Reading #1: Heidegger

Heidegger “The Question of Technology”

In the readings for Module 4 when we are diving into the Philosophy of Technology, there seems to be no better way than to dive right into Martin Heidegger’s “The Question Concerning Technology”. While Heidegger is difficult at times to follow, he is laying the groundwork for how we should be approaching technology. Heidegger stresses that technology cannot be looked at as a means to the end, but that we must  understand our responsibility in the creation of technology.
The question that Heidegger seems to be asking is what is our role in the creation and use of technology, and “the way of thinking that lies behind technology” (3). And moreover, do we as humans understand our role.  If we can understand our role in technology, he sees it as having a “saving power” for humanity, yet if we sit by idly and let technology advance unchecked it poses a “supreme danger”.

Heidegger approaches the concept of technology from a slightly different viewpoint than some of the readings we have encountered so far. His main idea seems to be that of grasping the essence of technology.  In Heidegger’s view, all things have their own essence, and it is the goal of humans to understand the essence of all things. Heidegger states, “the essence of technology is by no means anything technological. Thus we shall never experience our relationship to the essence of technology so long as we merely conceive and push forward the technological, put up with it, or evade it.” (4)  He believes that humans bring forth the essence of the thing or technology by revealing it.  He compares ancient craftsmen who “bring forth” the essence of artifacts, such as a silver chalice to the “challenging-forth” of modern technology, such as a hydro electric dam. Waddington explains this contrast: “In bringing-forth, human beings were one important element among others in the productive process; in challenging-forth, humans control the productive process.”

For Heidegger, the bottom line is that we as humans must play an active role in technological advancement.  “Everything depends on our manipulating technology in the proper manner as a means. We will, as we say, “get” technology “spiritually in hand”. We will master it. The will to mastery becomes all the more urgent the more technology threatens to slip from human control.” Heidegger believes that we must carefully consider “the ways of thinking that lie behind technology" and then we will grasp the saving power of technology.

Heidegger, M. (1953/1977). The question concerning technology. In M. Heidegger, The question concerning technology and other essays (trans. W. Lovitt) (pp. 3-35). New York: Harper & Row.

Waddington, D. (2005).  A Field Guide to Heidegger: Understanding The Question Concerning Technology. Stanford University, Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia.