Some Brief Thoughts on Heidegger’s QCT

In the last few days, I have been thinking about Heidegger and his Question Concerning Technology. Here, I will offer some ruminations about his essay to get my thinking clear on our discussion yesterday. I may be tempted to work through the next two-thirds of the essay here in blog posts over the next few days. Heidegger has a strange way of beguiling me, and while I have said it a million times, someone could be to Heidegger what Bernard Williams was to the assumptions in moral philosophy, such thinking is not mine to give—though I can imagine it someday happening.

Several friends, the bloggers here at The Horizon and the Fringe, worried about whether or not a true philosophy of science could take place. The debate started with me claiming that there is no explanation of the model or questions about what explanation is divorced from the background assumptions that infect scientific practice. Among those concerns, I offered the “traditional” claim that the calculative quantitative spirit of technology unearthed by Heidegger was the same problematic in Husserl’s Crisis of the European Sciences. In both thinkers, the West has forgotten the question of being or overshadowed the intersubjective spirit disclosed in the lifeworld. In essence, both critiques amount to the same thing, an overshadowing of the singular event in which persons and value can be disclosed (and if you’re knowledgeable about my work on Scheler, you’ll find my refinement of what I find common between Heidegger and Husserl in Scheler’s often repeated claim of  de-personalization of modern philosophy is a disordered heart in the Schelerian sense).

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Yet, in order to get at that point, I must revisit reading the Question Concerning Technology. Heidegger never locates the problem with the calculative quantitative spirit as a predicament of contemporary and late capitalism. Instead, Heidegger located technology in the experience which technology is revealed. Whereas many think technology either as a means to some end or as a manipulation or making, it is neither of these things when revealed from its articulation in Greek thought. On this, Heidegger writes:

What is decisive in techne does not at all lie in making and manipulating, nor in the using of means, but rather in the revealing mentioned before. It is a revealing, and not as manufacturing, that techne is a bringing-forth…Technology is a mode of revealing. Technology comes to presence in the realm where revealing and unconcealment take place, where aletheia, truth, happens.[1]

In the above quote, the Greek definition of techne carries over into the essence of technology disclosed in the experience of the technological. In this way, technology is a specific way aspects of what we experience enter into the field of our own experience as possibilities to be acted upon. However, the phenomenological conception of technology revealed here is, often, forgotten for what technology is not. A great deal of this essay attempts to explain why the illusory and wrong sense of technology is devastating to assume, and impedes our experience of technology itself. In opposition to the definition above, the definition “does not fit” In short, technology reveals the kerygmatic experience of event disclosure, which is the meaning of a singular event that could determine the concatenations of many experiences related to the singular uniqueness of the event in question. A kerygmatic experience is one so overwhelming that it shocks us, fills us with awe, and is overwhelming presence. Few things in this world are capable of overflowing us in exactly that way. If we were to listen to Levinas, the radical alterity of the Other and others is the only thing in the world that could and in Schelerian language, Heidegger is attempting to root out a cultural condition in which the Holy values and spiritual feeling can be disclosed again to persons and allow persons to be disclosed as such. In an age of “modern technology,” however, the West no longer can hear or listen to the singular uniqueness of kerygmatic disclosure in contemporary technology:

What is modern technology? It too is a revealing…the revealing that holds sway throughout modern technology does not unfold into a bring-forth in the sense of poeisis. The revealing that rules in modern technology is a challenging, which puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it supply energy which can be extracted and stored as such. [emphasis mine, QT, 320].

This passage is the Heideggerian crescendo. Unreasonable demands and challenges are the ways in which capitalist mentality construe nature. Nature is something to be dominated, not something listened to in the modes of our interaction and understanding. More than that, nature is to be harnessed. We demand of nature unreasonably her ready-made packets of extracted energy. Nature is only an energy-provider, nothing more. Scientific activity cannot be extricated from the underlying assumptions that constitute our inability to experience otherness as anything other than that which can be harnessed and used. In such a mentality, persons become subsumed by the same enframed mentality such that it is no longer the individual in his or her lifeworld that discloses science as a subjective accomplishment. Instead, persons become oblivious to this mentality.

I want to be clear. Heidegger’s essay does not advance an anti-science agenda, though it could be seen as advancing an anti-scientism. Instead, Heidegger is worried about our inability to experience a healthier conception of nature. Heidegger is concerned about the cultural conditions that govern scientific practice and innovation are the same symptoms of the Western culture’s forgetting the question of being.


[1] Martin Heideggger, “The Question Concerning Technology” trans. David Krell in Basic Writings (New York: HarperCollins, 1973), 319.

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