The Question Concerning Technology

This was the title of a lecture Heidegger gave in 1953 and later published as a paper. I wrote briefly about it on Quora and reproduce what I said with a few changes and additions here.

Heidegger, as is well documented, was a deeply flawed individual. He was however an original and penetrating thinker and TQCT expresses many of his concerns about the modern world in his characteristically obscure and learned manner. There are appeals to Latin, and in particular Greek vocabulary, as a way to see how far we have become alienated from both the creativity of nature and our own creative capacities through our unexamined and exploitative attitudes. A crucial sentence is ‘ Thus what is decisive in technē does not lie at all in making and manipulating nor in the use of means, but rather in revealing (alēutheuein – revealing, truth).

There is a discussion of Aristotle’s four causes ( material, formal, efficient, final ) and the conclusion that in modern physics, causality now displays neither ‘ the character of the occasioning that brings forth nor the nature of the causa efficiens, let alone the causa formalis.’ Human interiority is seen to wither in the modern instrumental stance. Heidegger makes special use of the word Gestell (enframing) both to forge a link and emphasise a difference between old pieties and the modern pragmatic manipulation of nature. And there is this damning statement: ‘ Modern physics is not experimental physics because it applies apparatus to the questioning of nature. The reverse is true. Because physics sets itself up to exhibit the coherence of forces in advance, it orders its experiments precisely for the purpose of asking whether and how nature reports itself when it is set up in this way.’ In other words with deterministic spectacles on , what is holy in life departs.

At the level of interpersonal exchange, a technological creed might suggest it is not unreasonable to treat other people as a means to ones own ends. At a political level whole populations might fall under the harsh exploitation of the State, as happened under Stalin.

There is one question that underlies this paper, and that is the question that keeps recurring in his philosophy. He calls the question, ‘The question of being’. He never answers it, and personally I find it irritating to repeatedly circle the mysterious and mystical question. At the risk of grossly oversimplifying, and ignoring his nostalgia for a preSocratic past in which according to him poets and philosophers show evidence of being in direct contact with a sense of immanence and the divine glory of creation, let me make a simple point. Being is something more than matter or substance. The implication is that Being should not be seen as the ground of beings ( Dasein -literally being there, roughly speaking human beings). Ultimately they are ontologically equivalent as becomes evident through an unconcealing which takes place over time.

In the trauma of the pandemic, which is, we fervently hope, through its worst, it is obviously time for all of us to reconsider our relationship to the planet. Let us hope the political leadership and international cooperation which will be needed become evident. There is a growing consensus that the problems have become urgent.

Published by davidcookpoet

I am a husband, father and grandfather. I retired from a busy working life as an adult psychiatrist in 2014. My interests are in literature, philosophy, modern jazz and horse racing. I might represent those four fields by Shakespeare, Kant, Charlie Parker and Lester Piggott. Like nearly all of us, I can identify a number of formative experiences, one of which was a psychotic episode in my first year as a psychiatrist. This reinforced an already established interest in mystical experience, and a sense of how little human beings know. My intellectual bugbear is reductive materialism, and I am surprised at the lack of moral imagination of those who promulgate such views. It seems to me they need to consider ,perhaps by exposure, just why totalitarianism is so horrific.

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