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Educational Philosophy and Theory, Vol. 37, No.

4, 2005

A Field Guide to Heidegger:

Understanding The Question
Concerning Technology


to Heidegger
of Ltd.
and Theory
Society of Australasia

D I. W
Stanford University

This essay serves as a guide for scholars, especially those in education, who want to gain
a better understanding of Heideggers essay, The Question Concerning Technology. The paper
has three sections: an interpretive summary, a critical commentary, and some remarks on
Heidegger scholarship in education. Since Heideggers writing style is rather opaque, the
interpretive summary serves as a map with which to navigate the essay.The critical commentary
offers a careful analysis of some of the central concepts in the essay. These concepts, which
include bringing-forth, challenging-forth, and gestell, are intriguing but problematic.
The problems and possibilities of these ideas are analyzed, and an overall assessment of
Heideggers ideas on technology is offered. In the final section, the work of several scholars
in education is examined. Some of this work is excellent, but there is also a significant
amount of confused and confusing scholarship.
Keywords: Heidegger, technology, environment, craft, education

It is a clear statement of the power of Heideggers thought that even among

a group of people from a very different tradition [computer science] it has
evoked stirringsinklings of a new way of going about the business of
Terry Winograd (Professor of Computer Science, Stanford University),
Heidegger and the Design of Computer Systems, p. 108

Reading Heidegger is a lot like trying to navigate a ship through a dense fog. His
language is sprinkled with German neologisms, and his lines of thought tend not
to be laid out in a straightforward manner. However, despite these difficulties,
philosophers of education have recently exhibited a heightened level of interest in
Heideggers thought. They seem especially interested in a short piece by Heidegger
entitled The Question Concerning Technology; in Michael Peters (2002) new
2005 Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia
Published by Blackwell Publishing, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford, OX4 2DQ, UK and
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568 David I. Waddington

collection, Heidegger, Education, and Modernity, eight of the eleven included essays
refer to The Question Concerning Technology. Academics working in technology
education have also expressed an interest in this particular essay.
Heidegger pioneered a new way of thinking about technology; The Question
Concerning Technology contains exciting ideas that may have important implications in both technology education and environmental education. However, just as
one must set the table before sitting down to a meal, so too must one understand
Heidegger before trying to draw educational implications from his thought. Thus,
the primary role of this essay is to act as a field guideto summarize, criticize and
interpret The Question Concerning Technology.
Some may think that is unnecessary to perform such a low-level task. Yet, there
are several reasons why a field guide is important:
1. Providing access. Many academics and educators would be interested in Heideggers
ideas, but lack the patience and time to decode Heideggers Byzantine formulations.
The first and second sections of my paper (the interpretive summary and the critical
commentary) will address this need for access.
2. Facilitating critical understanding. Although Heideggers ideas on technology have
received plenty of accolades, they have (as yet) received very little criticism within
the education literature. It is important to appreciate both the strengths and the
weaknesses of Heideggers thought, and the second section of my paper (the critical
commentary) will assist in this.
3. Clearing up confusion. Although some philosophers of education have written excellent
articles about Heideggers philosophy of technology, other authors have made significant errors in their interpretations of Heidegger. The final section of the paper will
be dedicated to the task of pointing out these errors.
Part 1 An Interpretive Summary of The Question Concerning Technology
Most essays on technology focus primarily on practical issues surrounding the use
of particular technologies. Heideggers essay, however, does notinstead, it focuses
on the ways of thinking that lie behind technology. Heidegger (1977, p. 3) thinks that
by coming to understand these ways of thinking, humans can enter into a free
relationship with technology.
After dismissing the conventional account of technology, which supposedly states
that technology is simply a means to an end, Heidegger commences a discussion on
ancient craftsmanship. He suggests that the ancient craftsmanship involves the four
Aristotelian causes: material, formal, final, and efficient. Intuitively, one might think
that the efficient cause of a given craft-item (the craftsman) was the most significant
of the four. However, although the craftsman has an important role in that she unites
the four causes by considering each of them carefully, each of the four causes is equally
co-responsible for the particular craft-item that is produced. Heidegger comments,
The four ways of being responsible bring something into appearance. They let it
come forth into presencing (1977, p. 9). Appropriately enough, Heidegger names
this process bringing-forth. Notably, bringing-forth is not merely a descriptive genus
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under which the four causes are subsumedrather, it is a unified process, a single
leading-forth to which [each of the causes] is indebted (Lovitt, 1972, p. 46).
Heidegger writes that bringing-forth comes to pass only insofar as something
concealed comes into unconcealment (1977, p. 11). Thus, instead of the craft-item
being created by the craftsman, as one would think, it was revealed or unconcealed.
In The Thing, Heidegger comments on the making of a jug,
The jug is not a vessel because it was made; rather, the jug had to be
made because it is this holding vessel. The making lets the jug come
into its own. But that which in the jugs nature is its own is never brought
about by its making. (1971, p. 168)
Clearly, revealing / unconcealing in the mode of bringing-forth contains strong hints
of Platonism.
Bringing-forth is the mode of revealing that corresponds to ancient craft. Modern
technology, however, has its own particular mode of revealing, which Heidegger
calls challenging-forth. Thinking in the mode of challenging-forth is very different
from thinking in the mode of bringing-forth: when challenging-forth, one sets upon
the elements of a situation both in the sense of ordering (i.e. setting a system upon)
and in a more rapacious sense (i.e. the wolves set upon the traveler and devoured
him). In bringing-forth, human beings were one important element among others
in the productive process; in challenging-forth, humans control the productive process.
Efficiency is an additional important element of thinking in the mode of challenging forth; the earth, for example, is set upon to yield the maximum amount of ore
with the minimum amount of effort. Essentially, challenging-forth changes the way
we see the worldas Michael Zimmerman pointedly remarks, To be capable of
transforming a forest into packaging for cheeseburgers, man must see the forest not
as a display of the miracle of life, but as raw material, pure and simple (1977, p. 79).
Production in the mode of challenging-forth reveals objects that have the status
of standing-reser ve. Objects that have been made standing-reserve have been
reduced to disposability in two different senses of the word: (1) They are disposable
in the technical sense; they are easily ordered and arranged. Trees that once stood
chaotically in the forest are now logs that can be easily counted, weighed, piled, and
shipped. (2) They are also disposable in the conventional sense; like diapers and
cheap razors, they are endlessly replaceable / interchangeable and have little value.
For the most part, challenging things forth into standing-reserve is not a laudable
activity, and thus it makes sense to wonder what drives human beings to think in
this way. Heideggers answer to this motivational question is unconventional
instead of suggesting that the origins of this motivation are indigenous to human
beings, he postulates the existence of a phenomenon that sets upon man to order
the real as standing-reserve (1977, p. 19). Heidegger calls this mysterious
phenomenon enframing (Ge-stell in German). The word Ge-stell gathers together
several meanings of the -stellen family of German verbs: in Ge-stell, humans are
ordered (bestellen), commanded (bestellen), and entrapped (nachstellen) (Harries 1994,
p. 229). Heidegger thinks that our default state is that of being trapped by Ge-stell;
this is what he means when he writes, As the one who is challenged forth in this
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570 David I. Waddington

way, man stands within the essential realm of [Ge-stell]. He can never take up a
relationship to it only subsequently (1977, p. 24; Sallis, 1971, p. 162).
According to Heidegger (1977, p. 25), there are different ordainings of destining
for human beings. Although the default destining is that of Ge-stell, it is possible
to choose an alternate road. Heidegger thinks that human beings have been granted
the special role of Shepherds of Beingwe have been granted the power to reveal
the world in certain ways (Ballard, 1971, p. 60). Trapped in Ge-stell, we tend to
reveal things in the mode of challenging-forth, but we can also choose to reveal
things in the mode of bringing-forth. Heidegger comments, Placed between these
possibilities, man is endangered from out of destining (1977, p. 26). However, by
carefully considering the ways of thinking that lie behind technology, we can grasp
the saving power. We can realize that we, the Shepherds of Being, have a choice:
we can bring-forth rather than challenge-forth. Thus, once we understand the
thinking behind technology, we become free to choose our fate we are already
sojourning in the open space of destining (Heidegger, 1977, p. 26).
Part 2 Critical Commentary on The Question Concerning Technology
2.0 Introduction
The following critical commentary will be organized in four sections; the first three
sections will analyze, in turn, the puzzles and weaknesses surrounding three pivotal
ideas in Heideggers essay: bringing-forth, challenging-forth-to-standing-reserve,
and Ge-stell. The final section of the analysis will synthesize the results of the first
three analyses to create an overall evaluation of Heideggers account.
2.1 Bringing-forth
If one were to draw conclusions about Plato and Aristotle solely from Heideggers
remarks in The Question Concerning Technology, one would think that craftsmanship was a central issue for both of these ancient thinkers. Furthermore, from
the warm light in which Heidegger bathes the craftsman, one might also come to
believe that Plato and Aristotle have a certain reverence for craftsmen and the
process of craftsmanship. Plato and Aristotles attitudes toward craftsmanship,
however, can (at best) be described as ambivalent. In the Politics, Aristotle remarks,
no man can practice excellence who is living the life of a mechanic or laborer
(1995, 1278a20). Craftsmen and craftsmanship receive a more favorable treatment
in Plato, but Plato still makes the following unfriendly remark:
If an offspring of [the guardians] should be found to have a mixture of
iron or bronze, they must not pity him in any way, but give him the rank
appropriate to his nature and drive him out to join the craftsmen and
farmers. (1997, 415bc)
Indeed, lyrical prose having to do with craftsmanship is scarce in Plato and
Aristotle, but abundant in Heidegger.
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Heidegger also claims that his account of the four causes is true to the spirit of
Greek thought. Heideggers notion of the co-responsibility of the four causes has
some support in Aristotle, who comments: the [causes other than the efficient
cause] are causes in the sense of the end or the good of the rest (1995, 195a23)
Heideggers insistence on the non-primacy of the efficient cause, however, finds
less support: in Topics, Aristotle remarks, Again, the primary source of the change
or rest [is] generally what makes of what is made (1995, 194b30) Aristotles
remarks on causation do not entirely rule out Heideggers somewhat romantic
interpretation, but neither do they provide much supporting evidence.
Heideggers strongest evidence in favor of bringing-forth consists of a quote from
Symposium [what follows is Heideggers translation]: Every occasion for whatever
passes over and goes forward into presencing from that which is not presencing is
poiesis, is bringing-forth (1977, p. 10). Nehamas and Woodruff, in their translation
of the Symposium, offer a different rendition of the same passage:
After all, everything that is responsible for creating something out of
nothing is a kind of poetry, and so all the creations of every craft and
profession are themselves a kind of poetry, and everyone who practices a
craft is a poet. (1997, 205b)
Although this translation is significantly different from Heideggers, its content
(craftsmen as poets creating something out of nothing) and tone (romantic) offers
some historical support for the notion of bringing-forth. Yet, this is not enough to
authenticate the supposed historical status of bringing-forth. Although there is some
evidence linking bringing-forth to Greek thinking, a far more likely conclusion
is that the idea of bringing-forth had its primary origin in the mind of Martin
A more serious problem with the notion of bringing-forth concerns the idea of
revealing / unconcealment. Recall Heideggers comment in The Thing:
The jug is not a vessel because it was made; rather, the jug had to be
made because it is this holding vessel. The making lets the jug come
into its own. But that which in the jugs nature is its own is never brought
about by its making. (1971, p. 168)
Clearly, there is some sort of Platonic pre-existence at work herethe jug, apparently, pre-exists as concealed and is revealed through the co-responsible action of
the four causes. Perhaps one can see what Heidegger means here by recalling the
ubiquitous stories of wood carvers who somehow know, in advance, what shape a
particular piece of wood wants to be. However, no amount of idiosyncratic
accounts on the part of folk artists can reduce the implausibility of the idea of preexistence. The jug is a created object, and while it can be created through the loving
and careful process of bringing-forth, the jugs created status cannot be eclipsed.
To sum up, the notion of bringing-forth is probably largely Heideggers arbitrary
creation, and the idea of revealing pre-existent objects is highly implausible. Does
this mean that these ideas should be thrown out? This essential question, which has
important implications for Heideggers philosophy, will be addressed in a later section.
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2.2 Challenging-forth and Standing-reserve
Heidegger comments, It is said that modern technology is something incomparably
different from all earlier technologies (1977, p. 14) Heidegger attributes this
incomparable difference to the ability of human beings to think in the mode of
challenging forthan ability which, he maintains, only emerged recently. Apparently,
older technologies cannot involve or facilitate this sort of thinking:
The revealing that rules in modern technology is a challenging, which
puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it supply energy that can
be extracted and stored as such. But does this not hold true for the old
windmill as well? No. Its sails do indeed turn in the wind; they are left
entirely to the winds blowing. But the windmill does not unlock energy
from the air currents in order to store it. (Heidegger 1977, p. 14)
However, if I were an ambitious and avaricious miller living in the middle ages, I
might want to maximize flour production in my mill. To this end, I would make
sure that my windmill had enormous sails in order to maximize wind-catching efficiency. By processing the grain, I would unlock its food energy in the form of flour
and hold it in reserve in my granary. I could then maximize profit by selling the flour
during the wintertime when the peasants were starving. The intuitive plausibility of
the hypothetical miller suggests that Heidegger is wrong to think that challengingforth is a phenomenon unique to modern times.
However, despite the fact that thinking in the mode of challenging-forth is not
limited solely to the reign of modern technology, there is certainly a link between
modern technology and challenging-forth. The forester of old with his horses and
chains could not even conceive of machines like the Caterpillar tree harvester, which
can liquidate a forest at the highest level of productivity and efficiency using
extremely high levels of horsepower (Caterpillar 2003). Since modern technology
enables challenging-forth to achieve extraordinary results, thinking in the mode of
challenging-forth is more dangerous and alluring now than at any other time in history.
Tree harvesters are a particularly unpleasant example of modern technology.
Yet, critics of Heidegger are quick to point out that modern technology has
improved our standard of living. Hydroelectric dams, for example, have allowed
power to be brought to the homes of many people around the world, thus improving
their lives immensely. Although there are some environmental problems associated
with hydroelectric dams, it is a relatively clean form of energy generation. Heidegger,
however, is outraged by the building of a hydroelectric dam on the Rhine:
In the context of the interlocking processes pertaining to the orderly
disposition of electrical energy, even the Rhine itself appears as something
at our command. The hydroelectric plant is not built into the Rhine
River, as was the old wooden bridge that joined bank with bank for
hundreds of years. Rather the river is dammed up into the power plant.
What the river is now, namely, a water power supplier, derives from out
of the essence of the power station. In order that we may even remotely
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consider the monstrousness that reigns here, let us ponder for a moment
the contrast that speaks out of the two titles, The Rhine as dammed up
into the power works, and The Rhine as uttered out of the art work, in
Hlderlins hymn by that name. (1977, p. 16)
Even the most rabid capitalists may become uneasy when forced to watch a tree
harvester in the process of liquidating a forest; intuitively, one can see that there
is a certain monstrousness about this kind of wholesale destruction. Yet, although the
same kind of destruction is not taking place in the context of the dam on the Rhine,
Heidegger still asks us to consider the monstrousness that reigns here. (1977,
p. 16) In order to solve this puzzle in Heideggers thinking, let us clarify the terms
of the problem with some assumptions: assume that the dam has improved the
standard of living for many Germans and that no significant environmental damage
has resulted from its construction and operation. If these assumptions are made,
how can Heidegger still deem the dam monstrous?
In his polemic against the dam, Heidegger comments, What the river is now,
namely a water power supplier, derives from out of the essence of the power station
(1977, p. 16). Heidegger does not hate the dam because it physically damages the
river; instead, he hates it because it reduces the river. Subsumed under both the
idea and the material fact of the hydroelectric dam, the river no longer stands on
its own. Implicitly, Heidegger is using the following syllogism:
The building of the Rhine dam has compromised the standing-on-its-own
of the Rhine River.
All actions in which we compromise the standing-on-its-own of something
are monstrous actions.
Conclusion: The building of the Rhine dam is a monstrous action.

It is still unclear, however, what it means for something to stand on its own.
Aristotle may enlighten us in this regard with his description of what it is for a
human being not to stand on their own: Hence we see what is the nature and office
of a slave; he who is not his own but anothers man, is by nature a slave (1995,
1254a13) The person whose nature is subsumed under that of another has been
reducedreduced to slavery. No standing or dignity remain for the slave; he or she
has been reduced to an it. The slave, regarded as slave, is a mere piece of property
that is disposable in both the technical and conventional senses of disposability
described in the summary.
Laboring under the material and conceptual mastery of the dam, the river has also
been reduced to slavery. It no longer stands on its own; it is merely a piece of property
to be manipulated by the various gigantic states and corporations of the world. The
Rhine and the Columbia, the Nile and the Yangtzethey were once the greatest
and most holy of rivers, but are now merely the most useful of our slave-objects.
Most of the countries of the world have signed agreements that grant that human
beings possess a certain inviolable dignity; humans cannot be reduced to slavery
and they must be treated with a measure of respect. Human beings, however, are
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not the only entities in the world that seem to possess dignity. For example, a
Sequoia in the forest stands on its own, and, as such, it seems to have some kind
of dignity. Once that tree has been cut down and reduced to a technically and
conventionally disposable log, whatever dignity it may once have had is lost.
Suppose it is true that all human beings possess a kind of inviolable dignity.
Animals differ from human beings only in the fact that they are not rational. Does
their lack of reason make animals unworthy of dignity? Surely not: when humans
lose their minds to Alzheimers disease, we all agree that their dignity remains
inviolable. We would not even consider consigning a witless Alzheimers patient to
a cage in a research laboratory.
One can expand the scope of this argument from animals to other living and
non-living entities. In each case one can ask, Does their lack of property Z make
entity X less worthy of dignity than entity Y? Admittedly, as one traces the course
of this argument through the hierarchy of beingfrom animals all the way down
to manufactured objectsdignity becomes increasingly attenuated. Yet, I would
argue that dignity persists all the way down the hierarchy of being; even the plastic
soft-drink bottle possesses an extremely small amount of dignity. Heidegger would
probably concur with this view; he was fascinated by the work of Cezanne, who
thought that even inanimate objects had dignity:
People think that a sugar bowl has no physiognomy, no soul. But that also
changes from day to day. One has to know how to take them, flatter them,
these gentlemen. These glasses, these plates, they speak to each other, they
are always exchanging confidences. ( Jamme, 1994, p. 140)
In his essay, The Thing, Heidegger expresses views that are similar to those of
Cezanne. (1971, p. 182)
At one point, while discussing the reduction of objects to standing-reserve,
Heidegger remarks, Whatever stands by in the sense of standing-reserve no longer
stands over against us as object (1977, p. 17). The notion of the dignity and
standing of objects can help us understand Heideggers cryptic remark. Objects like
the river lose their dignity by being subsumed under the material and conceptual
command of objects like the dam, which, for their part, are under the complete
control of human subjects. Therefore, in a sense, whatever is reduced to standingreserve is no longer an object because it has been completely subsumed under the
material and conceptual reign of the subject. A kind of objectlessness resultsthe only
significance these objects have is that they are the property of the subject. In light
of this view, another of Heideggers puzzling remarks begins to make sense:
Meanwhile man 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. This illusion gives rise in turn to
one final delusion: It seems as though man everywhere and always encounters
only himself [italics mine]. (1977, p. 27)
Heidegger feels that we should not underestimate the importance of the dignity
of objects; once the objectlessness of standing-reserve prevails, the next target for
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reduction to material / conceptual slavery is other subjectshuman beings. Already,
says Heidegger (1977, p. 18), we can discern the beginnings of this trend in the talk
of human resources. As Michael Zimmerman ominously remarks, While humanity
cannot yet manufacture itself in factories, it is moving in that direction (1990, p. 201).
2.3 Ge-stell
The phenomenon of Ge-stell is problematic for three reasons:
1. The non-human origin of the phenomenon of Ge-stell seems to entail serious
2. It is a significant challenge to understand what Heidegger means by Ge-stell.
3. One is puzzled as to why Heidegger introduces this phenomenon at all; it is not
clear how postulating the phenomenon of Ge-stell adds to the ideas that have already
been adumbrated in the essay.
In coming to a proper understanding of the phenomenon of Ge-stell, all of these
problems must be addressed.
In order to deal with the first two problems, one must understand the relationship
between Ge-stell and Heideggers notion of Being. Instead of accepting a conventional conception of Being as sort of inert underlying substance, Heidegger thinks
of Being as energeia (Pggeler, 1996, p. 208). Edward Ballard comments on this
conception: We do not come to thinking; rather it comes to us (1971, p. 61). Thus,
in a sense, Being has a mind of its ownin different epochs, Being reveals itself
to man in different ways. In The Word of Nietzsche, Heidegger remarks, In every
phase of metaphysics there has been visible at any particular time a portion of a
way that the destining of Being prepares as a path for itself (1977, p. 54)
Essentially, Ge-stell is the dominant way in which Being is revealing itself to human
beings right now.
An example may bring to light some of the difficulties surrounding this conception:
once, on a Grade 5 class trip, a classmate of mine who could not swim fell into
the pool. After he was fished out, he explained that the Devil had pulled him into
the pool. Naturally, most of the class did not find this to be an adequate explanation. The point of the story is as follows: if the Devil no longer suffices to explain
bad events to schoolchildren, how can the more mature readers of Heidegger
(1977, p. 24) possibly accept that Ge-stell happens neither exclusively in man, nor
decisively through man, but rather because of the inscrutable and mysterious
powers of Being?
Heidegger cannot be decisively extricated from this difficulty. However, puzzlement on the part of readers over Heideggers strange position can be palliated
through an explanation of the nature of Ge-stell. In order to understand Ge-stell,
we must turn to a similar phenomenon that Heidegger outlines in Being and Time:
the they. Heidegger comments:
In utilizing public transportation, in the use of information services such
as the newspaper, every other is like the next In this inconspicuousness
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and unascertainability, the they unfolds its true dictatorship. We enjoy
ourselves and have fun the way they enjoy themselves. We read, see, and
judge literature the way they see and judge. (1996, p. 119)
In non-Heideggerian parlance, the they is the consciousness (Heidegger thinks it is
a false consciousness) of society. Simply by virtue of being in society, human beings
are always already lost in the they; we always already see things through their eyes.
Ge-stell is, essentially, an element (perhaps even the dominant element) of the
contemporary they.
The dominant consciousness of society always already ensnares us into thinking
in the mode of challenging-forth; it is as if we have had special challenging-forth
contact lenses permanently implanted in our eyes since birth. Heidegger remarks,
It is not the case that a Da-sein, untouched and unseduced by this way of interpreting, was ever confronted by the free land of a world merely to look at what
it encounters (1996, p. 159).
No one is to blame for the they; it is simply an inevitable element of the structure
of human existence. By understanding this inevitability and this blamelessness, we
can see why it might be said that the they and Ge-stell are both, in a sense, of nonhuman origin. Neither the they nor Ge-stell are a plot by the government or the
ruling classes; the they and Ge-stell are simply part of the way Things are going
the way Being is going.
The third problem that was posed at the beginning of this sectionthe question
of how Ge-stell adds to the ideas that have already been introduced in Heideggers
essaymust be answered very speculatively. When Heidegger postulates a nonhuman origin for Ge-stell, he extricates human beings from blame. The logging
contractor cannot be blamed for using the Caterpillar tree harvester to destroy
the forest. Thus, rather than responding to the logging contractor with hatred and
blame, those people who had extricated themselves from the destining of Ge-stell
would realize that the only fruitful path is to educate the logging contractor. Perhaps, for example, one could gently pry the challenging-forth contact lenses away
from the contractors eyes through a peaceful debate about the relative merits of
bringing-forth and challenging-forth.
At this point, the three problems I posed concerning Ge-stell have all been
briefly addressed. This treatment, however, has not extricated the concept of
Ge-stell from its difficultiesif anything, I have uncovered a cornucopia of potential
new problems. Due to its many inadequacies, the question must be raised whether
the notion of Ge-stell should be thrown out. As in the case of bringing-forth, this
crucial question will have to be deferred for the time being.
2.4 The Overall Impact of The Question Concerning Technology
Most current articles on the value of technology are preoccupied with pieces of
technology. These articles are valuable; it is important both to observe how particular
technologies function in the world and to point out possible new directions for
these technologies. However, a significant dimension of technology goes unnoticed
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by most commentators: the way of thinking that lies behind the creation and use of
technology. If more commentators on technology were able to wade through The
Question Concerning Technology, as well as some of Heideggers other writings,
they might discover some exciting new pathways for their thinking.
Heideggers account also has noteworthy implications for environmental ethics.
If all living things and inanimate objects have a measure of dignity, the various
entities that make up the world must be accorded more respect. If human beings
are gradually destroying the world (both in the conventional sense and in the
Heideggerian sense of reduction to standing-reserve) through their entrapment in
challenging-forth, systematic efforts must be made to free individuals from their
ideological prison. Redesigning certain aspects of the education system might serve
to further this goal.
The great breakthrough of The Question Concerning Technology is that it shifts
the focus away from specific technologies and toward the modes of thinking that
lie behind these technologies. However, within this breakthrough lies a danger: it
is possible to focus on the thinking behind the technology to such an extent that
meaningful distinctions in the world are obscured. In a remark that was originally
a part of The Question Concerning Technology, but was later excised (Harries,
1994, p. 233), this danger manifests itself:
Agriculture is now a motorized food industryin essence the same as the
manufacture of corpses in the gas chambers and extermination campus,
the same as the blockading and starvation of nations, the same as the
manufacture of hydrogen bombs. (Ferry & Renaut, 1990, p. 71) (Schirmacher,
1983, p. 25)
In this remark, Heidegger is trying to point out that challenging-forth into standingreserve is at work in both modern agriculture and the concentration camps. Clearly,
however, to say that modern agriculture and the death camps are in essence the
same obviates meaningful empirical distinctions and trivializes the significance of
the extermination camps. Rorty notes, Heidegger needed to see everything in our
century other than its technologism as mere transitory appearance (1994, p. 36).
Another significant failing of Heideggers philosophy of technology is that the
benefits of technology are not acknowledged. The hydroelectric dam across
the Rhine does improve peoples lives, and, as Rorty (1977, p. 302) points out, the
spread of modern technology across the planet has prevented many people from
dying of starvation. Yet, despite the fact that Heidegger never acknowledges the
benefits of technology, he does not urge giving it up:
We can say yes to the unavoidable use of technological objects, and we
can at the same time say no, insofar as we do not permit them to claim
us exclusively and thus to warp, confuse, and finally lay waste to our
essence. (1966, p. 54)
This smacks of having ones cake and eating it too. Under Heideggers conception,
we conveniently say yes to the modern technologies that make our lives so
comfortable, while somehow apparently saying no to them as well.
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The greatest difficulties with The Question Concerning Technology, however,
are technical rather than ideological. Imagine, for example, what a careful, but not
particularly sympathetic, analyst might say about each of Heideggers three key
Bringing-forththis is an arbitrary, nostalgic notion that involves an impossibility
(revealing from pre-existence) and has no grounding in historical fact.
Challenging-forth to standing-reservethis is another arbitrary construction, which
demonizes technology wholesale and indulges in groundless speculation by asserting
that objects (even inanimate objects!) have some kind of mysterious dignity.
Ge-stellthis is the most preposterous idea of the three. In addition to being
nearly incomprehensible, it entails the ridiculous notion that inscrutable historical
determinations of Being are somehow responsible for human actions. Furthermore,
if one accepts the speculative connection between the they and Ge-stell, it appears
that human beings are trapped in a mindset of destructiona mindset that, paradoxically, absolves the perpetrators of any responsibility for the destruction!
In addition to the internal problems of the three notions, none of the three key
ideas is established through any systematic form of argument. For the most part,
Heidegger simply makes ex-cathedra pronouncements about these three ideas; he
might as well be saying, Behold bringing-forth, and Let there be the phenomenon
of Ge-stell.
Clearly, we must face the recurrent question of whether Heideggers ideas should
be discarded. Most people would lean strongly in the direction of discarding the
ideas; our common-sense practice in situations like these is to discard ideas that do not
adequately correspond to the world. Heideggers theory of technology contains so many
implausible notions that it is very difficult to defend it on a correspondence basis.
Philosophers of a more post-modern bent might be inclined to defend Heidegger
using the criterion of coherence. Since even the most insane religious fanatics can
postulate a coherent system, this criterion is highly suspect. However, even if one
makes the questionable decision to accept the criterion of coherence, Heideggers
theory is not necessarily saved. Although I have interpreted The Question
Concerning Technology in such a way as to present Heideggers theory as coherent,
Heideggers wandering formulations make other, less coherent, interpretations
The best criterion with which to defend Heidegger is neither correspondence nor
coherence, but usefulness. If people decided to think in the mode of bringing-forth,
and decided not to think in the mode of challenging-forth, much more beauty and
happiness might be brought into the world. If more people chose to think that living
things and inanimate objects had a certain dignity, the destruction of the earth
might begin to draw to a close. And, if people thought that the phenomenon of
Ge-stell was a possibility, they might be motivated to examine their own view of
the world with a critical eye. Rorty writes of Heidegger,
I see the toolbox we have inherited from [Heidegger] as containing a very
varied assortment, constructed for various different purposesan
assortment in which only some items are still useful. (Rorty, 1994, p. 35)
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The Question Concerning Technology is a toolbox containing three key tools:
bringing-forth, challenging-forth to standing-reserve, and Ge-stell. All of these
tools are useful: indeed, used properly, they might serve to repair the damaged
relationship between human beings and the world.
In Republic, Plato writes, if it is appropriate for anyone to use falsehoods for
the good of the city it is the rulers (1997, 398b) Some might allege that the
preceding defense of Heidegger, on the grounds of usefulness, contains harbingers
of indoctrinationhints of the Platonic philosophical elite who tell the noble,
educational lie to the masses. Perhaps, however, it is time for philosophers to stop
apologizing for advocating the noble lie; a great many lies are already told to the
people by elites, and most of these lies are ignoble.
Part 3 Heidegger Scholarship in Education
When one reads a piece of secondary literature, one hopes to find clear writing and
accurate scholarship. Unfortunately, some of the articles on Heidegger by scholars
in education fall short in one or both of these areas. By pointing out the shortcomings of these articles, I hope to offer a justification for the preceding summary and
critique. I also aim to provide a helpful guide for those interested in further
research in this area.
Richard Waltons, Heidegger in the Hands-on Science and Technology Center,
is an example of an article with significant defects. Consider, for example, the
following excerpt:
This means that, in Heideggers terms, technology is more than the
artifacts and activities that form the ontic. It can be spoken of in terms of
the mode of truth that is the framework of possibilities which forms the
essential nature of technology which is to be revealed and which gives
technology its ontological sense. Superficially, this ontology of technology
seems to bear some similarity with the platonic notion of the ideal form
yet, as Guignon (1993, p. 4) pointed out, a significant distinction can be
drawn between Heideggers substance ontology and the traditional notion
of the metaphysics of presence. (Walton, 2000, p. 54)
In these three sentences, we see the words / phrases ontic ontological (to give
Walton credit, he defines ontic and ontological earlier on), mode of truth, platonic
notion of the ideal form, substance ontology, and metaphysics of presence, and
Walton is only on the second paragraph of his discussion of Heidegger! Waltons
article was published in the Journal of Technology Education, which, presumably, has
an audience composed mostly of academics working in technology education.
One suspects that these academics might be puzzled by discussions of substance
ontology and the metaphysics of presence.
Waltons analyses are often somewhat confusedfor example, consider Waltons
account of an exhibit at a science center:
The exhibits found within such centers represent a special case or
category of technological artifact which is designed and built with the
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580 David I. Waddington

specific aim of encouraging reflection upon its own essence. Of course,
in most cases this is only true to a limited extent. An exhibit which
demonstrates chaotic motion reveals only a limited set of ideas relating to
the nature of the world and in so doing it shows only one way in which
technology can be used to frame this idea. But it does show that the idea
can be framed. Heidegger uses the term gestell to describe this act of
framing, or what he called enframing. (2000, p. 54)
I dont think that Ge-stell, which is a sort of meta-phenomenon beyond human
control, appropriately describes what is happening when a person constructs an
exhibit about chaotic motion. Challenging-forth might be an appropriate description, but it is not clear that challenging-forth is necessarily at work during the
construction of an exhibit like this. This sort of confusion is representative of most
of Waltons essay, which fails to give an adequate account of Heidegger.
Heidegger scholarship is significantly better within the philosophy of education
community. However, some analyses of Heidegger by members of the philosophy
of education community contain occasional flaws. For example, consider the following paragraphan excerpt from James Marshalls essay, Electronic Writing and
the Wrapping of Language:
To have a free relationship with technology we cannot come to it with any
presuppositionsfor example, that it is neutral. This involves an
initial response to technology, before any decision is made as to what it is and,
then, how we are to respond to it. For to respond to it we must have grasped
certain things about ourselves, about human being, so that we can open
ourselves to the essences of both human being and of technology. This must
be simultaneous and mutual opening up or recognition, and not a temporal
response, for human being and technology are in mutual interrelationship.
This is difficult to understand, given traditional philosophical, logicist,
positivist and Anglo-Saxon understandings of language and logic and a
traditional overt antipathy to metaphysics. (Marshall, 2000, p. 144)
There are two significant problems with this paragraph. First, in a Heideggerian
context, it doesnt make sense to talk about approaching technology without presuppositions or before any decision is made as to what it is. The problem is not
one of how to make the decision about technology; Heidegger would say that the
decision has always already been made. We are already stuck in a particular understanding of technology; the challenge is to become aware of that understanding and
to extricate ourselves from it somehow. Second, it is not clear to me how a mutual
opening up is possible. Although it is possible to understand Ge-stell as having
some kind of agency, I fail to see how the essence of technology can really open
itself up. Further to this point, Marshall says that this mutual opening up is not
a temporal response. What would it mean for a response to be non-temporal? I do
not consider myself a positivist or a person with an overt antipathy to metaphysics
in fact, I am deeply sympathetic to much of Heideggers account. Yet, I still find it
difficult to understand what Marshall is saying in this particular paragraph.
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Ilan Gur-Zeevs article Martin Heidegger, Transcendence, and the Possibility of
Counter-Education also raises some questions. For example, in a discussion about how
things are leveled down to standing-reserve, Gur-Zeev makes the following remark:
Within this process, modern science and technology transform man
himself into a standing-reserve. Enframing and unconcealment as roads
to realizing human freedom are blocked in a manner that does not enable
the human to acknowledge and challenge it. (Gur-Zeev, 2002, p. 74)
There are several problems with this remark. First, Gur-Zeev introduces the word
enframing without any comment. Thus, any readers of Gur-Zeev, who have not
already read Heidegger, will be confused by this use of the word. Gur-Zeev compounds this problem by misunderstanding enframing: obviously, enframing (Ge-stell)
is not a road to human freedom. Furthermore, since challenging-forth also involves
a kind of unconcealment, unconcealment is also not necessarily a road to realizing
human freedom.
Some of Gur-Zeevs other remarks suffer from similar difficulties:
In modern Ge-stell, in the humans being framed in modernity as
advanced by modern science and technology, human situateness ensures
the oblivion of the mission of the human, of life as something more than
mere life. But for Heidegger, framing has deeper roots and is not to be
reduced to a specific historical situation. It springs from the very fact of
situateness of human life, of always living enframed. (Gur-Zeev, 2002, p. 75)
Again, Gur-Zeev fails to explain either Ge-stell, framing, or enframing to the
reader. And what exactly does it mean that framing has deeper roots and is not
to be reduced to a specific historical situation? Gur-Zeev might be making
an important point about Being here, but he does not explain this to the reader.
Furthermore, it is difficult to understand what Gur-Zeev means when he says
that enframing springs from the very fact of situateness of human life. In sum,
although Gur-Zeev appears to be quite knowledgeable about Heidegger, he does
not always explain Heidegger very well. Indeed, articles like Gur-Zeevs highlight
the need for a clear, concise analysis of Heideggers philosophy of technology.
There is no denying, however, that there are many excellent essays written on
Heidegger by philosophers of education. Paul Standish, Bert Lambeir, and Michael
Bonnett have all written insightful articles that I recommend highly. In particular,
Bonnetts article, Education in a Destitute Time, is a masterpiece. However,
despite the competence of these authors, there is something missing from all of
their articles: rigorous, systematic criticism of Heidegger. To give credit where it is
due, Standish, in Only Connect, devotes a paragraph to criticizing Heideggers
nostalgia (1999, p. 424). In a similar spirit, Bonnett makes the following remark:
Clearly, Heidegger here presents us with a critique of the traditional
Western metaphysical conception of thinking of a most radical kind, and
this itself stands in need of further exploration and critical evaluation.
(Bonnett, 1983, p. 26)
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582 David I. Waddington

Unfortunately, Bonnett, Lambeir, and Standish have not presented us with further
exploration and critical evaluation of this kind. They are in no way blameworthy
for this; they simply chose to focus on examining the educational implications of
Heideggers philosophy rather than examining its faults.
I have chosen the opposite path: I have not commented very much about the
educational implications of Heideggers philosophy, choosing instead to focus on
solving puzzles in his philosophy and pointing out its shortcomings. However, as
Bonnetts comment points out, this is a task that needs to be done. Hopefully, this
field guide will also serve as a tool with which scholars in education, who may have
been scared off by Heideggers difficult prose, can now pry open the treasure box
of interesting ideas that is The Question Concerning Technology. Indeed, in the
introduction, I suggested that this field guide would set the table for further
scholarship on Heidegger within the philosophy of education. Now that I have set
the table, readers of this field guide should make ready the meal by conducting
further investigations of the educational implications of Heideggers philosophy of

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