CriticaLink | Heidegger: The Question Concerning Technology | Guide to pp. 318-319

"But where have we strayed to?"

We should pause for a moment and get our bearings:

  • Heidegger starts his essay with our everyday understanding of technology as instrumentality, as a way of getting things done.
  • He asks what we mean by "instrumentality" and moves into a discussion of "cause."
  • The examination of "cause," in turn, leads him to a discussion of poeisis as a bringing forth, a revealing of something that was concealed.
  • At the close of the last section, he relates this bringing forth to the Greek word for "truth."

If we continue to pursue the question of the essence of technology, Heidegger now argues, we will come to see that technology is a kind of poeisis, a way of bringing forth or revealing--and, as such, is "the realm of truth" (294).

What does Heidegger mean by this? What does he gain from the seemingly radical and far-fetched association of technology and poetry? At this point in the essay, we begin to see that Heidegger has been developing an alternative way of thinking about technology, one that is not strictly bound to instrumentality. And as we will soon see, he is pointing out the similiarities between the ways in which technology and poetry confront the world in order to contrast them later.

By now, it should come as no surprise that Heidegger turns again to etymology when he challenges us to "take seriously the simple question of what the word 'technology' means" (294).

Our word "technology" comes from the Greek technikon, which is related to the word techne. Heidegger makes two points about techne:
  • In the sense of "technique," techne refers to both manufacturing (the techniques of shoemakers and printers, for example) and to the arts (the techniques of poets and graphic designers, for example). Techne is part of poeisis.
  • In Greek thought from Plato on, the word is used in connection with the word episteme, from which we get the word "epistemology"--the branch of philosophy that examines how we know things. Techne, Heidegger concludes, is a kind of knowing. We might think of it as "expertise," which we generally understand as more than a set of practical skills. It is "know-how"; in Heidegger's words, "what is decisive in techne does not lie at all in making and manipulating nor in the using of means, but rather in the revealing mentioned before" (295).

If we understand technology as deriving from this concept of techne, Heidegger continues, then we will see that its essence lies not in the instrumental production of goods or manipulation of materials, but in "revealing." Remember that Heidegger has said something similar about the silversmith, who, through his techne, brings together the form and matter of the chalice within the idea of "chaliceness" to reveal the chalice that has been "on its way" to existence.

At this point, Heidegger anticipates an objection to his representation of modern technology as "a mode of revealing."

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