In the introduction to his essay, The Question Concerning Technology, Martin Heidegger prepares the reader by saying, “We shall be questioning concerning technology, and in so doing we should like to prepare a free relationship to it” (Heidegger, 1954, p. 311). A free relationship with technology, as Heidegger describes it, is one in which our human existence is opened up to its essence. In a free relationship with technology, we will not have any illusions about what technology actually is, and we can, therefore, interact with it in a more authentic way.

Heidegger divided his essay into three sections. The first addresses technology and its essence, clearly defining and distinguishing the two. The second further explores the essence of technology and explains its impact on humans and society. And the third section recommends the way we ought to respond to the essence of technology in order to save ourselves from it, in order to prepare a free relationship to it. In this chapter, I will provide an account of Heidegger’s theory of technology by carefully explaining each of these three sections. In the process, I intend to reveal the ways in which the essence of technology is, in fact, a form of unobtrusive governance that structures our relationships with ourselves, with other people, and with the objects we use. However, in order to appropriately address the issues in Heidegger’s essay on technology, it is necessary to make some introductory remarks about his philosophical project. Being and Dasein

Being and Dasein

The question of being is at the core of Martin Heidegger philosophy. He thought that there was no good answer to the question of what we really mean when we talk about being. What does it mean for something to be? He wrote Being and Time (1927), to provide an answer to this question.

Heidegger believed that Western philosophy has been mistaken about being since the time of Plato. Because the philosophical tradition has been going down the wrong path for over two thousand years, our thinking is mired in presuppositions and prejudices that lead us to believe that questioning being itself is unnecessary. He identifies three such presuppositions in the introduction to Being and Time. First, we believe that ‘being’ is the most general or universal concept. It appears that “an understanding of being is already included in conceiving anything which one apprehends in entities” (Heidegger, 1927, p. 22). In other words, everything that we think of or encounter can be classified as something that fits under the concept ‘being.’ On the surface, this might seem illuminating. However, since this concept includes all things—including people, scientific practices, airplanes, numbers, and even thoughts of non-existent things, likeunicorns—it begins to seem like it could be the least understood of all concepts. It is a murky concept because we cannot clearly say what all these radically different things really have in common, besides the fact that they exist.

The second presupposition that has prevented the tradition from pursuing the question of being is that ‘being’ is indefinable. This is because we cannot think of being as an entity. Whereas such things like dogs, cats, and horses can be classified together under the genus mammal, which is an entity that can be defined, there is no such supreme entity through which all things can be understood. But Heidegger asks: “Does this imply that ‘being’ no longer offers a problem?” No, he says. “It demands that we look that question in the face” (1927, p. 23). And instead of seeking a supreme category under which all existing things can be classified and hence defined, which is what traditional western philosophy had been trying to do, Heidegger pursues a radically different conclusion—that being, what makes things real for us, is our social practices.

The third presupposition is that ‘being’ is self-evident, and thus does not need to be questioned. He claims that “whenever one cognizes anything or makes an assertion, whenever one comports oneself towards entities, even towards oneself, some use is being made of ‘being;’ and this expression is held to be intelligible ‘without further ado’” (1927, p. 23). We are carrying out our lives with a “vague average understanding of being,” one that allows us to recognize these problems of being. The fact that we “exist,” and that we must have a vague understanding of being in order to be able to question being, indicate that we need to raise the question of the meaning of ‘being’ onceagain.

As one might have gathered from the explanation of presuppositions, the meaning of being is at least partially available to us. All of our activities are conducted with and made possible by an understanding of being. Because traditional philosophy has never succeeded in answering, let alone properly formulating the question of being, it has been busy instead “telling a story”about how entities can be traced “back in their origin to some other entities, as if being had the character of some possible entity” (Heidegger, 1927, p. 26). Our vague average understanding of being as “that which determines entities as entities, that on the basis of which entities are already understood” (Heidegger, 1927, pp. 25-26) is sufficiently ambiguous to cover all these different stories that philosophers have told about being—that it is The Good, The Unmoved Mover, The Creator God, or the transcendental ego. However, Heidegger is clear that his account of being is radically different from the tradition. He will not define being as some onto-theological entity, a “beingest being” (Dreyfus, 2003, p. 32). Instead, he claims that our understanding of being, “that which determines entities as entities” (Heidegger, 1927, pp. 25-26), is the background social practices into which we have been socialized. This is because, as he demonstrates in Being and Time, these practices are what provide us with the framework that allows us to function with familiarity in the world. Our social practices “provide a background understanding of what counts as things, what counts as human beings, and what it makes sense to do, on the basis of which we can direct our actions towards particular things and people” (Dreyfus, 2003, p. 31).

But, before Heidegger could ever arrive at this answer, and in order to avoid falling into the same problems that trapped the traditional approach to being, he needed to formulate the question correctly. Part of the reason for this is that “there are many things which we designate as “being,” and we do so in various senses” (Heidegger, 1927, p. 26).

Heidegger is pointing out a mistake that he believes philosophers have been making since the time of the ancient Greeks. This is the ontological mistake of grounding all being in one kind of entity, i.e. substances, which are self-sufficient entities. So, the question becomes: “Which entity shall we take for our example, and in what sense does it have priority” (Heidegger, 1927, p. 26)?

Heidegger proposes, “all beings gain their intelligibility in terms of the structure of one sort of being” (Dreyfus, 1991, p. 12). Thus, in order to approach the question of being adequately, we need to do it through the sort of being whose structure gives intelligibility to the other beings. In Heidegger’s words: “To work out the question of being adequately, we must make a being—the inquirer—perspicuous in his own being… This being which each of us is himself and which includes inquiring as one of the possibilities of its being, we shall denote by the term“Dasein.” (1927, p. 27). This means that we need to pursue the question of being through Dasein, and not through equipment or substances, which are the two other modes of being, because it is through Dasein that these other modes of being are revealed. Dasein is ontologically prior.

The word ‘Dasein’ or ‘Da-sein’ literally means ‘being-there.’ But, as Dreyfus explains, in colloquial German it can mean “everyday human existence” (1991, p. 13). And Heidegger, following the everyday usage, uses ‘Dasein’ to mean “the kind of being that belongs to persons,” or, “any person who has such being, and who is thus an ‘entity’ himself” (Heidegger, 1927, p. 27, footnote 1).

By attempting to come to an understanding of being through Dasein, the kind of being that discloses the world and gives intelligibility to other beings, Heidegger is able to avoid making the ontological mistake of grounding being in self-sufficient substances. Aristotle, to name one philosopher, argues that human beings are one kind of substance that exists in the world. Humans, like horses, rocks, and trees, are all self-sufficient entities with their own internal causal powers. These substances also have properties, which Aristotle called “accidents.” And these properties are dependent on the substance for their existence, and to be intelligible. The cosmos, then, according to Aristotle, is a place composed of millions of independent entities causally interacting with one another, all striving towards their final cause. Much later Descartes had the idea that our conscious minds are the self-sufficient substances. This self-sufficient mental substance with causal powers, which is able to observe the world from a disengaged perspective, is what we call the ego, the self or the subject. It is this idea of the subject, and subjectivity in general, that Heidegger so adamantly opposed. And since the traditional accounts of self-sufficient agents acting in the world cannot explain our political relationship with technology, Heidegger’s theory of a holistic and embedded subject is an invaluable first step towards a theory of technology.

He avoids claiming that Dasein is an independent subject by observing the phenomena of our everyday experience in the world. Heidegger believed that the phenomena we perceive or experience can give us important insight into the“things-as-they-are”. Thus, in his phenomenological study of the “things-as-they-are,” as they show themselves before we intellectually interpret them, before we “tell stories” about them, he is able to uncover the fundamental ontology of the world. And one of the first discoveries Heidegger makes is that Dasein has the ontological structure of a being-in-the-world.

He explains that “the compound expression ‘being-in-the-world’ indicates in the very way we have coined it, that it stands for a unitary whole” (Heidegger, 1927, p. 78). Our most basic experiences in the world, when we are interacting with our environment in a pre-intellectual way, indicate that we exist as an experiencing being absorbed in the world, as a Dasein/world unit. Heidegger goes on to claim that the structure of our existence, being-in-the-world, “cannot be broken up into constituent parts which may be pieced together” (1927, p. 78). This is very different from the traditional view where the world is composed of many individual self-sufficient entities.

It is important to note, however, that the fact that Dasein’s being is such that it and the world in which it exists are a unitary whole does not mean that there is only one Dasein. Each human being is a Dasein, “the kind of being for which its very being is an issue…” and it “has in each case mineness” (Heidegger, 1927, pp. 67-68). Because each of us has our own Dasein it is ours to do with it as we choose. And because of this mineness, this personal human experience, Dasein interprets being and discloses a world in order to direct itself towards future possibilities.

Each Dasein interprets being, thereby making actions and things intelligible, and this activity Heidegger defines as ‘care.’ Dreyfus explains that “persons, if they are Daseining, are, in caring, performing an activity of [revealing], both of themselves and of their situation” (1991, p. 165). But, although each Dasein does its own caring, their activity contributes to the collective or social understanding of being, i.e. the revealing. Dreyfus provides a nice example of how something like this might work: “Think of a group of people all working together to clear a field in a forest. There is a plurality of activities of clearing, but all this activity results in only one cleared field” (1991, p. 165). In other words, the way in which each of us interprets the world is different in small ways, but, for the most part, our actions, i.e. our embodied interpretation of being, mesh with and reinforce the collective understanding of being. The fact that with our interpretation of being we perform intelligible utterances and actions shows that our individual interpretation is a shared one.

So, to summarize these introductory remarks, Dasein is the way in which human beings exist. It is our mode of being. Dasein is being-in-the-world, meaning that we are essentially absorbed or immersed in the world rather than being self-sufficient subjects. This will allow us to explain how our environment and the technological objects in it can have a governing influence on our subjective experience in the world. Furthermore, Dasein is also a being that is always concerned about its being. This does not mean that Dasein is always consciously thinking about its existence, but it is always already in an interpretation of being. Heidegger’s famous definition of ‘being’ is that itis “that which determines entities as entities, that on the basis of which entities are already understood” (1927, pp. 25-26). And rather than following tradition and claiming that being is some sort of supreme being, Heidegger conducts a phenomenological inquiry into the nature of being and discovers that it is embodied in our shared social practices. In other words, being is not an entity, it is our collective social behavior that determines what things we recognize as things and what activities make sense to us. And from his account of being as social practices, it will only take a few simple steps to establish that technology, which is also a set of social practices, is structuring our world today; it unobtrusively governs our experiences in the world and the things that exist in the world around us.

Technology and the Essence of Technology

The first task on Heidegger’s path towards understanding technology is to uncover its essence. According to traditional philosophy, the essence of something is what the thing is. The quidditas or whatness provides an account of the essential features of the thing in question. For example, the thing in common among all kinds of dogs—Chihuahuas, Golden Retrievers, Boxers, etc.—is their whatness, dogness. However, dogness itself is not a dog. Likewise, “technology is not equivalent to the essence of technology” (Heidegger, 1954, p. 311). Its essence is, in fact, nothing technological at all. It follows from this that we cannot experience the essence of technology, or develop a free relationship to it, when we only concern ourselves with the technological. And when we regard technology as something neutral, something that gets its value from the way in which it is put to use, Heidegger claims that we are “utterly blind to the essence of technology” (Heidegger, 1954, p. 312).

In order to help uncover its essence we first need to develop a basic understanding of technology. When Heidegger talks about technology, he is not referring to anything out of the ordinary. He is working with what he calls the instrumental and anthropological definition of technology (Heidegger, 1954, p. 312). For him, it is something that humans have created in order to assist us in achieving some goal. A technological object would be, then, some artifact “that performs tasks with greater efficiency than human hands” (Braver, p. 82). Examples would be anything from a computer to a prison.

This definition is correct, Heidegger says, because it accurately describes something important about technology. But being a correct description of a thing does not necessarily uncover its essence. Only the true can bring us to the essence. So “we must seek the true by way of the correct” (Heidegger, 1954, p. 312). We must start from the correct instrumental and anthropological definition of technology and work back until we discover its true essence.

Since technology is an instrumental human activity, we ought to question the nature of the instrumental itself. Because a means is “that whereby something is effected and thus attained,” and because a cause is “whatever has an effect as its consequence,” we can conclude that causality is behind any instance where means are employed in the pursuit of ends (Heidegger, 1954, p. 313). In other words, causality is central to instrumentality because a means to an end is a cause of that end. Thus, in order to understand instrumentality we need to take a closer look at causality.

For hundreds of years, Aristotelian philosophers have argued that there are four causes and that they are co-responsible for any event or thing that exists. For example, if someone were to build a hammer, the material cause is the material out of which it would be made. The formal cause of the hammer is the form into which the material is shaped. The final cause is the ultimate goal or purpose of the thing. In this case, the purpose would be to pound nails effectively. This cause restricts the other causes to those that are suitable for achieving that goal. For example, the final cause of pounding nails well rules out the possibility of a banana being the material cause of the hammer. And finally, there is the efficient cause, which actually brings about or initiates the effect or entity. In the case of the hammer, this would be the individual who actually makes it.

Heidegger thinks this is a good explanation of causality, but, like the instrumental and anthropological definition, it does not give us enough to understand the essence of technology. We need ask the tough questions about causality that have generally been ignored by the philosophers who have accepted this explanation of causality as dogma. We need to ask questions like: What really is causality? Why are there four causes, and why these four? And these are important questions for us because, “so long as we don’t go into these questions, causality, and with it instrumentality, and with this the accepted definition of technology, remain obscure and groundless” (Heidegger, 1954, p. 314).

Today it is generally thought that there is one kind of causality, the efficient cause. But, Heidegger claims that the efficient cause is merely one of the four causes and that modern philosophers are neglecting the other three. Today, when someone in a factory builds a hammer, they are the efficient cause, for sure, but it is misguided to think that there is not a formal cause that influences the shape that the hammer takes. There must also be an ultimate goal for the finished product in mind during the design and construction of the object. And it would be absurd for someone to think they could build a hammer without the wood and iron (or any other suitable materials) to do so. Without all four of these causes together being responsible for the effect, there would be no effect.

These four different causes are thus the four ways of letting something come forth into presencing, i.e., they bring it into appearance so that it is “lying before” and “lying ready.” They bring something from concealment into unconcealment, where it becomes something that we can recognize, experience, and interact with. This is what causality really is—a bringing-forth. When the hammer builder, through the four causes, builds a hammer, he brings it forth out of concealment, where it was hidden from us, into unconcealment, where it can be held in hand and used to hammer nails. And now, bringing us back to our question concerning technology, because technology is an instrumentality, and because instrumentality is really a cause of some end, technology is also a bringing-forth.

It is important to note, however, that this bringing-forth, the movement from concealment into unconcealment, “rests and moves freely within what we call revealing” (Heidegger, 1954, p. 318). In other words, when something comes into unconcealment, what we commonly call existence, the four causes that are responsible for something’s coming into “existence” operate within a revealing, which structures or governs what and how things appear in “existence,” i.e. unconcealment. The revealing governs what things we can cause to come into unconcealment by determining the domain of ends that we find intelligible, as well as the materials and forms that will be recognized as appropriate for the thing to be built.

The Essence of Technology as Revealing

At this point in The Question Concerning Technology, Heidegger takes a moment to review the steps made to get us from technology to revealing, and to emphasize our important conclusion—that the essence of technology is a mode of revealing. He asks:

“What has the essence of technology to do with revealing? The answer: everything. For every bringing-forth is grounded in revealing. Bringing-forth gathers within itself the four [causes] and rules them. Within bringing-forth’s domain belong end and means as well as instrumentality. Instrumentality is considered to be the fundamental characteristic of technology. The possibility of all productive manufacturing lies in revealing.” (Heidegger, 1954, p. 318)

So, the essence of technology is a mode of revealing, but what precisely is revealing? A revealing is an understanding of being. Being, as Heidegger defined it, is “that on the basis of which entities are already understood” (Heidegger, 1927, p. 25). Being has to do with intelligibility; it makes things intelligible to us. It is the background to all our activity. With our understanding of being we are able to become familiar with our environment and interact with it pre-intellectually. For example, we can open doors and walk through them without ever thinking about turning the handle. We can react appropriately to given situations within our environment with minimal thought because of our understanding of being has made our environment intelligible to us. Things appear to us as a“to-this” or a “to-that.” They appear to us as a means to an end (e.g. the door appears to us as a to-exit). So, we do not have to think about using doors every time we use them because of our understanding of being (revealing) has made them familiar to us.

We are socialized into a certain revealing from birth. Hubert Dreyfus, a prominent interpreter of Heidegger’s work, gives the example of two babies born into cultures with different modes of revealing (1991, p. 17). Japanese mothers, in general, are very nurturing to their babies and frequently do all sorts of things that promote a revealing that matches the Japanese saying, “the nail that sticks out gets pounded down.” These babies are brought up with an understanding of being, a revealing, that is more holistic and less assertive than American babies. This is because American babies are treated from birth in ways that promote these other qualities. They are raised into a mode of revealing that is captured by the American saying, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Dreyfus summarizes this point by saying, “the social practices containing an understanding of what it is to be a human self, those containing an interpretation of what it is to be a thing, and those defining society… add up to an understanding of being” (Dreyfus, 1995, p. 55). And what Dreyfus is calling an understanding of being is what Heidegger, in The Question Concerning Technology, is calling a revealing.

So, the social practices into which we are socialized provide us with a revealing, which structures our very existence. It gives us “a background understanding of what counts as a thing, what counts as human beings, and ultimately what counts as real, on the basis of which we can direct our actions towards particular things and people” (Dreyfus, 1995, p. 55). Perhaps it is helpful to think of the revealing as analogous to the light in your room. The light, like the revealing, is something that is very important to us yet we rarely think of it. It is something without which we would not be able to be familiar with our surroundings. The nature of the light in any particular room will determine the kinds of activities performed in that room as well as the kinds of objects placed in there. For instance, if the only lights in your room were black lights, this would definitely change the nature of the room as a whole, as well as your behavior. One obvious change would be the fact that everything would need to be painted with fluorescent paint in order for it to be visible. This shows how the four causes that go into bringing something into unconcealment are themselves governed by the type of light (i.e. the mode of revealing). In this room with black light there would also be things that are visible under “normal” circumstances, but now go unnoticed or lose their value. And there would be other things, like fluorescent paint, which suddenly become very important. It is the same within a mode of revealing. But it is important to remember that each revealing is created by shared social practices and beliefs. It is not something that we, individually, have direct control over, but it does control the kind of human beings that we are. Because it controls the kind of human beings that we are, it also governs our social practices, beliefs, and values. And like the light’s influence over the contents in the room, revealing governs everything about our lives without our conscious awareness of it.

At this point, we know that the essence of technology is a mode of revealing, but Heidegger now wants to direct our attention to something unique about the way in which modern technology reveals. The revealing of modern technology is a challenging, “which puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it supply energy, which can be extracted and stored as such” (Heidegger, 1954, p. 320). The revealing of modern technology organizes or governs what is challenged-forth into unconcealment so that it appears to us as standing-reserve. This means that the essence of technology, our revealing, makes everything everywhere such that it is “ordered to stand by, to be immediately on hand, indeed to stand there just so that it may be on call for further ordering” (Heidegger, 1954, p. 322).

The way that our revealing orders the actual to be standing-reserve is called enframing. Enframing is what Heidegger calls of the essence of modern technology (Heidegger, 1954, p. 325). This name is supposed to give the sense of some sort of apparatus that structures the way things come forth into unconcealment. This unobtrusive governance, this structuring, imposes an order on the things that come forth into “existence.”It is a challenging of the things that are, rather than a poiesis, a bringing- forth that does not impose a rational structure, one that allows things to appear freely and poetically. Enframing names the way in which the essence of technology, i.e. a way of revealing that organizes, sets upon the modern individual and forces her to reveal the actual as standing-reserve, as something immediately on hand, as something that is there before us to be set in order and exploited.

Enframing, the essence of modern technology, promotes efficiency in two ways. First, as Heidegger says, “it expedites in that it unlocks and exposes” (1954, p. 321). Enframing reveals nature to us in such a way that its resources and energies are exposed. Because of it, we see a river as a potential source of power. We see trees as sources of wood. And this enframing promotes efficiency in a second way since “that expediting is always itself directed from the beginning towards furthering something, i.e., towards driving on to the maximum yield at the minimum expense” (1954, p. 321). In other words, unlocking and exposing the energy and resources within nature is done not just so that we may use them there as we find them, but so that we can store these powers and resources for further use, to further maximize efficiency. We do not use the oil that we discover immediately upon removing it from the ground. We remove the oil from the ground and store it so that it will always be there the moment we need it. The earth’s resources become resources on call, ready to be consumed the moment we need them.

This is perhaps one of modern technology’s greatest innovations as well as one of the biggest changes in the way we relate to reality. Enframing has given us a background understanding of nature that allows us to construct machinery that stand ready to fulfill our desires. The car sits in the garage ready to take us wherever we want, whenever we want to go there. The air conditioner is on call, waiting to cool us on a hot day. Lee Braver summarizes this point nicely when he says:

Thanks to modern technology, I no longer need to regulate my desires and activities to conform to the seasons or the whims of nature; energy is ready when I want it. As figures like Descartes and Bacon promised at the dawn of the scientific revolution, nature has changed from our partner to our servant. (p. 85).

Unlike the peasant who knew he was in a partnership with nature, who depended on the animals, sun, soil, and rain to help tend the crops, modern farmers run a technological operation that allows them to use chemicals to fertilize the soil when it lacks nutrients, to turn on the sprinklers when there is no rain, and to utilize large tractors, which are much more efficient and reliable than old horse-drawn equipment. Modern technology almost gives the modern individual a sense of divine power because we believe that we are the masters of nature and that we can achieve our ends without its cooperation.

This belief, however, is one that is mistaken. Heidegger acknowledges that it is man who “accomplishes the challenging setting-upon through which what we call the actual is revealed as standing-reserve” (1954, p. 323). We are able to think of new technological objects, build them, and generally push technology forward, but this does not override the fact that all these activities presuppose that we are operating within a revealing that makes such activities intelligible. Just like how the light in the room

determines the nature of the objects and behavior that appear in that room, the revealing determines the kinds of people we are, how we interpret the world, what projects we pursue, and what kinds of things we value. Heidegger claims that, “since man drives technology forward, he takes part in ordering as a way of revealing. But the unconcealment itself, within which ordering unfolds, is never a human handiwork” (1954, pp. 323-324). Enframing causes us to see the world as orderable, calculable, and standing-reserve. It is the background understanding of the world that makes modern science and technological production possible. But unconcealment itself is something that is ultimately beyond our control.

Whatever we think, do, or experience, we find ourselves everywhere already brought into the unconcealed; we are always already within a mode of revealing. Therefore, all of our science and technology, our various ways of controlling the world around us, are merely responses to the ways actuality present itself to us. When scientists conduct research and improve our scientific knowledge, they are already operating within the technological understanding of being, i.e.enframing, which “challenges him to approach nature as an object of research” (Heidegger, 1954, p. 324). Enframing provides a background understanding of the world that causes us to see the world to as something to be ordered and calculated, something standing-reserve. Braver explains man’s relation to the essence of technology as follows:

Technology makes us think we are in control of everything but, ironically, we are not in control of being in control. This paradoxical state of affairs leads to some strange combinations of activity and passivity: ‘man finds himself placed, on the basis of the being of beings, before the task of undertaking mastery of the earth.’ (p. 89)

The essence of technology is a form of unobtrusive governance that determines us to view the actual as standing-reserve. We are forced to seek more and more efficiency and control, yet we mistakenly believe that we are autonomous subjects who are really in control of our actions, beliefs, and environment.

Responding to Technology

Heidegger has shown that the essence of technology is enframing, a revealing that challenges forth the actual as standing-reserve. But how are we supposed to respond to enframing’s structuring if we want to prepare a free relationship to it, which is the reason for our questions concerning technology? In order to answer this, we need to get a better understanding of enframing and its dangers.

The dangers of technology, as we normally think of it, are not Heidegger’s concern. Problems like pollution, global warming, wars, and so on, which are caused or made worse by modern technology do exist, but the real problem is the ontological problem of how beings come to presence. The real problem is technology as a mode of revealing. This deeper ontological issue involving the essence of technology “is in itself not just any danger, but the danger” (Heidegger, 1954, p. 331).

The danger of enframing has two distinct yet related aspects: it conceals revealing as the source of all our understanding, and it invalidates all other modes of revealing. The first of these dangers is one that is shared by all of the different modes of revealing throughout history. Within each historical epoch, with its unique mode of revealing, people tend not to pay attention to the simple fact that beings appear to us at all, and that there must be a revealing, an understanding of the world, that makes them intelligible to us. Instead, humans have traditionally emphasized the importance of the beings themselves. While this concern for beings themselves is present in all historical revealings, enframing is particularly prone to concealing the fact that there are revealings at all. As Braver explains, “enframing forms a particularly strong concealment of unconcealment by fostering the sense that we create and control our mode of revealing” (p. 91). When revealing is concealed we are open to think that we are autonomous individuals who are in control of our thinking and our environment. And Heidegger warns that because of this, “man…exalts himself and postures as lord of the earth. In this way the illusion comes to prevail that everything man encounters exists only insofar as it is his construct” (1954, p. 332). Thinking of ourselves as “lord of the earth,” as in control of our thinking, behavior, and environment, prohibits us from knowing the truth, that revealing is something into which we are thrown. Our technological mode of revealing— enframing— is something that the course of history has given to us, which we cannot control. Then, the problem is that if we do not recognize revealing and our position within it, we will think that we are in control of our world; we will fail to cultivate and respect our revealing.

The second danger of enframing is that it has the power to invalidate all other modes of revealing. Heidegger claims that enframing “banishes man into the kind of revealing that is an ordering.” And “where this ordering holds sway, it drives out every other possibility of revealing” (1954, p. 332). Because of this, enframing, as a revealing, is also a concealing. Enframing conceals the previous modes of revealing, leaving us with the belief that only the things that are rational, calculable, maximally efficient, and scientific are valuable and true. This is visible today in modern society’s belief that science can tell us all there is to know about the world, that science is the ultimate authority and that what it says it the absolute truth. We place little value in activities that are inefficient or go against the findings of science. According to Heidegger, “no understanding of being is false, but neither can any be considered the single absolute truth; any claim to be the one true revelation should be rejected” (Braver, p. 93). Thus, because enframing is particularly persuasive that it is the absolute truth, it carries with it the very real risk of closing off the possibility of forming other equally true revealings. Enframing discourages marginal practices, which are seemingly irrational or inefficient, and thereby has the power to banish us to the technical, ordered revealing.

Now that we have clarified what Heidegger takes to be the ontological danger of revealing, we can finally say how we ought to respond in order to establish a free relationship to it. But how are we going to avoid these dangers without relying on enframing to help us avoid them? Any attempt to control or master technology would be an expression of enframing. Braver explains, “this very way of framing the problem and setting about fixing it is guided by the technological attitude, and so can only perpetuate it instead of overcoming it” (pp. 93-94). The fact that we have to deal with the problems surrounding the essence of technology differently than we would with problems of technology is one of the ways in which these two things differ. And as long as we ignore the ontological issue— the fact that the essence of technology is a mode of revealing, that it is a way of making the actual appear to us— we will not be able to make any real changes or establish a free relationship with it.

This leads Heidegger to search for the answer in the ontology of the problem. He turns his attention again to the essence of technology. As we know by now, the essence of technology is enframing, which is a mode of revealing. This mode of revealing, like all others, is something that we always already find ourselves in. The revealing is something that we have a passive relationship with. We do not have the ability to control or create revealings. And Heidegger believes that when we consider all these things “we experience enframing as a destining of revealing” (1954, p. 330).

His use of the word ‘destining’ here is important. ‘Destiny’ captures Heidegger’s belief that we passively receive our revealing. “As this destining, the essential unfolding of technology gives man entry into something which, of himself, he can neither invent nor in any way make” (Heidegger, 1954, p. 337). Our revealing is determined by the course of history and it is appropriate for our era; it is our destiny. Heidegger believes that when we understand this we will see the revealing as a sort of blessing. He “invokes destiny’s connotation that our lives are watched over by benevolent beings. He wants us to see the sending as gifts for which we should be grateful, even though there is not anyone to be grateful to” (Braver, p. 96). Then, when we have this proper attitude towards revealing we will have saved ourselves from the first danger of enframing, the fact that it conceals revealing as the source of all our understanding. When we are aware of the fact that there is a revealing which is responsible for our lives, our values, and the very fact that we experience things at all, we will no longer fail to appreciate it. “Our ethical task,” Heidegger argues, “is to dwell in and nurture our awareness the way the farmer cultivates a seed” (Braver, p. 96).

But this awareness and concern for our revealing will also save us from the second danger of enframing—the fact that it has the power to invalidate all other modes of revealing. Dreyfus explains:

And once we realize—in our practices, of course, not just in our heads—that we receive our technological understanding of being, we have stepped out of the technological understanding of being, for we then see that what is most important in our lives is not subject to efficient enhancement. This transformation in our sense of reality—this overcoming of calculative thinking—is precisely what Heideggerian thinking seeks to bring about. (1995, p. 57)

In the act of recognizing revealing and our relation to it, then, we are removing ourselves from its control. We establish a free relationship with enframing when we value it as a revealing, but recognize that it is merely the revealing that we have been given at this particular moment in time. There have been different ways of understanding and organizing reality in the past and there will likely be others in the future, each of which brings with it new forms of society, norms, values, and truths. When we recognize enframing for what it is, a revealing that governs with the aim of maximum efficiency and order, we will “neither push forward technological efficiency as our only goal nor always resist it” (Dreyfus, 1995, p. 58). We will feel more freedom to consider alternatives to the technological imperative of enframing. We can, therefore, choose whether or not we want to obey its governing force.

However, in order to truly continue to be aware of the fact that the essence of technology is only a particular understanding of being, and to avoid the danger of it invalidating all other modes of revealing, thereby banishing us to a technical, ordered revealing, we need to learn about and participate in marginal practices that are not ordered around efficiency and control. Heidegger believes that there is a saving power in these insignificant things (Dreyfus, 1995, p. 60). And if we continue to cultivate these marginal practices, it is possible that one day they will be adopted by enough people that they will be absorbed into the cultural paradigm, which is an understanding of being.

Conclusion

At this point, I hope the governing power of the revealing has been uncovered. Each of us, in order to understand and interact with the world in an intelligible way, relies on an interpretation of being. This interpretation, this revealing, is a product of the social practices in which we have been raised. Because it is a product of our culture as a whole, no one person is in control of their revealing. If an individual were able to embody an interpretation different from the one accepted by our culture at this point in history, the more it diverged from the accepted revealing the more unintelligible, imperceptible, or “crazy” that individual would appear.

The fact that our behavior, bodies, identities, and language all need to be recognized as real and intelligible before we can successfully survive within any given culture provides us with a glimpse into how restricted these things actually are. It is enframing’s governing power that makes us behave in ever more efficient ways. It is what makes us seek to control our bodies, making them more efficient and productive, whether this is through diet, exercise, surgery, or other means. It is the governing power of enframing that causes us to assume identities that are recognized by our technological culture.

While almost all aspects of our lives are conducted within the governing control of enframing, as Heidegger accurately pointed out, our revealing is something we are immersed in yet it is rarely visible. The governing power of revealing is invisible and unobtrusive, yet it has the power to determine our experience of the world, our behavior and our beliefs. 

References

Braver, L. (2009). Heidegger’s later writings. New York: Continuum.

Dreyfus, H. L. (1991). Being-in-the-world: A commentary on Heidegger’s Being and Time, Division I. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Dreyfus, H. L. (2003). “Being and Power” revisited. In Milchman, A. & Rosenberg, A. (Eds), Foucault and Heidegger (pp. 30-54).

Heidegger, M. (1927). Being and time. New York: Harper Perennial.

Heidegger, M. (1954). Basic Writings (Krell, F. D. Ed.) New York: Harper Perennial.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *