PART FOUR: Piety or Faith

Although the substance of a critique of Heidegger’s “The Question Concerning Technology” was laid out in the first Part and carried out in the Second, this essay has carried out a much more involved dialectal engagement with Heidegger’s thinking on technology and science.  Specifically, in Chapter 1 the necessary connection in Heidegger’s thought between Dasein’s disclosedness, the role of the offering of Being in that disclosedness, and the relationship of both to the essence of technology was established, as was the necessary non-concurrence of technologies representing the two essences Heidegger discusses, namely poiesis for the ancient era and com-posing for the modern.  In Chapter 2 it was noted that if technologies exist in either the ancient and the modern era that violate the essences of technology Heidegger assigns to either period, then either his characterization of essence of that period or his characterization of the essence of technology as such is called into question, or both.  In Chapter 3, two incongruent technologies for their respective eras were observed for both the ancient and the modern world, thus calling into question Heidegger’s main argument, in effect proving either that poiesis and com-posing cannot be essences of technology as Heidegger understands it—i.e. they cannot be the destinies of Being given to Dasein so that it can essentially be technological in a particularly exclusive way—or  that the essential link between Dasein and its disclosedness, the essence of technology, and the offering of Being is itself problematic.  Instead of developing either problem thematically, however, in the spirit of Heidegger’s thinking two alternative “essences” of technology were offered (Chapter 4), both of which capture not just the technologies of the ancient and modern world respectively better than Heidegger’s essences; they also describe the relationship of those technologies to one another, and taken together they better express the essence of technology than anything offered in Heidegger’s thought.   In short, in Part One Heidegger’s main argument was problematized and refuted, and in Part Two this problematization was made good by providing what Heidegger’s argument fails to provide (namely, the essence of technology), thus showing the inadequacy of his argument on its own terms.

Since the main work of refuting Heidegger was accomplished in Parts One and Two, why, it might be asked, Parts Three and Four?  That is, if rejecting Heidegger’s essence of technology is as simple as pointing out that his essences fail to capture technologies that exist and that two alternative essences make good this failure, why an entire section on science, and why, after that, an entire section on technology and values?  To put the matter another way,  why go to such pains to show not just where Heidegger’s thoughts on technology and science go wrong (Parts One), but to also show alternatively a right way to think about both themes (Parts Two and Three)?  Why have such long paths of dialectical engagement been taken to refute an argument that probably could have been refuted in a very short paper, much less a treatment taking up as many pages as the first two Parts of this work?

The rationale can be addressed in two ways.

In one respect, the longer path has been taken in order to show the root of the errors in Heidegger’s thinking, not just the fact of the errors he makes, or the consequences of those errors for his argument, taken in general terms.  In other words, the longer paths have been taken to expose the depths of Heidegger missteps on the path he purports to take, not just that he made those missteps themselves, and in exploring this depth more plausible ways to avoid those missteps have been offered, specifically regarding what an “essence” of technology might look like, but more specifically regarding an even more problematic aspect to Heidegger’s so-called ‘essential thinking’ on technology—namely, the relationship of technology to science, as well as general questions about the nature of science as such.  If the aim of this essay has been achieved, a more intelligent appreciation of technology and science than simply correcting Heidegger’s errors is now possible, especially since these errors have been rejected borrowing as many conceptual moves as can be borrowed from Heidegger’s approach—or at least, using these terms the depths of Heidegger’s errors have been plumbed, and hopefully this plumbing has been illuminating for the issues at hand, more illuminating, at least, than the short rejection could have been.  In short, by taking the longer route, what Heidegger set out to accomplish has perhaps been accomplished despite his missteps, and perhaps because those missteps have been re-trod in such detail thinking about technology and science has been put back on the right path, one others can take up when thinking about “the essence” of technology and science (again, if the essence game is to be played, and it remains an open question whether it should be).  Whether this essay accomplishes the latter task is certainly left for others to decide, but regardless the longer path taken here has been taken with that end in mind.  Since technology and science are such pervasive aspects of modern life, it will simply not do just to refute a wrong path to thinking about either without offering in its place a better path for accomplishing the same ends.   This, at least, ought to be the path taken when criticizing one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century.

In a second respect, though, the longer path taken in this essay has been taken for another reason, in that it was claimed at the outset of this essay that Heidegger’s thinking on technology and science is not just erroneous out of ignorance and lacking in insight because of honest errors (as though either wouldn’t be problematic enough).  Instead, it was asserted in the introduction that Heidegger’s thinking in “The Question Concerning Technology” is stupid, and more than that, that it is optimally stupid, as though the solution to the problem Heidegger’s essay a purports to pose and solve amounts to turning one side of a Rubix cube over and over again repeatedly—again, with the Rubix cube taken as a metaphor for solving problems generally.  No such assertion could ever be backed simply by refuting the substance of an argument.  In place of such direct refutation the root of the errors must be exposed, and in the exposing them corrected—or at the very least in exposing them better appraisals of the underlying issues offered in their place, even if those better appraisals are themselves not definitive.  Only in this way can the intelligence, the ignorance, or the stupidity of the refuted approach be compared, contrasted, and appreciated in its proper light.  By itself, making a mistake is simply making a mistake; anyone can do it.  But the question guiding this essay has been:  are Heidegger’s mistakes more than just honest errors in an effort to think about technology?  Do his missteps on the path to thinking the essence of technology—perhaps the defining question of the current era, or minimally one of the defining questions—represent systematic error attributable to an inherently biased approach that can only lead to outcomes worse than chance, and more than this, do they represent an approach clung to despite all its manifest failure to account for what it needs to account for, failure ablated from sight because of a near delusional devotion to a particular kind of thinking or point of view?  Only that kind of thinking could be called “optimally stupid,” and only the longer path of the kind of dialectical engagement taken thus far could ever back up such an assertion.

For these two reasons, then, the longer path has been taken, and the fourth and final steps along it are laid out in the following way.

First, Chapter 12 addresses directly the question of whether the kind of thinking Heidegger proposes in “The Question Concerning Technology” is in fact—or to say the same thing, is in essence—stupid, even optimally stupid, and to address this possibility, the arguments made thus far are summarized, and the issues on which Heidegger had an opportunity to be right or wrong about technology and or science are tallied.  In this way, the scope of the question as Heidegger addresses it is reviewed, and after this scope is determined, the ontological tautology that is linking “Being” and “technology” is discussed.  Specifically, the elaboration of the tautology into poiesis and com-posing as so-called essences is revealed not to be substantive thinking at all.  Rather poiesis and com-posing are normative frameworks posing as “essences.”  Once the strictly normative sense of poiesis and com-posing is developed, the way in which confusing normative with substantive thinking is intrinsically stupid is examined, particularly with respect to how thinking the ‘essence of technology’ the ‘the question of Being’ together is a near perfect analogy to the optimally stupid ‘solution’ to any problem—i.e. turning the same side of the Rubix cube over and over again, as though eventually that might solve the problem.  By way of transition the next Chapter, the possibility that this analogy simply begs the question concerning technology as addressed by Heidegger is examined, and the problem of values, implicit in Heidegger’s conflation of normative and substantive thinking, is explicitly raised.

Second, Chapter 13 explores more fully the relationship between technology and values, specifically with respect to the possibility of a ‘foundation’ of an evaluative ‘ethics’ of technology.  In the first segment the way in which technology both shapes and is shaped by values is examined, then in the second the issue of Dasein’s dependency on Being is re-addressed, this time in more detail and with respect to the role agency must play in any ‘foundation’ for ‘ethics’—a foundation taken as, following one of Heidegger’s students, the problem of finding a “measure on earth” for ethics and values.  The general idea of what a ‘foundation’ for an ethical measure might look like is explored in terms of three possible sources (God, Being, and some immanent source), then as a transition to the next Chapters, the incompatibility of ‘destinies’ of Being and ethical agency is discussed.

Third, Chapter 14 diverts into a discussion of Heidegger’s only positive proposal for a ‘solution’ to ‘the problem of technology’—the “piety” of questioning Being.  This “piety” is examined in terms of Heidegger’s own attempts to differentiate philosophical from religious thought, leading through an examination of two texts to the convergence of three interrelated themes: “piety,” the question of Being, and the question of ethics.  Specifically, the similarities (despite the differences) between Heideggerian “piety” and religious “piety” are examined more closely in light of both as prospective sources for a ‘foundation’ for ethics, and ultimately the Heideggerian proposal is rejected for on the same grounds as a religious foundation: both require unanswerable appeals to an unverified and in principle unverifiable source of ethical claims, and thus neither can serve as a ‘measure’ for evaluating technology.

Fourth, Chapter 15 takes up the question of providing a ‘foundation’ for an ‘ethics of technology’ in the last remaining possible source—an immanent grounding.  By way of differentiating a  “grounding” from a traditional “foundation,” the problem of finding a ‘measure on earth’ for evaluating technology is discussed in terms of the traditional aporia of ethical thought, moral relativism versus moral absolutism.  As a resolution of this false dichotomy, ethics judgment as both individual and objective is proposed, and this proposal is developed along both logical lines and using specific example.  Specifically, the problem of the ‘naturalistic fallacy’ is examined and resolved, then ethical judgement as a matter of adjusting means toward ends is explored, with the final “grounding” of ethics taking place as one of establishing a method for solving moral problems.  Some final remarks on the possibility of moral progress and moral error are made, particularly with respect to the dependence of both on states of technological development.  As a transition to the final Chapter, the idea of a moral frontier established or at least in principle establishable by technology is examined.

Fifth and finally, Chapter 16 brings the various themes developed in Part Four into a coherent whole by taking up in a deeper sense the convergence of value, technology, and ethics, specifically with respect to how all three converge on a solution to ‘the question concerning technology.’  Specifically, the common source of values and technology in human wants and needs is examined, then the possibility of establishing enduring goods from presumptive goods is addressed, especially with respect to the continuum of ends and means.  Ideals as a specific kind of enduring good (as “ends”) are then examined, both with respect to their source and their realization; then the role of technology in realizing ideals is addressed.  In the end, the possibility of grounding ethical evaluations of technology in some antecedent reality (be it God, Being, or The Moral Order) is rejected in favor of “faith” in a reliable method for resolving moral problems, and once again Heideggerian “piety” before Being is discussed, this time with respect to “faith” in human prospects, as opposed to reliance on the supernatural.  In place of Heideggerian ‘piety before Being’ Dewey’s “faith in inclusive ends” is proposed, and once again Heidegger’s so-called ‘question of Being’ as a ‘solution’ to the ‘question concerning technology’ is wholly rejected.

Some concluding remarks follow.


Chapter 12: Thinking “Technology” as “Being” as optimized stupidity

“The ‘Being-question,’ properly understood, is revealed as the question of the essence of modern technology and its relation to the man of today.”[1]

Heidegger’s errors recapitulated

So far in this dialectical engagement with Heidegger the long way to criticizing his thinking on technology has been undertaken.  Along this longer path, what Heidegger got right or wrong about technology, science, and the relation between the two has been assessed, and the assessment has come out against Heidegger in every respect.  That is, Heidegger, it would seem, has been wrong about everything that he could have gotten right about technology or science, which raises the obvious question: how can this happen?  Since even guessing in some respect is likely to yield some right answers about technology and science—at least in so far as the questions can be posed in terms of dichotomous options, as some on this issue can—getting everything wrong that could have been gotten right raises the question of what kind of systematic bias leads to the set of entirely wrong answers.  In other words, it might be asked: what about how the question is asked and answered leads to missing so many important aspects of science and technology?  Examining this question about bias is one of the guiding threads of this Chapter, but before this question can be addressed directly, the specific issues addressed about the nature of technology and science up to this point need to be reviewed.  That is, the aspects of technology and science called into question in Heidegger’s thinking need to be thematically discussed so that the extent of his errors can be made clearer.  Thematically, then, the question can be asked: what scientific and technological issues did Heidegger bring up in “The Question Concerning Technology,” and how have the merits of his thinking on those topics been assessed in this extended treatment of Heidegger’s approach.

First and foremost, Heidegger’s “The Question Concerning Technology” is about technology as such—not just technology in its historical or factual respects, but rather about the essence of technology.  The first thing Heidegger could have gotten right about technology, then, is this essence of technology itself.  Regarding that essence, in general Heidegger claims that technology as such relies on a theoria, or a manner of disclosive looking, one that makes possible all technological involvement; that is, “theory” in the broadest sense (and the manner of taking up beings specific to it) guides both the invention and use of all technological implements, thus making theory in its transcendental meaning prior to technological practice.  In particular, however, Heidegger discusses two kinds of theoria, or two kinds of disclosive looking: poiesis for ancient technology and com-posing for modern.  In both cases—according to him the only two cases so far possible in the history of Being—a specific manner of taking up beings prior to technical use underlay actual involvement with technological implements, with respectful abetting characterizing poiesis and disrespectful exploitation characterizing com-posing.  With these two elements in mind, then—the general and the particular—Heidegger answers his main question about technology: the essence of technology in general lies in an apriori disclosive looking that makes possible all involvement with beings, while the essence of technology in particular is either poiesis or com-posing, depending on the era of Being in question.   “The Question Concerning Technology” as a whole is structured around elaborating and examining this main theme, with additional thoughts on science brought in both to clarify and expand upon it.

Based on the discussion thus far, what can be made of Heidegger’s claim about this first and main theme addressed, namely, the essence of technology as such?  Does an apriori manner of disclosive looking underlie all technology in general, and in particular is this disclosive looking either poiesis or com-posing?

As shown in Chapters 3-5, however much technology might rely on a disclosive looking of some sort, that disclosive looking cannot be characterized exclusively as either poiesis or com-posing, if either at all, first because those essences don’t faithfully characterize all the technologies they need to characterize (as they must under Heidegger’s account of exclusive historical epochs of Being), and second because the ‘mechanization of agency’ and the ‘drive to universalization’ better capture the ‘essence’ of technology in the periods Heidegger covers—or any other time periods, for that matter, however flexibly those periods might be broken down.  Additionally, it was implied throughout these Chapters that while a disclosive looking in some sense can certainly be said to underlie technology as the use of technical implements—meaning that some way of looking at natural phenomena as potentially subject to technology is required in order even to conceive technological implements and their use—this disclosive looking is not transcendental to actual technology in the strict sense of the term, for technical implements themselves open new possibilities of conceptualization, just as other prior possibilities of conception underlie technical implements as such.  The relationship, then, between technology and disclosive looking is minimally reciprocal, not one-way apriori in the strict sense, with the possibility even arising that an implement itself becomes the ‘source’ of a way of looking at nature prior to theoria in the transcendental sense (as likely occurred in encountering fire for the first time and seeing the potential uses in it, or seeing the potential to cut in a sharp stone upon seeing the stone itself, not first seeing stones in terms of suitability to cut, etc.).  In any case, in both respects—either the apriori nature of theoria as the essence of technology or poiesis and com-posing as the only two essences of technology possible—Heidegger was simply wrong.   A unified theoria does not always transcendentally precede technology itself, and where it does poiesis and com-posing—at least as Heidegger conceives them as mutually exclusive episodes of Beingare not the right candidates, when and if a candidate is required.

Finally, by adding to these two fundamental errors the additional error of seeing the ‘essences of technology’ as mutually exclusive—i.e. in saying that the essences can only guide technology exclusive of one another, meaning ‘poetic’ technologies and ‘com-posing’ technologies cannot co-exist, even though they in fact have and do—Heidegger in effect doubles down on both of them.  Not only can the ‘essences of technology’ mutually co-exist, the ‘mechanization of agency’ and the ‘drive to universalization’ often have and still do manifest themselves in concurrent technologies.  In fact, these two ‘essences of technology’ are mainly matters of degree of, as it were, one “essence” [sic] of technology, an essence conceived as an ‘eye for the universal’ as such (Chapter 6).  By missing this concurrent existence and potential unification under one underlying theme, Heidegger only exacerbates the original errors of mistaking poiesis and com-posing as the only possible essences of technology transcendentally subtending actual technologies as such.

So Heidegger was wrong about the essences of technology as mutually exclusive episodes of Being, wrong about technology being divisible into poiesis and com-posing, wrong about the relationship of those two essences to one another, wrong about the strictly transcendental nature of the theoria underlying technological practice, and therefore presumably wrong about the essence of technology even being bestowed by Being at all (for when wrong on all the particulars, why accept the generalization that gives those particulars their meaning).  Simply put, regarding the essence of technology, Heidegger got nothing right about technology that could have been gotten right had he thought about the matter in a productive way—with “productive” here meaning minimally a way that ‘fits the facts’ and/or faithfully ‘captures the essence,” but more extensively also meaning (as will be returned to shortly) ‘solves the problem it purports to solve.’

If Heidegger got the main point in his essay wrong, as he did, what about what he has to say about science?  Specifically, since “The Question Concerning Technology” was also about science, what did he get right or wrong about science as such, and the relationship between science and technology?

As noted in Part Three, Heidegger took up the question of science in several ways, perhaps the most prominent of which is science as the “harbinger” of modern technology, meaning that science in essence is modern technology applied to nature prior to the development of modern technological things.  According to Heidegger, in essence science conceptualizes nature in the way it does in order to facilitate later technological application.  Now, since science as ‘harbinger’ of an essence that doesn’t exist simply doesn’t make sense, in Chapter 7 the question of science as it appears in “The Question Concerning Technology” was broadened, and it was broadened for two reasons: first, to accommodate the corrections made in Chapters 4-6 while still retaining essential Heideggerian themes, and second, to situate Heidegger in the long-standing debate over the scientifically real versus the natively real, a common theme among phenomenologists in general and for Heidegger in particular.  Once broadened, Heidegger’s conceptions of science were used where ever possible (once these conceptions were denuded from involvement with com-posing), and in using them, it was seen just how flexible they can be, applicable as they are to science in some respects.  In any case, once reframed slightly, “The Question Concerning Technology” is in many way as much the ‘questioning concerning science,’ and in so far as it is, the degree to which Heidegger was right or wrong about science can be assessed along with the degree to which he was right or wrong about technology.

So again, what about Heidegger’s views on science?  Based on the discussion so far, what did Heidegger get right and wrong about science in “The Question Concerning Technology”?

Recall that for Heidegger, science is the “harbinger” of modern technology, meaning that science lays the conceptual groundwork for facilitating the exploitation of nature as a mere storehouse of disposables, in that science conceives of nature as a “calculable nexus of forces” determinable in a mathematical manifold—or as Eddington would say, determinable as a ‘schedule of pointer readings’ subject to mathematical laws.  In other words, for Heidegger the essence of science is equivalently the essence of technology as com-posing, just on theoretical and not yet practical grounds (the practical, as it were, coming with the modern implements science as com-posing makes possible).  In this way, the question of the status of science is not separable from the question concerning technology, in that the essence of science and the essence of technology are at bottom one and the same thing.

Now, as shown in the first two Parts, this so-called equivalency between science and technology is Heidegger’s first mistake on science.  That is, based on those two parts alone, the questions of science and technology are separable.  In other words, if the argument in those parts is correct, Heidegger’s characterization of science as essentially com-posing simply cannot be right, first because com-posing is not the essence of modern technology, and second, because a disclosive looking need not transcendentally precede technology in the strict sense; therefore it certainly need not transcendentally precede science either, the two being separable anyway.  With respect to the first point, if modern technology is said to have an “essence,” that essence is better described as ‘drive to universalization,’ not com-posing; therefore there is no question of whether or not com-posing is the essence of science because it is not even the essence of technology.   And with respect to the second, since the essence of technology in the strict sense need not transcendentally precede actual technological implements, there is little—if any—reason to think that the essence of technology must transcendentally precede science at all (for if it doesn’t even precede what it is supposed to precede, why think it precedes something else that depends in turn on that precedence?).  In fact, as shown in Chapter 10, the so-called “essential” link between science and technology is more nuanced than Heidegger’s strict transcendental predilections suggest, specifically in that science and scientific technology are reciprocally related to one another, not, as Heidegger maintains, simply identifiable as one essence.[2] So Heidegger’s first mistake was to identify the “essence” of science and technology as com-posing, and his second was to say that science is based on the essence of technology at all, missing as he did how the “essences” of technology and science reciprocally inform one another—again, assuming one even need to refer to “essences” at all (which one need not).

Setting these two errors aside, however, Heidegger’s description of science in “The Question Concerning Technology” was recontextualized and deepened by discarding his identification of the essence of science and technology and seeing him instead in terms of the long-standing debate between the natively and the scientifically real—adding in Heidegger’s case the additional idea that the so-called ‘scientifically real’ is in essence a ‘challenging imposition’ that forecloses nature from reveling itself as it really is.  In other words, the question of science in Heidegger was taken up in terms of the question of the long-standing problem between “reality” in the scientific sense versus “reality” in the everyday sense, where everyday experience discloses ‘natural essences’ in which nature as such reveals itself as it is, while the scientific attitude imposes ‘artificial’ conceptualizations behind which nature conceals, not reveals, itself.  What, then, about this deepened version of the question of concerning the “essence” of science?  How did Heidegger’s characterization of science as a ‘challenging imposition’ that forecloses nature hold up next to a more reliable account of science undertaken largely in his own terms, that is, undertaken by granting wherever possible Heidegger’s understanding of science as such, correcting it only where it needed to be corrected (such as keeping the sense of science as “projection” but correcting the specific ontological projections of modern science over Heidegger’s ‘calculable nexus of forces,’ etc.)?   How did Heidegger’s view of science as ‘challenging imposition that conceals’ nature fare against science as something that reveals?

A determined in Chapters 7-10, Heidegger’s account of science simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, even when the account against which his own was placed is framed in largely Heideggerian terms.  Against the analyses offered there, all of Heidegger’s characterizations of science in “The Question Concerning Technology” either fail entirely, or they can be admitted as trivially true and entirely nonessential; in any case but they certainly don’t serve as criticisms of how science fails to disclose essence, or nature, or anything else.  Instead, Heidegger’s so-called “essential” characterizations of modern science are simply de-contextualized terms that are admittedly used in science in some respects, but the context for their use—and not their use as such—provides their essential meaning.  With respect to concealing as opposed to revealing nature, for instance, Chapter 10 shows that science as poiesis reveals essential truths about nature, if nature is taken on its own terms and not in terms of human projects imposing limited meanings relative to those projects (like water is for baptism or drinking it is for quenching thirst).  Similarly, with respect to science either being a ‘challenging imposition’ that projects a ‘calculable nexus of forces’—at bottom one and the same issue for Heidegger—it was noted that science does indeed “impose” in the literal sense of the term, but so does, it was noted, any so-called ‘productive seeing’ of an essence, in effect making moot the question of imposition as a differentiating criteria between scientific cognition and ‘seeing essences’ (or between science and native cognition generally, for that matter).  Furthermore, the ‘calculable nexus of forces’ that Heidegger calls the “essence” of scientific ‘projection’ is itself little more than the abbreviated outcome of a basic set of ontological corrections from which it derives a rather trivial and largely inapplicable meaning (only physics deals with calculable forces as such).  In any case, even broadened away from its untenable status as the “harbinger” of com-posing and toward the question of its status vis-à-vis the natively real, Heidegger’s way of asking and answering questions about the nature of science is deeply flawed because it either yields a set of entirely wrong answers to the questions of what science is and how it proceeds (see Chapter 9), or it yields entirely trivial descriptions clandestinely framed as criticisms (see Chapter 10).  Simply put, science is not the “harbinger” of com-posing; it does not impose a ‘challenging imposition’ that conceals instead of reveals nature; for science, not the ‘productive seeing’ of essence, is the true poiesis of knowing.  Add to these basic errors the reciprocal and mutually reinforcing nature of the relationship between science and technology—again, as opposed to any identity in essence—and it can be said Heidegger gets wrong everything that he could have gotten right about science in general, as well as about the relationship between science and technology in particular, much less the relation between science and scientific instruments as a special case of technology vis-à-vis science.

So to summarize, with respect to technology, science, and the relationship between the two, Heidegger is wrong on all counts.  On all the issues he raises, he either poses the questions in the wrong way, comes up with the wrong answers, or both, and this kind of pervasive error, as noted already, raises an important question: how can one be so wrong on any given issue absent some kind systematic bias or intrinsic flaw in how the issues are raised?  Or perhaps more to the point: what kind of formulation or bias leads to a set of errors so far removed from the occasional right answer one would minimally expect from simply guessing or working through a problem by chance, assuming for the sake of argument that the traditional philosophical approaches to these longstanding problems creates dichotomous options, as they do for some of these questions (however limited those dichotomies are in the final analysis)?  In other words, what about Heidegger’s account of technology and science is so systematically or intrinsically wrong?  How does his approach to the problem of technology, and with it science, produce what appears to be an “optimally” wrong litany of errors on science, technology, and the relationship between the two—“optimally” taken here as a perfect batting average of error or as a three count strikeout, whatever the case may be?  What common thread, if any, binds the errors, as it were, together?

The first part of the answer to this question of ‘optimal’ error and common thread lies in the one aspect of Heidegger’s ‘questioning concerning technology’ not mentioned so far in this recapitulation, namely, his emphasis on paramount role for the question of Being.  That is, in all his thinking on technology and science, Heidegger links the essence of both to the question of Being, and more to the point, Heidegger’s thinks the questions of ‘what is technology’ and ‘what is science’ are essentially one and the same with question of Being—the only question he asks throughout all his career.  In other words, for Heidegger the determination of the ‘essence of technology’ stands or falls on whether or not that determination is posed in terms of the question of Being, and therefore what this ‘question of Being’ does and does not entail requires some discussion.

The substance of Heidegger’s thinking on technology: Being

As noted in Chapter 1 and developed in more detail in Chapters 2 and 3, the essences of technology for Heidegger, like all manners of disclosive looking for Dasein, are offerings of Being: they are ways in which Being gives itself to human beings to be understood, such that human beings either take up this understanding of Being and become Dasein or fail to do so and therefore fail to become Dasein.  More will be said in the Chapter 13 on the nature of this “choice” and the consequences it has for human beings with respect both to fulfilling their essential nature and utilizing technology, but for now emphasis is placed first on the sense in which Being offers itself to be understood and second on how this offering ‘generates’ the disclosedness that is Dasein—for recall, Dasein is its disclosedness, and disclosedness is essentially the understanding of Being Dasein always already has, if it is to be Dasein at all.  Specifically, it is asked: what does it mean to understand Being in this sense?  What, in ordinary terms, does it mean to say that Being “offers” itself to be understood, and that by taking up this “offering” human beings can not only understand beings in a quintessential way but also only understand beings at all through it at all?  What in ordinary terms can “understanding Being” generally mean, if that understanding comprises the reality of beings disclosed to Dasein—and more specifically, what does this “understanding of Being” mean relative to seeing the essence of technology and science as offerings of Being, as being essentially one with the question of Being as such?

Parsing out in ordinary terms what Heidegger means by the “understanding of Being,” or by Being ‘offering itself’ for that understanding (“Es gibt”), or by ‘taking up’ that offering by Dasein as determining its destiny, or by the ways in which this destiny can or cannot be appropriated would amount to surpassing what Heidegger himself ever achieved, at least as far as clarity in non-Heideggerian jargon on “the essence of Being” is concerned.   And to be fair, in the final analysis, it may just be that the sense of what Heidegger is driving with “the question of Being” and its offerings as ‘appropriation’ simply cannot be stated in ordinary language, burdened perhaps as that language is with metaphysical assumptions and traditional philosophical conceptions.  After all, the inability to put technical terms into common sense terms in a scientific field like quantum mechanics is both well established and widely accepted, so perhaps a similar consideration must be made for philosophy and Being—or perhaps better stated, this concession must be made for the kind of thinking at the “end of philosophy” and the beginning of “thinking Being,” as the case may be.[3]  Be that as it may, however, some attempt to parse into ordinary terms at least the starting point—and perhaps  even some of the conclusions—of “thinking Being” must be made, if only because when taking up Heidegger’s thinking for oneself, some ordinary understanding is always operative and therefore brought to the effort (it could also be noted that even for Heidegger, ordinary understanding itself houses some understanding of Being, therefore it may not be so impermeable to ordinary language after all, once clarified and simplified).  In the final analysis, if nothing new is derived from an effort to think through Heidegger’s terms, the operative, ordinary understanding with which one began should remain unchanged and therefore should be articulable, but if it does change for being rethought in Heideggerian terms, some conclusions in ordinary terms should still be possible, if not necessary.   For no matter how bound to Heidegger’s formulations thinking about “Being,” “offering,” and “existence” may be, some kind of ordinary understanding surely applies, otherwise the formulations would mean nothing to anyone, and in this respect, parsing into ordinary terms what the “understanding of Being,” the “Es gibt,” and the relationship between the two in terms might mean for “the essence of technology” is both necessary and warranted, even if the nuances leading up to and informing that ‘average understanding’ are omitted in the transliteration.  In short, as long as an understanding of Being is something everyone always already has, this common understanding should be articulable in a jargon free way.

In the case of Heidegger’s thinking on technology and Being, the ordinary implications following from his attempts to think the understanding of Being, the offering of Being, and the essence technology together can, in the final analysis, be expressed in a simple, straightforward way, the directness and simplicity of which no doubt Heidegger and his followers would reject, but one following nonetheless from this thinking of “Being” and “technology” together.  Simply stated, 1) if in a proposition like “technology is poiesis” or “technology is composing” the “is” refers to “the Being of beings” as “whatness, howness and truth” as “expressions of the intrinsically manifold structure of the Being of being—and consequently of the overall understanding of Being,”[4] and 2) if Being itself provides technology’s essence as stated in either proposition (“poiesis” or “com-posing”), then saying that the essence of technology is an offering of Being to human beings so that they can understand beings in a technological way amounts to saying, in ordinary terms, the following ontological tautology, to wit: technology is the way it is because ‘the way it is’ makes it the way it is, and the only reason humans can understand technology this way is because ‘the way it is’ makes it possible to understand the way things are as such.  As trivial, convoluted, and silly as it might sound, so long as “the way it is” compresses the “whatness” and the “howness” of Being and ‘its true unveiling’ into ordinary language (and it does as used here), this simple tautology of “Being as technology” and “technology as Being” comprises the substance of Heidegger’s thinking on technology.  In other words, for Heidegger technology is truly what it is and how it is because ‘what it is’ and ‘how it is’ in general make the truth of technology that way.  And what’s more: this ‘happening’ of technology as given in a certain way—as an event in the history of Being, either as poiesis or com-posing—is from the human standpoint inevitable, irrevocable, and unchangeable.  That is, since the how, what, and truth of Being is solely a matter of Being as such and in no way a human creation, human beings have nothing to do with technology being ‘the way it is’ because ‘the way it is’ (i.e. Being) made technology that way; human beings as Dasein have to find a way to live with technology just ‘as it is,’ waiting out its essence until ‘the way it is’ (i.e. both Being and the Being of technology) changes [It] again.  In a nutshell, this ontological tautology and waiting out its implications is the conclusion of “The Question Concerning Technology:” technology is just the way it is, the way it is makes it that way, and it’s only going to change when the way it is changes.   Substantively this tautology, and the inevitably of it being the tautology that it is, is the main point of the essay, for this tautology defines both its starting point and conclusion, once the elaborations of poiesis and com-posing are distilled out.  In the final analysis, then, Heidegger’s thinking “Being” and “technology” together amounts to saying little more about technology than ‘it is the way it is,’ with ‘the way it is’ fleshed out as either poiesis or com-posing, with com-posing being ‘the way it is’ now because ‘the way it is’ made it that way, and poiesis being ‘the way it was’ before because ‘the way it is’ made it that way too.  This tautology of ‘Being as technology’ and ‘technology as Being,’ with its reliance on two different descriptors for what is given by Being as the “essence” of technology, has important consequences for Heidegger’s thinking on technology that have gone largely unnoticed.

First, it bears pointing out that since it mainly states a tautology about Being and technology—in effect saying technology is the way it is because ‘the way it is’ makes it that way—Heidegger’s thinking on the ‘essence of technology’ in “The Question Concerning Technology” says little, if anything, substantive at all, for to assert an ontological tautology like the one following from his main argument is either entirely speculative—i.e. how can one ever independently know that the agency of Being makes technology the way it is—or it says nothing at all—i.e. it just says that technology is the way it is because that’s the way it is, which is of course as true and as it is pointless and empty.  In any case, the tautology offers little, if anything, to an analysis of technology, no matter how justified—or in this case self-justifying—that tautology might be.

Second, with the intrinsic limits of asserting a tautology in mind, a question immediately arises: if the main argument of “The Question Concerning Technology” amounts to asserting an ontological tautology about Being and technology and technology and Being, what, then, it might be asked, about Heidegger’s two essences of technology, poiesis and com-posing?  If substantively all Heidegger really says about technology amounts to an ontological tautology that ‘it is the way it is’ because ‘the way it is’ made it that way, how are poiesis and com-posing as essences of technology to be understood?  In other words, grant for the sake of argument that poiesis and com-posing haven’t been debunked as essences granted by Being, i.e. as mutually exclusive essences that determine the essence of any and all technology in either the ancient or the modern era.  If substantively “Being as technology” and “technology as Being” is the main argument of the essay, what role does poiesis and com-posing play in “The Question Concerning Technology”?  Are they not essences of technology, and as essences of technology therefore are they not also determinations of Being, and if determinations of Being then also substantive elaborations of the tautology that is ‘Being as technology’ and ‘technology as Being’?  In short, what role do poiesis and com-posing play as essences of technology vis-à-vis the tautology that is ‘Being as technology’ and ‘technology as Being’, if, as indicated here, they are not substantive terms describing technology?

The normative dimension of poiesis and com-posing

Simply put, poiesis and com-posing as so-called “essences” of technology are not substantive determinations of the Being of technology at all but are instead normative terms drawing their force from the implications inherent in the ontological tautology that is ‘Being as technology’ and ‘technology as Being’—or more directly, poiesis and com-posing represent values contextualizing the meaning of technology as a tautology of Being.  As “essences” they only appear substantive because they borrow their persuasive force, as it were, from the obvious nature of the tautology itself—in other words, as bound rhetorically to “Being” and “essence,” they take on a substantive feel.  But that ‘feel,’ as it were, is only an illusion—or better stated, it is a projection of meaning onto a tautology, much like an interpretation is offered for a Rorschach image, where the irrefutably of the tautology bleeds by conceptual creep into the descriptors themselves.  In short, poiesis and com-posing are ultimately normative descriptors about technology, while simultaneously making claims to determining its essence, but despite their claim to “essential thinking,” they do not describe essence at all—or more to the point, they simply represent evaluations put forth as “essences”—a tendency all too common in philosophy.[5]  This conflation of normative with descriptive (or substantive) terms is evident in several ways, some superficial or rhetorical, and some not.

First, superficially, consider the “coincidence” that poiesis and com-posing just happen to situate one way of being technological as obviously preferable, or better, than the other—a preference as obvious as it remains unstated.  Since this unstated preference for a ‘good’ technology opposed to a ‘bad’ one is so evident in the very structure of the essay, why look for any other explanation than normative thinking for what is so apparently a normative dimension?  In other words, the preference for ancient over modern technology in “The Question Concerning Technology” is rhetorically so obvious—what other conclusion could be drawn from contrasting an “obliging” with an “exploiting” technology?— why assume that this unstated, “coincidental” preference has nothing to do with the determinations of theessence”?  This is an admittedly “duck” argument for the normative dimensions Heidegger’s essences, but it makes a circumstantial, prima facie case.

Second,  and less superficially, there is no reason to assume a non-normative framework for normatively rich evaluations like ““oblige,” “nurture,” “ravish,” “exploit,” “challenge” and “impose,” since perfectly neutral terms would suffice to make the same distinctions these terms make.   In short, it should be asked: if these terms aren’t being used for their normative weight, why use them at all? None of the terms are neutral descriptors of acts or technologies, as would be expected for determining either fact or essence.  That is, one and the same act or technology can be respectful or disrespectful, challenging or nurturing, abetting or imposing, etc. depending on the particular context in which it occurs and is evaluated, or depending on the point of view of who is doing the evaluating, etc.  So why use the normative charged terms at all, if not to convey this context?  And with respect to that context, while in a particular case any act can be “essentially” exploitative, challenging, etc. so long as the context for that determination is present, essences aren’t about particular cases; instead essences refer to any case that could apply to the act, and the normative terms parsing out the essences poiesis and com-posing  provide just this ‘universal’ framework for assessing particular cases.  In other words, their only ‘universality’ as essences is precisely to provide the context that makes particular acts or technologies “challenging,” “impositional,” etc.  Since these clearly normative connotations provide the contexts for discerning particular acts or technologies as the acts and technologies, the so called “essential” dimension of poiesis and com-posing are essential precisely because they supply this ‘universal’ normative frame.  In short, their very use a ‘descriptors’ supplying the meaning of particular cases in strictly normative terms suggest that the essences themselves are strictly normative.   Simply put, since they offer a normative context for the meaning of particulars, how are they not themselves normative?

Third, and least rhetorically of all, although describing essence is the stated intent of the essay, the only substantive descriptions of technology offered—absent the normative terms like “oblige,” “ravish,” “exploit” etc.—fail in any way to distinguish the two kinds of technologies, the ancient and then modern, from one another other; that is, substantively the features and aspects of the technologies Heidegger considers as exemplars of modern or ancient technology fail to demarcate them as essentially different in any way.  In fact, throughout the essay the weight of the so-called “essential difference” is born entirely by the normative, evaluative terms; therefore the argument, as stated, relies on normative and evaluative differentiations.   Absent substantive differentiations among the two types of technologies, there is simply no basis for assuming it where the distinguishing normative ones are either explicitly invoked or tacitly implied.

In short, the normative over substantive thinking in the essay is so pervasive right on its surface that there seems to be little reason, if any, to read “The Question Concerning Technology” in any other way.  The normative dimensions also penetrate into the heart of the argument itself.   For these reasons, the essay should be read as offering value judgments on, not essences of, technology, and the justification for doing so can be substantiated in three ways, each of which goes beyond merely scratching the surface and recapitulating the argument.

As the first justification for reading the essay in normative as opposed to substantive terms, consider the entirely normative framework in which Heidegger describes the “bringing forth” or “producing” of the silver chalice by the silver smith, a description he offers in order to establish the ancient Greek conception of cause, and therefore the ancient essence of technology as a “mode of disclosedness” known as poiesis.[6]

To begin the consideration, it needs to be asked: what does any silver smith do in order to make a silver chalice?  That is, in terms of what is done and how it is done, what are the essential steps, i.e. those steps without which the smith is no longer producing a silver chalice?  Clearly the smith starts with ‘raw’ silver, whether in natural nuggets or fabricated ingots—it doesn’t matter.  Next he envisions the final form of chalice and makes a mold, whether through solid lost-wax casting or hollow lost-wax casting—which ever; some kind of mold must be made.  Then he melts the silver, pours it into the mold, waits for the silver to cool, then he breaks the mold to reveal the ‘rough’ silver chalice.  At this point, fine work may or may not be done on the ‘raw’ chalice, depending on the specific use…and so forth.  However this process is evaluated or appreciated, these steps are what a silver smith essentially—or substantively—does.  Remove any step in this process without replacing it with an equivalent step and the silver smith is no longer makes a silver chalice; he is doing something else.

Now, Heidegger would describe these substantive steps using a normative term; that is, he says these steps, representing “the four causes,” are ways—“all belonging at once to each other”—of putting one thing “under obligation” to another.[7]  The chalice, for instance, as one thing, is “obliged to” the silver as another thing, “i.e. [it] owes thanks to the silver for that of which it consists.”[8] Next, the chalice is “obliged to the aspect (eidos) of chaliceness” envisioned by the silver smith; without this obligation to the idea of the chalice, the silver chalice as such would not exist, so it is under obligation to another thing in this way too.  Additionally, the chalice as completed is obliged to the purpose for which it is created; the “telos obligates that which as a matter and as aspect are together co-obligations of the sacrificial vessel”[9]—i.e. the purpose to which the chalice is to be put puts the chalice under yet a third obligation to something else.  And lastly, there is the silver smith himself.  The silver smith “contemplates, and thereby he gathers the three aforementioned ways of obligation” by becoming the “occasioning” [10] for the chalice, or “that from which the sacred vessel’s being brought forth and subsistence take and retain their first departure.”[11]  In other words, by creating the silver chalice, the silver smith brings the other three ways of one thing being “obliged” to another thing together into an occasion for actual obligation as the chalice emerges—or rather, as it is brought forth into unconcealment—in the creative process.  This fourfold way for bringing forth into “unconcealment” is poiesis, [12] and under within this framework, poiesis is obligation; it is being obliged.

What, it ought to be asked but never is asked by Heideggerians—presumably because it is not asked by Heidegger himself—does all this talk of “obligation” add to what the silver smith essentially does in order to create the chalice?  That is, how does casting the four fashions of Aristotelian causality in terms of four obligations describe the ways in which those fashions are understood?  And more to the point, how does adding the language of “obligation” to the process of producing a sliver chalice enhance or clarify the nature of the process? Does one essential step change?  Does any step fail to be the step that it is absent the meaning of “obligation”?  Does the overall process change?  The answer to these rhetorical questions is rather obviously no; whether one understands the process in terms of “obligation” or not, the process remains essentially the same—if “essence” is to exclude normative evaluations.  In fact, however, this is precisely what Heidegger doesn’t want to exclude, and he even goes so far as to gloss over necessary steps in the actual making of the chalice (i.e. melting, casting, and breaking the mold as essential steps) in order to stress the role of nous and contemplation as “obligatory” causes.  So instead of clarifying essential steps, creation as “obligation” obscures them, and it even oddly suggests that “bringing forth” as ‘emergence into unconcealedness’ can apply to something that simply never existed to “self-emerge” in the first place, when in fact it only emerges through specific acts.   In any case, far from clarifying anything essential about fabricating a silver chalice, creation as “obligation” in fact threatens to take away essential steps in the process, i.e. the actual work of ‘adding’ a form on the unformed silver (for what else is molten silver but unformed?)  In the final analysis, being “obliged” adds nothing but a normative framework to the concept of “cause, and as such as an “essence” it can only be an imposed norm—or better stated, for Heidegger essential thinking becomes normative thinking, since the essential norm of “obligation” adds for him the framework in which technology as poiesis is to be understood.

Clearly, then, “obligation” only adds a normative framework to the ancient concept of cause and its four fashions, even as it obscures necessary steps in the unfolding of those four fashions, i.e. essential steps in the creative process of craftsman.  Aside from an incidental and almost certainly inaccurate description of the dispositions of the enslaved artisans who made silver chalices, “obligation” as a description ofcause” is exactly what the term “obligation” apparently entails—a strictly normative evaluation of what substantively and essentially already takes place.  It represents a way one ought to take the process up (“obligingly”), for what must take place essentially in any production of a silver chalice stands entirely independently of any sense, or not, of “obligation”—in other words, the steps are the same even if the ancient Greeks in general or their silversmiths in particular experienced nothing but toil and ingratitude at a task deemed so menial it was delegated to slave labor.  In any case, who produces a chalice and how he or she may or may not have felt is as neither here nor there to its production as is any sense of “obligation,” for one thing being conditioned by another is simply—if essence is the measure—first to be so conditioned and only secondarily, and purely normatively, to be so conditioned as to entail an obligation.  In fact, the purely normative status of the latter term is so obvious that it almost doesn’t even bear emphasis, though it must be emphasized because equally obviously Heidegger obscures the normativity he brings to “cause” and poiesis with the obscurancy of essence.   Simply put, “cause” as obligatory “occasioning” and “bringing forth” in poiesis is a purely normative understanding of cause, not a substantive one, and it is no less normative for masquerading as an essence.  Such as it is, the “essence” of producing the silver chalice always precedes its normative evaluation, and it remains independent of it, otherwise it wouldn’t be producing a silver chalice in any way subjectable to ‘poetic’ evaluation.

As a second way to illustrate the strictly normative nature of poiesis and com-posing, it can be noted that the features differentiating the two “essences” are themselves strictly normative; the substantive features supposedly differentiate ancient from modern technology in fact don’t differentiate them at all.    Substantively, both ancient and modern technologies share the same features that supposedly—and should—distinguish them in their essence, if the two were actually and not simply normatively different.  For instance, Heidegger refers to “the disclosive looking that holds sway in modern technology” as one that ‘imposes’ and ‘challenges,’ and as an example he cites modern energy production, where the energy of nature is “exploited, the exploited transformed, the transformed is stored, the stored is, in turn, distributed, and the distributed is converted anew.”[13]  Thus for Heidegger “exploiting, transforming, storing, distributing, and converting are characteristic modes of disclosive looking” that make up modern, as opposed to ancient technology;[14] they belong, as he notes a few pages later in the essay, to com-posing.

Now, as characteristic modes, these features of a distinctly modern technology (energy production) are put forward in order to define it as a modern technology and differentiate it from an ancient one, for as aspects of the essence com-posing they are precisely what specify a modern technology as a modern technology and not as ancient technology, and so forth.  Yet the features Heidegger describes do nothing of the kind.  That is, absent the strictly normative term “exploited” stated at the very beginning of the series, the features of energy extraction that Heidegger designates as belonging to the essence of modern technology as com-posing apply to any raw material technology in any society, in whatever historical time period or era of Being it occurs.  For instance, corn or wheat, whether ‘poetically’ farmed or produced in the “mechanized food-stuffs industry,” are first transformed at harvest from the whole plant into millable grain; then this grain is stored before being sold at market, a market through which it is distributed for later use.  Once bought the now distributed grain is converted anew (ground into flour or meal), then once converted anew it is distributed a second time to be converted yet again (baked into bread, etc.).  Lastly, once converted into bread, the bread is then “posed to be on hand, to stand at our disposal”[15] —so “posed to be on hand” that it can be said that the sole purpose for growing the corn or wheat in the first place was to insure that “wheat as bread” or “corn as meal” is available for disposable use (how else is bread used but by being ‘disposed’ of by eating it; surely it’s not autonomous and permanent in any society).  Minus the primarily evaluative and entirely relative terms like “exploit,” “challenge” and “impose, the same essential steps are involved in producing grains, silver, wood, charcoal, or clay—any raw material in the ancient world—so long as that raw material is then used in any technological process to produce whatever item it is turned into, whatever the use that item is to be strictly “on hand” for.  Simply by belonging to a technology in a society, raw material must first be “produced” or “extracted” (the neutral terms for “exploit”), then transformed, stored, distributed and converted, otherwise the technology isn’t the technology that is it.  Poiesis or com-posing therefore have nothing essential to do with the process—or better stated, the exact same process “in essence” belongs to both ancient ‘poetic’ ancient and modern ‘com-posing technologies.  The designation com-pose as “exploit” only specifies a so-called “essential” incarnation of this identical process because the normative term “exploit” is selectively and without independent justification imposed on the modern forms of the same technologies, despite the fact that exactly the same technological process defines ancient examples.  Essentially and substantively, then, nothing about ‘transform, store, distribute, and convert’ uniquely characterizes modern technology, but for Heidegger, the evaluation “exploit” contextualizing these (obviously) necessary features of any raw materials or energy production technology, supposedly making it in that differentiation an essence.  Again, since the differentiating and defining feature of com-posing as an essence is bourn entirely by the normative or evaluative terms like “exploit,” the essence itself is essentially normative, not a description of essence as such.  In short, the ultimately normative context provided by com-posing as an “essence of modern technology” is only less obvious for hiding in plain sight, but nevertheless in plain sight it is, once the thin masquerade of rhetorical “essence” is removed.

The way third way to appreciate the strictly normative dimensions of poiesis and com-posing as relative standards for evaluating technology is related to the two already mentioned, namely, their flexible applicability to the same technologies, providing as they do a context for evaluation, not a description of what they really are.  In other words, Heidegger’s application of the either “essence” for ancient and modern technology in “The Question Concerning Technology” can be appropriated and re-applied to virtually any period of dramatic technological change where the later technology is more intervening and controlling than the former in either kind or degree, without losing one iota of meaning or persuasive force as Heidegger uses them.  Only a normative context, not a substantive description, has this kind of flexibility, and to see it at work, all one need do is selectively emphasize and omit obvious (and almost entirely trivial) features of the transitional technologies in question, such that the denigration implied in evaluative terms like “exploit,” “challenge” and “impose” can be then contrasted against benign evaluations like “nurture” and “abet.”  In this way, what is “ancient” and “poiesis” in one assessment becomes “modern” and “com-posing” in another, such that what precedes the previously ‘ancient’ technologies honorifically becomes the new ancient way of poiesis, with the previously ‘ancient way’ as the now modern.  The flexibility of normative application is almost endless.

For instance, imagine Heidegger writing in the time of ancient Greece, where animal husbandry and settled agriculture has replaced hunting and gathering, and forging bronze spear heads (metallurgy) has replaced chipping out a stone spearhead from a piece of flint found on the ground (stone tools generally).  The transition between these two technological eras represents a profound technological shift, one similar in kind to the change from the ancient agriculture to modern agriculture, or from ancient power sources to modern power sources, and so forth.  With this transition in mind, how might Heidegger writing during the time of Plato describe the so-called essence of “modern” technology in that time as though he were describing the essence of “modern” technology circa 1954?  How might the Paleolithic way of being technological through gathering and stone tools be described vis-à-vis the ancient (now modern) way of being technological?  What happens when the Paleolithic way is put in place of ancient technology and the “ancient” way relative to 1954 put in place of the modern?  To appreciate the strictly evaluative and normative nature of Heidegger’s so-called “essences” is simply to observe those [sic] essences applied seamlessly to the substance of what the technologies in those respective time periods are and do, just as those “essences” are applied to the rather trivial and obvious substantial features what both now modern and ancient technologies are and do.

For starters, consider gathering food.  In the language of poiesis gathering food from the land would be nothing less than abetting or nurturing the self-emergence of food in the various ‘opportunities to forage’. The gathering itself would be letting nature’s offering come into unconcealment as food.  What could be more abetting than that?  In gathering, sustenance that was concealed in plants and nuts and soil is brought forth into unconcealment through the disclosure looking that awaits ‘the encountering’ as ‘the ways of gathering are walked.’  Taking only what is needed to sustain the needs of the band, and no more, would be being respectful of nature’s bounty, taking of it only as it offers itself.  Instead of the imposition  that is hoarding and storing, taking up the renewing self-offering of nature would place the band under constant obligation to the land—causality would be to be obliged…and so on and so forth.  The same normative frame would apply to hunting as well as gathering, where the same kinds of evaluations apply to respectfully taking animals as they emerge from their natural habitats in the hunt….  In both gathering and hunting poiesis described as ‘abetting,’ ‘natural emergence,’ ‘respect,’ and ‘obligation’ maps perfectly onto Paleolithic ways of life.  All the implements created to be used in either activity would be founded in the disclosive looking of poiesis.

Now contrast this Paleolithic way of hunting and gathering life with the life of settled agriculture and animal husbandry, where relative terms like “exploit,” “challenge” and “impose” would by contrast readily apply.  In settled agriculture, the self-emergence of plants yielding “nourishment” is challenged in domestication, an imposition on plants if there ever was one, for instead of simply abetting food by harvesting from the plant only what is needed as it is needed to survive, leaving the plant be to grow more, the plants are imposed upon by domesticating them and then ravished so that food and seed can be hoarded.  Food is hoarded for later use, and seed is hoarded for placement anywhere in the soil, at any time—a placement that in its essence challenges the soil to yield up crops” where humans decide, not where nature decides.  This dual imposition of domestication and planting is a decision made solely for human whims and purposes; to impose growth by planting is to replace where food is found naturally, i.e. where it self-emerges, with where the earth is compelled to yield it up, i.e. where human agency compels the earth to yield up its bounty.  Natural places come to be valued only in so far as they are suitable for this imposition; natural places are then stripped of trees and natural plants because these places are valued only in so far as they can produce “crops,” not mere food.  Crops, no longer simple food, are transformed into “grain” and then the grain is stored for later use at remote times and in remote places, for horded surplus is also traded.  Once distributed the hoarded grains are transformed again into flour, maize, and bread.  Gathering becomes ‘the settled-foodstuffs industry’…and so on and so forth for turning animals hunted within their natural habitat into livestock to be “penned” and “corralled”—hence challenged and imposed upon (what else is domestication?)…the point should be clear. The language of com-posing is perfectly suited for subtly denigrating both settled agriculture contrasted with gathering and animal husbandry contrasted with hunting.  The transitions between the two eras can be seamlessly described with poiesis and com-posing so long as the right emphases and omissions are made.  Like with poiesis as “abet,” “emergence,” “respect,” and “obligation” for ancient technology and com-posing as “challenge” “ravish,” “impose” and “hoard” for modern, Heidegger’s language of the so-called “essence of technology” just as well describes the transition from Paleolithic “ancient” hunting and gathering to the “modern” settled agriculture and animal husbandry that was ancient Greek life.  In both transitions, nothing about the substance of the technologies is established; instead, trivial aspects of what the respective technologies are and do are evaluated in normative terms; that is, they are evaluated relative to one another as respectful or disrespectful, abetting or imposing—standards that are themselves merely a normative evaluation of relative means of interference and control.   Given their status as norms, there is simply no independent reason for not deploying the language of com-posing as applied to “modern” technology to the relatively ‘modern technology’ of settled agriculture and animal husbandry, even though under another comparison these technologies are less intervening and controlling for being “ancient” compared to “modern.”  This flexibility where what was once “essentially” one thing becomes “essentially” its opposite under a different evaluative comparison suggests that the only thing [sic] essential in the determination is the stable normative context under which the substantively different technologies are evaluated.  Poiesis and com-posing provide that normative context of “respectful” and “disrespectful,” hence their flexibility and ultimate status as norms applied to predetermined and presupposed substantive determinations, as opposed to being substantive or essential determinations as such.

If this transposing of the “essences” poiesis and com-posing from ancient and modern technology to  Paleolithic hunting and gathering versus settled agriculture and animal husbandry aren’t evidence enough of their ultimately normative status, the transition from stone tools to metallurgy should make that normative status abundantly clear.  For as technologies, what could be more different from casting or forging a bronze spearhead than finding a stone on the ground and seeing in it the potential to become the tip of a spear, with the “tip” just waiting ‘in the stone’ for the unnecessary pieces to be “chipped away”—in the case of making a stone spearhead a literal description when compared to the purely figurative poiesis Rojcewicz finds in the silver chalice, with the silver “pregnant” with its form.[16]   Now compare that literal chipping away to reveal the ‘natural form’ of the spear head as it emerges from the chipping with mining the soil for ore, smelting the ore into ingots, mixing the composite metals to get bronze, then either melting the ingots into molds or forging them to produce bronze spearheads.  Can a greater contrast between poiesis and com-posing be imagined than the transition from shaping stone tools out of natural stone to  making spearheads out of smelted ore, for unlike the transition from an ancient windmill to a modern one, or from ancient agriculture to modern farming, there is no sense in which the transition is one of degree.  The different processes by which the stone and bronze tools are made are clearly essentially—i.e. substantively—different; the steps that make each process what it is are in no respects compatible or transposable, yet the vocabulary of poiesis and com-posing perfectly captures the transition.  For a Heidegger writing in the time of Plato, the com-posing technology of metallurgy is perfectly contrasted with the poiesis technology of stone tools, yet for the Heidegger writing in 1954, the ancient technology of making a silver chalice—as metallurgy no different than making a bronze spearhead—is supposed to be poiesis, while com-posing is reserved for the modern incarnations of essentially the same technology.  As such, it can simply be asked of Heidegger: how can this transposition of so-called essences work so well when the metallurgy behind making bronze spearheads is just as ‘challenging,’ ‘impositional,’ ‘ravishing’ and ‘hoarding’ (spears were stockpiled for war) relative to stone spearheads as the modern windmill is ‘com-posing’ relative to its ancient incarnation—if not more so?  The comparison between modern and ancient windmills has already been discredited, but even if it had not, the difference between metallurgy and stone tools would still be more of a difference between com-posing and poiesis than ancient and modern windmills because there is simply no likeness in kind with respect to the technologies.  Only the flexibility of a normative vocabulary allows for such a transposition of “essences” between different technologies so that they can become [sic] essentially different, even if they are substantively the same (and in some cases, actually quite substantively different, yet still supposedly “essentially” the same, at least under Heidegger).  Only the stability provided by a norm allows for this kind of ‘universal’ application among substantively differing particulars.  Because the language of poiesis and com-posing is normative, not substantive or essential, it can be flexibly applied to technologies as different as ‘Paleolithic’ and ‘ancient’ just as well as it can be applied to the same ‘ancient’ technologies and then contrasted with the modern, all without losing any meaning or persuasive force.   Simply put, once the substance of the technologies in question is rather trivially circumscribed—as it always is in “The Question Concerning Technology”—only selective emphasis and omission carried out with almost unbelievably lack of intellectual honesty is needed to make virtually any technology relative to another either poetic or com-posing.  Because of its near complete lack of specificity, describing technologies as either poetic or com-posing says nothing substantive about them, much less anything essential.   It is merely to reiterate in normative terms what the technology already essentially is and does, a reiteration done within the stable context of an unspoken and uncritically invoked evaluative scheme.

While the pimping of terms just carried out with respect ‘ancient’ vis-à-vis ‘Paleolithic’ technologies may be possible with more sincere Heideggerian flourish (this author can only handle so much, even as illustration), nothing in this transposed use is inconsistent with, much less essentially different than, Heidegger’s use of the normative vocabulary of poiesis and com-posing to evaluate technology in either an approving or denigrating way for the ancient and modern eras respectively, an approval or denigration that is as concealed under the masquerade of essence as it is implied in the terms of its use.   Despite whatever lack of Heideggerian flair, the point of the illustration has been that for virtually any transition from one technology to another, where relative involvement with or control over nature is increased, the first technology can always be ‘accurately’ evaluated as more “respectful” and “abetting,” while the second evaluated as more “disrespectful,” “challenging,” and “impositional.”  The relative differences in power and control assure that the relative terms like “respect” and “abet” or “challenge” and “impose” will apply; poiesis and com-posing as “essences” simply capture the stable normative framework for these relative evaluations.  As such frameworks, Heidegger’s so-called “essences” of supply the only feature differentiating the ancients from the moderns, even as the omission of the real differences between those technologies in favor of their trivial, common features somewhat paradoxically explains the persuasive force of either poiesis or com-posing as rhetorical terms.  In other words, so long as the appropriate emphases and omissions are made, and so long as the truly differentiating features of the technologies are avoided, the difference supplied by the normative framework comes to be seen as the essential difference.  As indicated, however, by the parallelism between the transition from ‘Paleolithic’ to ‘ancient’ technology and the transition from ‘ancient’ to ‘modern’ technology, this so-called “essential determination” is an illusion; it merely reflects the transposable applicability of norms to transitions where one technology enhances, either by degree or change in kind, the capacities of another.  But in any case, persuasive or not, with poiesis and com-posing the transition is evaluated, not essentially described, and it is evaluated in strictly normative as opposed to substantive terms

With this normative status of poiesis and com-posing established, a summary statement of this Chapter so far can be made.  Substantively, as has been shown, Heidegger’s thinking together of “technology” and “Being” ends up asserting a trivial and uninteresting ontological tautology, namely, that technology is the way it is because ‘the way it is’ makes it that way; that ‘Being is technology’ and ‘technology is Being.’  Normatively, however, Heidegger fleshes out this tautology with evaluative terms like “oblige,” “nurture,” “ravish,” “exploit,” “challenge” and “impose”—i.e. he deploys the evaluative language of poiesis and com-posing that presupposes in the strict sense what technology actually is and does, then he evaluates them as either ‘poetic’ or ‘com-posing.’  By themselves, however, poiesis and com-posing are not essential determinations of the being and doing of technology (though admittedly as norms they remain as essentially different as any technology).  Instead of describing the essence of technology as such, poiesis and com-posing merely evaluate a tautology about technology as Being and Being as technology within an unstated normative and entirely relative framework or standard.  In “The Question Concerning Technology” this relative framework is carefully applied to a transition where relative intervention in, alteration of, and control over nature dramatically changes, thus providing the mirroring illusion that either “essence” captures something essential about technology.   But all the heavy lifting of the so-called essential differentiation is normative, not substantive.  Substantively in the essay Heidegger says virtually nothing about technology other than technology is what it is, while normatively he says quite a lot, providing as he does an evaluation of what technology respectively “is” in two time periods, the ancient and modern—i.e. it is relatively “respectful” in the ancient and relatively “disrespectful” in the modern, whatever that can mean.   This transposition between normative and substantive thinking—this saying what technology essentially is when all that’s being done is evaluation with two essentially different norms—defines the entire argument of the essay.  Aside from the evaluation mis-taken to be substantive, there is simply nothing “substantial” offered.

“Technology” and “Being” as optimized stupidity

The conflation of normative with substantive thinking in “The Question Concerning Technology”  by itself is problematic enough, but in addition to this conflation it has been shown in the previous Chapters that even using his own terms wherever possible, Heidegger gets wrong  both the “essence” of technology and that that essence is bestowed by Being (Chapters 3-6); that he gets wrong both the nature of essence in general and the essence of science (Chapter 8-10); and that he gets wrong the relationship between science and technology, especially when  it comes to the disclosive role the later plays in the former (chapter 10).  In short, Heidegger is wrong on all the topics he discusses, and this unerring error holds even when—and especially when—the issues at stake are framed largely in the very terms in which Heidegger himself frames them (see especially Chapters 3 and 9).  Given this litany of unerring error on the nature of technology and science, what then can be concluded about Heidegger’s mixture normative, evaluative and tautological thinking in so far as it leads to those errors—errors on the path of thinking that is “The Question Concerning Technology”?  In other words, how does this unholy conflation of normative with substantive thinking in the context of unerring error come together in the question of Being—the only question Heidegger ever asks, the one the opening quote to this Chapter essentially links to question of technology?

With the conflation of normative with substantive thinking in mind, coupled with the litany of errors he makes throughout the essay (the slam dunk of errors, as it were), Heidegger’s thinking about “the question concerning technology” in terms of the question of Being can be seen as not just mistaken because of plain, honest ignorance, but instead as stupid, presumably because of willfulness, for nothing but the willful myopia caused by an apriori agenda could bring together the errors so well.  First, regarding the stupidity as such, generally speaking approaching a problem in normative terms as though those terms were necessary for the attempt to solve it is intrinsically stupid, for approaching a problem that way is bound to mis-specify it, leading almost inevitably either to no solution or to the wrong one, if any is found at all.   In other words, if facts are confused with norms in the attempt to solve a problem—or in this case, if essences are confused with norms—then the conflation of substantive with normative thinking all but assures systemic failures at rates worse than chance, which in turn all but insures—if not inevitably insures—that the problem will never be solved (for the one constant in the very formulation of the problem will be the bias from norms preventing proper formulation of the problem as such).   Second, regarding the myopic agenda, conflating normative with substantive thinking when posing a problem in an attempt to solve it is bad enough, but elevating the conflation into a metaphysical definition of the problem so that unacknowledged norms become the defining features of the problem as such guarantees the problem will never be solved, leaving it an open question whether nor not a more self-assured failure is even possible.   Applying this unholy mix of error and normative thinking to Heidegger’s posing of ‘the question concerning technology’ in terms of ‘the question of Being,’ on its own being wrong about technology, science and the relationship between the two simply represents error, and errors are a risk in any attempt to solve a problem; little intrinsic fault can be found with them.  But being wrong on all the aspects of the problem because the problem is framed in normative instead of substantive terms makes matters far worse, for conflating normative with substantive thinking, as Heidegger conflates it, transforms plain and honest ignorance into willful but avoidable stupidity.   Finally, if the conflation of normative for substantive thinking that leads to unerring error is elevated—as Heidegger elevates it—to metaphysical status, such that the erroneously framed problem is declared unsolvable in its very nature, save as it solves itself, then the so-called formulation of the problem and its prospective solution qualifies as one of the—if not the—stupidest approaches to the problem possible.  In effect, Heidegger’s normative framing of the ‘question concerning technology’ in terms of the metaphysics of Being removes all the necessary positive steps for posing the problem of technology in an intelligent way, and it compresses the bias and error taking its place into a single step assuring that the problem can never be solved—hence his ‘solution’ of ‘actively waiting’ for the solution to present itself, to wit, the “piety of thought” with which he concludes the essay.[17]  Specifically, the single step of thinking ‘Being as technology’ and ‘technology as Being,’ with its implication of waiting for Being itself to change the essence of technology, is the worse solution to the problem imaginable.  Fraught as this step is with unerring error, and devoted as it is to misstating the problem because of placing normative judgment over substantive thinking, posing ‘the question concerning technology’ in terms of ‘the question of Being’ is optimally stupid, for it turns a difficult but solvable problem into an unsolvable one, while at the same time getting nothing right about the nature problem itself.  Simply put, one is not likely to find a more singularly idiotic formulation of the problem of technology than “The Question Concerning Technology,” at least one any more guaranteed neither to solve the problem nor even formulate it in an intelligent way.

Lest there be any lingering doubt that the “The Question Concerning Technology” is optimized stupidity for thinking about technology, science, and the challenge both represent, recall that translated into ordinary language, Heidegger’s “essential thinking” on technology (and therefore science too) amounts to saying technology is ‘the way it is’ because ‘the way it is’ made it that way.  In other words, human beings have nothing to do with technology being the way it is, for the essence that makes technology ‘the way it is’ is bestowed by ‘the way it is’.  As such, technology and its harbinger science is a destiny that humanity neither created nor can avoid, but nevertheless it must find a way to live with.  In finding this way, philosophers and poets are available to remind us that ‘the way it is’, not human ingenuity, provides the saving grace.  ‘The way it is’, when it next discloses itself, if it even does, may, if it so chooses, provide salvation[18] from the present danger its own previous bestowal has caused.  The thinker’s solution: actively wait by piously thinking and questioning ‘the way it is’, for to rely on our own solutions is arrogance and chauvinism.  Instead of this chauvinism, humanity, led by thinkers and poets, must remain in open and reticent, waiting for technology to change itself, or more literally, waiting for ‘the way it is’ to change it for us, which amounts to the same thing.  In ordinary terms, this is Heidegger’s way of framing the problem of technology, and its prospective solution.  In effect human beings can do nothing to solve the problem of technology save wait reticently until the problem solves itself (if it ever does), and their best shot that it will is to listen to the thinkers and poets so that our openness to ‘the way it is’ can be maintained and preserved.

Now aside from job security for the prophets of Being, how is posing the ‘question concerning technology’ and it prospective solution in this way not stupid, either as a solution to the problem modern technology poses, or even as an intelligent formulation of the problem?  Save for the limited ways indicated in the critical engagements of this essay, there is simply no reason to think Heidegger’s ‘essential thinking’ on the essence of technology is in any way true, for his thinking is wrong on all counts—wrong on Being bestowing mutually exclusive essences of technology (poiesis and com-posing); wrong on what those essences of technology are (bestowed by Being or not); wrong on this bestowal being a destiny (for it can’t be a destiny if what was allegedly bestowed isn’t even the right essence); wrong on the idea of bestowal itself (since what was allegedly bestowed as essence isn’t even the essence, there are no grounds for believing it was bestowed in the first place); wrong on the nature of science (the only thing even partially right is parochial and trivially true); and wrong on the relationship between science and technology (science isn’t the “harbinger,” the essences aren’t identical, and so on and so forth).  Add to this litany of error the fact that technology is a human creation, not a “creation” of “Being,” i.e. ‘the way it is’, and the subsequent question simply overwhelms Heideggerian thinking, to wit: how is thinking Being and waiting for It to change the essence of technology not stupid?  Recurring to the metaphor proposed in the introduction, how is thinking ‘Being as technology’ and ‘technology as Being’ not sitting in a chair and turning the same side of the Rubix cube over and over again, waiting for the solution to present itself, even though one has posed the problem in a way that fundamentally precludes a solution, with the formulation itself being, perhaps, the most fundamentally wrong, ass-backwards way the problem could ever be posed?   How is elevating normative thinking about technology into the question of Being and getting everything about science and technology wrong in the process not the worst possible solution the problem of technology, just like turning one side over and over again is the worst possible solution to the Rubix cube?  Summarily put, Heidegger elevates normative thinking on technology to metaphysical status, so that the norm, as it were, is the essence, and in so doing he gets wrong everything that he could have gotten right about both technology as science, even when the general way he frames the issues is honored.  Then he declares the problem of technology intrinsically unsolvable save in so far as it solves itself.  With this in mind, it seems difficult, if not impossible, to see how thinking about technology in terms of the question of Being is anything but optimum stupidity.  If the discussion so far in this essay is sound, one is not likely to find a more useless, counterproductive, and pointless obfuscation on technology and science than Heidegger’s “The Question Concerning Technology.”  The essay is so obtuse and full of error that it is hard to see how anyone could ever top the question of Being as a failure to pose intelligently, much less answer intelligently, any question concerning technology.

The problem of value

As a concluding note to this Chapter and a transition to the next ones, it can be observed that perhaps in one respect the accusation made here—that the unerring error and the misguided normative thinking in “The Question Concerning Technology” is optimized stupidity—simply begs the question of whether or not modern technology should or should not be evaluated in Heideggerian terms, i.e. whether or not it should be viewed as essentially disrespectful, challenging or impositional because it is in fact, norm or not, a disrespectful, challenging imposition on nature when it is used as such.  In other words, if modern technology often takes the form of a disrespectful challenging imposition—and it most certainly often does—then perhaps Heidegger is right that essentially it is disrespectful as such; that disrespectful imposing belongs to its essence, not incidentally to its use, much less merely as a variable normative framework for that use.  In short, the tact taken here against Heidegger as offering normative thinking on technology as opposed to substantive thinking may be said to beg the question as to whether thinking like Heidegger’s shows that so-called “norms” belong just as essentially to ‘essences’ as any substantive features do; that in effect there are no substantively “neutral” essences to be had, only, as it were, ‘normative’ ones when it comes to something like technology.  In other words, maybe essential thinking should account for the normative framework in which modern vis-à-vis ancient technologies are evaluated, as opposed to limiting itself to assessments and evaluation after so-called “neutral” facts and essences are circumscribed, and the only way to do this may be the mixed normative and essential thinking offered in “The Question Concerning Technology.”  In short, maybe the question of values cannot be separated from the question of values, and maybe the “The Question Concerning Technology” indicates as much.

Regarding the first point, the possibility that the account offered here begs the question of ‘norms’ versus ‘facts’ or ‘essences,’ while perhaps undecidable on independent, theoretical grounds, nevertheless remains pernicious and dangerous on pragmatic grounds, for not distinguishing normative from substantive thinking—that is, not separating ‘fact’ or ‘essence’ from the framework in which the consequences of either are evaluated—threatens to undermine the only available ground against which normative claims can be arbitrated.  For if evaluations are taken minimally as assessments of the suitability of means toward given ends (and as to be elaborated in the next Chapter, they should be), and if no independent ground of fact or of essence is maintained as the basis for assessing that suitability, then it seems impossible to account in any sensible way for how norms or values could ever be established, much less compared in any evaluation.   Without maintaining a distinction between ‘facts’ or ‘essences’ and ‘norms,’ it simply seems impossible to account for how a norm could be understood in terms of the de facto causes and conditions determining its maintenance, and without this determination, it seems by extension impossible to evaluate norms either against one another or separately in terms of their suitably as desirable ends.  So while relating ‘facts’ or ‘essences’ to ‘norms’ raises extraordinarily difficult theoretical questions, on practical grounds these questions must be addressed, for otherwise conflating substantive and normative thinking threatens to undermine any and all rational basis for appreciating, evaluating, and modifying those norms.

Regarding the second point—e.g. that the questions of technology and value may be in the end inseparable—appreciating the practical danger of conflating facts and norms in and of itself raises this issue, albeit obliquely, in that technologies are inevitably evaluated in some way, and therefore the distinction inevitably comes up.  To see this, consider one of the rather rare examples in “The Question Concerning Technology,” where at one point Heidegger emphasizes the transformation of the Rhine brought about by a hydroelectric dam, as opposed to leaving the Rhine ‘as it is’ under “the old wooden bridge that joined bank with bank for hundreds of years.”[19] With this emphasis Heidegger is ostensibly aiming at an essential difference between two kinds technologies, ancient and modern, and this emphasis—modified slightly—bears some examination, for it indicates, albeit obliquely, a the genuine problem of the relationship between facts and values.

Since comparing a hydroelectric dam to a foot bridge is suspect on its face (for the are essentially apples and oranges),[20] consider instead of a bridge an ‘abetting’ or ‘nurturing’ technology like a waterwheel in the river.  With this change in mind, the question of whether the hydroelectric dam or a waterwheel built on the Rhine disrespectfully “challenges” and “imposes” or respectfully “abets” and “nurtures” can be addressed, but note: it cannot be addressed absent some consideration of what the hydroelectric dam or waterwheel ‘factually’ or ‘essentially’ are and do, for without this consideration, there is simply no viable basis for ever deciding whether or not one “imposes” on the river more or less than the other.  In other words, absent some substantive discussion what the norms “respect” and “disrespect” involve, the question whether one or the other is being applied simply cannot be answered, for that answer turns in part on precisely what the technologies in question are and do.  For instance, strictly speaking in one sense both the wheel and the damn can be said to impose” on the river; it’s just that one “imposes” in a ‘gentle’ or ‘respectful’ way, leaving the flow largely as it finds it, while the other does so in a more ‘disruptive’ or ‘disrespectful’ way, constraining the flow into a reservoir before allowing it to pass once again after the reservoir is full.  In other words, one can call one technology “respectful” and the other “disrespectful” with some justification, but framing the question whether a dam or a waterwheel “imposes” in terms of value-laden terms like “challenge,” “impose,” “respect” and “disrespect” immediately turns discussion away from assessing the causes and conditions of existing values into an argument over competing interpretations of “respect” as a value—and competing interpretations of value, unless given a factual basis in terms of causes and conditions leading to their appraisal, are inherently incommensurable.   That is, absent assessment in terms of their causes and conditions, values simply are what they are—values.  In this waterwheel versus dam example, removing questions of what the technologies are and do from independent factual or essential grounds and framing that otherwise differentiating ground in terms of intrinsic value means the assessment of a dam or a waterwheel devolves immediately into an argument over how the natural flow of the river should be valued as such, instead of focusing on the more relevant issue of the relative causes and conditions of maintaining a given valuation relative to maintaining or compromising other values, perhaps values equally laudable in their own rightFactually speaking, what happens when a hydroelectric dam versus a waterwheel is built has nothing to do with whether one “respects” the flow of a river, for as a value one can “respect” a river and change its flow dramatically—just as one can “respect” an animal while hunting or raising it for food, even being grateful for its sacrifice, and so forth.  “Respectful,” “challenge” and “impose” simply say nothing interesting about the acts or technologies in question; in different and largely incommensurable contexts, any act or technology can “respectful” or “disrespectful,” “imposing” or “not imposing,” etc.  Since normative terms like “respect,” “challenge” and “impose” carry implicit determination of fact or essence that are in the end evaluated—i.e. since they refer to ‘what is’ when determining how it is to be valued—denying the rather obvious distinction between what is valued (facts or essences) and how it is valued (norms) is to deny apriori an essential element in any arbitration among normative claims.  While there may be no independent logical grounds for not denying this distinction, doing so dangerously undermines the only known basis for assessing competing evaluations and appraisals.  Simply put, without a distinction between what is valued and how it is valued—a distinction Heidegger in effect conflates—no sensible basis exists for establishing, much less changing, evaluations exists.  Without this basis, the relative merits of any competing technologies could never be evaluated.

In any case, Heidegger’s conflation of essences and norms in “The Question Concerning Technology” inversely highlights the importance of the distinction between the two in the very act of denying it.  In other words, his error obliquely raises a critical issue: what is the relationship between facts and values, and how does this relationship bear on the ‘question concerning technology,’ since in the contexts in which it occurs, technology is inevitably valued in some way.  This problem of evaluation is taken up more fully in the next Chapter.

[1] Manfred S. Frings, Heidegger and the Quest for Truth (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1968), pp. 17 ff., from Sallis in JSTOR stash.

[2]  The relationship between science and practical technologies is also more nuanced than a strict transcendental founding of one on the other, for some technologies preceded the scientific understanding of them and even lead to scientific explanations (steam engines and thermodynamics, for instance), even as some science (binary logic)  eventually made possible practical technologies (modern computing).  Heidegger’s false equivalency between the essence of science and technology makes these nuanced relationships impossible to understand, even as both verifiably have happened.

[3] See Heidegger, The End of Philosophy

[4] Basic Problems 205

[5] It may just be that anytime a philosopher proclaims an “essence” a normative judgment lurks nearby, but that possibility is theme for another time.

[6] QCT 5

[7] QCT 2-3, emphasis added.

[8] 3


[10] 4

[11] 3


[13] QCT 6-7.

[14] QCT 7

[15] QCT 7

[16] See p. 11 and note 75.

[17] QCT 18

[18] As Heidegger states in Der Spiegel interview, “only a god can save us”…

[19] QCT 6

[20] In one respect, this change is not necessary to make the point, since the essential difference between a damn and a bridge with respect to “respect” between the two technologies is, and only is, the factual difference between the two: one factually leaves the flow unaltered, and therefore “respects” it, while the other does not, and therefore “disrespects” it—thus showing that in fact the normative difference hinges solely on a question of fact.  But however obvious this is, it only exacerbates the genuine nature of the underlying problem, for values are rarely, if ever, so directly dependent on such simple factual claims.  In fact, the argument against Heidegger’s conflation of this point is that one cannot conflate them in this way, if one is to also make proper use of their respective places in evaluation.  For note: in Heidegger’s example, the factual difference is the normative one, and that is precisely the problem.

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