For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Heidegger and the technology of further education"

by Standish, Paul (1997)

Abstract

The new further education, characterised by managerialism, accounting systems and the packaging of learning, has brought about far-reaching changes for staff and students, changes that can broadly be understood in terms of technology. This paper seeks to gain a new perspective on this through a consideration of Heidegger?s exploration of techne and of the pathologies of technology. The various responses that Heidegger advocates in the face of technology are then related to possibilities of good practice in technical and further education. The discussion involves questions concerning work and language, especially as these arise in conditions of postmodernity.

Key Passage

It is Heidegger's bold claim that the technology of the modern world is the consequence, indeed the inevitable outcome, of the metaphysics of ancient Greece, specifically of a philosophical perspective that starts with Plato. The distinction in Plato between form and matter leads to the timeless and in effect permanently present eidos, a kind of freezing of temporality, a kind of eternal present. In modern terms the eidos can be seen as something like a blue-print for hyle (underlying substance or matter). This leads to an idealisation of total presence, where local differences pale into insignificance. (One might now be tempted to simplify things by rendering these Greek terms as `form' (eidos) and `matter' (hyle), with physis as `nature' and aitia as `cause', but caution is needed over such translations because the translation of thought is very much what is at issue; we will need sometimes to resist these changes in what follows.) The refraction of these Greek concepts through the imperialism and expansionism of Roman thinking, so the story goes, brings about a hardening of these categorisations. The Latinate vocabulary speaks not of physis and aitia but of production, cause and effect. Heidegger argues specifically that the concept of the four causes, which goes back to Aristotle, has been lost as we have become accustomed to representing cause as `that which brings something about' (Heidegger, 1977, p. 7). Heidegger contrasts this sort of production with the making of a silver chalice. He stresses in the latter the co-responsibility, indeed the mutual indebtedness, of the silver (the substance from which the chalice is made Ðhyle), and the aspect (eidos), and their mutual relation to the telos, the circumstances of use that confer on the chalice its meaning. Also essential to this picture is the work of the silversmith, but any conception of this as an instrumental function, as causa efficiens, involves a reduction: there is a failure to see the ways in which the silversmith `considers carefully and gathers together the three aforementioned ways of being responsible and indebted' (ibid., p. 8). It fails to see the work as a bringing-forth in the manner of poiesis. And Heidegger quotes the Symposium (205b) to underline the deep connection of this with physis: `Every occasion for whatever passes over and goes forward into presencing from that which is not presencing is poiesis, is bringing forth [Her-vor-bringen]' (ibid., p. 10) The Latinate terms lose the holism of this mutual indebtedness to inaugurate an instrumentalism which lays the way for the domination and exploitation of the world. (p.441)

Keywords

Heidegger, Technology, Education, Techne, Pathology, Postmodernity

Themes

On Heidegger

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