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The Path of Thinking in

"The Question Concerning Technology"

by Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)

[I.  From the question about technology to the “obvious” answer about instruments and human action, to the four causes, to the ancient Greek concept of “bringing forth,” to the theme of truth.]

            The essay opens by awakening the question of technology and alerting us to the fact that we are going to pursue a path in answering it.  [The question unfolds as a sequence of questions, each of which launches a response, after which further questions probe the matter further.]

The first point is that we will ask about the essence of technology, what it is.

This is a question to which two answers are commonly given, answers that have a certain obvious correctness: that technology is a means to an end (the instrumental component) and a human activity (the anthropological component of the answer).

            But saying something with a certain obvious correctness is not the same as to give the truth.  But we “must seek the true by means of the correct”; . . . so we ask: “What is the instrumental itself?” (313).

            Talk of a means to an end leads directly to the topic of causation, and to Aristotle’s doctrine of four causes.  Heidegger takes as an example a silver chalice used in a “sacrificial rite” in order first to articulate a somewhat conventional understanding of the four causes.  Then a series of questions (316.1) pivots into a deeper account of what MH calls an originally Greek understanding of the bringing forth of the chalice.

Our initial inquiry into technology led us to a definition that today seems obvious; pursuing that definition led into an account of poetic, artistic handicraft.  There follow questions about bringing-forth (317), leading to the topic of truth (unconcealment).


[II.  From technology as a way of revealing to modern technology as “challenging” things so they come to be taken as “standing reserve,” involving man in “enframing.”]

            The double space between paragraphs (318) indicates a major structural division, signaled by the ironic question “But where have we strayed to?” [similar to the pivot in Platonic dialogues where the interlocutor falls into aporia, being lost or confused, “way-lessness”).  The question at this point is about the connection between technology and truth.  “Technology is a way of revealing.”  With this statement, we are decisively beyond the “correct” observation taken at the outset about technology as a means.  MH takes the strangeness of this result as an occasion for renewing more urgently the question of technology, referring to Greek etymology and to the understanding of techne by Plato and Aristotle.

            Then comes the transition to modern technology (319), which does not bring-forth poetically but reveals by challenging/demanding/extracting/setting-upon/wresting (320) so as, finally, to reveal everything as standing-reserve (322; note 322-23 missing in the packet; you need to refer to the copy given in class).

            We come to another question: “Who accomplishes the challenging . . .?” (323).  The anthropological part of our initial, “obviously correct” observation about technology now comes into play [deconstruction, to use a later term].  But man himself is “challenged” [imposed upon] to suit, say, the production requirements of the market.  Thus the question deepens: “Where and how does this revealing happen if it is no mere handiwork of man?” (324)  Now we are ready for a central realization.  Man is brought into the unconcealed, not as a “mere human doing” (324).  We are gathered by an “enframing” (Ge-stell) which reveals man, too, as standing-reserve (in other words, as raw materials, “human resources” to be organized, manipulated, exploited, managed).

            MH goes on to clarify enframing as the essence of modern technology.  The anthropological interpretation of technology is overturned, because its essence is not itself a work of man.  MH discerns that essence rising before the great age of modern machines in the drive to reveal nature as calculable in early modern physics, when the drive to use science reform the environment was in its early stages (326-27).


[III.  Turning to the essence of enframing as the greatest danger we find that which essentially unfolds and endures; there we find saving power (if we can abide in heeding it), whose rise art may foster.]

            Another double space signifies a major transition.  MH restates his project and conclusion and renews the question by asking what enframing itself is (328).  Unfolding with the implications of the German words in which his inquiry is proceeding, MH portrays man as caught up [my term] in enframing, as something that is coming down [my slang] in our historical age.  Enframing is something sent as a destiny, not something produced by man (330).  But enframing comes with a danger—the greatest danger—that man will get so caught up in it as to lose sight of himself as the one to whom truth is disclosed and entrusted.  Even the spiritual realm can come to be regarded as standing-reserve (331) [Does this happen in pragmatism?].  Thus the very essence of truth gets covered up (333).  Being saved from this danger comes inquiring into the essence of technology.

            The next turn of the question is this: What is the sense of essence here? (334)  Not simply the generality of a term that merely includes the items that exemplify it, but the way a thing is, comes into being and unfolds (335).  What remains?  Only what is granted endures. [In German, this is almost true in virtue of the meanings of the words taken unconventionally.]   What endures originally out of the Dawn is what grants” (336).  [What is the relation between such writing and religion?]  For man simply to turn and realize the truth of “the innermost indestructible belongingness of man within granting” is already to see what is rising and may save us from merely compulsively getting caught up in enframing.

            Everything depends upon our pondering over and watching over the rising of the saving power (337), which, to save, must be “of a higher essence” than man and akin (related) to man (339).  [Is such thinking precisely the spiritual path for thoughtful people who can no longer accept religion?  Or is it a way that complements religion beautifully?  Or is it a deceptive substitute for genuine, religious spirituality?  Or is it just confusing?]

            Final question: whether there is another [kind of] revealing that can help us?  In ancient Greece, when art was techne, poetry was revelatory.  Hölderlin (early 19th century German poet) (in a poem) writes “ . . . poetically man dwells on earth” (340).  It could be that art can foster the growth of saving power, being akin to and radically different from the essence of technology.  But now the essence of art (whose essential unfolding we no longer “guard and preserve”) becomes more mysterious.  Our questioning expands and deepens.  “The closer we come to the danger, the more brightly do the ways into the saving power begin to shine and the more questioning we become.  For questioning is the piety of thought” (341).



Aitia (Greek): cause (conventionally translated); for MH the deeper ancient Greek understanding is that which is responsible for something.

Aletheia (Greek): truth, as unconcealment, namely when something is disclosed as . . . whatever it is shown to be.  The idea is that there is always also concealment, that unconcealment is never total, so mystery remains (albeit obscured in the age of modern technology).  We miss the unconcealed by forgetfulness, covering up, deception, following ordinary opinion or the views of “leaders” pass without caring to let the thing itself appear, without asking openly: what is it?  To reveal, disclose, let come forth as unconcealed, unhidden, is essential to our being human.  Alethuein: to unconceal (319)

            Apophainesthai, to bring forward into appearance, to manifest.

Bringing forth: 317 whether natural or through craft or art (poetry, painting, sculpture, etc.), leading to a manifestation or a completion so that what is appears.

            Cause.  Aristotle’s four causes have become so traditional that they are named here mostly in Latin, not Greek (though the Latin understanding did not preserve the fresh depth of ancient Greek thinking): Causa materialis, the material cause (Greek, hyle), what the thing is made of; causa formalis, the form or formal cause; causa efficiens, the “efficient cause”—what makes it happen, the parent(s) of the offspring, the cue ball’s striking the billiard ball and making it move, the silversmith.  Causa finalis, final cause, the end (telos) or purpose, becomes for MH the (finite) destiny into which the all the “factors” responsible draw the thing.

Challenge: to demand from someone or something; to press someone or something, to push it, perhaps to distort it or risk distorting it to do or provide something, that may compromise its essence (see 320.2)

            Eidos: Plato’s concept understood not as abstract generality but as the whatness of a thing manifesting itself, its way of being what it is (325).

Enframing: the imposition on man that gets us caught up in treating everything, perhaps including ourselves, as standing reserve (324).

Essence: not a mere abstract general term, but the way a thing unfolds (see 335)

            Essentia (Latin) essence

            Hold sway: to prevail, even dominate

            Ge-stell: enframing (see above)

Legein (Greek): the verb whose noun is logos : speech, reason, discourse; for MH, gathering

Physis (Greek): nature (as process, natural bringing forth)

Poesis (Greek): making, a human bringing forth.  Note that MH radically distinguishes this type of human activity, illustrated by the silversmith, from modern technology.

Presencing: becoming (essentially) present

            Propriate: to happen in a way proper to itself.

            Quid—(Latin) what.  Quidditas, whatness.

            Set upon; “challenge” in the sense noted above.  It implies a seizing, a transformation of something into a resource to supply the “needs” of our will to power.

            Standing reserve: things in general taken simply as resources for human manipulation; see esp. p. 322.

Techne (Greek): craft, art, skill, technique (the original, not the modern)

Veritas (Latin): truth