PART ONE: Heidegger’s Essences of Ancient and Modern Technology

Chapter 1: “Disclosedness” and “offering”

At the beginning of “The Question Concerning Technology,” Heidegger states his goal in a most straightforward way.  In the lecture he intends to raise a “question concerning technology,” meaning he sets out to question technology not simply in terms of the effects of its use but in terms of its essence—i.e. in terms of what makes technology what it is—and in this way he wants to “prepare thereby a free relation to it” so that human beings can “respond appropriately to that essence” and “experience technological things within their proper limits.”[1]  Without promising any specific suggestions on how to respond appropriately to technology, Heidegger sets out to prepare the way for an appropriate response; thus he intends to solve a problem in the sense of the term used here, namely, he sets out help us overcome the “danger” technology represents—i.e. the danger that “man may misconstrue what is disclosed” through technology, and then “misinterpret”[2] that disclosure (in other words, he may be revealed to himself in the way modern technology compels him ‘to see’ all beings, including and especially ourselves).  So while it is accurate to say that Heidegger does not set out to solve a particular problem like “how can be prevent technology from getting out of hand and leading to our destruction?”, it is even more faithful to say that he sets out to solve an essential one, namely, what is the essence of modern technology, what danger does that essence present to the essence of humanity, and what, if anything, should we do in light of danger?

Disclosedness

This way of stating Heidegger‘s essential problem brings to the forefront the fundamental question he asks, namely:  what is the essence of modern technology?  In its essence, how does modern technology disclose all beings—including, potentially, ourselves—in their Being?  What danger lies within this essence, and what, if anything within this danger, may offer salvation?

By way of introducing Heidegger’s ‘answer’ to these questions, it needs to be recalled that for him, all relationship to beings—all relationship or commerce with entities of any sort—requires an a priori understanding of what it means to be in general (“Being”), an understanding through which beings are “disclosedas the beings that they are, i.e. an understanding in which beings come to be unconcealed or revealed in some way.  As he states elsewhere, repeatedly, the understanding of Being, as a manner of dislcosedness, is “the condition for the possibility” that beings can be at all, prior to all attempts to know or to act on them.[3]  In other words, dislcosedness, as the understanding of Being, is what makes the basic recognition of oneself, one another, and the world possible; in essence, the understanding of Being as disclosedness is what makes possible having a world in the properly human sense in the first place, a world populated by people and things and ideas and what not—a world one can be into, like one can be into running or into a loved one, etc.  Without dislcosedness and its involvement as such, human beings—designated by Heidegger as Dasein (or “human being” understood strictly in terms of its potential to understand Being)—would not only be blind to the things of the world, to each other, and to itself: Dasein would have no world of things, of each other, or a self to be blind to.  Dislcosedness, then, is what makes Dasein’s existence as it is known in the everyday sense possible in the first place; indeed, for Heidegger it is the most essential characteristic of existence itself to such an extent that, as stated in Being and Time, “Dasein is its dislcosedness,”[4] meaning that in so far as Dasein is Dasein, it is the entity whose essence is to uncover beings in their Being, thus enabling a relationship to beings in some way.  As Dasein, dislcosedness allows human beings to relate to other beings in the various ways in which they relate to them—as unconcealed beings ready to be used, appreciated, valued, and known—and it is only on the basis of this disclosedness that human beings can both be called Dasein and said to value, do, know, and appreciate.  To be Dasein is to be dislcosedness in a way that makes possible everything human beings are and do.

Now this “dislcosedness,” as Heidegger understands it, though essentially related to being human, must be distinguished from a human faculty or capacity, as those terms are usually understood.  That is, “dislcosedness” is not a mode of cognition which humans ‘create’ by virtue of having a brain, or having a mind, or by being conscious.  Being Dasein goes deeper than that, and, in fact, it is prior to—both in a logical and ontological sense—the ‘cognitive apparatus’ that humans have, i.e. the specific perceptions and judgements in ‘knowing’ and ‘doing’ through which human beings actually engage the world, each other, and themselves.  As Heidegger states, “humans do not control unconcealedness itself; they do not control whether and how reality at any given time will show itself or withdraw.” [5] Dislcosedness, or “unconcealedness itself,” as Heidegger stresses, is “never a human fabrication”[6]; as such, dislcosedness in general is something which “man can neither invent nor in any way make.[7]  In other words, the understanding of Being that defines human beings as Dasein, the one that makes possible having a world, relating to each other, and relating to oneself possible in the first place…this a priori dislcosedness is not created, fabricated, or invented by human beings, nor is it a faculty or ability that human have, in the strict sense of the term, prior to being Dasein.  In short, human beings are not responsible for unconcealedness and dislcosedness as such,  nor is being Dasein a feature or faculty of our brains or minds at work.  Instead, Dasein as dislcosedness—as the essential characteristic defining human beings as “the being that we ourselves are” [8]— is ontologically deeper than mere human cognition, consciousness, and the brain.  While being Dasein presupposes all three in some sense—i.e. one cannot be Dasein without all three functioning properly—being Dasein requires much more, something more ontologically fundamental.

With this more ‘ontologically fundamental’ priority mind, an obvious question arises: if dislcosedness defines Dasein as authentically human in a unique way, yet it is not a human faculty or trait or cognitive mechanism (even though all humans as Dasein can be characterized in these ways, as it were), how, for Heidegger, does dislcosedness come about?  How can it be that humans can understand Being in the first place, if this understanding is not something of their own doing in the strictest sense of the term?  How can one come to be Dasein—the only being that understands Being—at all?

Offering

Heidegger’s answer to this question is as disarmingly simple as it is far reaching, not only for “The Question Concerning Technology” but also for all his later thought.  Simply put, Dasein’s disclosedness is offered by Being; it is a ‘product,’ as it were, of Being itself.  Dislcosedness as such is Being revealing itself to human beings, and this revealing—this “understanding of Being” prior to the recognition of either particular beings or beings as a whole—is essentially Being giving itself to be understood so that human beings can become Dasein.  In other words, the understanding of Being that is disclosedness is offered by Being to human beings either to take up and be Dasein, or to refuse and not be Dasein, for only by taking up Being’s offering can human beings become Dasein at all, i.e. only in this way can human beings become authentically human.  Put another way, in order to be authentically human as Dasein, being human must factually come first; the normal biological and cognitive functions of being human are presupposed by Dasein.  But being Dasein must ontologically come first, and being Dasein can only come first ontologically because in a more fundamental ontological way Being comes first: Being first offers itself to be understood, and in taking up this offering Dasein comes to understand Being and thus becomes Dasein.  Prior to being human in the most authentic capacity, humans must become Dasein, and they can only become Dasein by virtue of Being revealing itself in an apriori way.  In a word, then, becoming Dasein is an accomplishment, but it is an “accomplishment” of a peculiar kind, for as much as it depends on a normally functioning human being accepting the offering of Being and becoming Dasein, this becoming Dasein itself depends first on Being revealing itself as “Something”[9] to be understood.   In this way, a human being accomplishes becoming Dasein by taking up the manner of disclosedness offered by Being, such that he or she becomes the dislcosedness that is being Dasein as it is offered by Being.

This last point—the idea that a human being is Dasein only upon taking up disclosedness as it is offered by Being—bears emphasizing, for on it hinges the main thrust of Heidegger’s “The Question Concerning Technology”—and for that matter, in all his later thought.   Directly put, since Being offers itself to be understood, and since the ‘manner of disclosedness’ that is this offering is not created, fabricated, or invented by human beings in any way—i.e. since it is not a human faculty or capacity—to be Dasein means taking up and understanding Being in the way that Being ‘intends itself’ to be understood—“intends” here taken strictly in a metaphorical sense.  In other words, the unconcealedness of beings—i.e. the Being of the world, others and the self—offered to human beings so that they can become Dasein is in essence Being offering itself in a specific way.  This specific way of offering does not emanate from Dasein itself but is offered to human beings as the condition of the possibility for being Dasein, and this means that a human being as Dasein will have access to beings in and through an understanding of Being that is strictly demarcated by Being itself.  In short, Dasein will always understand Being—and therefore itself, others, and the beings in the world—in a unique manner that is dictated by how Being has offered itself to be understood; to be Dasein is to be in such a way that being cannot be disclosed in any other way.  Dasein, as disclosedness, thus depends on Being for the manner in which Being is understood, and therefore the manner in which Dasein understands beings (including itself, others and the world) is determined by Being itself, not by human beings or even by human beings as Dasein.

With this these two points in place—Dasein as its dislcosedness and disclosedness as an offering of Being in order for Dasein to be itself—Heidegger’s appreciation of the essence of modern technology can be understood in its proper light, and thereby its danger appreciated and our destiny in relation to that danger properly understood as well.  For Heidegger is at pains to point out that Dasein is not just technological in the sense that Dasein uses technical implements as means toward ends, or that Dasein is technological simply because it uses technology as its own invention to satisfy human wants and needs.  Instead, for Heidegger, Being makes Dasein technological in a more fundamental way, meaning Dasein is technological in a way more fundamental than making technology and using it.   Specifically, Heidegger asserts that Dasein is technological in its very essence; that that essence is given to Dasein by Being itself, such that it can only be technological in a very specific way, a way dictated by Being, not Dasein.  In other words, Dasein is technological in its very essence because in taking up a certain manner of dislcosedness as offered by Being, human beings become technological in accord with Being’s essence—or alternatively stated, in accord with its offering, not by virtue of their own doing, especially not by virtue of inventing and using technological things.  Rather, in order to invent and use technological things, a specific manner of “disclosive looking” must first be given to Dasein so that it can relate to beings in a technological way.  In this way, being technological and being Dasein are not for Heidegger in any way separable, as though one could be Dasein and not be technological, or vice versa.   Instead, being Dasein and being technological are essentially one in the same, and more to the point, this duality is dictated by Being itself .  For this reason, the way in which Dasein is technological can be called a destiny, meaning that the way is not of Dasein’s own choosing; it is Being’s choosing; and in so far as human beings are Dasein at all, they must themselves choose the technological way of being that Being itself offers, otherwise they cannot be Dasein at all.   For Heidegger, to be Dasein, to disclose beings, and to be technological are all three in essence one and the same thing.  Dasein, disclosedness, and technology are different aspects of one and the same offering by Being; to be one is to be all the others, and vice versa.

So much for the basic conceptual groundwork of that will be drawn on in the later critique.  With this in place, it remains to note that Heidegger distinguishes two ways in which Dasein is technological, the ancient and the modern way.  In order to understand what it means to say Dasein is technological instead of and prior to simply using technological things, and in order to understand in what way beings are seen as technological in the modern sense versus the ancient sense (and Heidegger is quite clear that versus applies here), it is now necessary to describe in basic terms how Heidegger understood ancient versus modern technology.  In the discussion, Rojcewicz’s lead in The Gods and Technology: A Reading of Heidegger will be followed most closely as an exemplary and faithful exposition of Heidegger’s later thought in general and in particular, of course, of “The Question Concerning Technology” in its own right.

[1] “The Question Concerning Technology”, trans. Richard Rojcewicz, p. 1.

[2] QCT

[3]

[4]

[5] QCT 7

[6] QCT 8.

[7] QCT 15, emphasis added.

[8]

[9] QCT

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s