Just finished reading Heidegger's The Question Concerning Technology for my class in phenomenology. Quite an enjoyable read.
hey Chris, can you summarize the book or give me pieces of it that you liked the most?
Part of a very quick, almost free-writing, response that produced for class:
In his Encountering Technology, Heidegger states, "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." His main point in making this argument is that we as human beings tend define technology in an instrumental manner, such that its very nature is a be a tool to be exploited by society and individuals. There is some truth to this, as it is technology that we use to bend nature to our benefit. Yet, when we view technology in this manner we tend to take neutral view concerning its value, as it is evident that it can be used for either good or ill. For example, Heidegger observes that atomic energy can be exploited “either for destruction or for peaceful use.” On the one hand, human beings have used atomic energy to enact some of the greatest atrocities known to man, as in the cases of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On the other hand, atomic energy has been used to affect great goods, such as inexpensive energy. Similarly, one might note that while guns can be used in warfare and murder, they can also be used to hunt for food or to provide self-defense. What is unfortunate about this view of technology is that it tends to keep individuals from being shocked out an intellectual apathy. As long as one feels that technology is neutral, one only need ensure that technology is used for good. But in taking this approach, one fails to reach the true nature, essence, or be-ing of technology.
For Heidegger, what is essentially true of a thing, is not merely a correct, or workable definition of a thing. Rather, what is true that which reveals what is essential to a thing, that is, what reveals its way of be-ging. There are two modes of revealing which Heidegger addresses in order to later make clear the nature of technology. The first is poiesis or poetry, which is the revealing of any art. But far more fundamental than poetry is the revealing of physis or nature. Nature is the revealing that comes out from within the thing itself. It is that by which a thing acts as it is and, thus, most truly reveals the essence of a thing. In stark contrast to this revealing of nature is the revealing of technology. Rather than simply drawing out essence of things, technology forces nature to reveal itself in a particular way, to make it stand in reserve and be used for man’s purposes. One example Heidegger provides is that of a hydroelectric bridge which transforms the be-ing of a lake into a power source.
What is interesting about this is that it involves what Heidegger calls “enframing.” Enframing comes from the root term, to frame, which means to build a fence or frame around something. In a more abstract sense, it means to focus specifically on one aspect of a thing to the exclusion of all others. In the case of technology, man purposely frames or makes nature to be in a certain way that excludes much of what is essential true of reality. Such enframing is particularly apparent in modern physics which “entraps nature as a calculable coherence of forces.” In other words, modern physics approaches reality according to the quantifiable, to what is measureable and predictable, to the exclusion of all of the rich experiences of reality made possible by immediate experience and philosophical reflection. This forces material reality to reveal itself in the standing reserve necessary for technological exploitation (in the neutral, non-value laden sense of the word). This enframing is the essence or be-ing of technology.
There is always a danger in not recognizing this essential nature because of man’s essential relationship to technology. Man is by nature involved in reality in a special way. In phenomenological terms, man is the dative of disclosure, that by which the essence of things is revealed. Thus, in a special way, man is the agent of truth and, thus, man is always involved in the revealing of things. But because enframing is the revealing into which the modern individual is born, there is a manner in which such has become part of the nature of the human being. The danger of such is in not recognizing this enframing for what it is, one can end up with a “stultified compulsion to push on blindly with technology, or what comes to the same thing, to rebel helplessly against it and curse it as the work of the devil.” While I don’t believe that the latter is as much of a concern in contemporary western culture, it appears that humanity finds itself in grave danger of the former. This is made evident in that whatever science and technology makes possible, man adopts as necessary progress. Technology creates artificial birth control, and those who object are called enemies of science and progress. Technology allows for fetal stem-cell research, and those who argue that such is the murder of human beings are called old fashioned and behind the times.
Obviously I kinda threw this together at the last minute, so it in no way does justice to Heidegger, but it might provide some insights into what Heidegger is talking about.