Purpose and significance in the human relationship to technology; Part I

Heidegger contends that ‘questioning builds a way’.[1] In previous posts I have identified the human being as the questioning being and, whether its interrogatory stance is an unthought embodied response to worldly existence, or articulated in conceptual and reasoned thought, this is how humans have made, and continue to make, their way in the world. In this sense I employ this descriptive term rather than to imply that all humans are conversant with the rules of logic or consciously subject experience to sustained analysis.

Building a canoe places one in a profound relationship with technology.

Building a canoe places one in a profound relationship with technology.

Every human person stands in some relationship to, or provocative juxtaposition with, technology understood in the Heideggerian sense of a functional lens through which the world is perceived. The Amazonian Indian has a place in the community defined by his purposeful contribution as much as does the German law graduate. Everywhere life is understood in the context of the human activity of positing ends and procuring and utilising the means to realise them.[2] Thus the building of a canoe or of a body of legislation are intrinsically part of what technology is. Heidegger acknowledges as correct such an instrumental and anthropological definition of technology, affirming that it is correct, but he asks, is this all?

Heidegger’s rather laborious discussion of Aristotle’s four causes concludes that a thing said to be technological owes its being present to these four causes, but something else entirely unites them all. That uniting element is poiesis, a ‘bringing-forth’[3] or the making-apparent, of something. ‘Through bringing-forth the growing things of nature as well as whatever is completed through the crafts and the arts come at any given time to their appearance’.[4] Thus the fourfold cause of a thing causes it to come into appearance in bringing-forth, in a manner which accords with them.

Is technology a revealing of what truly is? Maybe, in the sense that technology imposes upon things a mode of revealing which obscures all else. The ‘putting to use’ of the matter of facts in the world is  a consequence of purposiveness, so that as Heidegger contends, technology ‘puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it supply energy which can be extracted and stored as such’.[5]

Building a body of legislation; what is to be prioritised, what works, or what matters?

Building a body of legislation; what is to be prioritised, what works, or what matters?

Reflection on the Kantian observation I made previously, that purposiveness is a cognitive trait of human knowing, in conjunction with the Heideggerian observation that technology champions a functional appropriation of the world, and Merleau-Ponty’s positing of a pre-conscious, whole-body, functionally recursive engagement with it, combine to reveal a dominant historiological element in the Landscape of Being whose bias is apparent today. Human identity is constrained to appropriate a world which it predominantly understands in utilitarian terms.

To break out of the unreasonable demand-making that expects the world and its people to furnish one’s purposive needs, a disruption must wean one from this profound bias in environing culture. Awakened by such a disruption, the questioning being is forced to assert its latent desire for significance, in an all too rare interrogation of technology and its functionalist tunnel-vision, in an effort to regain ontological equilibrium.


Purposiveness, procurement and the technological reduction of the person.

Purposiveness, procurement and the technological reduction of the person.

Increasingly in the twenty first century, despite its potent individualism, the development of human identity is warped towards a satisfaction of its capacity for purpose in denial of the essential desire for significance that complements it. Failure to strike a balance of some kind leads to exploitation. It leads to the procurement of the other as a means to an end, rather than as an end in itself; ironically it also entails that one succumbs to the appropriation of oneself by the other as a useful thing.


[1] Editorial by David Farrell Krell, in The Question of Technology, Heidegger; Basic Writings, (Ed,) David Farrell Krell, London, Routledge, 2008, 215

[2] Heidegger, M. The Question of Technology, in Heidegger; Basic Writings, ibid, 2008, 218

[3] Heidegger, QT, in Basic Writings, ibid, 220

[4] Ibid

[5] Heidegger, QT, ibid, 223


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