For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Heidegger on gaining a free relation to technology"

by Dreyfus, Hubert L (1997)


In The Question Concerning Technology Heidegger describes his aim: ‘‘We shall be questioning concerning technology, and in so doing we should like to prepare a free relationship to it.’’ He wants to reveal the essence of technology in such a way that ‘‘in no way confines us to a stultified compulsion to push on blindly with technology or, what comes to the same thing, to rebel helplessly against it.’’1 Indeed, he claims that ‘‘When we once open ourselves expressly to the essence of technology, we find ourselves unexpectedly taken into a freeing claim.’’ We will need to explain essence, opening, and freeing before we can understand Heidegger here. But already Heidegger’s project should alert us to the fact that he is not announcing one more reactionary rebellion against technology, although many respectable philosophers, including Jurgen Habermas, take him to be doing just that; nor is he doing what progressive thinkers such as Habermas want him to do, proposing a way to get technology under control so that it can serve our rationally chosen ends.

Key Passage

Just preserving pre-technical practices, even if we could do it, would not give us what we need. The pre-technological practices no longer add up to a shared sense of reality and one cannot legislate a new understanding of being. For such practices to give meaning to our lives, and unite us in a community, they would have to be focused and held up to the practitioners. This function, which later Heidegger calls ‘‘truth setting itself to work,’’ can be performed by what he calls a work of art. Heidegger takes the Greek temple as his illustration of an artwork working. The temple held up to the Greeks what was important, and so let there be heroes and slaves, victory and disgrace, disaster and blessing, and so on. People whose practices were manifested and focused by the temple had guidelines for leading good lives and avoiding bad ones. In the same way, the medieval cathedral made it possible to be a saint or a sinner by showing people the dimensions of salvation and damnation. In either case, one knew where one stood and what one had to do. Heidegger holds that ‘‘there must always be some being in the open [the clearing], something that is, in which the openness takes its stand and attains its constancy.’’ (p.31)


Heidegger, Dreyfus, Technology, Ontology, Materiality, Relationality, Socialisation



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