Technology, Knowledge, and Human Life



Meeting Time
M/W 10:00AM–11:45AM
June 25–July 27, 2012

Social Sciences 2, room 71

Christoph Durt, M.A. from the university of Munich in 2005 in Philosophy, Psychology, and Intercultural Communication. ABD in Philosophy at UCSC in 2009.
Office hours: M/W after lecture and by appointment

Teaching Assistant
Javier Cardoza-Kon, BA philosophy 2003: university of New Mexico. MALA 2005: St. John’s College, PhD student 2007: UCSC, PhD Candidate: 2010–present.
Office hours: Wednesdays 2–3pm at Joe’s (in front of the Bay Tree Bookstore)

Disability Resources
If you qualify for classroom accommodations because of a disability, please submit your Accommodation Authorization Letter from the Disability Resource Center (DRC) to me during my office hours or by appointment, preferably within the first week of the Summer Session. Contact DRC by phone at 831-459-2089 or for more information.


This lecture course critically investigates the philosophical claim that the modern intertwinement of science, technology, and human life is anticipated by a technological way of conceptualizing the world. The English word ‘technology’ is rooted in the Greek ‘technē,’ art, and one of the first systematic accounts of technology stems from Aristotle. According to him, technē is one of the five active conditions in virtue of which the mind attains truth. Technology is understood as leading to knowledge, but knowledge of a certain kind; science, practical wisdom, philosophy, and intellectual understanding go beyond technical knowledge. Aristotle’s distinctions were blurred in the Renaissance, when idealizing and formalizing techniques became the fundament for science. Scientists and philosophers from Galileo on began to view the external world as comprehensible with technological means alone.

According to Husserl, the “crisis” of the scientific concept of the world in the 20ᵗʰ century is due to the “mathematization of nature,” which replaces qualitative aspects of experience with technical operations on symbols. Against its technological reduction, Husserl tries to recover the full sense of science as it had been conceived by the Ancient Greeks. His analysis tries to unveil the “sedimentations” of thinking that have covered the original meaning of the technization and its relation to human life. His student Heidegger radicalizes the move back to the origin of the modern picture of the world, and attempts to understand what technology reveals about the world and our place in it. In one of the most thoughtful articles of the 20ᵗʰ century, “The Question Concerning Technology,” he finds the key to the revealing function of technology at an unexpected place: in its comparison to poetry. While this course maintains a critical attitude towards the accounts of the above mentioned philosophers, it follows their shift of attention away from the obvious results of technology (such as machines) towards the less obvious ways of thinking that produce them.


    • One response paper of up to 800 words (35%), one final paper of 1250–2000 words (50%).
    • Participation (15%). You can miss, for whatever reason, up to two lectures (22%) without penalty, but thereafter each missed lecture will directly affect your grade. Since this quarter is quite dense, however, every lecture missed will make it harder to write good papers.
    • All written coursework is due by email on the days specified in the schedule.
    • Plagiarism in any paper will result in a citation, and an ‘F’ for the whole course, besides other possible disciplinary measurements by the provost or dean. All papers are electronically checked for plagiarism. For some simple guidelines for how to avoid plagiarism, see:
    • Each individual paper will be graded on a 0–100 scale. Here the conversion table to letter grades:

Number → Letter Conversion 

Numerical Grade

Letter Grade

≥ 97.5


≥ 92.5


≥ 90.0


≥ 87.5


≥ 82.5


≥ 80.0


≥ 77.5


≥ 72.5


≥ 70.0


≥ 67.5


≥ 62.5


≥ 60.0


< 60.0


Required Books

Skip the shopping and start reading. All texts are linked on the Schedule. Please email me if you can read ancient Greek or German, and I email you the texts in the original language.


Week One
6/25: Introduction.
6/27:  Chapter 1-4 from Aristotle’s Book VI of the Nicomachean Ethics.

Week Two
7/2: Excerpts from Galileo’s The Assayer.
7/4: No class (Independence Day).

Week Three
7/9: Pages 21-48 from Husserl’s The Crisis of the European Sciences.
7/11: Pages 48-53 from Husserl’s The Crisis of the European Sciences. Response paper due via eCommons.

Week Four
7/16: Pages 53-59 from Husserl’s The Crisis of the European Sciences.
7/18: Heidegger’s The Question Concerning Technology. Read especially p. 3 until bottom of p. 13. Here a website with short explanations of the Greek, Latin, or German key terms, and other information you may find helpful.

Week Five
7/23: Heidegger’s The Question Concerning Technology. Read especially from bottom of p. 13 until middle of p. 28.
7/25: Heidegger’s The Question Concerning Technology. Read especially from the middle of p. 28 until the end. Discussion of the results of the course. Complimentary article (for fun): From Technologist to PhilosopherFinal paper due via eCommons.


Below you find the topics discussed in the course, plus what was written on the blackboard. Many points are tentative, others present controversial claims of the authors. Use them as an additional help, not as a replacement for the texts read, or for what was said in the course.

(Your) possible definitions of technology: technology is…

  • use of things for a purpose
  • make things more convenient, faster
  • resource for some purpose
  • the use of tools or methods to some end. But: Some animals use tools and techniques—do they use technology?
  • applied science—τεχνολογία –τέχνη +λογος (Technik, Technologie). But: was there no technology before science?
  • a characteristic of humans – language, stone tools 2.6? mil. years, fire 1? mil years.
  • transformation or manipulation of nature. But what about e.g. information technology?
  • symbol manipulation and a way of thinking
  • all of the above, with due qualification

What is human life, and what is its relation to technology and knowledge?

  • extension of the use of tools by apes—modified stones, weapons, fire, agriculture, navigation, combustion engines, nuclear technology, information technology, biotechnology…
  • uses of technology for human life: survival, convenience, efficiency, security, storage and exchange of thoughts and information, organization…
  • capacity for abstract thought and communication through language (a technology?)
  • ζῷον λογικόν (zoon logikon)—animal rationale—rational animal
  • homo sapiens (in the 10ᵗʰ edition of Linnæus’ Systema Naturæ from 1758)—knowledge
  • homo faber
    “If we could rid ourselves of all pride, if, to define our species, we kept strictly to what the historic and the prehistoric periods show us to be the constant characteristic of man and of intelligence, we should say not Homo sapiens, but Homo faber. In short, intelligence, considered in what seems to be its original feature, is the faculty of manufacturing artificial objects, especially tools to make tools, and of indefinitely varying the manufacture.” (Henri Bergson 1907, p. 139)
    Also: Max Scheler 1928, Hannah Arendt 1958—craft
  • all of this is necessarily one-sided

Some basic relations

 technologyhuman lifeknowledge

defines, advances (and complicates)enables, supports, constitutes
human lifeproduces, forms, enables

produces, aquires
knowledgecreates, makes possible, supports, is a form ofdefines, enables, support

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

  • Ἀριστοτέλης (384–322 BCE)
  • 10 influential books, questions about authenticity
  • physics, metaphysics, politics, ethics
  • we should strive for the intermediate
  • εὐδαιμονία (eudaimonia): e.g. happiness—end in itself
  • ἀρετή (aretē): excellence—virtue ethics
  • πρᾶξις (praxis): e.g. rational action, conduct

the soul (πσυχἠ)

  • Περἱ Πσuχης—“De Anima”—“On the Vital Principle” (psycho-logy)
  • the form, or essence of a living thing
  • only one part of the soul can exist without the body: scientific/theoretical part
  • not a distinct substance from the body that it is in the notion of a body without a soul, or a soul in the wrong kind of body, is unintelligible

three things in the soul which control action and truth:

  1. αἴσθησις—aisthesis—sensation (no share in πρᾶξις (praxis))
  2. νοῦς—nous—reason
  3. ὄρεξις—orexis—desire

“The origin of action–its efficient, not its final cause–is choice, and that of choice is desire and reasoning with a view to an end. This is why choice cannot exist either without reason and intellect or without a moral state; for good action and its opposite cannot exist without a combination of intellect and character. Intellect itself, however, moves nothing, but only the intellect which aims at an end and is practical […]”
(Nicomachean Ethics 1139a32 (VI.2))

parts of the soul

  1. rational
    1. scientific— (contemplates invariable things, knowing that)
    2. calculative (contemplates variable things, know-how)
      1. technical—τἐχνη (technē)
      2. prudential—φρόνησις (phronésis)
  2. irrational

Is, under Aristotle’s view, science necessary for technical reasoning? Does this fit technology today?

“ἀμφοτέρων δὴ τῶν νοητικῶν μορίων ἀλήθεια τὸ ἔργον.”
“The work of both the intellectual parts, then, is truth.”
(Nicomachean Ethics, 1139b)


5 dispositions (ἕξις) in virtue of which the soul possesses truth

ἕξις (hexis): e.g. state, disposition, active condition of the soul of an zoon logicon (not in either vegetative or sensitive soul)

  1. technē (τέχνη)—art—poiesisecstasis (έκ-στασις) → production
  2. epistēmē (ἐπιστήμη): science/scientific knowledge → theoria (θεωρία)
  3. phronēsis (φρόνησις)—practical wisdom – praxis (πρᾶξις) → truth in relation to correct desire
  4. sophia (σοφία)—(philosophical) wisdom
  5. nous (νοῦς)—reason, understanding

two ways of using calculative reason:

  1. acting (combination of character and intellect. Reasoning according to human goods. The end lies in the action itself.)
  2. making (technē, variable (contingent). The end is the product.)

technē for Aristotle

  1. making, not acting: the value lies in the result (not in the action itself)
  2. close to theory and science (epistēmē), but with a practical (not a theoretical) purpose
  3. concerned with what is good and bad for a particular purpose
  4. concerned with coming into being, bringing into existence
  5. does so contingently (not with necessity) and artificially (not naturally)
  6. teachable independent from experience
  7. origin is the maker

substance (ουσια)

  • Democritus: reality consists out of atoms and void (matter). Sensible qualities are not fundamental:

    “νόμωι γλυκύ, [καὶ] νόμωι πικρόν, νόμωι θερμόν, νόμωι ψυχρόν, νόμωι χροιή, ἐτεῇ δὲ ἄτομα καὶ κενόν“ (Democritus, Fragment 9, in: Hermann Diels 1952 Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker: Griechisch und Deutsch, p. 139.)
    “By convention sweet, by convention bitter, by convention hot, by convention cold, by convention colored; but in reality there are atoms and void.”

  • Plato: Forms are real (ideas), empirical reality derived
  • Aristotle: hylomorphism (ὑλο + μορφή), substance-accident

the four elements

  • Parmenides, Anaxagoras, Empedocles, Plato, Aristotle…
  • distinction between fundamental and derived elements
  • due to the combination of two pairs of opposites (“primary qualities”)
  1. fire: hot + dry
  2. air: hot + moist
  3. water: cold + moist
  4. earth: cold + dry

Paper due 7/11

choose one out of these three prompts:

  1. In how far does the Galilean picture of the world merely appeal to technē in Aristotle’s sense? Do you think that Galileo, with his new concept of science, reduces the Aristotelian concept of epistēmē to a clever know-how?
  2. Explain the consequences of Galileo’s mathematical account of nature for the concept of color. How does he explain that there is a difference between experiences of colors and experiences of shapes, and how can the difference be explained as a difference in the applicability of a technique?
  3. Explain why Husserl thinks that “‘technization’” leads to the “emptying of the meaning of mathematical natural science.”

Please upload to eCommons until 11:59 p.m.

Aristotle’s common and proper sensibles

    1. common sensibles (αἰθητά κοινά)
      • experienceable with different senses
      • e.g. motion, rest, shape, magnitude, unity
    2. proper sensibles (αἰσθητά ἴδια)
      • experienceable with one sense only
      • e.g. warmth, color, taste, smell, sound

(cp. De Anima 425a16 (III.1))

Galileo Galilei 1564–1641

The Assayer 1623

“Philosophy is written in this grand book, the universe, which stands continually open to our gaze. But the book cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and read the letters in which it is composed. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one wanders about in a dark labyrinth.”
(translation by: Stillman Drake. 1957. Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo, p. 237f)

“I think that if ears, tongues, and noses were removed, shapes and numbers and motions would remain, but not odors or tastes or sounds. The latter, I believe, are nothing more than names when separated from living beings, just as tickling and titillation are nothing but names in the absence of such things as noses and armpits.”
(translation by: Stillman Drake. 1957. Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo, p. 276f)

Qualities that really are part of the objects they are attributed to


  • extension
  • location
  • mass
  • motion
  • shape
  • size
  • penetration
  • touch
  • number

Qualities that are not really part of the objects they are attributed to


  • colors
  • tastes
  • odors
  • sounds
  • heat
  • tickling, titillation

The “Corpo Sensitivo”

  • corpo sensitive, corpo animato, corpo animato e sensitivo
  • l’animale, l’animal vivente
  • l’anima sensitiva

“Hence I think that tastes, odors, colors, and so on are no more than mere names so far as the object in which we place them is concerned, and that they reside only in the consciousness. Hence if the living creature were removed, all these qualities would be wiped away and annihilated. But since we have imposed upon them special names, distinct from those of the other and real qualities mentioned previously, we wish to believe that they really exist as actually different from those.”
(translation by: Stillman Drake (1957) Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo, p. 274)

“[…] vo io pensando che questi sapori, odori, colori, etc., per la parte del suggetto nel quale ci par che riseggano, non sieno altro che puri nomi, ma tengano solamente lor residenza nel corpo sensitivo, sì che rimosso l’animale, sieno levate ed annichilate tutte queste qualità; tuttavolta però che noi, sì come gli abbiamo imposti nomi particolari e differenti da quelli de gli altri primi e reali accidenti, volessimo credere ch’esse ancora fussero veramente e realmente da quelli diverse.”
(Galileo Galilei [1623] Il Saggiatore, p. 48)

“[…] I think that tastes, odors, colors, and so on, on part of the subject in which they appear to reside, are no more than mere names, but that they hold their residency only in the sensitive body. Hence, if the animal were removed, all these qualities would be wiped away and annihilated. Nevertheless, as soon as we in this way have imposed names on them, particular and different from those of the other primary and real accidents, we want to believe that they also exist just as truly and really as the latter.”

René Descartes 1596-1650

“[…] pain and color and so on are clearly and distinctly perceived when they are regarded merely as sensations or thoughts. But when they are judged to be real things existing outside our mind, there is no way of understanding what sort of things they are.”
(Descartes, René [1644] Principles of Philosophy, I, 68)

“The nature of body consists not in weight, hardness, color, or the like, but simply in extension.”
(Descartes, René [1644] Principles of Philosophy II, §4)

John Locke 1632-1704


(John Locke [1690] An Essay concerning Human Understanding, II, viii, 15)

The other side: Subjectivity

  • parallel to the introduction of modern science, subjectivity became the focus of philosophy
  • res cogitans contrasted with res extensa; introduced as a counterpart to the new picture of the world

    “Shall I say ‘a rational animal’? No; for then I should have to inquire what an animal is, what rationality is, and in this one question would lead me down the slope to other harder ones, and I do not have the time to waste on subtleties of this kind. Instead I propose to concentrate on what came into my thoughts spontaneously and quite naturally whenever I used to consider what I was.”
    (Descartes, René. 1641. Meditations, II)

    je pense, donc je suis” (“I think, therefore I am”)
    (Descartes, René. 1637. Discours de la Méthode pour bien conduire sa raison, et chercher la vérité dans les sciences, IV)

    ego cogito, ergo sum
    (Descartes, René. 1644. Principia philosophiæ, I, 10)

    • as a path to secure knowledge (and an anthropological characteristic) introduced shortly after the modern scientific-technological picture of the world
    • consciousness as a defining criterion of humans? Beasts are mere machines?
    • Husserl: step-by-step increase of symbolic presentation, step-by-step separation of conscious experience
    • look for: the relation of τεχνἠ and symbolic-mathematical

Edmund Husserl 1859–1938


Academic Genealogy
Notable teachersNotable studentsStrong influence on
Franz Brentano
Carl Stumpf
Wilhelm Wundt
Hanna Arendt
Oscar Becker
Eugen Fink
Jacob Klein
Karl Jaspers
Martin Heidegger
Hans-Georg Gadamer
Roman Ingarden
Ludwig Landgrebe
Adolf Reinach
Alfred Schütz
Edit Stein
Rudolf Carnap
David Carr
Jaques Derrida
Alexandre Koyré
Emmanuel Levinas
Maurice Merleau-Ponty
Jitendra Nath Mohanty
Paul Ricœur
Max Scheler
  • from mathematics to philosophy—founder of Phenomenology
  • 1891 Philosophie der Arithmetik: Psychologische und logische Untersuchungen.—problem of the foundations of mathematics (Grundlagenkrise der Mathematik)—Gottob Frege: “Psychologism”
  • 1900-1 Logische Untersuchungen—careful refutation of psychologism
  • 1913  Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie. Erstes Buch: Allgemeine Einführung in die reine Phänomenologie.—“transcendental turn”
  • 1931 Méditations cartésiennes—problem of cogito (German 1950: Cartesianische Meditationen: Eine Einleitung in die Phänomenologie)
  • 1935 (1953) Die Krisis der Europäischen Wissenschaften und die Transzendentale Phänomenologie: Eine Einleitung in die Phänomenologische Philosophie.

Experience, intuition

  • ‘experience’ translates two German words: Erfahrung vs. Erlebnis (Leben, body vs. Leib, Philosophy of Life)
  • ‘intuition’ translates two German words: Intuition vs. Anschauung
  • embodiment
  • there is a typical and vague general empirical style of the whole world

Logical concepts, as valid thought-unities, must have their origin in intuition; they must arise out of an abstraction on the base of certain experiences, and must, when the abstraction is re-performed, always newly prove themselves and be recognized in their identity with themselves. Otherwise put: we absolutely do not want to rest content with ‘mere words,’ i.e. with a merely symbolic understanding of words. Meanings that are vitalized only from remote, confused, inauthentic intuitions—if by any intuitions at all—cannot be enough for us. We want to go back to the ‘things themselves.’ (Logical Investigations II, p. 7)

The distinction between qualities that are really part of the objects they are attributed to and those that are not

apparent a priori certainty that secondary qualities are produced by primary qualities:

    • primary qualities are the only real qualities of the world
    • appearances of secondary qualities are caused by real qualities
    → appearances of secondary qualities must be produced by primary qualities

“[…] I think that tastes, odors, colors, and so on, on part of the subject in which they appear to reside, are no more than pure names, but that they hold their residency only in the sensitive body.” (Galileo, Il Saggiatore, p. 48)

Two popular accounts of qualities that are not really part of the objects they are attributed to

    1. error theory
      • secondary qualities are only by error attributed to the objects of the world

“[…] pain and color and so on are clearly and distinctly perceived when they are regarded merely as sensations or thoughts. But when they are judged to be real things existing outside our mind, there is no way of understanding what sort of things they are.” (Descartes, Principia Philosophiæ, I, §68)

“[…] the ideas of primary qualities of bodies, are resemblances of them, and their patterns do really exist in the bodies themselves; but the ideas produced in us by these secondary qualities, have no resemblance of them at all.” (Locke, Essay, II, viii, 15)

two variants of error theory: projectivism and eliminativism

    1. dispositionalism
      • secondary qualities are in the world: they are dispositions of objects to produce the respective sensations in us

“[…] we in no way likewise apprehend that in external objects, which we call light, color, smell, taste, sound, heat or cold, and the other tactile qualities, or that which we call their substantial forms, unless as the various dispositions of these objects which have the power of moving our nerves in various ways.” (Descartes, Principia Philosophiæ, IV, §198)

“Such qualities, which, in truth, are nothing in the objects themselves, but powers to produce various sensations in us by their primary qualities, i. e. by the bulk, figure, texture, and motion of their insensible parts, as colours, sounds, tastes, &c., these I call secondary qualities.” (Locke, Essay, II, viii, 10)


The paradox of the primary-secondary quality distinction

  1. apparent a priori certainty that secondary qualities are produced by primary qualities
  2. inconceivability of the connection:

“[W]e are wholly unable to conceive how the same things (viz., size, figure, and motion) can produce something else of a nature entirely different from themselves.” (Descartes, Principia Philosophiæ, IV, §198)

“[W]e can by no means conceive how any size, figure, or motion of any particles, can possibly produce in us the idea of any colour, taste, or sound whatsoever; there is no conceivable connexion between the one and the other.” (Locke, Essay, IV, iii, 13)

→ Husserl: “mysterious, insoluble incomprehensibilities” (Krisis, 3) in the modern picture of the world

→ calls 1. into question:

“[W]e cannot have an a priori insight that every change of specific qualities of intuited bodies which can be experienced, or is conceivable in every actual and possible experience, is causally dependent on occurrences in the abstract shape-stratum of the world, as it were that every such change has, so to speak, a counterpart in the realm of shapes in such a way that the respective total change in the whole plenum has its causal counterpart in the sphere of shape.
Put in this way, this conception might appear almost adventurous.” (cp. Crisis, p. 36)

Shapes and Fillings

  1. ideal geometry is concerned with an “ideal praxis“: limit shapes
  2. the “world” of limit shapes is created with the help of a technique, the “art of measurement
  3. plena, too, are part of the objective world; must be fitted in the mathematized concept of nature
  4. direct mathematization of plena “in principle impossible”—no a priori knowledge of their relation to geometrical limit shapes
  5. need of indirect mathematization (a posteriori)

The three steps of the “mathematization of nature”

  1. the idea of an ideal world, and its application to nature
  2. the approximation of ideal limit-objects
  3. symbolic abstraction and the loss of intuitive meaning

1. The idea of an ideal world, and its application to nature

    1. Already the methodological rigor of Euclidean geometry provided an example for philosophy

“… with Euclidean geometry had grown up the highly impressive idea of a systematically coherent deductive theory, aimed at a most broadly and highly conceived ideal goal, resting on ‘axiomatic‘ fundamental concepts and principles, proceeding according to apodictic conclusions—a totality formed of pure rationality, a totality whose unconditioned truth is available to insight and which consists exclusively of unconditioned truths recognized through immediate and mediate insight.” (Krisis, 18)

  1. Many attempts for a mathematical account of nature in ancient thought
    • Anaximander—numerical symmetry of nature
    • Pythagoras—arithmetical structure of reality
    • Democritus—atomic reality can be largely described mathematically, sensible qualities are mere appearances
    • Plato—ideal vs. sensible objects, mathematical form as the last root of empirical reality
  2. Galileo’s “completely new idea of a mathematical natural science” (Krisis, 20)
    • empirical nature itself is a rational and infinite totality
    • science is universal and can completely master it
    • empirical nature itself is conceived of in terms of the Platonic concept of number
      1. in its inner structure intelligible with reason alone, independent of sensibility
      2. the appearances of sensible qualities are alleged to be confused ideas, so confused that the relation between them and their real causes is unintelligible

Plato’s Methexis

  • ideal geometry can be applied to real objects because of methexis

Geometry and the picture of the world

Euclidean geometry:

  1. systematically coherent deductive theory
  2. directed at a most broadly and highly conceived ideal goal
  3. rests on “axiomatic” fundamental concepts and principles
  4. proceeds according to apodictic arguments
  5. is a totality formed of pure rationality
  6. which consists exclusively of unconditioned truths available to insight
  7. limited to a “finitely closed a priori
  8. applied to astronomy
  9. applied as a “means for technology

Modern geometrical concept of the world

  1. world is a rational infinite totality of being with a rational science systematically mastering it
  2. a priori determination of all kinds of existence possible—world itself consists of ideal objects
  3. geometry becomes part of algebra; numerical operations replace intuitive understanding (“arithmetization of geometry”)
  4. nature is “mathematized”

2. The approximation of ideal limit-objects and the substruction of reality

  1. the “art of measurement”: transforms really experienced objects into ideal mathematical objects
  2. limit-objects approximated with arbitrary precision
  3. “garb of ideas,” “substruction”

3. Detachment from original meaning in “technization”

    1. Original proximity of ancient mathematics to intuition — understanding. E.g. Pythagoras’ theorem visualized:

  1. “arithmetization of geometry” — mere formal understanding (In any right triangle, the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the two legs.)
  2. operations proceed with a mere method/technology; no intuitive understanding required
  3. loss of intelligibility of the connection between abstracted world and the world as it is experienced by us

Three ways of constituting concepts

  • applied to experience
  • vague (morphological)
  • material a priori [applicable to particular kind of object]
  • yields determinate objects
  • is necessary to any possible object of the respective kind
  • genera or species (universals)
  • can yield the eidos/Wesen (by eidetic variation)
  • intuitive (but not concrete)
  • applied to experience, or generalizations
  • exact (ideal)
  • material a priori
  • determinate
  • approximation of limit-objects
  • yields a priori objects
  • replaces real (experienceable) objects with ideal objects
  • ideas in the Kantian sense [Kant also speaks of “ideals”, but these are in individuo.Parallel: like all ideas they are not in concreto]
  • not intuitive (but the approximations are)
  • applied to experience, or generalizations, or idealizations
  • exact (structural)
  • formal a priori
  • determinable
  • object of formal ontologies
  • arithmetization of geometry, Leibniz’ “mathesis universalis”
  • can still be intuitive

Four ways of abstracting from concrete meaning

  1. generalization: abstraction from contingent moments, concentration on eidos (concretum)
  2. idealization: abstraction from concrete objects, concentration on approximated objects
  3. formalization: abstraction from material content (concrete genera and species), concentration on formal relations that can hold between objects of all genera and species
  4. symbolization: abstraction from intuitive content, concentration on the symbol as a representation

Multiple uses of symbols


  • physical objects directed at something other than themselves (their meaning)
  • indicate experienceable objects, generalizations, idealizations, or formalizations
  • vague or exact
  • same physical object can be used for different symbols (that have different referents)
  • e.g. c² = a² + b²
  • possibility of different syntactically well-formed sentences suggests new combinations of symbols

→ possibility of confusing different signitive intentions

The confusion of the results of formalization techniques with reality

  1. a technology is applied to reality, the “art of measurement,” from which the “world” of limit shapes is created
  2. ideal (geometrical) objects are approximated from experience or generalizations (idealization)
  3. the experienced, general, or ideal objects are conceived of in formal (arithmetical) terms (formalization)
  4. the idealizations become formalized
  5. the symbols assigned at each stage are used interchangeably
  6. the formal objects derived from experience are taken to be objects of the world
  7. reality (primary qualities) is already conceived of in mathematical terms (morphological and geometrical); now the formalizations become seen as descriptions of the same things
  8. the formalizations are taken to be reality in itself (the ultimate cause of experience)

→ original experience is covered up by the method of producing symbols

“It is through the garb of ideas that we take for true being, what is actually a method.” (Krisis, 52)

“[O]ne has to question just all epistemological technology that has lost its roots […]” (H XXIX, p. 153)

The “lifeworld” as the forgotten meaning-fundament of natural science

  • all “substruction” presupposes something that is substructed
  • the “lifeworld” is what is substructed with geometrically-ideal objects
  • it is the pre-given “horizon of all meaningful induction”
  • “world of all known and unknown realities”
  • “world of actually experiencing intuition,” “really experienced and experienceable”
  • the world in which we live, according to our bodily (leiblich) and personal way of being
  • does not change in its “own concrete causal style whatever we do with or without techniques”
  • all life relies on prediction
  • the “artful” methodological inductions of a Galilean-style physics carry them to infinity
  • “garb of ideas,” “garb of symbols” is fitted over the experienced world
  • this garb is confused with what it dresses; an equivocation of the method with what it works with
  • “natural world” (Ideas): is a (contingent) correlate of consciousness (imaginatio). The lifeworld is not separable from, yet more than mere imaginatio.

Husserl’s radically different perspective

Galileo, Descartes, Boyle, LockeHusserl
The lack of conceivability results from the fundamental ontological difference between primary and secondary qualities.The lack of conceivability results from the inapplicability of the approximative method to proper sensibles.
The geometrical world is the cause of our experiences.The life-world is the origin of the geometrical world.
For a foundation of science, we have to investigate the objective reality that gives rise to our experiences.For a foundation of science, we have to investigate the life-world, which is not objective reality in itself, but the pre-given experienceable world presupposed in all scientific activity.

Hermann von Helmholtz 1821–1894

  • surface-beings
  • “By the much abused expression ‘to imagine’ or ‘to be able to think how something happens,’ I understand […] the power of imagining the whole series of sensible impressions that would be had in such a case.” (Helmholtz 1903, p. 8)
  • inhabiting infinite plane, ball, egg → different geometries

Martin Heidegger 1889–1976

Academic Genealogy
Notable teachersNotable studentsStrong influence on
Nicolai Hartmann
Edmund Husserl
Heinrich Rickert
Hannah Arendt
Hans-Georg Gadamer
Hans Jonas
Kuki Shūzō
Karl Löwith
Herbert Marcuse
Leo Strauss
Jan Patočka
Xavier Zubiri
Karl Rahner
Hubert Dreyfus
Dorothea Frede
David Farrell Krell
Hans Sluga
Iain Thomson

Some works by Heidegger

  • 1927 Sein und Zeit (Being and Time)—Dasein vs. Sein (Being vs. being)
  • 1934 “Rektoratsrede” (“The Self-Assertion of the German University”)
  • 1935 “Einführung in die Metaphysik” (An Introduction to Metaphysics”) lecture, published 1953 with the addition to the title “(the confrontation of planetary technology and modern humanity)”—“technological frenzy”
  • 1935 “Der Ursprung des Kunstwerks” (“The Origin of the work of Art”). First published 1960
  • 1938-9 “Die Technik,” “Historie und Technik,” “Die Machenschaft (Gewalt, Macht, Herrschaft)”. Revealing studies published 1997 in Gesamtausgabe 66.
  • 1950 “Die Kehre” (“The Turning”). First published 1962 (Reclam).
  • 1950-3 “Die Frage nach der Technik” (“The Question concerning Technology”). Lecture at the TU Munich in the sequel Die Künste im technischen Zeitalter. Published 1954.
  • 1955 “Gelassenheit” (“Memorial Address”). Sometimes read as a relatively simple substitute. But it does not at all reach the depth of “The Question Concerning Technology.”

Heidegger’s suggestion for a “way of thinking” about technology

beginning of Question Concerning Technology

Technology as an instrument and anthropological characteristic

  • view of technology is a means to an end → strive to master it always better
  • view of technology as a human activity
  • holds for both “old” and “modern” technology (Heidegger distinguishes only these two kinds)
  • all this is correct, but
    • it does not by itself show the essence of technology
    • it leaves open the question what the instrumental is; something that is used to effect, a cause

The four causes

  1. causa materialis
  2. causa formalis
  3. causa finalis
  4. causa efficiens

derive from Aristotle, but:

  • causa (Latin) goes back to aition – related to indebting. This more original sense of causality needs to be reawakened to understand instrumental character of technology.
  • there is no correspondence to causa efficiens in Aristotle apart from somebody/-thing that brings something about. E.g. silversmith—legeinlogosapophainesthai.


  • poiēsisphysis (bringing-forth)
  • aletheia (ἀ-λήθεια)
  • veritas, truth
  • Entbergen (revealing), fördern (e.g. expediting, exploiting, winning, mining, extracting of resource)

Prompts for your final paper

  1. Explain the four causes in Aristotelianism and Heidegger. How are they related to truth? What has truth to do with technology?
  2. What is, according to Heidegger, modern technology? Explain Galileo’s concept of the world and science in terms of Heidegger’s analysis of modern technology.
  3. What is the “danger” of technology, and what is its “saving power”? How does Heidegger’s account of the danger relate to the danger Husserl is seeing?

“old” vs. “new” technology

“old technology“:

  • e.g. windmill, traditional agriculture
  • directly dependent upon environment
  • transforms objects of nature, but treats them largely as what they are without science

“new technology”:

  • e.g. hydroelectric plant, coal mine, mechanized food industry, nuclear technology
  • challenges nature: unlocks and stores energy, frames nature in a new context according to the forces relevant for the theory put into use by technology, and the ordering (bestellen) it imposes
  • nature becomes a standing-reserve (Bestand. Also translated as “object on call,” but the objects are replaced by units of producibility.)
  • challenging makes use of everything as standing-reserve—“herausfordern”—(cp. above “fördern”)
  • Puts science into use. Depends on science and, vice-versa, is necessary for science.
  • enforces a new concept of the world

The technological concept of the world

  • the new concept of causality:
     (p. 23)
  • in science nature becomes reduced to a technically operationalizeable system of information.
  • in the process of technologization of the world, the objects become reduced to their potential to stand in reserve

Enframing (Gestell)

  • is the essence of technology
  • challenges humans to explain reality as standing-reserve
  • sends to revealing, like poiēsis
  • is itself produced by destining (Geschick). This is neither a fate that compels, nor a result of human will.
  • freedom is neither rooted in arbitrariness nor in the constraints of mere laws, but a process of revealing and truth, a process that unveils what was secret. It exposes the concealing as a “veil” that conceals the true essences. It is destining towards revealing.
  • because technology is a form of revealing, it has a liberating potential

The danger of the technological way of relating to the world

Husserl: “mathematization of nature” propels science, but entails danger of:

  • inability to recover the intuitions needed to understand the meaning even of scientific terms
  • misunderstanding the world and our place in it
  • replacing of original experience with a symbolical “substruction”
  • rendering science in a foundational crisis

Heidegger: technological thinking entails the dangers of:

  • one form of revealing (technology) becoming so dominant that others seem impossible
  • disabling other forms of revealing, thus taking away the possibility to experience underlying forms of truth
  • human life becoming subordinate to enframing, the relation to technology becoming unfree
  • humans are being ordered to merely stand as reserve

Heisenberg: technological thinking entails the dangers of:

  • encounter only oneself (or never oneself?—Heidegger)
  • resignation — mistranslation: better: acceptance

Heidegger’s new view on essence (Wesen, not essentia)

  • essence is a process, not a thing
  • the essence of technology cannot be understood as that what persists without change (the classical idea of essence)
  • but Heidegger: before persisting there is a granting (two-sided concept of reality, cp. quantum mechanics & dialogue with Heisenberg)
  • the Gestell challenges, but it is also a granting
  • the essence of humans reaches beyond individual being.

The ambiguity of the essence of technology

  1. enframing challenges forth into the frenziedness of ordering, inhibits other ways of revealing
  2. enframing grants the possibility of a revealing poiesis
    • the question concerning technology is the question for what technology reveals, and what it conceals
    • →keep an eye on the danger that everything becomes part of the ordering of technology
    • →understand how technology contributes to reveiling of truth
    • →foster the revealing side of technology
    • poetry and art can contribute to the understanding of the essence of technology, since they are different kinds of revealing
    • requires a new view on art as a form of revealing
    • we have to continue questioning