Modernity and Destining of Technological Being

Beyond Heidegger’s Critique of Technology to Responsible and Reflexive Technology

by Temple Davis Okoro (Author)
Thesis 458 Pages


Facing Heidegger’s critique of modern technology, the author analyses the question of technology and ethical responsibility and the call for reflexivity towards technology. He examines Heidegger‘s thoughts about how science and technology conceal the enigmatic and distinctive presencing of Being and exhibits how modern technology has brought unintended consequences and risks. The author extends the deliberation among diverse epistemologies, interested parties and laypersons, a component of reflexive modernization. Such epistemic community opens the way for a new reflexive democratization of technology, in which different actors should be involved in decision making about technology as it affects the society, the environment and individuals.

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Appreciation
  • Preface
  • Table of Contents
  • Some Abbreviations Used
  • General Introduction
  • Beyond Heidegger
  • Structural Analysis
  • Section One The Reality of Being: Heidegger’s Fundamental Ontology
  • Chapter I: Experience of Being: Dasein’s Being-in-the-World
  • Introduction
  • 1. The Question of Being
  • 1.1. Aristotle: The Metaphysical Question
  • 1.2. Heidegger and the Question of Being
  • 1.2.1. Priority of Dasein over being and entities
  • 1.3. The Nature of Dasein as Being-in-the-World
  • 1.3.1. Meaning of Dasein’s ‘Being-in’ (In-Sein)
  • 1.3.2. “Moodness” (Befindlichkeit)
  • 1.3.3. Understanding, Interpretation and Assertion
  • 1.4. The World
  • 1.4.1. Dasein and World
  • 1.4.2. The Worldhood of the World (The Environmental World of Dasein)
  • 1.4.3. The Communal World of Dasein
  • 1.4.3a. “Being-With”
  • 1.4.3b. Modes of Dasein’s Being-with (Early Critique of Modernity)
  • Concluding Remarks
  • Chapter II: Heidegger’s Search for the Truth of Being
  • Introduction
  • 2. Attaining the Experience of Being
  • 2.1. The Way: Greek Origin
  • 2.2. The ‘Turn’ (Kehre)
  • 2.3. The Essential/Meditative Thinking of Being
  • 2.3.1. Dwelling in the Nearness of Being (Dwelling Thinking)
  • 2.3.1a. The ‘Thing’ and the ‘Fourfold’
  • 2.3.1b. Poetic Dwelling
  • 2.4. Seeing the Truth of Being
  • 2.4.1. Dasein and Aletheia
  • 2.4.2. Language: The house of Being
  • 2.4.3. Man: The Shepherd of Being
  • 2.4.4. Ereignis: The Event of Appropriation
  • 2.4.4.a. Features of Ereignis
  • 2.5. Levinas’ Critique of Heidegger’s Project: Ontology vs Ethics
  • 2.5.1. Phenomenology
  • 2.5.2. Levinas’ Critique of Heidegger
  • 2.5.2.a. On the Question of Being and Ontology
  • 2.5.2.b. On the Question of Ethics and Responsibility
  • 2.5.3. Ontological Priority of Ethics
  • 2.5.3.a. Ethical ‘Metaphysics’: The Other
  • 2.5.3.b. Elemental Objects as “Subordinated” to Enjoyment
  • 2.5.4. Ethical Subjectivity (Ipseity)
  • 2.5.5. The Ontological Priority of Ethical Responsibility
  • Concluding Remarks
  • Section Two Towards Unmaking of Metaphysics and Questioning Technology
  • Chapter III: The Age of Technological Being and Emergence of Subjectivity
  • Introduction
  • 3. The Question and Meaning of Modernity
  • 3.1. Medieval Background
  • 3.2. The Nature of Modernity
  • 3.2.1. Cartesian Doubt and Reformulation of Metaphysics
  • 3.2.2. Mathematical Demonstration and Deduction
  • 3.2.3. The Primacy of Consciousness (Subjectivity)
  • 3.3. Heidegger’s Approach / Critique of Western Metaphysics
  • 3.3.1. Heidegger’s Critique of Descartes’ Project
  • 3.3.2. On Mathematics
  • 3.4. Towards the Unmaking of Metaphysics
  • 3.4.1. Metaphysics
  • 3.4.2. Overcoming of Metaphysics
  • Concluding Remarks
  • Chapter IV: Heidegger, Technology, and Human Destiny
  • Introduction
  • 4.1. Towards a Definition of Technology
  • 4.2. Counter-Productivity of Modern Technology
  • 4.3. Trajectories in the Philosophy of Technology
  • 4.3.1. Existential Perspective
  • a) Romano Guardini (1885–1968) Role of Christianity
  • b) Jacques Ellul (1912–1994)
  • c) Gilbert Simondon (1924–1989)
  • d) Albert Borgmann (1937)
  • e) Don Ihde (1934)
  • 4.3.2. Critical Perspective
  • a) Theodor Adorno (1903–1969) and Max Horkheimer (1895–1973)
  • b) Herbert Marcuse (1898–1979)
  • c) Jürgen Habermas (1929)
  • d) Andrew Feenberg (1943)
  • e) Langdon Winner (1944)
  • f) From Technology to Technoscience: Gilbert Hottois (1946)
  • 4.4. Heidegger and the Question of Science and Technology
  • 4.4.1. The Question of Science
  • 4.4.2. Calculative Thinking
  • 4.4.3. The Question of Technology
  • 4.4.4. The Destining of Technological Being
  • 4.4.4.a. Technology as Revealing
  • 4.4.4.b. Technology as Enframing (Ge-stell)
  • 4.4.4.c. Technology as the Danger and Saving Power
  • 4.4.4.d. Releasement (Gelassenheit)
  • 4.4.4.e. The Work of Art and the Call for a God
  • Concluding Remarks
  • Section Three Toward a Responsible and Reflexive Technology
  • Chapter V: The Question of Modern Technology and Responsibility
  • Introduction
  • 5. Hans Jonas: Toward an Ethics of Technological Responsibility
  • 5.1. Modern Man-Nature Relations: Jonas’ Critique of Heidegger
  • 5.2. Ethical Implication of modern Technology
  • 5.3. Toward an Ethics of Responsibility
  • 5.3.1. The Question of Responsibility
  • 5.3.2. Modern Technology and the Imperative of Responsibility
  • 5.4. Technology and Reflexivity in Second Modernity
  • 5.4.1. The Question of Reflexivity
  • 5.4.2. Transition from Modernity to Risk Society (Reflexive Modernity)
  • 5.4.3. Risk and Responsibility
  • 5.4.4. Towards a Reflexive Modernization
  • 5.4.5. Reflexive Individualization
  • Concluding Remarks
  • Chapter VI: Towards a Reflexive Political Modernization
  • Introduction
  • 6. Towards a Political Reflexivity
  • 6.1. Reflexivity and Subpolitics
  • 6.1.1. Consumer Protest as Subpolitics – the question of Political, Ethical, and Green Consumerism
  • 6.1.2. Dialogic/Deliberative Democracy
  • 6.1.3. Importance of Epistemic Communities
  • 6.1.4. Hybrid Forums and Collectives
  • 6.2. Towards a New Environmental Ethics
  • Concluding Remarks
  • Chapter VII: General Evaluation and Conclusions
  • 7. General Evaluation and Conclusions
  • 7.1. Heidegger I
  • 7.2. Heidegger II
  • 7.3. A New Modernity
  • 7.4. A Better Environment
  • General Bibliography

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Some Abbreviations Used

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General Introduction

Heidegger saw his career as a philosopher to re-awaken the forgotten question of being. He tried to free being from the oblivion into which it has been downgraded by traditional metaphysical perception of being. His approach was two-dimensional: negatively, when he called for destruction of; and positively when he opted for a reformation of the Being-question.

In his book, What is Called Thinking, Heidegger repeatedly declared: “The most thought-provoking is that we are still not thinking.”1 To put it in another way, we are still involved in a strictly logical thinking that is in keeping with the metaphysical and technological culture of modern societies. The supremacy of human reason over Being reaches its zenith, Heidegger notes, in the science of logic, which as the ‘science of thinking’ has been the tribunal, before which Being must stand.2

The problematic decline of our understanding of Being, according to Heidegger, began in ancient Greek thought. The pre-Socratics had a deeper notion of Being than the Socratic and Platonic philosophers. Despite the fact that Plato was to some extent still conscious of the ‘presencing’ attributes of Being, it was he, however, who first interpreted Being as constant presence or eidos, the eternally unchanging form, and in doing so, inaugurated Western metaphysics. Heidegger interprets metaphysics as a science of being as Being. Its prime concern, in essence, is not being (Sein), but the beingness of beings. The beingness of being was assimilated in the highest entity, which Aristotle called the first cause and the unmoved mover, and subsequently, Medieval Christianity and later thinkers would further reinforce this perception of being as permanent presence, this time grounded in a creator identified as God. With the coming of Descartes and modernity, that all changed. Homo sapiens, as a final point, arrogate this creation and grounding to itself, as the emergence of consciousness and subjectivity, thus, taking the center stage of human existence. In this critical period, entities, or ‘things ← 21 | 22 → in themselves’ were irreversibly consumed by individual subject who was now the foundation of all knowledge and value, thereby setting Being question aside.

Here, we would therefore be asking the question: what is Being? This is necessary because Heidegger was not able to answer this question. He wrote about Being, but he did not explicitly express what Being was since it was something that always withdraws its full connotation. But for us to search for Being, Heidegger tells us that there is one being (a small b) that is the best place to commence our exploration. We should begin with the being of human beings. This is because, although everything, both animate and inanimate has being, according to Heidegger, only human beings are ‘concerned’ about their Being. The human being is the only being for whom Being is an issue. So, to certain extent, Heidegger already knows the meaning of Being but was unable to get the right word for it. For him, Being is not an entity, it is not this object, nor is it a concept or a specific event. It is rather the “unfolding” of things around us, and most significantly, it is also the “unfolding” that happens in our very lives.

One of the mistakes of modernity which Heidegger was very concerned about, was the tendency to turn the self into a thing. It was Descartes, who created a ‘subjective’ philosophy, based on the individual, with the “cogito ergo sum” slogan. This, according to Heidegger, is a thoughtless, wrongheaded illusion, since we are not really self-determining and independent from society and from Being, as well as from others and the way in which we are “thrown” into this world. As an alternative to the self, Heidegger chose the word Dasein. Etymologically, the German Da, means ‘there’ and Sein means ‘Being’. So, Dasein means being-there; explicitly, “being-there-in-the-world.” Thus, it is the nature of Dasein, in its “average-everydayness” to be in the world. But Dasein is not in the world like water in a glass or like our body is in a chair. When Heidegger says Being-in-the-world, he mean to suggest that we are engaged, absorbed, connected, entangled, caught up in a concernful way.

But how does this Dasein address the question of Being and the truth of Being? According to Heidegger, as this work explains, Dasein handles the question of Being, not by asking theoretical questions, not by addressing being scientifically, not through concepts, impressions and hypotheses, but through existence. Consequently, he has to do an existential analysis, that is, an analysis of Dasein’s existence, in order to answer the question, “What is Being?” In doing so, Heidegger examined Dasein as a “being-with” an inauthentic collectivity, a sign of his early critique of modernity. Being-in-the-world shows itself in average everydayness in the form of what Heidegger calls the “ready-to-hand” in opposition to the present-at-hand. The ready-to-hand mode of being-in-the-world is well understood ← 22 | 23 → through the use of ‘equipment’ in which Being presents itself in terms of “in-order-to” in connection with the function or use. This is where Heidegger first developed an understanding of (technological) experience of human existence as a “being-in-the-world” in which he discovered the everyday character of engagement with equipment as prior to any theoretical presence of objects.

In his quest for the attainment of the truth of Being, Heidegger realized that there is need for “the abandonment of the transcendental-horizonal approach to the question of being in the attempt to speak more inceptually, more originally, from within an authentic experience of being.”3 He therefore calls on the need for Dasein to dwell poetically as he develops a comprehensive interpretation of Holderlin’s poem fragment: “Poetically man dwells on the earth.” The poem fragment names the earth as the place of man’s dwelling. It is the place of certain fourfold, namely: Earth, Sky, Mortals and Gods. The fragment thus suggests that we, as Dasein in our thrownness, live, build, and shelter with and from earth. Most significantly, we dwell poetically. Heidegger also suggests that thinking is itself a kind of poetic dwelling because it emerges from and brings into its own the sheltering power of earth. Only a new thinking of Being outside metaphysics can lead us to a proper way of dwelling on the earth, a thinking in which Dasein expresses openness to Being, in which thinking find itself “appropriated” by Being and the truth of Being experienced in an event which Heidegger called Ereignis. As a result, Being must be understood in and through the realm of Ereignis; “that realm, vibrating within itself, through which man and Being reach each other in their nature, achieve their active nature…”4 In his later thought (Heidegger II), he understood this Ereignis “to be the event of appropriation out of which epochs of being occur. These epochs of being are fundamental ways in which being occurs and humans relate to this occurrence (for instance, by being challenged to calculate and plan everything as in our current epoch of technology).5

The deteriorating historical and metaphysical understanding of Being in such epoch is what eventually paved the way for the modern, technological, nihilistic era. Meanwhile, Heidegger’s ambition was to explain the modern world philosophically, to revamp the power of thinking for our time. But he has to undertake this in the midst of the enormous technological revolution that altered the old ← 23 | 24 → European civilization, with its rural and religious pedigree, into a mass metropolitan industrial order well anchored in science and technology. As a result, shifting from the attention on the meaning of Being that prevails in his earlier work, Heidegger’s later reflection after the renowned “Kehre” (turn), advances, among other things, a more unmistakable and unique philosophy of technology. In The Question Concerning Technology (“Die Frage nach der Technik” [1954]),6 he maintains that technology is not merely a pragmatic application of science to the world but a “Bestand” a revealing, a revelation or reality about the world. Heidegger questions how this “revealing” in modern technology transpires. This is the focus of his philosophy of technology. He asks in what way modern technology is a form of revelation. Paraphrasing it, in what way does modern technology participate in the unfolding process of reality, namely, Being? He sought to understand and explain the essence of technology.

To get the understanding of the essence of technology, Heidegger looks back to the ancient Greeks to locate technē as a form of poiēsis, that is, a form of bringing-forth. It is a way of bringing something out of concealment to unconcealment. Simply put, technology is a mode of revealing which brings something into presence. As a form of revealing, technology demonstrates itself fundamentally as a happening of truth—an occurrence referred to by the Greeks as αλεθεια.7 Truth, in Heideggerian understanding, is not a matter of correct or incorrect replicating of the world; it is a question of experiencing the being of things as they show themselves to us through our relatedness to them. Truth as aletheia is a process from being concealed to being revealed. It is not simply truth as the logical correspondence of statements to reality but truth as a revealing process. Everything, including our lives undergoes the process of truth revelation as long as it opens itself to the world. He attributes the concept to the pre-Socratic philosophers, mainly Heraclitus, Parmenides and Anaximander, who, he maintains, considered the essence of truth to lie in the disclosure of entities.

Technology, when understood from its Greek understanding as technē presents to us the real essence of technology, contrary to the present technological predicament we encounter in modernity. The problem with modern technology, according to Heidegger, is that “the revealing that rules in modern technology is a challenging, which puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it supply ← 24 | 25 → energy which can be extracted and stored as such.”8 So, while the essence of technology in its Greek undertone is a bringing-forth, that of modern technology is a challenging-forth which transforms nature into a standing-reserve. Modern technology basically changes nature into a source of energy which it controls and uses as it wills. Nature, at the sway of modern technology, is ordered to stand by, to be immediately at hand, what Heidegger calls Bestand (standing-reserve). Further than this challenging-forth, man is himself nevertheless ordered to challenge nature, a situation that Heidegger calls Ge-stell (enframing) whereby the essence of modern technology is placed beyond man’s control. “Man, precisely as the one so threatened, exalts himself to the posture of lord of the earth. In this way the impression comes to prevail that everything man encounters exists only insofar as it is his construct.”9 Meanwhile, although human beings take themselves for the masters of being, being “challenges” them to challenge beings. Modernity is therefore the total mobilization of the world by humans who are themselves mobilized in the process.10 The world of modern science does not allow being to hold the highest rank. “During the epochs of science and technology, the being of entities takes place as objectivity and standing reserve respectively.”11 All traces of the ontological difference are wiped out.

There is, therefore certain inevitability with regard to technological being. According to Heidegger’s analysis, modern technology is not only a challenging-forth, it is a destining as well, which is something outside our control. Like any destiny, however, technology as Gestell carries with it opportunity as well as danger. This danger mainly comes from seeing technology as the primary and exclusive way to reveal in such a way that it threatens the possibility of all other revealing. Once modern technology becomes the exclusive mode of interpreting the world, which Heidegger describes as “calculative thinking,” the world becomes the instrumental resources for technological uses. The technological mind-set is a more tangible and aggressive expression of scientific thinking. Thus for a scientist, nature is a ‘object’ to be studied and investigated with mathematical accuracy. For a technologist, on the other hand, nature is nothing but a huge source of energy, to be unlocked, transformed, stored up and to be distributed and switched about anew.12 Such a ← 25 | 26 → destining was originally set into motion by the exalted founders of modernity. According to Zimmerman, “Industrialization (i.e., technological culture) arises only in a society which understands Nature solely as an object which can be known by, and manipulated for, man.”13 Calculative thinking is at its best in such a technological culture that persists in the illusion of leading man to happier life.

Heidegger admits that technology has its value. “We cannot, of course, reject today’s technological world as devil’s work, nor may we destroy it—assuming it does not destroy itself.”14 His appeal is not a return to the archaic, pre-technological era, but to the very essence of technology. Heidegger asserts equally that “the essence of technology is by no means anything technological.”15 In making this rather conflicting assertion, he rejects what he calls the instrumental or anthropological definition of technology, which condenses technology all together to a particular instant of it. In other words, to define technology instrumentally is to identify it as a means to an end.16 Although individual technological devices are correctly defined as means, Heidegger warns that we should in no way confuse the essence of technology with the essence of any single technological thing.

Heidegger does not leave us simply with a pessimistic depiction of the Western metaphysical thinking; he leads us rather to take a ‘leap’ which he described as a ‘step back’ (Schritt zurück) from metaphysical and technological thinking to their very essence or ground. “We may venture the step back out of philosophy into the thinking of Being as soon as we have grown familiar with the provenance of thinking.”17

While this extremely calculating and rationalistic epoch may not mark the end of history, Heidegger appeared to believe that a post-metaphysical era of being was imminent. This would not be a straightforward retreat to an antiquated way of life, but rather a new approachability to being as is epitomized in the work of art. He reminds us that the technē of art has been the sole revealing in Greece in ancient time and people should not neglect the approach to knowledge that it presents. By considering the same ancient root, Heidegger emphasizes the primal thinking of the poet, seeing art as the other mode of revealing which can open new possibilities of other knowledge or life style. ← 26 | 27 →

Although Heidegger’s eloquence and boldness obviously raises many of the worries aroused by the contemporary technological and environmental crisis, his trepidation with the essence rather than with the concrete facts of technology might appear to result in a situation comparable to his position on religion, namely, a strategy of deliberate non-interventionist attitude in the ‘exclusively’ ontic, the level on which the daily decisions of society over and above individuals operate. Heidegger’s argument, according to Feenberg, is developed at such a high level of abstraction that he literally cannot discriminate between electricity and atom bombs, agricultural techniques and the Holocaust.18 Our exposition therefore leads us to point out major ambiguities in Heidegger’s approach.

Beyond Heidegger

In so far as we do not reject Heidegger’s invitation for us to reflect critically on the limits of technology by considering its essence, we do not subscribe to any strategy that does not have some relation to a concrete, pragmatic significance or application.

There is no suspicion about the creativity, ingenuity and inspiration of Heidegger in the arena of twentieth century philosophy. All the same, as that century was evaporating into history books, Emmanuel Levinas, a student of Heidegger, called for “a profound need to leave the climate” of Heideggerian philosophy with its obsession with the question of being, and he is convinced that “we cannot leave it for a philosophy that would be be pre-Heideggerian.”19 We feel, in our opinion, that Levinas did much to move us beyond Heidegger into a post-Heideggerian climate. While confronting Heidegger’s question of being, Levinas identifies lack of any ethical philosophy in Heidegger, and also identifies a new space for such an ethics with his own idea of alterity or exteriority of the other. In a treatise entitled The Search for a Heideggerian Ethics, Michael Zimmerman reasons that “the burden of Levinas’ critique of Heidegger” resides in observing how “Heidegger’s fascination with the Greeks led him to discount Jewish and Christian insistence on the importance of personal responsibility for the concrete other”20 Along these ← 27 | 28 → lines, Our thesis, through Levinas, challenges Heidegger from above, with an entreaty to the good or moral beyond being.

Also while Heidegger’s critique of technology underscores the negative effects of technology which impinges on human essence, Hans Jonas, another student of Heidegger, equally, doubts technology’s purportedly positive progressive effects. The consequences have evolved beyond our compass, and as a result, we cannot predict the problems coming from the invention and utilization of a new device and which may well surface in the remote future. What this means is that “the natural is swallowed up in the sphere of the artificial.”21 But instead of describing man’s condition as a time of want “when the gods have fled” as Heidegger would suggest, Jonas called this situation “ethical vacuum”22 wherein he stressed that changes in technology are to be followed by changes in ethics which calls for ethical responsibility. As he states: “The first and most general conditions of responsibility is causal power, that is, that acting makes an impact on the world; the second, that such acting is under the agent’s control; and the third, that he can foresee its consequences to some extent.”23 Jonas was interested, among other things, with the responsibility of the politician, because in the public domain, the modern statesmen play a significant role in determining the existence and welfare of the coming generations. What Jonas takes for granted here is that man, of his own accord, chooses the burden of responsibility.

We would therefore argue in this thesis that the nature of the crisis confronting us today is so comprehensive, infiltrating through every rank of the society and culture that its solution cannot be left to politicians, the academics, the scientists and technologists alone. Since we find Heidegger’s ontological account of the problem of technology acceptable, but with lack of concreteness, we will show how the integration of reflexivity into the theory of technology can help to open up the future of modernity to multiple prospects previously shut out by Heidegger’s rigidity.

There is no doubt that the consequences of new technologies have been increasingly reviewed, analyzed, and regulated. Also, these consequences (e.g. dangers, risk, impacts etc.) are today dominating public and political debates. For this reason, Ulrich Beck, in his book Risikogesellschaft (1996), has argued that we have entered a new phase in the modernization process, a phase referred to as reflexive modernization. Reflexive modernization as we shall see “entails the ‘self-confrontation’ of modern society with negative consequences of modernization, ← 28 | 29 → among which is the environmental crisis.”24 We are moving into a third stage of social development within modernity. Traditional society was supplanted by the industrial society (simple modernity). This epoch saw the advent of rationalization and ‘differentiation’ of society, utilitarian mentality and wealth accumulation, positivistic assumptions and a contingent scientific techno-economic development leading to the inauguration of industrial and capitalist society. This new society has to unravel the human-induced teething troubles which stem from the expansion and progress of industrial civilization; to examine, as Beck said, how the risk generated due to the quest to modernize can be “prevented, minimized, dramatized, or channeled”.25 In the last part of Risikogesellschaft, Beck talks of an “unbinding of politics,”26 a trend towards a flexible, decentralized, and consensus approach to governance, a bottom-up method sometimes referred to as “political modernization” to the detriment of top-down institutionalized command-and-control regulation of the conventional politics. It is in this bottom-up approach that greater involvement of nonstate actors in politics and policy-making swings to new settings, namely, the so-called Sub-politics.

On a related development, Anthony Giddens, in The Consequences of Modernity, unambiguously strikes a similar note with Beck’s proposal.27 He matches Beck to a substantial degree in highlighting the shifting “risk profile” of modern society, wherein, although scientific and technological improvements have curtailed several premodern risks like drought and natural disasters, it has, at the same time step up new types of disaster and ecological risks beyond calculability. Nevertheless, Giddens balances Beck’s gloomy risk depiction with emphasis on how present modernity, through social institutions, may transform itself through ‘disembedding’ and ‘reembedding’ so as to cope with these new risks. This calls for reflexivity in decision making about technology and its applications. ← 29 | 30 →

Our three-part approach in this work will examine the following questions:

In this presentation, we shall find that technology, as Heidegger sees it, has become the crucial way of our dealing with the world. That said, we will take seriously Heidegger’s assertion that a certain destining is at the center of modern technology. This way of posing the question of technology is today criticized by authors influenced by the new sociology of sciences and the so called science studies. Their critique try to show how the substantial perspective of Heidegger is closing the door to a more pragmatic approach to technology where the central problem would be that of learning how to act within the frame of a technological society. This is the question we would like to cope with this presentation.

Heidegger’s analysis shows that amid the advancement of modern technology, human beings have lost some mode of being that made them human or authentic. They have lost various critical component of humankind like poetry or a personified sense of self. But then, how can one anticipate to comprehend the complexities of modernity without a sufficient description of the technological advancement that make it possible; and how can one study particular technologies without a theory of the bigger wider society, described today by some as a risk society, in which they develop? These questions have not even been asked, much less answered convincingly, by most principal actors and contributors to the fields.

Our hypotheses charts a three dimensional paths: Firstly, that earlier Heidegger (Heidegger I), exemplified by Being and Time, presents a form of unsubstantiated subjectivism, in which an individual is “authentic” when he, she or it resolutely decides a course of action in the absence of any ethical norms that would guide and limit his decision. His examination of modernity derives from the supposition that what we think and what we are can be reclaimed simply by stepping back to the earlier times and precise opinion of things.

Secondly, that Heidegger’s critique of technology in The Question Concerning Technology, (Heidegger II) and related texts was profoundly shaped by his question of being and his critique of modernity. There is disclosure of human being in the complexity of new technologies, which, opposed to modern technology, brings “being” forward and demonstrate the forgotten aspect of “Being” instituted ← 30 | 31 → by the enframing of modern technology. Therefore, it is almost not unexpected that Heidegger cannot understand the manner wherein technology soared and functions inside modernity since modernity itself, or at any rate what we understand by this word, functions for him as a plunge further than the earlier times and righter opinion of things.

Thirdly, that Heidegger’s discourse leaves ominously and worryingly tiny accessible opening for pragmatic action. How can humanity influence his relationship with technology if it is a dilemma of collective perceptions and something already outside his control? Heidegger appears to portray modern technology as a distraction or abnormality on the route of human development, and as such, call for a rather particular re-thinking of man’s relationship with technology. At best, this way of looking at the question about technology appears as if to discourage practical steps by describing technology as a substantial problem beyond the range of human intervention, consequently creating no space to change this relationship. Any action to correct this cultural aberration seems insignificant and any pragmatic approach meaningless. As Rose puts it, “the critics would serve society better by acknowledging that people are agents, not victims, of this cultural transformation.”28 We would therefore add that an emphasis on our conscious, reflexive and democratic activity, rather than unconscious participation, would empower those within technological society to examine their relationships to their technologies. This thesis takes the view that a philosophical approach to investigating technology is necessary but its sociological interpretation is more important as we take a number of things for granted in our interactions with technological objects.

Our methodology is primarily exegetical, critical and more or less tentative, and is therefore not an attempt to posit a comprehensive understanding or conclusive reading of the complexities embedded in Heidegger’s philosophy of being and technology.

Structural Analysis

This work is divided into three parts of two chapters each:

Part I: In this part, we will examine the fundamental existential constitution of Dasein according to Heidegger with particular interest on his treatment of Dasein as being-in-the-world. This will lead us to highlight his early instrumentalist ontology as regards Dasein’s relationship with the world as well as Dasein’s environmental ← 31 | 32 → and communal undertones; In understanding why being is important to Heidegger, we will keep in mind the difference between being and entities. We will conclude with Heidegger’s early critique of modernity and mass culture in Being and Time with the discussion of equipment as reading-to-hand and present-at-hand.

In this part also, chapter two looks at Dasein’s attainment of the experience of Being with explication of being and thinking, namely; the essential thinking of Being, dwelling in the neighbourhood of being, poetic existence, etc. These will bring out Heidegger’s change of term from traditional anthropological point of view to phenomenological perspective of human being giving meaning to real ontology. At the end of this part, we will use Emmanuel Levinas to criticize Heidegger’s ontology. Here, we will highlight what Levinas sees specious with Heidegger, namely, that Heideggerian ontology, which surrogates the relationship with the Other to the relation with Being in general leads inevitably to imperialist supremacy, to oppression and subjugation. Levinas’s insight here is that Dasein whose Being-in-the-world, substantiates the meaning of being, is itself substantiated by ethics, by the relation to the other. That is why ethics is prior to ontology. Therefore, we will conclude this part in terms of this Levinas’s fundamental claim, namely, ethics (which has to do with our relation to the other and lacking in Heidegger) is prior to ontology. This is because, outside the other, we would not have a self.

In Part II, we shall examine how Heidegger became a normative thinker of technology. We will see that in modernity, according to Heidegger, the withdrawal of being has been intensified and made stronger by a widespread neglect or indifference to the question of being in the wake of modern technology. Modernity is an era characterized by the mentality and philosophy that nothing is again impracticable or unapproachable.

Biographical notes

Temple Davis Okoro (Author)

Temple Davis Okoro studied Philosophy and Theology in Ikot Ekpene/Nigeria and French and German languages in Belgium and Germany. After a Master’s degree in Philosophy at Université Catholique de Louvain-la-Neuve (UCL)/Belgium, he received another Master of Science in Educational Studies and Psychology from KU Leuven/Belgium and then a Ph.D. in Philosophy and Letters at the UCL. Presently the author is a researcher on Techno-society and Technological Progressivism and serves as Kaplan in Kirchen am Stommelerbusch, Pulheim, Germany.


Title: Modernity and Destining of Technological Being