File spoon-archives/heidegger.archive/heidegger_2001/heidegger.0107, message 29

Subject: Polt, Dreyfus
Date: Thu, 5 Jul 2001 20:38:55 -0700

michael and everyone,

as a layman and someone interested in cutting to the chase, i'd appreciate

don't have time to proof read or crop at the moment. what i'm specifically
interested in here thinking Being/thinking as thanking.

btw - polt's mention of "systems" reminds of something said long ago in this
forum. can you say something about "systems" in terms of H's thinking?

much thanks and appreciation....


i also included some brief words from dreyfus' BITW re metaphors.

Polt's Introduction


beings instead of acknowledging how they are (251). As Heidegger insisted in
Being and Time, beings already reveal themselves to us as meaningful before
we make any value judgments about them."'

What is his alternative to rules and values, then? "More essential than
instituting rules is that man find the way to his abode in the truth of
Being" (262). Once again, the key is to recognize our relation to Being, and
as he often does, Heidegger appeals to etymology to bolster his position.
The fundamental meaning of ethos is "abode" (256-8): we inhabit an open
area, the truth of Being, within which we can encounter beings. Since to
think is essentially to recognize Being, thinking turns out to be the
highest form of action (217), for it is the deepest way to find our ethos.

Heidegger proposes that good and evil are to be understood as healing and
raging (260-61), and that these have their origin in the interplay of Being
and nihilation, which he first discussed in "What is Metaphysics?" One can
find similar suggestions in several other texts from this period, such as
the dialogue between prisoners of war that we discussed above (p. 158).
However, Heidegger never develops this thought at length, and it has usually
been neglected by his interpreters. Maybe we can begin to explain it as
follows. When we appreciate Being and shelter it in beings, we respect and
care for what is. An experience of the limits of meaning - nihilation can
help us appreciate the meaningfulness of the world. However, this experience
can also be perverted into nihilism, which manifests itself as
destructiveness and reckless malice. Possibly suggestions such as these can
take us farther in understanding evil than any analysis in terms of rules
and values.

Many critics find the "Letter's" position on ethics intolerably vague. As in
Being and Time, Heidegger leaves us with no concrete directions. Being and
Time told us: be resolute! But it did not explain upon what we were to
resolve. Now Heidegger says: listen to Being! But he does not tell us what
Being is saying, at least not in enough detail to affect how we treat each
other. Readers must decide for themselves - is Heidegger's vagueness a flaw,
or is it the honest acknowledgment that truth and freedom cannot be captured
in any system of morality?

One point to consider is that ethics need not be based primarily either on
rules or on values; it can also be based on the concept of virtue, which in
fact has experienced a philosophical revival since Heidegger wrote the
"Letter on Humanism".'24 In some ways, one can even argue that Heidegger
himself is close to Aristotle, the great philosopher of virtue. For both,
our highest purpose is to become what we essentially are by practicing our
highest activity: the activity of openness to what is, and to Being itself.

123. Being and Time, p. 132/99.

124. See e.g. A. Macintyre, After Virtue, 2d edn (Noire Dame, Indiana:
University of Notre Dame Press, 1984).

125. See Aristotle's discussion of the "theoretical life" in Nicomachean
Ethics, Book X. Of course, Heidegger's understanding of our relation to
Being differs from Aristotle's.


Yet another way of approaching ethics is in terms of our responsibility to
"the other". Emmanuel Levinas, perhaps the most influential contemporary
thinker on this topic, develops it in a way that involves a sustained and
rather persuasive critique of Heidegger. "To affirm the priority of Being
over beings," writes Levinas, "is to subordinate the relation with someone,
who is a being (the ethical relation), to a relation with the Being of
beings, which is impersonal.""

"The Question Concerning Technology":
beings as manipulable resources

As we saw, the Contributions to Philosophy already reflect at length on the
technological approach to the world, which in that text is called
"machination". The technological attitude involves much more than simply
constructing and using complex machines; it is a way of understanding beings
as a whole. Heidegger believes that he can diagnose this understanding of
beings as a symptom of modem metaphysics. Ultimately, according to him,
machination reflects the limitations not just of modernity, but of the
"first beginning" of Western thought.

The technological approach to beings (which from now on we will call
"technology" for short) implies an understanding of Being itself. For
technological Dasein, to be means to be either a present-at-hand object that
is available for exploitation and manipulation, or a subject that is the
manipulator and exploiter of the object. "Technology is a way of
revealing."'Z' Technology reveals beings as resources available for our use:
they present themselves as "standing-reserve" (322), or to put it more
graphically, as one big gas station.

When we look at today's language, we can see that there is something to what
Heidegger is saying. Natural things are routinely called "natural
resources" - a far cry from the mysterious, self-concealing "earth" that
Heidegger described in "The Origin of the Work of Art". Human beings are
"human resources". Books and artworks become "information resources", and
writing becomes "word processing", as if language, too, were just a resource
to be manipulated. Time itself has become standing-reserve: witness software
tycoon Bill Gates' pronouncement, "Just in terms of allocation of time
resources, religion is not very efficient"."

It seems that the universe has been dissolved into a supply of raw material
that can be processed and reprocessed. By digitizing all our representations
of objects, computer technology is greatly increasing the accessibility and
manipulability of data. But what is the purpose of all this manipulation?
Heidegger proposes that it is simply "the will to will": there is no purpose

126. Totality and Infinity, tr. A. Lingis (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania:
Duquesne University Press, 1969), p. 45 (translation modified).

127. "The Question Concerning Technology", in Basic Writings, p. 318.
Further references to this essay in this section will take the form of
parenthesized page numbers.

128. Quoted in W. Isaacson, "In Search of the Real Bill Gates", Time,
January 13, 1997, p. 51.


from sheer self-assertion, sheer power. We are in grip things.

What exactly is wrong with this? Some negative consequences of technology
are easy to see: we are destroying much of our planet, and have the
potential to destroy our entire species with our machines. Furthermore, the
cult of power and control can lead to political nightmares. O'Brien, George
Orwell's totalitarian ideologist, explains: "Power is not a means; it is an
end . . . Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation . . . If you want a
picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - ."129 Can't
the totalitarian horrors of the twentieth century be seen as consequences of
the technological worldview?

In one of his rare references to the Holocaust, Heidegger proposes that this
is, in fact, the case. But he says so in a way that is most disturbing:
"Agriculture is now a motorized food industry, essentially the same as the
manufacture of corpses in gas chambers and extermination camps, the same as
the blockade and starvation of countries, the same as the manufacture of
hydrogen bombs."" Most interpreters find this passage shocking, and
understandably so. For although Heidegger does not condone mass murder, the
implication of his claim seems to be that modem farming is just as bad. In
addition, the references to blockades and hydrogen bombs allude to the
Soviet Union and the United States, and imply that there is no significant
difference between these countries and Nazi Germany. Do all these phenomena
really spring from the same root, and does that mean they are all
"essentially the same"?

This brings us to the more controversial aspects of Heidegger's view of
technology. Everyone will agree that nuclear war, global warming and the
Holocaust are bad. But for Heidegger, even if we achieve world peace,
guarantee human rights, and save the planet, technology may be a disaster.
As the German prisoners of war say in his dialogue:

Younger man: . . . devastation also rules precisely where land and people
are untouched by war's destruction.

Older man: Where the world shines in the radiance of advances, advantages
and material goods, where human rights are respected, where civil order is
maintained, and where, above all, there is a guaranteed supply that
constantly satisfies an undisturbed comfort, so that everything can be
overseen and everything remains calculable and manageable in terms of

Heidegger's fears for the future are less Orwellian than Huxleyan. In Aldous
Huxley's Brace New World, the planet has been transformed into a place where
everyone is satisfied and pleased, amply supplied with sex, drugs and rock
and roll (or its equivalent in the 1930s imagination). Nature has been tamed
and fumed into a well-managed golf course. There is no dissent. But what has

129. G. Orwell, 1984 (New York: New American Library, 1961), pp. 217-20.
130. "Das Ge-Stell", in Bremer and Freiburger Vortrage, GA 79, p. 27. 131.
GA 77, p. 216.

the grip of the compulsion to



been lost is depth, awareness and freedom. In Huxley's vision, traditional
ways and feelings survive only on Indian reservations. Similarly, Heidegger
once wrote, "Today the authentic thinking which explores the primordial lore
of Being still lives only on `reservations' (perhaps because it, in
accordance with its origin, is as ancient as the Indians are in their
fashion).""' Heidegger's fear is that once we have gained complete control
over ourselves and our natural environment, we will have lost our openness
to Being. We will no longer be Dasein, because we will be so entrapped in
technology that we will have no suspicion that there are other, richer ways
in which beings can show themselves. We will be completely insensitive to
mystery, to the possibility of historical transformation, and to Being as
something that is worth asking about f332-3).

How should we respond to this bleak possibility? Most ways of reacting to
technology do not address the fundamental problem. For example, we may
notice that we are killing off other species and destroying the wilderness,
and we may call for laws that will preserve the rain forests; we may point
out that the rain forests contain thousands of useful natural products, even
possible cures for cancer, which will be lost if we continue to ruin this
environment. This is all well and good, but notice that this approach
continues to view nature as a collection of natural resources that it is up
to us to control and manage. We are still on the way to reducing all other
living things to food, drugs, pets and zoo specimens. A menagerie is not a

What should we do about the basic problem, then? Maybe this very question
perpetuates technology: when we approach things as problems to be fixed, we
are already thinking technologically. But then, are we just supposed to lie
back and do nothing at all?

Heidegger would respond that, as he writes in the opening of "Letter on
Humanism" (217), "We are still far from pondering the essence of action
decisively enough." The simple opposition between activity and passivity is
too crude. There is a kind of letting-be that is not just inert suffering.
This letting-be involves waiting, listening, responding - attentively
receiving what is given to us.

But what is given to us above all is Being. We have to learn to stop taking
Being for granted, and instead notice it precisely as something that is
granted - as a gift. Even the technological meaning of Being is a gift that
springs from mysterious historical sources, and that may be followed by
other gifts, new revelations of Being (337). Being is neither a resource,
nor something we can make and manipulate; it is an event that must be
gratefully appreciated. Thinking - as Heidegger says - is thanking."' The
proper response to technology, then, is not to abandon technological
devices, but to recognize that a historically developed understanding of
Being is at work in our lives, and that this is an occasion for thoughtful

132. Heidegger, Aufzeichnungen acs der Werkstatt, quoted in O. Poggeler,
Marlin Heidegger's Path of Thinking, tr. D. Magurshak & S. Barber (Atlantic
Highlands, New Jersey: Humanities Press International, 1987), p. 191. 133.
What is Called Thinking? pp. 139ff.


Dreyfus' BITW

42	Chapter 3

the way in which Dasein itself gets interpreted. (36-37, my gloss in the
third pair of brackets) [15-16]

Thus Dasein overlooks the directly given and fundamental experience of
involvement. Here hermeneutics must call attention to the hidden as the
"undiscovered," although there is also a hint that this overlooking is
motivated and so results in a "disguise." To combat this tendency to
overlook and cover up the phenomenon, Heidegger points out that "in" does
not originally mean inclusion. The primordial sense of "in" was, rather, "to
reside," "to dwell" (80) [54] . This is supposed to help us get over the
idea that the "in" of inclusion, like chalk in a box, is basic.

But, one might well ask, why should these primitive meanings be more
illuminating. than later ones, since, according to Heidegger, Dasein always
misunderstands itself in terms of the world? Heidegger would answer that
"`primitive phenomena' are often less concealed and less complicated by
extensive self-interpretation on the part of the Dasein in question" (76)
[51] . The natural distortions of common sense have not been further covered
up by philosophical distortions reflected back into everyday language. Thus,
for example, in the early stages of our language, the detached and the
involved senses of words have not yet separated out. Even now when we speak
of being in the theater, we can mean both that someone is spatially in the
theater and that the theater plays a crucial role in that person's
self-interpretation-or better, we may mean something more simple than either
of these alternatives. When we recall that "in" derives from "reside," it
jars us out of our assumption that our objective, "literal" sense of "in" is

Not that the metaphorical is supposed to be more basic than the literal, as
some now try to argue. Heidegger is more radical than those who point out
that metaphors are much more important, than people ordinarily realize and
that without metaphors like inside/outside that are based on spatial
inclusion, as for example inside and outside our bodies, we could not think
about more abstract involvement relations.1 This still assumes that the
spatial relation is the basic one from which we imaginatively project the
others. On the contrary, Heidegger wants us to see that at an early stage of
language the distinction metaphorical/literal has not yet emerged.

Heidegger's specific discussion of the senses of the preposition "in" will
be illuminating only to those who know German. We can,

     --- from list ---


Driftline Main Page


Display software: ArchTracker © Malgosia Askanas, 2000-2005