The aim of this essay is to provide a critical analysis of the reading ‘The Question Concerning Technology’. The author argues that the most important concepts brought about by Heidegger in his critically acclaimed essay are bringing forth, gestell and challenging forth. With this background, the following sections analyses the possibilities buried in these bringing forth, and succeeds the analysis with an assessment of technology through the eyes of Heidegger. The paper is divided into several parts, with the first being a summary of the question concerning technology in simpler terms than those of the original author. The second section is a commentary that includes an understanding of the concept of bringing forth, whereas the third section is the discussion of the relevance of the Question Concerning Technology.
Summary of ‘The Question Concerning Technology’
Whereas most papers written about technology normally orientate themselves towards practical issues that cloud the implementation of given technologies, Heidegger chooses to narrow his scope on the school of thought that drives technology. Heidegger (1977, p. 3) argues that humans form a certain level of friendship with technology the moment they understand this school of thought. Firstly, Heidegger dismisses the apparent attribute that technology has been accorded, which implies that it is just a means to an end, and brings to his reader an analogy of the craftsmanship. Here, his opinion is that in the ancient times, craftsmanship occurred in four distinct causes, namely, efficient, final, formal and material. From the face value, it is not unusual to consider the most important of the four causes as the efficient cause of craftsmanship. On the contrary, the craftsman understands that none of the four causes is more glorified over the other, and, as such, they are all considered equally during the process of meditation and artistry of uniting them together into one item. It is while at this point that Heidegger reiterates, ‘The four ways of being responsible bring something into appearance. They let it come forth into presencing’ (1977, p. 9). He further comes up with a most-befitting term for the process, which he names bringing-forth, which is not simply a descriptive genre under which the four causes are considered, but a cohesive progression, ‘a single leading-forth to which [each of the causes] is indebted’ (Lovitt, 1972, p. 46).
He further notes that bringing-forth ‘comes to pass only insofar as something concealed comes into unconcealment’ (1977, p. 11). His meaning here is that, rather than the craftsman claiming that he/she has created the item of art, he/she has only just revealed that which was concealed – a point which Heidegger elaborates in ‘The Thing’ with the making of a jug. Putting his analogy into context, Heidegger argues that modern technology uses the technique of challenging forth to reveal that which is hidden. The difference between challenging forth and the prior concept is that it involves the artist invoking both a sense of order and rapacity. This is to say that, while humans were one important element of the process of production, they now assume the role of control in production during challenging forth.
Another most important component of challenging forth is efficiency, which is exemplified by the by the earth being set upon to produce the most quantity of or using the least amount of effort. In essence, challenging forth alters the view with which one envisions the world because it enables one ‘to be capable of transforming a forest into packaging for cheeseburgers, man must see the forest not as a display of the miracle of life, but as raw material, pure and simple’ (Zimmerman, 1977, p. 79). In challenging forth, production process brings to light those items which otherwise would have remained standing reserve following their being reduced to disposability.
Disposability here comes in two dimensions, the first of is a technical application, implying that they are arranged and ordered with ease, like logs that are made from the chaos of a forest, which are now weighed, counted, shipped and piled. The second implication is that they are disposable in the original sense of the word, like razors and diapers that are replaced without a pine of pain for they are of little value.
It is not unusual for one to wonder what push humans into challenging forth, an act which in itself is not laudable for the most part. Heidegger, pondering on this line of thought, postulates that there exists a phenomenon that ‘sets upon man to order the real as standing-reserve’ (1977, p. 19). The term he uses to define this phenomenon is enframing (Ge-stell in German). ‘Ge-stell’ is a word that combines definitions from the -stellen family of German verbs, which include entrapped (nachstellen), commanded (bestellen), and ordered (bestellen) (Harries 1994, p. 229). According to Heidegger, the default state of humans is being trapped by Ge-stell; which is what he means when he notes that ‘as the one who is challenged forth in this way, man stands within the essential realm of [Ge-stell]. He can never take up a relationship to it only subsequently’ (1977, p. 24; Sallis, 1971, p. 162).
For Heidegger (1997, p. 25), human beings have different ‘ordainings of destining’, the default of which is that of Ge-stell, though there is also a possibility that one might choose a different road. In his argument, Heidegger notes that a special role as been granted humans, known b the name ‘Shepherds of Being’ (Ballard, 1971, p. 60). However, within the Ge-stell trap, we have the option of revealing things by way of bringing forth, which is why Hedegger makes the comment, ‘Placed between these possibilities, man is endangered from out of destining’ (1977, p. 26). Humans then clutch the ‘saving power’, with which they realise that, being the ‘shepherds of being’, they can bring forth rather than challenge forth. This implies that, if humans understand the school of thought behind technology, they get he freedom of choosing their fate – ‘…we are already sojourning in the open space of destining’ (Heidegger, 1977, p. 26).
Critical Commentary on ‘The Question Concerning Technology’
If one were to draw conclusions about Plato and Aristotle solely from Heidegger’s remarks in ‘The Question Concerning Technology’, one would think that craftsmanship was a central issue for both of these ancient thinkers. Furthermore, from the warm light in which Heidegger bathes the craftsman, one might also come to believe that Plato and Aristotle have a certain reverence for craftsmen and the process of craftsmanship. Plato and Aristotle’s attitudes toward craftsmanship, however, can (at best) be described as ambivalent. In the Politics, Aristotle remarks, ‘… no man can practice excellence who is living the life of a mechanic or laborer’ (1995, 1278a20).
Craftsmen and craftsmanship receive a more favorable treatment in Plato, but Plato still makes the following unfriendly remark: If an offspring of [the guardians] should be found to have a mixture of iron or bronze, they must not pity him in any way, but give him the rank appropriate to his nature and drive him out to join the craftsmen and farmers. (1997, 415bc)
A more serious problem with the notion of bringing-forth concerns the idea of revealing/unconcealment. Recall Heidegger’s comment in ‘The Thing’: The jug is not a vessel because it was made; rather, the jug had to be made because it is this holding vessel. The making … lets the jug come into its own. But that which in the jug’s nature is its own is never brought about by its making. (1971, p. 168). Clearly, there is some sort of Platonic pre-existence at work here—the jug, apparently, pre-exists as concealed and is revealed through the co-responsible action of the four causes.
The Overall Impact of ‘The Question Concerning Technology’
In general, it remains noteworthy that most documentations on technology deal only with pieces of it. While they are valuable in that they underline the functionalities of technology and their possible future direction, they leave out a very significant dimension of technology, which then goes unnoticed. This is the way of thinking that lies behind the creation and use of technology, in which most commentators might have discovered exiting new pathways of their thinking, had they been able to wade through ‘The Question Concerning Technology’, and other works of Heidegger, some of which also relate to environmental ethics.
Had there been some dignity intricate in all living things, then there would be need to give more respect to the world, and this is the case. If the world continues to undergo destruction in the hands of humans by their entrapment in challenging forth, there is need to make systematic steps of freeing people from their ideological prison. One way in which this can be achieved is altering some vital components of the education system.
One big success factor for ‘The Question Concerning Technology’ is its shift away from individual components of technology towards the school of thought behind it. There, nevertheless, exists a danger in this success, which is that it may turn the focus on the school of thought that lies behind technology so much as to obscure the meaningful distinction in the world. In a remark that was originally a part of ‘The Question Concerning Technology’, but was later excised (Harries, 1994, p. 233), this danger manifests itself:
Agriculture is now a motorized food industry—in essence the same as the anufacture of corpses in the gas chambers and extermination campus, the same as the blockading and starvation of nations, the same as the manufacture of hydrogen bombs. (Ferry & Renaut, 1990, p. 71) (Schirmacher, 1983, p. 25)
In the statement above, what Heidegger is pointing out is that concentration camps and modern agriculture are already implementing the process of challenging forth into standing reserve. Clearly, however, to say that modern agriculture and the death camps are ‘in essence the same’ obviates meaningful empirical distinctions and trivializes the significance of the extermination camps. Rorty notes, ‘Heidegger needed to see everything in our century other than its technologism as mere transitory appearance’ (1994, p. 36).
Heidegger’s philosophy also fails on the account that it fails to acknowledge the benefits of technology. For instance, it would be worthy to note that lives of people are greatly improved by the presence of the hydroelectric dam across the Rhine and, as Rorty (1977, p. 302) notes, the multiplication of technology across the earth has in itself prevented large numbers of people from starving to death. Note worthily, however, despite his lack of acknowledgment for the significance of technology, Heidegger never urges humans to give it up. This leaves humans with the ultimate option of saying yes to the unavoidable use of technology, and at the same time saying no to technological confusion, and wastage would engulf and destroy our existence (1966, p. 54). This brings to mind the cliché of having one’s cake and eating it too, which is what humans try to do when they try to conveniently say ‘yes’ to the modern technologies that make our lives so comfortable, while somehow apparently saying ‘no’ to them as well. The greatest difficulties with ‘The Question Concerning Technology’, however, are technical rather than ideological.
To conclude, it is worth noting that the ‘The Question Concerning Technology’ is a set of very important tools, namely, bringing-forth, challenging-forth to standing-reserve, and Ge-stell, all of which are very useful. As such, their proper use can unlock the keys to repairing the broken relationship that exist between the world and humans. In Republic Plato (1997) notes that ‘… if it is appropriate for anyone to use falsehoods for the good of the city … it is the rulers’ (398b). While others might suggest that harbingers of indoctrination (the Platonic view that serves to tell the noble, educational lie to the masses) are what precede the defence of Heidegger, having based his arguments on the grounds of usefulness. Perhaps, however, a time has come when philosophers need not apologize for advocating the noble lie; the elites have already told the people a plethora of lies, most of which are ignoble.