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Heidegger’s Question

Concerning Technology
What is technology? What is its essence?
Common man’s answer: “To make life easier” (e.g. microwave, tv,
aircon, laptop, iphone, etc.)

Sometimes we take technology’s effect on our lives for granted, which

is where the danger comes in.

We think of technology as (1) a means to an end as well as (2) a human

But what exactly is technology according to Martin Heidegger based on
his book “The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays?”

Heidegger agrees that technology is (1) a means to an end-

“instrumental” as well as (2) a human activity-“anthropological”. But
this meaning of technology is not adequate enough for him. He says
that in order to have a correct understanding of technology we need to
have a free relationship to it.

We have to first understand that technology is not just instrumentums.

It is crucial that we know that technology is not equal to technology’s
essence. When we discover technology’s essence, we discover the
commonality that all technology shares.
If technology is just a means to an end and a human activity, Heidegger

“Suppose now that technology were no mere means, how would it

stand with the will to master it?”

We need to approach this metaphysically, the philosophical side:

“Wherever there is an effect, there is a cause.”
Technology is an instrumentum, so wherever instrumentality reigns, there
reigns causality.

Heidegger now dives into Aristotle’s metaphysics of causality, otherwise

known as the four causes (using the silver chalice as an example to show this
four causes):
• Causa materialis-the material/matter to which the silver chalice is made:
• Causa formalis- the logos/form structure to which it is shaped: CURVED
• Causa efficiens- the process, the source of the change that brings about
what is made: SILVER SMITH
• Causa Finalis- the final effect, the reason why it is made: THE SACRIFICIAL
And viola, what is revealed? THE SILVER CHALICE.
Heidegger often refers to the UNCONCEALMENT: we bring forth from
nothing, we think of an idea and we make it into something tangible.

• Technology is a mode of revealing:

“Technology comes to presence in the realm where revealing and
unconcealment take place, where aletheia, truth happens (Heidegger).”
We introduce meaning where there used to be a vague conception.

• But how is technology revealing?

Revealing is “bringing forth” or what Heidegger calls “poiesis.”

“Not only handicraft manufacture, not only artistic and poetical

bringing into appearance and concrete imagery, is a bringing-forth,

In other words, we must be sensitive and so to speak, poetic, to what


For what presences is laid out before us.

• Another important term that Heidegger mentions is techne which is
“skill” (technique) and also the “arts of the mind and fine arts.”

“techne belongs to bringing forth to poiesis; it is something poetic.


• When one encompasses both poiesis and techne, one can reveal to
us. So based on all of these information, it is safe to say that
technology’s essence is that it reveals aletheia or truth to us.
Heidegger uses the silver chalice to convey a causality, but can this
concept apply to Modern Technology?

Modern Technology goes beyond causality and it has also changed the
pattern, revealing something quite different and radically new.

• What is Modern Technology?

“It is too revealing. Only when we allow our attention to rest on this
fundamental characteristic does that which is new in modern
technology show itself to us. (Heidegger).”
• How is modern technology any different?

There is something very deceptive about modern technology. We go

further away from poiesis and more towards techne:

“The revealing that rules in modern technology is challenging, which

puts to nature the unreasonable demands that its supply energy that
can be extracted and stored as such. (Heidegger).”
Unlike earlier times when man simply brings forth, today man
“challenges” forth.

In other words, we use and manipulate resources, what nature gives to

us to manufacture, to create, or to reveal technology that is man-made.

However, Heidegger goes on to say that although the windmill is a

technological device made by man, the idea of challenging does not
apply here. Instead, the wind is left as is. Yet, we use it for energy:

“But the windmill does not unlock energy from the air currents in order
to store it. (Heidegger).”
The windmill is technology that satisfies humans without hurting nature.
And what Heidegger imposes here is that perhaps we need more of these

Then on the other end of the spectrum, man challenges resources when he mines
coal or when he cultivates his farm soil:

“Agriculture is now the mechanized food industry. Air is now set upon to yield
nitrogen, the earth to yield ore, ore to yield uranium, for example’ uranium is set
upon to yield atomic energy, which can be released either for destruction or for
peaceful use. (Heidegger).”

When we challenge nature’s resources, we always want the maximum yield at the
minimum expense.

So, what do we also do?

We store energy if we’re not using it:

“Such challenging happens in that the energy concealed in nature is

unlocked, what is unlocked is transformed, what is transformed is stored up,
what is stored up is, in turn distributed, and what is distributed is switched
about ever anew.”

According to Heidegger, there is always a revealing, but a revealing that

never comes to an end.

• Now, this is where it gets tricky, Heidegger often uses the term bestand or
the standing reserve, to essentially describe how man perceives resources.
Man no longer sees them for what they actually are but instead sees them
as ways to fulfill man’s needs.
Heidegger uses the Rhine River, a famous
European river as an example.
He argues that man no longer sees the Rhine for what it is—a
large body of water, a river—so we don’t see it as these:
But instead we see the Rhine as these:
• Instead a hydroelectric plant is introduced into the Rhine to produce
electricity for man.

Man does not see the river’s natural tendencies but rather sees only
the power it will give to him. And therefore, he sees it as a standing
• Another term Heidegger frequently uses is gestell or enframing. We
challenge and see things as standing reserves because we are
constantly enframing everything around us:

“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
or ordering as standing reserve.”

When we enframe, we unconceal the standing reserve. We lose sight

of the things that do not fit on the standing reserve category back into
concealment. When we enframe, as humans, we always view how
nature should fit with us instead of viewing how we should fit with
nature. We are a very narcissistic race in general
• Heidegger says that instead of allowing nature as es gibt or “to give,”
and to reveal to us on its on terms bringing forth, we enframe and
take its resources for granted and appropriate them as standing
When we see this:
We actually see this:
When we see this:
We actually see this:
And when we see this:
We unfortunately see this:
• “We are questioning concerning technology in order to bring to light
our relationship to its essence. (Heidegger).”

• Enframing is the essence of modern technology.

• Does this mean that we see the entire world as our standing reserve?
• Let’s look at the contemporary example that eloquently addresses the
standing reserve, gestell, or “enframing” and also Heidegger’s
concern about the danger of technology
• We see how we went to the peak of human survival, we still use or
enframe the universe as an alternate home. We’ve completely
destroyed Mother Earth because we continue to enframe and see it
as our standing reserve:

“Where enframing resigns, there is danger in the highest sense.

• Fundamentally if we realize how our orientation fits with the world
and realize that we enframe the world around us, we can save
ourselves from the damage enframing has done. When we do this, we
achieve a free relationship with technology

• Yes, according to Heidegger, we cannot escape the fate of technology.

But, we should always question technology in order to avoid such
catastrophe, such as global warming.
We must question how to use technology without hurting the world
around us. We need to go back into not only encompassing techne
but also encompassing more poiesis
• Heidegger surmises that the human race as a whole need to be more
like poets in bringing-forth. As poets or artists, we need to see the
world for what it is because art and poetry also reveals aletheia.
Aletheia is truth and technology reveals just that—truth. With this
unconcealment, we can use technology to also save us from

“The close we come to the danger, the more brightly do the ways into
the saving power begin to shine and the more questioning we become.
For questioning is the piety of thought (Heidegger).”