activities of regulating and securing that administer this challenging revealing.


Standing-reserve is Heidegger's terms for what comes to stand forth in the setting-upon that is challenging. The setting-upon that is challenging turns nature into standing-reserve, wherein "everywhere everything is ordered to stand by, to be immediately at hand, indeed to stand there just so that it may be on call for a further ordering" (17). This is beyond the stockpile, in that "it designates nothing less than the way in which everything presences that is wrought upon by the challenging revealing" (17).

The challenging setting-upon through which what we call the real is revealed as standing-reserve is accomplished by man, although man does not control unconcealment itself (as it is within the thing, not the thinker). Man must already be "challenged to exploit the energies of nature" for the ordering revealing to happen; thus, man himself is challenged more originally than nature, insofar as his trade is commanded into profit making, for he must challenge nature himself. But man is not mere standing-reserve (18). Heidegger argues that although man drives technology forward and takes part in the ordering as a way of revealing, the unconcealment itself is not a human handiwork. Rather, Heidegger suggests Enframing is the word that must explain how man, in examining and investigating nature, comes to already be 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). Enframing applies here because man is challenged into seeing standing-reserve, and that challenging gathers man into ordering. The gathering concentrates man upon ordering the real as standing-reserve (19). Enframing's root is from the Ge in German that implies a gathering the unfolds, like mountians or dispositions. Enframing is not so much a framework as a calling-forth, a challenging claim that demands summons, gathing so as to reveal (ft. 17). In other words, 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" (20).

Heidegger notes that man in the technological age is especially challenged forth into revealing nature as the storehouse of energy, and attributes this to the rise of modern physics as an exact science (rather than experimental physics). Modern physics "sets nature up to exhibit itself as a coherance of forces calculable in advance, [and] it therefore orders its experiments precisely for the purpose of asking whether and how nature reports itself when set up in this way" (21). Thus, physics allows man to build the apparatus to ask the question that it already desires the answer for. What is brough-forth in this challenging is exactly what man already seeks to know. Modern physics is the "herald of Enframing, a herald whose origin is still unknown" (22). Physics requires that nature report itself in ways that are calculable and orderable as an information system. And thus, "because the essence of modern technology lies in Enframing, modern technology must employ exact physical science" (23). This then creates an illusion that modern technology is applied physical science, rather than being Enframed as such. And this illusion perpetuates so long as no one asks questions regards the origin of modern science of the essence of modern technology.

Man's Relationship to Technology's EssenceEdit

Heidegger here returns to the question of our relationship to the essence of modern technology. Man is both part of the revealing, yet the revealing does not happen soley or exclusive in or through man. Man stands within the realm of Enframing--thus the question of our relationship is always a step behind. But more relevant for Heidegger is whether we experience ourselves as beings always challenged forth by Enframing, and "how we actually admit ourselves into that wherein Enframing itself comes to presence" (24). Here, Heidegger brings about the notion of destining, which is the sending-that-gathers. Enframing is defined as the ordaining of destining; destining also has a special relationship to history, in that "out of this destining the essence of all history is determined" (24). Enframing, revealing, challenging, bringing-forth, and poiesis are all forms of destining. Destining holds complete sway over man, but does not necessarily compel him; rather, man can be free if he is one who listens and hears his position in the realm of destining (25). Destining does not "confines us to a stultified compulsion to push on blindly with technology or, what comes to the same thing, to revel helplessly against it and curse it as the work of the devil" (26).

However, the destining of revealing may comprise a danger. This danger takes two forms. First, when man encounters what is unconcealed exclusively as standing-reserve, he "comes to a point where he himself will have to be taken as standing-reserve. Meanwhile man, precisely as the one so threatened, exalts himself to the posture of lord of the earth. In this way the impression comes to prevail that everything man encounters exists only insofar as it is his construct. This illusion gives rise in turn to one final delusion: It seems as though man everywhere and always encounters only himself" (27). But the truth is precisely the opposite, namely that no where is man encountering his essence. Because man is decisively determined by the challenging-forth of Enframing, he cannot see his own Enframing as a claim, he fails to hear how he exists in his essence, and therefore never encounters himself (27). The second danger is that destining banishes man to the kind of revealing which is ordering, and that becomes the only revealing that may happen. As opposed to other types of revealing (such as poesis) man is thrust into a relationship that is both antithetical and rigorously ordered: "Where Enframing holds sway, regulating and securing of the standing-reserve mark all reveling" (27). This challenging Enframing obscures an alternative revealing, which is that of bringing-forth, as well as obscuring its own nature. Enframing, then, is what blocks "the shining-forth and holding-sway of truth" (28). Thus, technology is not in and of itself dangerous; rather, the mystery of its essence, or its essence as a destining of revealing, is the danger. Enframing threatens man's capacity to enter into a more "original revealing" that could offer experience of a more primal truth (28).

However, here is where Heidegger encourages us to recognize that danger also lays the ground for saving, "to fetch something home into its essence, in order to bring the essence for the first time into genuine appearing" (28). The essence of technology, then, has within itself the potential of saving. Here, Heidegger turns to the definition of essence itself to unlock how the danger of Enframing as revealing can unfold a bringing-to-order of true essence when Enframing is already the essence of technology. Enframing is not a genus of technology (as different tree varieties have the same "treeness"), but is rather a way of revealing that has the character of destining, the challenging-forth. Enframing is not the essence of technology "in the sense of genus and essentia" (30). Technology, then, allows us to think in another way about that which is essence. Essence, Heidegger unfolds, is not what endures but what is granted. Thus, it is Enframing, which threatens to make man see all things, as well as himself, as standing reserve, and therein misrecognize his own essence, that offers the extreme danger in which "the innermost indestructible belongingness of man within granting may come to light, provided that we, for our part, begin to pay heed to the coming to presence of technology" (32). We must ponder this and recollect upon it be not confusing technology with the technological. Thus, the coming to presence of technologyalways threatens man to a revealing the is consumed with ordering, wherein all things present themselves as standing reserve (33). Human activity cannot counter his, nor banish it. However, human reflection "can ponder the fact that all saving power must be of a higher essence than what is endangered" (34).

Here, Heidegger wonders whether there is a revealing that could "bring the saving power into its first shining forth in the midst of danger, a revealing that is the technological age rather conceals than shows itself?" (34). To answer this question, Heidegger turns to art, which was once understood as techne by the Greeks, which brings-forth the true into the beautiful. This is not art as an aesthetic or cultural activity, but art as merely a bringing-forth. The poetical then, is poesis. And the poetical can bring forth most clearing the shining-forth that is truth. The poetical, then, holds the capacity to bring forth reflection upon technology and confrantation with it (among other things). Art (not aesthetics) permits this because it is both akin to the essence of technology and fundamentally different from it.

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