Heidegger on the Primary Danger of Technology

Written by on September 18th, 2013. Subject: Philosophy. Filed in Religion, about Heidegger Postmodernism Technology

|||Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays. New York: Harper & Row, 1977.|||

The Apocalyptic Landscape As soon as what is unconcealed no longer concerns man even as object, but does so, rather, exclusively as standing-reserve, and man in the midst of objectlessness is nothing but the orderer of the standing-reserve, then he comes to the very brink of a precipitous fall; that is, he comes to the point where he himself will have to be taken as standing-reserve. Meanwhile man, precisely as the one so threatened, exalts himself to the posture of lord of the earth. In this way the impression comes to prevail that everything man encounters exists only insofar as it is his construct. This illusion gives rise in turn to one final delusion: It seems as though man everywhere and always encounters only himself. Heisenberg has with complete correctness pointed out that the real must present itself to contemporary man in this way. “Das Naturbild,” pp. 60 ff. In truth, however, precisely nowhere does man today any longer encounter himself, i.e., his essence. Man stands so decisively in attendance on the challenging-forth of Enframing that he does not apprehend Enframing as a claim, that he fails to see himself as the one spoken to, and hence also fails in every way to hear in what respect he ek-sists, from out of his essence, in the realm of an exhortation or address, and thus can never encounter only himself. pp. 26-7.

This quote is taken from a series of lectures delivered by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger in Bremen in 1949, yet its essential message is perhaps even more relevant than ever in today’s technocratic society. In order to better understand the import of his words, it might be prudent to define a few key terms of this quote in the context of Heidegger’s overall argument.

Technology in Heidegger’s view is first and foremost a method of enframing or ordering, which correspondingly reveals and conceals truths about what it enframes as a natural consequent of its order.1 Furthermore, in its enframing, technology reveals objects in terms of what he calls standing-reserve or resource.2 The more an object enframed by technology reveals an object as standing-reserve, the more it conceals other, less useful aspects about its essence and nature.3 This of course poses the danger that man himself will be considered purely and simply in terms of standing-reserve, and that human beings will become subjects of their tools insofar as they are valued in a merely instrumental capacity.4

While the former two premises may seem reasonable enough, the last may seem a bit fantastic and unreal. Certainly it is possible that human beings might be considered subordinate to the structures and processes of a technocratic society, but one could just as easily conclude that this is a scenario best reserved for Orwellian dystopias and other forms of science-fiction. It is well worth remembering, however, that not too long ago it was revealed that the well-being and dignity of several thousand Foxconn employees was worth less than the manufacture of several million iPads. Nor should this kind of abuse be unfamiliar to anyone who has ever studied the history of the Industrial Revolution. Dehumanization and the instrumentalization of “human resources” or “human capital” are some of the unfortunate side effects that go hand in hand with the rapid unfolding of new technology. Moreover, a study by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that the so-called “Millennial” generation, despite being surrounded by an array of communication technologies, are less civically and politically minded than the two generations that came before them.6 Despite major advances in the fields of social media and communications, the generation that grew up with information technology feels very distant from their surroundings and communities. This last development is probably the one most relevant to Heidegger’s about the ever-expanding field of technology. The more man builds technology, the more objects he is able to enframe in terms of standing-reserve. The converse of this, however, is that as these methods of enframing expand themselves into higher and more complex structures he can become less capable of viewing himself purely and simply. This is due to the fact that technology has caused him to think technologically and thus instrumentally. The extreme development of this view leads him to view himself and other humans as merely a set of atoms put into a certain arrangement, and society as merely a set of humans acting in a certain arrangement. In blindly embracing technology, we run the risk of being unable to think outside of the quantitative method, to see qualitative distinctions. Heidegger, however, believes that the problem itself contains the way to its solution.7

About Thomas Chaney

Thomas Chaney graduated from the College of St. Thomas More in 2007, and is currently pursuing a MA in Philosophy at the University of Dallas. He currently works as a Scholar’s Associate in Philosophy with the Walsingham Society School of Liberal Studies.

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  1. Heidegger Question Concerning Technology, p. 17. 

  2. Ibid

  3. Ibid

  4. Ibid, 18. 

  5. Confidential Foxconn Report Leaked with Stories of Abused Employees Gizmodo, October 8, 2010. Accessed September 13, 2013. 

  6. Millenials Might Not Be So Special After All USA Today, March 15, 2012. Accessed September 13, 2013. 

  7. Heidegger, Question Concerning Technology, p. 34.