The Question Concerning Technology

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The Question Concerning Technology
File:Vorträge und Aufsätze.jpg
Cover of Vorträge und Aufsätze
Author Martin Heidegger
Original title Die Frage nach der Technik
Translator William Lovitt
Country Germany
Language German
Subject Phenomenology, Philosophy of technology
Publisher Garland Publishing
Publication date
Published in English
Preceded by Hölderlin's Hymn "The Ister"
Followed by The Origin of the Work of Art

The Question Concerning Technology (German: Die Frage nach der Technik) is a work by Martin Heidegger, in which Heidegger articulates the essence of technology and humanity’s role in revealing technology. Heidegger originally published the text in 1954, in Vorträge und Aufsätze.

Heidegger initially developed the themes in the text in the lecture "The Framework" ("Das Gestell"), first presented on December 1, 1949, in Bremen. "The Framework" was presented as the second of four lectures, collectively called "Insight into what is." The other lectures were titled "The Thing" ("Das Ding"), "The Danger" ("Die Gefahr"), and "The Turning" ("Die Kehre").[1]


Heidegger begins "The Question Concerning Technology" by examining the relationship between humans and technology, a relationship Heidegger calls a "free relationship".[2][3] If this relationship is free, it "opens our human existence to the essence of technology".[4] This essence of technology, however, has nothing to do with technology.[5] Rather, as Heidegger suggests, "the essence of a thing is considered to be what the thing is".[4] According to Heidegger, it is necessary to find truth, for "only the true brings us into a free relationship with that which concerns us from its essence". This truth is sought "by the way of the correct".[4]

Heidegger examines two definitions of technology. Firstly, he offers that "technology is a means to an end".[4] Secondly, he proposes that "technology is a human activity".[4] These two definitions are the instrumental and anthropological definitions.[4] These definitions, however, have to do with technology, not with the essence of technology.[6]

The relationship between humans and technology is dependent on the notion of instrumentality. This, Heidegger relates to his first definition of technology, that it is a means to an end. From here, Heidegger attempts to define instrumentality, but to do so must question causality.[2]

To examine causality, Heidegger draws on the four Aristotelian causes:[3] causa materialis, the material cause; cause formalis, the formal cause; causa finalis, the final cause; and cause efficiens, the effect or efficient cause.[4] The craftsman is vital in uniting these four causes.[3] To explain this, Heidegger uses the example of a silver chalice.[2] Each element works together to create the chalice in a different manner:

Thus four ways of owing hold sway in the sacrificial vessel that lies ready before us. They differ from one another, yet they belong together. ... The four ways of being responsible bring something into appearance. They let it come forth into presencing. They set it free to that place and so start it on its way, namely into its complete arrival.[4]

When these four elements work together to create something into appearance, it is called bringing-forth.[3][4] This bringing-forth comes from the Greek poeisis,[2] which "brings out of concealment into unconcealment".[4] This revealing can be represented by the Greek word aletheia, which in English is translated as truth.[4] This truth has everything to do with the essence of technology because technology is a means of revealing the truth.[2][4]

Modern technology, however, differs from poeisis.[2][3] Heidegger suggests that this difference stems from the fact that modern technology "is based on modern physics as an exact science".[4] The revealing of modern technology, therefore, is not bringing-forth, but rather challenging-forth.[2][3] To exemplify this, Heidegger draws on the Rhine River as an example of how our modern technology can change a cultural symbol.[2]

To further his discussion of modern technology, Heidegger introduces the notion of standing-reserve. Modern technology places humans in standing-reserve.[2] To explain this, Heidegger uses the example of a forester and his relationship to the paper and print industries, as he waits in standing reserve for their wishes.[2]

Heidegger once again returns to discuss the essence of modern technology to name it Gestell, which he defines primarily as a sort of enframing:

Enframing means the gathering together of that setting-upon that sets upon man, i.e., challenges him forth, to reveal the real, in the mode of ordering, as standing-reserve. Enframing means that way of revealing that holds sway in the essence of modern technology and that it is itself not technological.[4]

Once he has discussed enframing, Heidegger highlights the threat of technology. As he states, this threat "does not come in the first instance from the potentially lethal machines and apparatus of technology".[4] Rather, the threat is the essence because "the rule of enframing threatens man with the possibility that it could be denied to him to enter into a more original revealing and hence to experience the call of a more primal truth".[4] This is because challenging-forth conceals the process of bringing-forth, which means that truth itself is concealed and no longer unrevealed.[4] Unless humanity makes an effort to re-orient itself, it will not be able to find revealing and truth.

It is at this point that Heidegger has encountered a paradox: humanity must be able to navigate the dangerous orientation of enframing because it is in this dangerous orientation that we find the potential to be rescued.[2] To further elaborate on this, Heidegger returns to his discussion of essence. Ultimately, he concludes that "the essence of technology is in a lofty sense ambiguous" and that "such ambiguity points to the mystery of all revealing, i.e., of truth".[4]

The question concerning technology, Heidegger concludes, is one "concerning the constellation in which revealing and concealing, in which the coming to presence of the truth comes to pass".[4] In other words, it is finding truth. Heidegger presents art as a way to navigate this constellation, this paradox, because the artist, or the poet as Heidegger suggests, views the world as it is and as it reveals itself.[2]


  1. Albert Borgmann, "Technology," A Companion to Heidegger Ed. Dreyfus and Wrathall (Blackwell Publishing, 2005), 428.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 "Heidegger: The Question Concerning Technology". University of Hawaii. Retrieved March 22, 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 David Waddington (2005). "A Field Guide to Heidegger Understanding The Question Concerning Technology". Educational Philosophy and Theory (Vol. 37, No. 4 ed.). p. 568. Retrieved March 22, 2016. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |journal= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 4.15 4.16 4.17 4.18 Martin Heidegger, "The Question Concerning Technology," Basic Writings Ed. David Farrell Krell (Harper & Row, 1977), 287.
  5. James Holden "Heidegger, Writing, and Technology" (Writing Technologies, 2009: Vol. 2, No. 2), 2.
  6. "Stanford University Guide to Heidegger". Retrieved March 22, 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links