Chapter 13: Technology, valuation and agency

To recapitulate briefly, Heidegger’s asking and answering the ‘question concerning technology’ in terms of ‘the question of Being’ has been called stupid because as executed, it both clandestinely relies on normative evaluations of technology and explicitly calls these evaluations intuitions of its essence, as though determining the “essence” of something is inherently equivalent to estimating its worth—an estimation, to boot, made relative to some unarticulated scheme that romanticizes an era that never existed (hence Heidegger’s homey homages to simply peasant or ancient life).  To put the issue succinctly, in his thinking on technology Heidegger simply conflates normative with substantive thinking, and conflating normative with substantive thinking in any attempt to solve a problem is stupid.  Such conflated thinking insures that the problem will not be solved any better than—or even as well as—plain and simple ignorance, meaning by chance.  In essence, then, Heidegger’s question of Being as an answer to the question of technology has been called stupid because it most assuredly fails to fit a solution to the problem it purports to solve, and it has been called optimally stupid because this assurance couldn’t be achieve by more direct means than by ennobling the errors into a metaphysical essence bringing a perfection of errors together under one umbra, declaring in effect that the problem can only solve itself—if even that.  To re-invoke the introductory metaphor, answering the question concerning technology in terms of asking the question of Being amounts to nothing more than declaring that the best way to solve a Rubix is to turn the same side over and over again, waiting for the solution to present itself.   Rhetorically, can a dumber solution be imagined?

At this point, then, a question can be asked: if Heidegger’s way of framing the question concerning technology in terms of the question of Being is optimally stupid because he conflates normative with substantive thinking within the most erringly simplistic framework imaginable, might not someone else pose the question of Being with respect to technology in without conflating facts (or essences) and norms, and in this re-fashioned way re-pose ‘the question concerning technology’ in terms of ‘the question of Being’?  In this re-positioning, one might get to the” essence” of technology itself, not essences as clandestine value judgements; then those essences could be thought in relation to Being, perhaps just stripped of any agency, metaphorical or not.  In other words, once the romanticized masquerade marching to the tunes of “respectful” poiesis and “disrespectful” com-posing is removed, do not straightforward ‘neutral’ essences provide the answer to the question of technology, if that question is asked in terms of essence?  Does not the essence of technology properly understood—say, for instance, as the ‘mechanization of agency’ and the ‘drive to universalization’— answer the question concerning technology in such a way that the solution to the problem of technology presents itself, even though asked in terms of the question of Being?  In this rephrasing, cannot the question of the Being of technology be rehabilitated, or de-normed as it were, and in this rehabilitation and de-norming can’t the question be reposed in a way that offers an intelligent response to the danger modern technology presents?   This line of question represents the only way to salvage something worthwhile from the approach taken in “The Question Concerning Technology,” and it is in part why alternative essences to Heidegger’s have been offered.  By reframing the question of Being in non-normative terms, it would seem that the overall approach it invokes can be saved from the way Heidegger executes it.  In short, it remains possible that Heidegger can, in effect, be saved from himself, and the question of Being posed anew as the best possible way to address the question concerning technology.

This line of thinking, however, will not do, and it will not do just because the question of Being can’t be reframed in non-normative terms.  It can be, and in fact it already has been in Chapters 4-6, where in effect the question concerning technology was taken up in terms of the question of “essence”or alternatively, in terms of the question of Being, just absent an agency-like Being ‘giving’ essence to Dasein (in its place was put just a normal sense of “Being” as ‘the way something is’).  So the question of Being can be saved from the Heideggerian manner of questioning, with its clandestine and disingenuous normative context, and it can be re-asked simply in terms of essences properly understood, with bona-fide normatively-neutral “essences” as descriptors.  But even so, this re-positing of the questions of ‘Being’ and ‘technology’ simply will not do because the question concerning technology has little, if anything at all, to do with the question of Being—or better put, any question regarding ‘the way it is,’ such as it is, only plays an incidental role in the question concerning technology, once technology is understood in its proper light.  Simply put, in that proper light, the question concerning technology is not tantamount to asking question of Being; instead it invokes a more primary question, the question of values.  Heidegger’s own conflation of essences and values obliquely suggests this ‘question of values’ even as it obscures it, and as such this Chapter, like those preceding it, both develops a proper treatment of the issue underlying Heidegger’s error and shows the extent to which Heidegger not just gets the issue wrong, but also fails even to formulate a question in a useful way.

To show this failure and to reformulate the underlying issue Heidegger’s formulation only obscures, this Chapter unfolds in two segments.  First, the problem of technology is framed in terms of the problem of values by showing how questions regarding the “essence” of technology are both relatively easy and therefore rather trivial affairs when assessing the impact of technology on human life; that instead of this relatively easy[1] empirical assessment technology should be assessed in terms of its impact on human values—in other words, technology must be essentially evaluated, not simply described in either its “essence” or factual manifestations.  In this way, ‘the question of Being’ is shown to fold into the more important question of value.  Second, once the problem of evaluation is sketched and set up, the question of providing a foundation for the proper measure for values is addressed, with a specific eye toward the problem of agency in setting up any system of evaluation.  Specifically, it is shown that Heidegger’s predilections about Being, Dasein and dislcosedness preclude even posing correctly the question of “a measure on earth” for assessing values,[2] i.e. an ethics, because those predictions deny the very notion of agency in Dasein, an agency critical to any adjudicative evaluation of outcomes, technological or otherwise.   With both segments in hand, the converging issues of agency, freedom, and responsibility are explored in some detail, and with it the incompatibility of “agency” and “destiny” is addressed, followed by a few concluding remarks leading to Heidegger ‘solution’ to this aporia—“piety” before Being as a prospective ‘foundation’ for ethics.

Technology and value

The link between the question concerning technology and the question concerning values, though unobserved by Heidegger, is not hard to find because all technologies in their very existence as a means to an end suggest that the end to which a technology is directed is valued.  For, rather obviously, if the end was not valued, why else would any effort at all be devoted to attaining it, much less the effort required to invent and develop a new technology.  For this reason, most of the values inherent in technology are almost too obvious to require statement.  Technologies devoted to food, shelter, and clothing are so clearly geared as means toward valued ends that it is simply impossible to deny that technologies like stone cutting tools, or spear heads, or sown furs imply values.  They imply that the purposes to which those implements are put are valued as such, and as for primitive tools, so for modern industrial applications for the same basic needs, however more complex the means and nexus of values these technologies may involve.  For these more complex, elaborate technologies, the principle is the same.  Immunizations show health is valued.  Automobiles show mobility is valued, as is convenience and autonomy, and so on and so forth.  As a rule, most of the anticipated consequences of a technology can be said to be, by virtue of the creation of that technology, valued, even as unanticipated consequences may or may not call into question other existing values, as some anticipated but undesired unavoidable consequences do (like pollution).  It is this nexus of means towards ends as the realization, generation, and challenge of values that links the question concerning technology to the question concerning values, and fleshing out this nexus in terms of its rules is the principle goal of this Chapter.

To illustrate the rule at work, reconsider, for instance, the question already raised about the kind of deliberations involved in determining whether a water wheel or a hydroelectric dam “impose” on a river, just this time consider the two technologies in terms of deciding which one to build.  Obviously both technologies imply a value of some sort; both show that power, or the ability ‘to do work,’ is valued.  But each technology realizes that value in a different way, and to a different degree.  For the water wheel, the ‘work’ might be limited to grain that can be ground directly, or to lumber that can be directly cut—in general, any mechanical work that can be implemented by transferring the motion of the wheel to motion of useful implements, including even the generation of small amounts of electricity in a turbine connected to the gears.  For the hydroelectric dam, the same principle applies, just by a different means and on a different scale.  The electricity it generates is simply the generalized power to move implements in other, less direct ways, including generating heat and light, and so forth.  The omnibus ability to do work is in part what electricity is, but in any case, despite the actual differences in the technologies themselves, both the water wheel and the hydroelectric damn represent more or less the same values in terms of what the technologies are and do—the ability to re-purpose natural energies for human ends; to automate manual tasks; to offload, as it were, manual labor, or to otherwise release energy from the limits of its specific forms, directing it for use in other related purposes (heat can be generated by resistance in an electric coil instead of from burning wood; light can be generate in a bulb, etc.).  In short, what these technologies are and do is valued primarily by virtue of being the technologies they are as means toward valued ends, and in this respect the realization of either technology—as with all technologies— is the realization of values.

As much as the question concerning values in technology is the realization of values in technological implements, it is not limited solely to that realization.  For even as the water wheel and the hydroelectric damn realize for the most part common values simply by virtue of being the technologies that they are, both technologies challenge non-technologically driven values by virtue of their implementation as technologies.  For instance, the natural flow of the river may be valued for various reasons, which need not be specified here; it is enough to stipulate that natural processes are valued as such, whatever the reasons for those evaluations.  As with the natural flow, the natural scenery of the river may be valued as well, and so forth—the point is that neither of these values are embodied in a technology per se.  They pre-exist technology, and when a technology is implemented that might or might not disrupt them, these values are put into question.  The decision whether to build a hydroelectric damn to realize certain valued ends vis-à-vis the decision to build a water wheel that will realize many of those same ends but on a much smaller scale challenges any pre-existing valuation of the river’s flow and scenery.  To build one technology or the other will requiring seeing the river’s flow in different ways, i.e. it will require “respect” for the river to be understood in different senses, and because of this difference the decision to build either a dam or a water wheel will provoke a conflict of values.  Should the river be allowed to flow naturally, as it stands, or should it be temporarily restricted so that a reservoir can form, thus creating a lake that didn’t exist on the river before the natural flow was disrupted?  In this deliberation of values, other values may or may not be invoked, such as flood control with a dam that wouldn’t be possible with a water wheel, or the number of wheels cluttering up the view of the river to get anything like the equivalent power from a dam, or the convenience and needs of people removed from the river who need work done, or  who need light, or heat—again, the consideration are legion …many values engage and collide in the decision to build a waterwheel on the river in order to realize one set of values versus a hydroelectric damn to realize more or less the same ones (but some others as well), but in any case realizing those values on a much larger scale (even the question of scale invokes a question of value that must be assessed).  Aside from the question of what a water wheel or a hydroelectric damn essentially is—meaning aside from the question of what essentially belongs to their construction, function, and impact in purely descriptive or substantive terms—the  separable but intimately related question of the values those technologies both implement and challenge is raised in any decision to build them.  It is primarily in this sense of challenging and conflicting with existing values that the question of technology as the question of values arises.

The decision between a water wheel and a hydroelectric dam on a river is a relatively simple case of how a technology embodies, invokes, and challenges values, but the principle at work can be seen more readily in technologies that more directly challenge or conflict with existing values.  For something like genetic engineering through CRISPR-Cas9, for instance, where specific genes governing development can be altered, the values implemented, invoked, and challenged are profoundly more difficult to sort through than invoking simpler questions like how to “respect” the flow of a river.  With these technologies, the values of “humanity” and life itself are at stake, and it takes very little application to see that technologies like medicine regarding health and longevity, sanitation regarding public hygiene, mechanization regarding food production, industry regarding the production of goods and services—virtually all technologies imaginable: they all implement, invoke, and challenge values because they essentially are and do one thing or another as a means to an end that is valued.  In an inseparable sense, then, the question concerning ‘what technology is,’ as Heidegger purports to frame it, is essentially a question of what and how to value that technology.  The question concerning technology, when thought through to its true implications, cannot be separated from the question of value, and in this respect any question about its “essence” it is far more the question of value that any question of Being.

The relationship between the inseparability of the question of technology from the question of value, and the equally necessary distinction between substantive and normative thinking, will be addressed shortly.  But first the general way in which technology both creates new values and conflicts with existing should be noted in more general terms, if only because the Heideggerian manner of questioning denies this rather obvious point in its conflation of normative with substantive thinking—in other words, because Heidegger’s implicit evaluation of technology disguised as essence obscures the import of the inseparability, even as his conflation hides the need for the distinction, as well as the underlying issue the distinction invokes.  For in this creation and conflict of values that is the emergence and implementation of technology, both the inseparability of the “essence” of technology and the question of value becomes clear, even as the need to separate normative from substantive thinking also become paramount.  Since it is this inseparability within a distinction that is most obscured by Heidegger, some effort will be required to undo the damage his manner of questioning causes.

To see how technologies in effect create values even as they draw from the evaluation of existing values with which they may in turn come into conflict, consider the development of two simple technologies, water lines to and sewage lines from homes.  While it remains somewhat controversial precisely what technological developments have led to the increased average lifespan now enjoyed in most of the contemporary world, it is acknowledged that improved sanitation is one of them.[3]  In part as a result of universal sanitation, human beings now live approximately twice as long as at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.  Now in the first place, the capacity to run water and sewer lines to and from homes created new values—or at least it augmented existing values to such an extent that one might as well say new values were created.  For prior to indoor plumbing and sewer lines, bathing was not particularly valued, nor was hand washing or the sanitary disposal of human waste (since the means for either were more or less non-existent, the ends were hardly valued as such, at least with respect to the way they were valued once the means were obtained).  In any case, indoor plumbing either directly created new or augmented  existing values regarding cleanliness and sanitation, but it also had an indirect consequence (one entirely unforeseen at the time) for a long-standing value—longer life spans.  Increased longevity has always been valued, but with its realization because of improved sanitation, even more new values indirectly emerged (such as a comfortable retirement), values that put a strain on existing values and the means for realizing them, in that more people living into old age strained valued resources such as access to health care, or even the necessities of life (since they no longer work, the elderly depend on savings or family or the government to meet their needs, etc.).  In general, since people began to live longer, more people drew from valued resources for a longer period of time, thus as a result of two seemingly unrelated technological developments those resources had to become more plentiful, thus requiring enhanced technologies for producing them—in short, new questions arise within the context of new values coming to be within existing values, thus creating a need to balance new and existing values, or even just balance those pre-existing values.  Whatever the details and exact pathways through which increased longevity put a strain existing resources and therefore on existing values, its status as the result (in part) of two very simple technologies illustrates how the question concerning technology is primarily a question concerning values, specifically in that the two technologies are technologically simple enough as to generate no compelling questions as to how they work or what they essentially are and do; yet nevertheless they generate broad questions of how to value and to what extent these values can be maintained, even as they realize in a direct sense the values for which they are a determined means.  It is asserted here that as for indoor plumbing and the consequently improved sanitation leading to increased average lifespans, so for most—if not all—technologies.  Technology as a rule has a broad impact on values beyond the more circumscribed limits of its application as means to a specific end.[4]  New technologies always in principle are realized in a nexus of existing values, and in realizing the direct values for which they are a means they both realize those values in a direct sense and generate points of collaboration and/or conflict with existing values, thus leading to an ever-renewing need to re-examine and re-contextualize technologies in terms of the values they represent, supplement, and sometimes threaten.

Much more could be said on how even simple technologies have had a profound, even universal impact on human life and its nexus of valuations (think only of developments like fire, the wheel, metal tools, the light bulb, container freight, etc.).  In all cases, these technologies have led to such a profound shift in human life that questions of value could not be avoided, and in fact questions of value became so paramount that the technologies themselves came to be seen primarily in terms of the values they embodied, supplemented, and/or threatened.  In other words, in the shifting landscape of values provoked by technological change, technology as such comes to be seen largely in normative terms; it even comes to be, as Heidegger would have it, in essence normative.  And indeed, in so far as technology can’t but occur within a context of evaluation, and in so far as all technologies, as the technologies that they are, realize a value simply by virtue of being a means to a valued end, it can be said that the essence of technology involves evaluation; that in essence technology can’t but be normative as well as substantive.  But far from meaning that the question concerning technology can be posed in normative terms after all, the inevitable involvement of technology with values calls all the more clearly for a strict separation between normative and substantive thinking about technology.  For absent this separation, there is simply no way to realistically assess any technology as a cause or consequence of value.  That is, in the shifting landscape of values that is technological change, there is an enhanced need to appreciate the causal conditions and existential consequences of existing values all the more clearly, in so far as technology is responsible for them, otherwise there is simply no basis for asserting any preference for one value over another.  In short, absent a separation between thinking that works solely in terms of sorting preferences among norms, i.e. judging solely in terms of one norm being worth more than another, and a thinking that works in terms of determining existential conditions for and consequences of norms, i.e. determining the conditions under which a norm can or cannot be realized, there is no rational basis for making any non-arbitrary evaluation of any given norm, one brought about through technology or otherwise.  Simply put, absent this distinction between normative and substantive thinking in the process of evaluation, no evaluation can occur.  A contemporary example should suffice to make the need for this basic distinction clear, even as it clarifies the essentially embeddedness of technology in norms.

As an example, consider one of the most important developments in biomedical technology since the development of immunization or antibiotics, CRISPR-Cas9.  As a technology, CRISPR-Cas9 can be evaluated in separable ways: either normatively, in terms of the values it invokes and challenges, or substantively, in terms of what it is or does.  Now normatively, perhaps the most obvious value against which CRISPR-Cas9 can be assessed is “respect” for life.  That is, CRISPR-Cas9 under a Heideggerian understanding of technology would be a impositional challenge on “life” in the extreme, in that it would represent the ultimate hubris of meddling with the conditions that make human life possible in the first place.  Furthermore, in so far as the normal functioning of the human organism is presupposed for Dasein’s existence, CRISPR-Cas9 even threatens Dasein’s essence—or at least the organic conditions for its possibility.  When it comes to genetics, “respect” for Heidegger would presumably mean leaving well enough alone; it would mean not meddling with the very process that makes existence possible in the first place.  “Disrespect,” as the contrary, would precisely entail altering that natural process for humanly devised purposes and imposed ends, and as such under Heidegger CRISPR-Cas9 would represent the pinnacle of com-posing, for no greater interference with the self-emergence of development could be imagined than altering the genome so that the development of living things itself occurs along humanly devised and proposed ends, as opposed to the processes by which it would otherwise naturally unfold.  In this imposition on the unfolding of life itself, the very model of poiesis as self-emerging is derailed and transformed into an object for potentially endless manipulation.  Under Heidegger CRISPR-Cas9 would be in essence disrespectful of nature in the most profound way imaginable.

But is CRISPR-Cas9 essentially “disrespectful,” and if so, in what way is it so?  And more to the point, if so, what does it matter?  Does saying CRISPR-Cas9 is “disrespectful” add anything to the discussion of whether or not the technology should be used, or how it should be used?

In a case like CRISPR-Cas9, it takes very little penetration to see through the charade of essence to which Heidegger would consign discussion to the substantive distinctions it presupposes, and therefore question it ultimately begs.  For with regard to “respecting” the natural unfolding of a process—with regard to “abetting”—CRISPR-Cas9  is no different than immunizations or antibiotics, in that both of the later technologies circumvent through an “imposition” the natural course of disease, just as CRISPR-Cas9 circumvents though the “imposition” of new genetic information the natural development of an organism.  As far as “disrespect” of a natural course of events is concerned, i.e. as far as not being poiesis as essentially self-emerging is concerned, antibiotics, immunizations, and CRISPR-Cas9 are all disrespectful, just as is any medical technology designed to circumvent the natural course of disease—or of any physiological process, for that matter—is “disrespectful.”  In fact, the only medicine that would be “respectful” of disease in the Heideggerian sense would be medicine that promotes the intrinsic course of disease to its natural conclusion, which is either termination of the disease itself or termination of the patient.  In either of those cases, however, one isn’t practicing medicine as any form of technology; one is in effect doing nothing but abetting or letting nature take its course, whereas not letting nature take its course is substantively what all technology entails.  That is, substantively, to be a technology is to intervene; it is to interfere.  It is, in Heideggerian terms, to “disrespect,” for all technology aims to create or re-create the causes and conditions for the emergence of a specified end, and as such, as a means, technology is, minimally always “disrespectful” of a nature where those ends are otherwise not met.  For this reason, the differences among technologies with respect to “disrespect” are always normative, for substantively, in their essence, all technology is the manipulated generation of means toward an end that would only otherwise occur by natural happenstance, if it occurs at all.  In other words, only to abet self-emergence amounts to being non-technological because substantively all technology is, strictly speaking, non-abetting: all technology manipulates the causal conditions for the emergence (or non-emergence) of objects or events, usually natural ones.   In short, substantively speaking there is no such thing as a ‘poetic’ technology; only normatively can there be one, and that norm itself can only be maintained in relative terms with respect to how many—or how extensively—causal conditions are manipulated, along with the relative effectiveness of those manipulations.  In this respect, normatively speaking CRISPR-Cas9 is like any other biomedical technology, in so far as it “disrespects” self-emergence by manipulating causal conditions, meaning the only way in which it truly differs from other non-abetting technologies—in other words, from other technologies, period—is on substantive grounds.  To prioritize any normative sense of “respect” versus “disrespect” tacitly presupposes an acknowledgement of these substantive grounds (i.e. it tacitly evokes and relies on what technology substantively is and does), even as this presupposition, when masquerading as “essence,” begs the question of whether one technology should be distinguished from another on normative versus (the presupposed) substantive grounds.  Simply put, since the substantive grounds are clandestinely driving the normative comparison in the first place, intellectual honestly requires acknowledging both the operative distinction and the normative evaluation for what each is—in Heidegger’s case, a silly recurrence to a make-believe world of technology as “obligation” and “respect” and “letting be” as a way of abetting “self-emergence.”  Again, there is simply no substantive basis for any such technology—or what amounts to the same thing, there is no such thing as “self-abetting” if the process is to be called technology.  For technology is what is done when self-abetting as such does not occur.

Once the Heideggerian masquerade of “essence” is revealed for what it is, what separates CRISPR-Cas9 from other gene editing technologies—not to mention from other potentially life-saving technologies like antibiotics and immunizations—becomes almost self-evident: it is the substantive features which make CRISPR-Cas9 the technology that it is, i.e. the manipulation of the causal conditions of development that it permits by virtue of what it is and does.  Specifically, CRISPR-Cas9 allows an almost unprecedented ability to manipulate the genome in living cells, potentially setting up entirely new avenues for treating disease, correcting genetic defects, and even promoting specific traits in organisms.[5]  The realization of these valued ends through technological means has profound normative implications, to be sure, in that the values CRISPR-Cas9 both realize in a direct sense and challenge in that direct realization are both realized and challenged precisely because of what CRISPR-Cas9 is and does—and only because of what it is and does.  Any normative judgment follows from these substantive grounds, not the grounds of “respectful” poiesis or “disrespectful” com-posing, as Heidegger would have it.  Because of these substantive grounds, the invention of CRISPR-Cas9 cannot but have normative implications; that is, because of what CRISPR-Cas9 is and does, the impact of CRISPR-Cas9 on both current and potentially new values inevitably arises.  But absent knowledge of CRISPR-Cas9’s mechanism—absent substantive thinking about it—there is simply no basis for asserting what values can and can’t be realized and what values are challenged or are not challenged.   All assessment of what to value, why to value it, and how to value it presupposes as a foundation this substantive basis.

Now none of this is to say that the ultimate value of a technology like CRISPR-Cas9, taken here only as an exemplary technology with profound and far reaching ethical implications, will be decided solely on the basis of a description of what the technology is and does in non-normative terms.  Nor is it proposed to solve here definitely the problem of relating fact to value, much less completely resolve this issue as it applies to technology.  In fact, far from it.  Instead, it is merely asserted that any evaluation must include as substantive knowledge a description of the suitability of means towards ends prior to any normative assessment of the relative worth of the proposed ends, especially when it comes to such plastic and flexible normative ends like “respect” or “disrespect,” norms that are essentially meaningless absent the specifics of what is “respected” and “disrespected,” and how it is “respected” or” disrespected” as such.   Instead of asserting the sufficiency of non-normative assessment of technology based on what it is and does, i.e. it substantive determination, the emphasis here is only on the necessity of non-normative assessment—a necessity that stands in stark contrast to Heidegger’s intrinsically normative evaluation of the essence of technology in terms of “respectful abetting” and “disrespectful imposing.”  While the question of technology does ultimately become one of value, not one of Being, this is not to say that factual determinations of technology’s suitability as a means towards ends can be omitted (as Heidegger omits them) in favor of placing norms over facts.  Instead, the relationship between empirical determinations of the suitability of means for achieving a determinate end, and the desirability of that end itself, must be properly posed, and properly posing it first requires keeping normative and substantive thinking separable, even as their essential relationship is acknowledged.   While substantive thinking on technology will ultimately be contextualized in terms of the values instituted and challenged by that technology, and while the factual and empirical descriptions of what the technology is and does are propaedeutic to challenging or establishing norms, this contextualizing requires first a candid assessment and understanding of that technology on substantive, not normative, grounds, otherwise there is no sensible basis for pursuing or questioning the norms it institutes, challenges, or invokes.  As already indicated, this essentially collaborative distinction is merely sketched the terms of its prospective formulation, not definitively posed, much less resolved.  For a more detailed account of both the distinction at work and its resolution into a unifying process of evaluation, the reader is referred to Dewey’s Theory of Valuation, where the relationship of values to the actual means of realizing them was first proposed.  Discussion of that work informs the revisiting of this issue of in this context of technology, and it is taken up in much greater detail in Chapters 15 and 16, where the problem of ‘deriving’ norms from facts is specifically addressed, particularly as the derivation applied to a ‘foundation’ for technological ethics.

With the emphasis on the question of value as the paramount question of technology—meaning the way in which technology institutes and challenges values is the paramount question regarding its [sic] essence—it might be suggested that Heidegger’s folding of the question of value into the question of Being is a valid approach to the question of technology after all.  That is, it could be argued that by folding the question of evaluation into the question of the essence of technology, Heidegger in effect kills two birds with one stone, in that he asks and answers both the substantive and normative questions in one fell swoop, and in this swoop shows that the two questions—the ‘what is’ and ‘what ought’ to be—cannot in fact be separated.  Heidegger, it might be argued, merely anticipates the very conclusion drawn here: that the question of what technology is and does is secondary, as it were, to the questions of how technology institutes, invokes and/or challenges values; that questions of the substance of technology, in terms of essence or otherwise, are relatively easy to answer, with the difficulty reserved for assessing normative implications—the very implications Heidegger builds into poiesis and com-posing.

Once again, however, this line of defense simply will not do, and it will not do because the folding of the normative into the substantive, as though judging either were one and the same thing, is, to repeat, intrinsically stupid—“stupid” in the sense that it only obscures the normative implications of technology by incorporating into its discussion an implicit, unacknowledged norm (in Heidegger’s case ‘respect for nature’) through which the problem becomes ‘intelligbile’ in the first place.  Specifically, by posing the very problem of technology in terms of a clandestine norm about respecting or not respecting nature, Heidegger in effect guarantees that the problem of technology will not be solved, for no surer way exists of foreclosing the solution to a problem than mixing what “ought to be the case” with “what is the case,” such that ‘what is’ the case gets warped and distorted in its initial assessment because it already does not conform to what one wants or expects the outcome to be.  To be sure, to put up an end in view as a prospective solution to a problem is necessary for solving it.  For that end in view to conform in some respects to how the situation ‘ought to be’ once the situation is settled is also perfectly sensible, for why else solve a problem but to ‘set the world aright,’ and that ‘arightness’ will surely be anticipated in a well-posed problem.  But to frame the terms in which the problem must be posed and solved in terms of the situation not apriori conforming to the solution one wants amounts merely to complaining about the problem while purporting to solve it, not actually attempting to solve it as such.  As this conflation applies to Heidegger’s questioning of and so-called “solution” to the problem of technology, technology for Heidegger ought to abet natural processes, not supplant them.  In this way, technology is conceived as ‘ought to be respectful’ of the self-emergence of nature.  Modern technology, so the reasoning goes, does not abet natural processes, therefore it is disrespectful of nature, and since what technology is has already been essentially defined by what it ought to be—respectful abetting—modern technology cannot but be in its essence defective in some way for not conforming to this norm.  The conceived “defect,” of course—the norm against which technology is judged—is not openly acknowledged by Heidegger for what it is—a norm, as opposed to an “essence”—and as such the “defect” in modern technology—the mere fact that it doesn’t conform to the norm—isn’t acknowledged as a “defect” either.  Instead it becomes a danger, and the “danger” is precisely departure from the norm of what technology ought to be, what it once did, and so forth.   Indeed, even calling modern technology a danger enforces the unavowed normative foundations of Heidegger’s “essence,” for departing from a norm is, to those who hold it, dangerous.  But at the end of the day, this “danger” is nothing but the complaining that naturally follows from folding of a normative assessment of technology into so-called “essential questioning”, for of course modern technology is “dangerous” if maintaining the norm is required.   But whence that requirement, one might ask, and why build it into the very formulation of the problem?  In any case, whatever the justification, as already suggested folding normative into substantive thinking in any attempt to solve a problem is intrinsically stupid, and in so far as Heidegger conflates the two he only obscures, not brings to light, the genuine problem relating the question concerning technology to the question of values.  Yet as indicated, the question of values is the paramount question technology raises, and this question can be approached again by way of detour through Heidegger’s thought on other matters, specifically with respect to the question of a “foundation” for ethics in the “Letter on ‘Humanism,’” as well as Dasein’s stated dependency on Being for that foundation (as for its essence generally).  For if the ‘foundation’ for ethics doesn’t reach to the bottom of the question of values , nothing does, and for this reason, Heidegger’s rare mention needs to be discussed in some detail, specifically as it relates to what else he says on Dasein, its essence, and the dependency of that essence of the self-revealing of Being.

Dependency and the problem of agency in the “foundation” for an “ethics” of technology

Virtually all phases of Heidegger’s thought are taken up with the question of either man’s relationship to Being or Being’s relationship to man, from the Dasein-centric orientation of Being and Time to the “Being” and “clearing”-centric orientation of his thought after the 1930’s.  But despite this unvarying focus on the question of Being, Heidegger says surprisingly little on how man (henceforth “humanity”) depends on Being or Being depends on man.  Nevertheless, on this question of dependency, in his early thought Heidegger is quite clear: humanity—ontologically understood as Dasein—is, as it were, the royal road to Being as such: Dasein’s understanding of Being is both the condition for the possibility of there being entities disclosed in the commerce of doing and knowing, even as it is (albeit tentatively and obliquely) the condition for the possibility of the disclosure of Being itself.  While not a condition of “dependence” per se, this condition of possibility through understanding is close to it, and indeed in Being and Time and the lecture courses surrounding that work, Dasein’s understanding of Being and the disclosure of Being itself are virtually synonymous, even as the disclosure of Being, as based on Dasein’s understanding, itself has a condition for its own possibility, namely, “standing in an illuminating light” opened by the ‘temporalizing of temporality.’[6]  It is this “illuminating light,” foretold in both Being and Time and the surrounding lecture courses, that gets thought explicitly in Heidegger’s later emphasis on “clearing,” “bestowing” and “event,”  thus connecting the “early” and “later” Heidegger together in a most consistent way.  But even this connection leaves mainly unaddressed the question of correspondence of Being and humanity in terms of dependency, of how either humanity depends on Being or Being depends on humanity.  As consistent as Heidegger’s thought can be made on the relationship between humanity and Being and Being and humanity on the whole, i.e. as much as the two phases of his thought can be shown to emanate from a single-minded focus on the question of Being, the question of the dependency of human beings on Being or Being on human beings is left for the most part left undiscussed.

So why, it may be asked, even raise this issue of dependency.  Why is the question of humanity’s dependence on Being (or vice versa) even an important point, even if only as an implication following from Heidegger’s question of Being, an implication itself that has yet to be drawn out faithfully?  Why frame the question of humanity’s relation to Being and Being’s relation to humanity as a question of “dependency” at all, especially if Heidegger himself never explicitly raised the issue in those terms, and only obliquely referred to it though related notions like “the condition for the possibility of”?[7]  Why bring up such a normatively laden term like “dependency” with respect of humanity’s relationship to Being, and vice versa, at all?

One need not look far for an answer to this question, for it is implied, if not explicitly required, in Heidegger’s own emphasis on the relationship of the question of Being to any question of ethics—ethics here referring to the normative dimensions inherent to being human (or in Heidegger’s case, being Dasein).  Regarding this emphasis and implication, in his “Letter on ‘Humanism’” Heidegger is again quite clear.  After a somewhat lengthy discussion of what it means to even ask for an ethics in the traditional sense, Heidegger writes:  “If the name ‘ethics,’ in keeping with the basic meaning of the word ethos, should now say that ethics ponders the abode of the human being, then that thinking which thinks the truth of being as the primordial element of the human being, as one who eksists, is in itself originary ethics.”[8]  And as a clarification shortly afterwards, Heidegger goes on to reject the traditional sense in which “ontology” and “ethics” are usually understood, even as he points out that after this rejection ethos and ontology still relate to one another “in a more original way,” and that this relation retains “an essential importance”—an essential importance he clarifies by saying “only in so far as the human being, ek-sisting into the truth of Being, belongs to Being can there come from Being itself the assignment of those directives that must become law and rule for human beings.”[9]  With this stipulation, Heidegger not only leaves it open that Being prescribes (however originally “prescribes” is to be understood) norms and laws for human being; he even goes so far to stress that only in so far as the human being is related to Being can there be prescribed anything like directives that become rules and laws for right and wrong conduct, i.e. only from Being can there be anything like traditional ethics, though one presumably clarified in an ontologically grounded way.  Although he nowhere offers either an account of what that ontologically grounded ethics might be, or what that ontological grounding might entail; and although he clearly disavows offering any “ethics” in the usual philosophical sense, Heidegger nevertheless refuses to offer an ethics only because he claims to be thinking ethics down to its most essential foundations within the proximity of the question of Being—indeed, not just within the proximity, as it were, but as belonging to that proximity so essentially that to think Being and to think ethics are in essence one and the same.  However derivative ethical thinking in the ontological sense is from the primordial thinking of Being, this derivation can only come from a prior essential dependency which holds sway over it.  In short, ethics in the authentic Heideggerian sense depends on the thinking of Being because the laws and rules prescribed for human being derive from Being itself.  Only by thinking the truth of Being can the truth of ethics be similarly obtained.


So the question of the “dependency” between Being and Dasein with respect to “ethics” arises in full force not for reasons external to Heidegger’s thought but instead because of Heidegger’s own predilections, for given the traditional primacy of ethics in human affairs—and as has been shown, the primacy of values in the question concerning technology—it can and perhaps must be asked: in what way do human beings depend on Being generally, and correlatively, in what way might Being depend on human beings?  If this dependency is primordially ethical—and for Heidegger it is—or if the dependency has ontological ethical implications—as for Heidegger it does—then the question of dependency cannot but be normative in some respect, for implied in the dependency itself is a prescription of how human beings should comport themselves, if not toward each other directly then at least toward Being itself as the source of all prescription and law, i.e. as the source of ethos.  It must be asked, then: what in normative terms does this dependency on Being mean?  Are those terms normatively ‘acceptable,’ as it were, and even more basically than this, on what basis can one even assess the acceptability or not of this normative dependency, if the relationship to Being—one of dependence or not—is the source of ethics in the first place?  Is it based on the truth of Being itself?  The essence of Dasein?  The relationship between the two?  Some other ground?  Does the question of “ground” even apply to the question of ethics, that is, to the question of the normative dimensions of human existence?  Summarily, then, it should be asked: how can this question of normativity at the heart of Heidegger’s thought even be approached without fundamentally begging the question either for or against Heidegger, as that question pertains to an ontological foundation for ethics, and hence for an ontological dimension to the question of values as raised by the question concerning technology—the very conjunction that has been suggested here?


Like with resolving the questions regarding technology and science already raised either explicitly or implicitly in Heidegger’s thought, a proper answer to the question of ethics as it applies to technology would amount to solving the underlying issue it raises; in this case, it would amount to providing a “foundation” or “grounding” for technological ethics, or for values—or more to the point, it would amount to clarifying what it means to provide a “foundation” for ethics in the first place; then it would either provide a foundation or in the alternative offer another means of accomplishing the same end.  For now, clarity on the “foundation” for ethics is beyond the scope of this Chapter (this issue is taken up in Chapter 15), and in its place is offered a discussion of how humanity’s dependence on Being might or might not relate to an ontological grounding of technological ethics, or for realizing values generally.  Furthermore, in place of a foundation for ethics, how this dependence on Being might be related to something even more basic will be discussed, namely: the dependency on Being in Dasein’s very comportment toward beings in the first place, including—and perhaps in this case especially including—its comportment toward itself, toward others, and with respect to technology.[10]  Again, with respect to ethics, aside from the brief remark already cited from his “Letter on ‘Humanism’,” Heidegger says nothing about how ethics might have an ontological foundation, presumably one grounded in the question of Being.  And even aside from that brief mention, he says little about Dasein’s relationship to Being in terms of “dependence” per se, especially on whether or not that dependence is related to his prospective call for an ontologically grounded ethics, what with its more primordial comportment toward Being as such, the one on which this grounding presumably depends.  But in any case, some discussion of what the foundation of ethics might look like is warranted, and it is even necessary in this Chapter, even if that discussion falls far short of providing a philosophical clarification of ‘foundation’ in the strict sense of the term.  In other words, some of the basic properties of what any ‘foundation’ for a technological ethics might look like can still be approached, even as this approach falls short of clarifying precisely what any (including Heidegger’s) particular ontological grounding might be.  With this necessity and these caveats in mind, it remains entirely possible to indicate ‘where’ and ‘how’ one might look for this grounding in an ontological foundation without exactly delimiting the details of that terrain—in other words one can sketch in broad strokes some features of what an ontological ‘foundation’ for ethics might look like (or even must look like), and in this case one can relate these broad strokes to the implicit notion of “dependency” in Heidegger’s conjunction of Being and Dasein, i.e. the conjunction of Being and humanity.  What bearing, it can be asked, does Dasein’s dependency on Being have for an ontological ‘foundation’ for ethics in general —“ontological” here referring in a generic way to a grounding or clarifying an issue through recourse to ‘what is’ or ‘the way things are.’  This latter point of providing ‘ultimate explanations” is, at least, how the foundation for ethics has been traditionally approached, so something of that tradition will be preserved in this Chapter, even as in the next the very demand for an ontological foundation, or foundation of any kind, will be replaced with a related but distinguishable notion of “rationally grounding judgment.”[11]


For instance, traditionally it has been asked whether ethics requires a ‘transcendent’ or an ‘immanent’ foundation for the validity of ethical norms.  That is, is a higher power like a law-giving God or some other apriori moral order necessary to secure the truth of ethical principles, or is an immanent measure like decreasing the suffering of conscious creatures sufficient[12] (or similarly, the greatest good for the greatest number, the maximization of happiness, or following one’s duty, etc.?)  Adding to this dichotomy of immanent or transcendent foundations one could, following Heidegger, point out that Being, as the transcendens pure and simple,[13] acts as the ‘source’ of ethics—or more specifically, the source of the measure of conduct, i.e. it acts as the source from which “the assignment of those directives” leading to rules and laws comes, and against which those laws and directives are assessed.  In fact, as Werner Marx compellingly suggests,[14] the question of the possibility of ethics may even to boil down to the question of measure—“measure” here being the standard or ground against which human action is judged, analogous to the standard implied in a ruler as the ‘measure’ of distance or a meter the as the ’measure’ of sound intensity.  The “measure,” as it were, provides the framework for assessment in general, not of course literally in the sense of units (like “utils” in utilitarian theory) but rather in the sense of the general possibility of assessment through some basis of comparison.  In this respect, a transcendent God, some immanent basis (like suffering, duty, happiness, etc.), or Being itself would provide the measure against which actions or technologies are judged “good” or “bad” or “right” and “wrong”; one of these three ‘sources’ would provide the foundation for the basic principles or standards for assessing specific actions or technologies under specific conditions as properly ethical or not—or alternatively stated, the source would provide some measure of their value.  Whatever this source, understanding the foundation of ethics in terms of providing a measure offers one way to approach the question of the validity of ethical principles, one guided in general terms by how a “measure” in general works.  In other words, ethics approached as measure would apply in a sense equally to whichever of the three foundations are provided for ethical claims—God, some immanent principle, or Being itself.  Any one of these three sources of measure would offer the same grounding, as it were, of measure taken as such, in much the same way that the principles of measurement don’t change whether one uses the metric or the English system, or even a third system yet that has yet to be invented, as its means.  In this respect, ethics as measure and ethics as foundation are intricately linked, as one provides the means of the other, even as they are in another respect separable, as the basis of this means can vary without the underlying principle of their use changing (when one is measure using either the English or the metric system, what one is doing is essentially the same, even though the instruments differ).


An important consequence follows from conceiving the “foundation” for ethics in this way, for if the question of the foundation for ethics is formulated in terms of grounding the validity of a scheme of measure for good and bad, one need not determine the foundation as such in order to discuss on pragmatic grounds which venue (God, immanence, Being) will satisfy it.  And more to the point, one need not specify in much detail which foundation is correct in order to discuss in general terms how satisfying any one foundation will be, as opposed to the others.  That is, instead of requiring the complete foundation and fully worked out system in advance—by analogy, instead of providing the basic unit of measure that ‘grounds’ the measuring as such, and a complete system of conversions of units within it—one can delimit the conceptual conditions and consequences of grounding ethics in one or another of these ways, and this delimitation itself can be, as it were, appraised.  In other words, while one may not be able to decide on apriori and independent grounds which of the three possible sources or foundation is antecedently the true foundation, one can still observe on independent grounds the consequences of grounding ethics in any one these options, and once this observation is made, perhaps the proper foundation can be more reliably examined based on these anticipated consequences.  Again, instead of relying on the apprehension of some kind of antecedent reality as the basis of an ethical measure (the term here for a foundation or grounding of ethics, ‘ontological’ or not), perhaps this foundation can be deliberated on the basis of the consequences of the choice, the least of which being the tractability of adjudicating ethical or value claims in various situations—in this context, value claims and evaluations with respect to technology, though in principle this issue would be broader as well.   Under this formulation, the typical manner of asking for a foundation of ethics in an antecedent reality is transformed into the related yet still quite different question that tests the desirability of any given ethical grounding against the consequences of its selection, not in terms of its conformity to some prior reality that governs the choice.   Recurring to a the point previously made, recourse to ‘foundations’ in this sense does refer to ‘what is’ or ‘the way things are’ in some sense, meaning that in Heideggerian terms it remains “ontological”, but instead of recurring to an antecedent reality as that to which the foundation must conform and from which it must draw, heed is paid instead to the consequences of assigning one foundation as opposed to another.  To continue the analogy to systems of spatial measure, any given “foundation” for such a system will have consequences based on the internal principles of the system itself (say, how the units of measure relate to one another, or how they readily they can be converted to other systems, etc.), regardless of whether or not the units in the system can be said to conform apriori to some antecedent, physical reality (i.e. it is immaterial whether a perfect physical meter exists as a unit of measure when asking how the units of the metric system interrelate).

In the former case, mind is paid to the determinable consequences of choosing any antecedent basis for measurement, whereas in the later, emphasis is paid on getting the basis (or foundation) for the units of measure right—“right” here meaning conformity to something antecedent.[15]  Since this shift in thinking about ‘foundations’ amounts to a rather novel[16] way of thinking about the foundation of ethics, further discussion along these lines is warranted.


First and foremost, this pragmatic way of asking after consequences of a choice in place of that choice’s conformity to an antecedent reality (be it God, Being, or some immanent phenomenon) suggests a way of adjudicating which kind of foundation is desirable for an ethical measure, for each kind of foundation carries specific consequences prior to delimiting out the conceptual details of the foundation itself.  Specifically, a foundation for an ethical measure in a law-giving God raises the kind of questions that a foundation in decreasing the suffering of conscious creatures does not, and the kind of questions germane to a foundation for ethics in Being as the first and final transcendens are different than the questions necessary to the other two foundations yet again.  Without determining the exact nature of the foundation, some basic traits of how that foundation must look with respect to the others can be determined in terms of the knowable and known consequences of positing that foundation, and these basic traits have predictable consequences for determining and implementing the ethical measure as it is based on that eventually given foundation.   To carry the analogy yet again to systems of physical measure, once the units of the metric system have been decided on internal grounds based on the consequent architecture of the system itself, the internal needs of the system can be said to dictate in no small measure the needs of the foundation.  Since the units must be uniform, for instance, the physical basis assigned to as the foundation (in the case of the meter, the platinum rod stored in specified conditions in Paris) must have properties consistent with maintaining this consistency (platinum was chosen for reasons of ‘immutability’, whereas wood was not).  It is maintained here that principles and needs common to any ethical measure, i.e. to any ethical ‘system’, similarly dictate apriori the foundation of the ethical system in much the same way that the internal consequences of the metric system determine the choice of antecedent groundings in ‘physical’ reality.  On both cases, certain questions or issues arise that must be addressed in order for the antecedent foundation to work.


For instance (to take the most common argument), if a law-giving God is the basis of an ethical measure for human conduct, then the existence of this God must be asserted in advance, otherwise obviously there is no giver to give the laws.  With any assertion of God’s existence, however, the question inevitably arises: which God?  The God of the Jews, the Christian God, or Allah?  What about the other religions and their gods?  And related to this question, which revelation specific to these conceptions of God is the correct one?  On what basis is that revelation deemed correct, each being mutually exclusive of the other but making the same claims of sovereign divine origin?  And this only assumes the monotheistic God of the Abrahamic religions; there are other religions and gods that must be considered; these gods must be included or excluded on the same existential grounds.  If as a hedge all of them are asserted true for each revelation, how then can competing moral claims between them be adjudicated once the prescriptions within these revelations come into conflict, and even more basic that this question, if any of the competing gods are asserted, absent specific prescriptions within these declared revelations how are laws and directive for new situations known, and by who determines them?  Are the revealed laws the only laws?  Are there new revelations possible, ones that will address new historical situations, as suggested by the train of prophets in the Abrahamic religions, up to and including Jesus and Muhammad?  No stance on the answers to these questions is proposed here, only the necessity of some satisfactory answer to them if a law-giving God is to provide a foundation for an ethical measure.  In short, answering these questions is a necessary consequence of finding in a law-giving God the basis of ethical claims,[17] and it begs the question entirely to assert that these questions are not a choice because the antecedent existence of God makes them necessary.  For prior to any assertion of antecedence comes the choice to make the assertion, and all that is pointed out here is that that choice has consequences that follow necessarily from making it, consequences that can be judged desirable or not on grounds other than conformity to the antecedent reality that act as a basis for the claims.  In other words, these kinds of questions must be answered before the ethical system can do the things any ethical system must do if it is to be an ethical system.  This same basic point could be elaborated for the cases of an imminent foundation in something like well-being or happiness, as well as for an ethical measure grounded in Being itself.  Some kinds of questions follow necessarily from the vey conception of the foundation, and the desirability of these problems can be assessed in much the same way that the desirability of a system of physical measurement can be decided priori to giving it a physical foundation insuring uniformity (note that uniformity is itself a required consequence apriori).


Secondly, as just indicated above, once it is observed that ethical systems as measures of conduct have certain internal issues that must be addressed prior to specifying their foundations, as well as some that must be addressed irrespective of that foundation—i.e. once the role of pragmatic choice in determining an ethical foundation is noted[18]—questions about the conformity of any determinate foundation to an antecedently apprehended reality becomes secondary to first addressing the determinable conceptual and practical needs and consequences of making that choice.  Despite the novelty of this approach as applied to the question of ethics, its general application should not be a controversial point: virtually all choices (both theoretical and practical) made under a veil of ignorance are initially assessed in terms of determining the consequences of what is known in advance of making that choice.  In fact, one of the first tests of anticipated veracity is conformity of what is known about the possibilities inherent in the choice with what is already known about related aspects of the situation, so long as those possibilities are understood to be existential, not normative.   Any one of infinitely replicable examples from theory or practice should suffice to illustrate this.


For instance, supposed one’s car won’t start, and based on the symptoms of the problem and what is known about how cars operate, one proposes a reason for why it won’t start.  Or similarly, suppose one observes a phenomenon like the gathering of iron filings around a lodestone, and one wants to propose an explanation of it.  In both cases, some possibilities can be ruled out immediately based solely on the consequences of asserting them as solutions to the problem, even absent knowledge of the exact cause or nature of the problem.  In fact, this process of elimination based on consequences of belief in terms of things already know is essential to intelligently delimiting out possible solutions in the first place. Regarding the car example, if the engine will turn over but not fire, then one can almost certainly rule out a dead battery as the cause for why it won’t start, since the consequences of having a charged and working battery are the engine will turn over—and so on and so forth as one inquires into what is unknown about the car (why it won’t start) in terms of the consequences of conjectures based on what is already known (what works and how it works).  Similarly, one can rule out of the lodestone some force that attracts all matter based on the consequence of maintaining that theory in light the incongruent facts that non-metallic objects are not attracted to a lodestone.  Further examination of either example would only enforce the point in question: at issue in solving any problem or deriving any explanation for an unexplained or unknown phenomena is eliminating possibilities based on the conformity or coherence of what is intrinsic to those possibilities with what is already known (or knowable, absent a solution or an explanation).  And since the antecedent reality in question is precisely what is unknown, only the consequences of having alternate beliefs in light of what is known can guide the inquiry.  It is only asserted here that like with practical and scientific questions, so with a “foundation” for ethics.  Much can be known about what kind of foundation will work for grounding ethics absent knowledge of the actual grounding as such, and this ‘apriori’ knowledge can be based simply on the intrinsic features of various possibilities for grounding it.  Based solely on the question of whether or not some intrinsic features of any ethical measure conform to what is apriori desirable in a foundation or system, i.e. based on the question whether or not the foundation can even work in the sense of doing what it purports to do, some decisions can be made that direct investigation to various sources, this direction being the only known means for ultimately determining the source of the measure in some grounding or “foundation.”


For convenience and the purposes here, those sources have been narrowed down to three general kinds of foundation: a law-giving god, some immanent basis, and Being itself.  So based on this narrowing of choices (which is admittedly not necessarily exhaustive), what can be said about what a “foundation” for ethics might look like, were that foundation based on any one of these three?  And as related questions, what principles might be expected apriori of a foundation for ethics, and based on what is already known about human conduct and its normative, value-laden dimensions, how likely is it that these principles can be met under any one of the three proposed kinds of foundation?   In other words, what consequences follow from assigning a foundation for ethics in any one of these three sources, and do those consequences conform to what a foundation for ethics must look like if it is to ground a measure at all, in the sense that the measure itself is tractable, i.e. in the sense that it provides the basis for assessment and evaluation that it purports to provide?


Since Heidegger is only apparently concerned with one of these three ‘sources’—specifically, Being itself—the intrinsic features of that foundation will be discussed and the underlying issue suggested.  For again: a specific foundation for ethics is not the governing concern here.  Rather the concern is only the possible ramifications of linking the question of value, as raised by the question concerning technology, to the question of Being, both as this is implied in Heidegger’s thought up to this point and as it has been independently worked out as a critique in this essay.  What, then, can be said about the relationship of the question of Being to the question of value?  What intrinsic principles might reside in linking together in a purportedly essential way the question concerning technology, the question of value, and the question of Being?  And more specifically yet, how might these three questions converge on any potentially normative dimension to Dasein’s dependency on Being, whether that “dependency” exists with respect to Dasein’s apriori relation to beings as such, its ethical relationships to each other,  the normative dimension of technology, or toward any obligation to Being itself?  In other words, what consequences follow from thinking Being, value, and Dasein together in one grounding nexus when it comes to the question of technology?  How do these consequences relate to the kinds of possibilities humanity might want from a foundation for ethics—assuming, as Heidegger does, that the essence of technology and the ontological foundation of ethics comes from the same source, namely thinking Being?  If the question concerning technology converges essentially with the question concerning value—as has been asserted here, contra Heidegger’s assertion of convergence in the question of Being—how might the consequences of asserting the priority of the question of Being collide with the assertable priorities of the question of value, i.e. with the intrinsic features one might expect any “foundation” of ethics to have?   As it stands, all of these questions can be addressed by considering the single question of humanity’s dependence on Being, or vice versa, and more specifically, they all can be boiled down to the relationship between dependence and the “essence” of human freedom, as Heidegger himself conceives it.  The reminder of this Chapter is devoted to showing this convergence.


As stressed in the argument up to this point,[19] Heidegger is quite clear that Dasein depends on Being for the basic disclosedness that subtends all comportment toward itself and toward other beings, be that comportment theoretical or practical.  To reiterate, for Heidegger the disclosedness of Dasein is “unconcealment itself,” and this unconcealment is “never a human fabrication, no more than is the domain through which humans are already transported, whenever they as subjects relate to objects,”[20]—or as he also says at an earlier place, “humans do not control unconcealedness itself; they do no control whether and how reality at any given time will show itself or withdraw.”[21]  Instead of being in control of the disclosedness that determines its very being, i.e. instead of being in control of what determines its own relationship to reality, human beings, as authentically human, are “claimed” by Being as the giver of a manner of disclosedness;[22] they apprehend reality only in conformity with that which is “addressed” to them,[23] and this claiming and addressing is so basic that “that which has always already claimed humans” has done so “so decisively that a human can be human only as one who is thus claimed.”[24]  In other words, for Heidegger, to be authentically human to not just to be claimed by Being, to be addressed by Being; it is to consent to this claim after heeding the address, for only in this consent and heeding can humanity be related to beings at all.  It is unlikely that a clearer expression of dependence can be found than this dependence that says human beings rely on Being for their very access to beings, to itself, and to others.  For absent this access, human beings would simply not be Dasein.  They would be at best detached from reality in madness, or reduced to a hulking form of mere animal existence.  For Heidegger, to be human to consent to subservience to Being.  As Rojcewicz points out, “the human role is to conform to the lead of Being;”[25]”the essence of humanity is to be on the receiving end of a claim or address.  Put another way, the essence of humans is to be followers of the lead of Being” [26]— an “authentic follower”[27] of Being, to be sure, but a following on which depends its only access to beings, itself, and others.


This proposition of “authentic following” raises an important question, namely, what does it mean to be free if the essence of freedom is to be an authentic follower?  Specifically, as far as the essence of technology or basis of ethics is concerned, what consequences follow from this “authentic following”?  For if humanity’s essence is to be a follower of Being, and if humanity’s only access to beings, itself, and other humans is dependent on following Being’s lead, the question inevitably arises: just how free are human beings when it comes to understanding Being, and therefore comporting themselves to beings, themselves, and each other?  Just how free are humans in their essence ‘to be’ Dasein or not?  If humans are free to become Dasein or not Dasein, and if in becoming Dasein they must follow the lead of Being in order to receive a manner in which beings are disclosed (if they must follow in order to have access to reality), then wherein being Dasein are human beings free?  What freedom within a manner of disclosive looking does Dasein have, if its manner of looking is exclusively a matter of Being deciding how that looking takes place—i.e. if the manner of disclosive looking is something over which human beings exert no control?  If this is the case, is there any real freedom when it comes to the essence of technology or the ontological grounding for ethics in Being—any freedom at all, that is, if Being leads and humanity as Dasein has no choice but to follow its lead if it is to be Dasein at all?


On these questions of human freedom, Heidegger offers a fairly direct answer: human beings are free only in so far as they conform to the disclosedness offered by Being; they are free only in accepting their proper place as the addressee claimed by Being.  As with the issue of not being able to influence or control the disclosure of Being, on this point Heidegger is quite clear: the “essence of freedom is originally not connected with the will or even the causality of human willing” but is instead to be found in surrendering to “the domain of destiny,” a destiny which “in each case brings a disclosive looking in a particular way.” [28]  In other words, for Heidegger, being free with respect to technology—or for that matter with respect to the manner of disclosing beings as such—is strictly limited to recognizing that freedom is to be bound to the destiny of Being.  In choosing to be bound to a realm where no choice or control prevails, human freedom [sic] attains its highest expression.  This is, to be sure, a peculiar notion of freedom, in that it entails a complete dependency on Being as the provider of a destiny as the authentic meaning of that freedom—a destiny that can no more be avoided than the air one breathes, if one desires access to beings in a technological way (or for that matter access to beings at all.)   IN fact, under Heidegger’s notion the comparison is apt: Dasein being “free” is like saying one is “free” to breath air or not if one wants to live or die.  Rojcewicz devotes considerable effort to teasing out what freedom in this sense can mean,[29] but as peculiar as it is, much shorter paths than the hedges Rojcewicz takes can be taken to understand it.  For this kind of “freedom” can be understood in two metaphorical ways.


First—and in the least charitable light—the essence of freedom that Heidegger ascribes to humanity means that human beings are not really free in any meaningful sense of the term—or better stated, human beings, as potentially Dasein, are “free” only to the extent that they are consigned by Being to rather lopsided vel, one that leaves it either condemned to a subhuman life beneath the dignity of being truly human, or one where it is solely subject to the whims of Being itself as it becomes Dasein—it’s  humanity’s [sic] “choice,” as it were.  This is hard to take serious as a choice in any meaningful sense of the term, just as a mugger’s demand “your money or your life” is hard to take seriously as a choice about managing money in one’s life.  For Under Heidegger’s emphasis on the exclusive prerogatives of Being, destiny and the Dasein’s dependency on a manner dislcosedness, Dasein has no more choice than a victim of a mugging.  Like with a mugging, Being gives Dasein a choice only within the framework of having removed the freedom to choose in the first place: one has no choice but to give up their money or their life, when priori to the mugging they could keep both. As this metaphor applied to Being, recall that for Heidegger the manner in which Being is understood, and therefore the manner in which beings are disclosed, is in no way a human creation; it is a destiny of Being.  As a destiny of Being to which humanity must conform if it is to be Dasein, humanity’s only “choice” in the matter is to be Dasein and therefore to subject itself to whatever understanding of itself Being reveals—in this case the devastating and degrading essence of modern technology; otherwise it is to not be Dasein at all and would thus be ‘free,’ as it were, of modern technology’s yoke.  But free to be what?  Out of touch with any sense of reality?  To live out a mere animal or vegetative existence, scraping by like a bundle of reflexes and drives responding to mere stimuli?  To the bare organic reality of functioning?  That is the implication, for being in touch with reality in any authentic sense of the term requires disclosedness, and disclosedness requires consenting and conforming to the offering of Being as the sole means and manner of obtaining it.  Like with the mugger, Being’s ‘attitude’ toward humanity is really more like an ‘I’m taking one or the other, so take it or leave it’ proposition, and if one leaves it, everything is taken away anyway.   This is not a choice in any worthwhile understanding of the term.  Being, under in this uncharitable light, provides humanity no more “choice” than a street thug does when he steals one’s money or takes ones life and the money, it’s the victim’s “choice.” Under this interpretation, there is simply no sense in which Being’s offering to Dasein is not like a mugging.  Either humanity completely hands over its essence to Being, or it gets no essence at all.


In the second way—and under a more charitable light—Heidegger’s conception of Dasein, disclosedness and destiny is less like a mugger making a demand of his mark and more like a parent tending to the needs of a helpless infant, or perhaps ministering to a very young child.   For with a parent tending to an infant, the infant has no real freedom to speak of.  An infant is fed when the parent deems it is time to eat, eats the food choices the parent chooses and in the amounts provided.  It is changed when a parent deems it is time to be changed—everything the helpless infant needs is done through the parent’s agency, with the infant ‘actively’ passive in the entire process.  To be sure, in a sense even an infant has something vaguely like freedom when it comes to choices, for it can coo and smile and cry as clues to the parent of what it really wants (if it even knows itself), and with good attentive parents, that want is usually attended to.  But unlike even these signals to an adult, before Being a human being may as well coo and cry all it wants, for all the influence its cries and indicated wishes will have.  For Heidegger, Being, and Being alone, decides when and how ‘what is’ is disclosed; Being offers whatever it wants, whenever it wants it, and humanity’s  preferences go unheeded—and as far as Heidegger ever says, even unheard.  Because of the lack of even this elemental reciprocity between and infant and a parent, human beings in their relationship to Being are really are more like the victims of a mugger than this more charitable likening to infancy or very early childhood.  The asymmetrical reciprocity in terms of capacity within the bonding reciprocity of love separates infancy and parenthood from humanity’s subservience before Being, complete dependence in both notwithstanding.


In any case, whichever light is chosen—victim of mugging or perpetual, helpless infancy—humanity’s relationship to Being is an asymmetrical relationship of total dependency with no genuine choice involved.  In turn, this total dependency and lack of choice has a direct bearing on the question of human freedom, just as that freedom has direct bearing on the “essence” of technology, which by extension in turn has direct bearing on any normative issues in using that technology—the issue, as argued here, on which the “essence” of technology hinges.  Specifically, if Being is the source of the essence of technology, and the essence of technology is also the source of humanity’s only destiny as Dasein, then finding in Being’s destiny the ‘laws and directives’ orienting the use of technology towards valued ends means that those ‘laws and directives’ will be nothing more that the details of living out a specific technological destiny, details no more alterable or violable than the question of disclosedness itself.  In other words, the complete asymmetry between Being and human beings and the latter’s complete dependency on the former makes it difficult, if not impossible, to see how the question of Being could ever provide an ontological foundation for ethics, much less any ‘ethics’ for using technology, because Heidegger’s formulation of human freedom as Being’s destiny removes a critical element in any ethical system, namely, the notion of agency and its role in the very possibility of variable outcomes and evaluation.   Of Heidegger’s grounding of ethics in the question of Being, it must be asked: in what sense can there be an ethical directive without a sense of underlying agency indicating that the agent is capable to direct or not?  And equally, in what sense can there even be a question of evaluating competing norms when there is no variability in norms, when all norms are assigned by a destiny?  In short, it must be asked: who does the choosing, and what is there even to choose from?  In what ethical system is an agent held morally accountable when there is no agency to speak of, or even no real choices to make—in short, where there is no response-ability, in the literal sense of being-able-to-respond in directed ways to alternative ends?  Recurring to the metaphors already used (being a mugger’s victim or a helpless infant), before Being human beings have no meaningful agency with respect to the essence of technology, be that agency prescribed by the ethical system or determined in an ontological essence, and in either case there are no meaningful choices to make, even if there were any agency, which under both metaphors there is not.  Absent agency amidst alternative options it is simply impossible to assign any direction to ethical responsibility—or it is pointless to do so, whichever happens to apply.  For consider: if in the literal sense there is no possibility of alternative outcomes because behavior is directed toward specified ends (for Heidegger, the ends specified by destiny), then what possibility remains for adjudicating conduct, technological or otherwise, in terms of directedness according to possible norms, something any ethical system must offer? [30]  Absent both agency and directedness, there simply is no normative evaluation at stake.  In the case of being mugged or being an infant, both the duress in the forced choice caused by the crime and the helplessness  belonging to infancy normatively speaking waives ethical responsibility.  When under duress or too helpless to be responsible, i.e. when not response-able in the sense of specifying appropriate ends towards which to direct behavior, one is generally not held ethically accountable (or at least as accountable as when free to direct).   This applies even more so, then, to being incapable of acting responsibly, as technological Dasein is amidst the destiny of Being, and this incapability and resulting lack of responsibility is only magnified by Dasein’s incapacity to shape its own destiny in any way, for in that condition the subject is by definition not an agent at all.[31]  In short, the complete lack of agency in humanity’s relationship to Being when it comes to being technological means that Heidegger’s ostensible ontological grounding of ethics doesn’t even meet the minimum requirement of any ethical grounding, absconding as it does the very notions of agency and evaluation – agency as the possibility of varying outcomes, and evaluation as the possibility of assessing those outcomes according to norms.  The asymmetric dependency of Dasein on Being’s chosen destiny simply means that any basis for a normative evaluation of technology is foreclosed in advance, for absent a variety of norms and outcomes, and absent the agency to choose among them, there is nothing at all to evaluate, only describe.


To put the matter succinctly, absent a notion of agency subtending the application of ethical directives, and absent any options for directing these directives, it can always be asked: in what sense is an agent accountable for an action if there is no sense of agency within the action itself, or no alternative ends toward which to direct?  Absent agency and evaluation, how can ethical responsibility ever be determined or even assigned?  Recurring to the Heideggerian formulation of the essence of human freedom vis-à-vis the essence of technology: if the essence of technology is a destiny of Being, i.e. if Being and only Being solely directs, and if human beings have no choice or control over how to be technological—over the ‘norms’, as it were[32]—how then could Being ever provide the ontological foundation for an ethics of technology, when the very notions it removes from consideration are the minimal conditions for the applicability of any ethical measure—to wit, agency and alternative norms and ends?  Unless Heidegger and the Heideggerians have a an ontological foundation so unique that the notion of agency can be waived completely, it is simply impossible to see how the question of Being could ever provide the source of “the assignment of those directives that must become law and rule for human beings,” relative to technology or not, for absent agency those “directives” that must become law and rule are totally moot.  Without agency before its destiny, no direction occurs, only acting out according to pre-determined ends, and as such humanity is no more accountable for acting according to those laws and rules prescribed by Being than a two year old is accountable for the laws prescribed by the adults for circumscribing and measuring his or her conduct—adults whose ethically defining feature is an agency that can be held up as accountable against a measure of rules and laws.[33]  In light of this complete absconding the very sense of agency required to make Being’s directives, as directives, applicable, it is difficult, if not impossible, to see how the Heideggerian grounding of ethics could ever work, much less work as the grounding of an ethics that could satisfy the problem of values as the defining question concerning technology.  Simply put, as formulated in this essay, the Heideggerian grounding offers no help for the questions of ethics and values, as they apply to using technology.


This difficulty, if not impossibility, of a Heideggerian “ethics” based on the question of Being is aptly illustrated by Rojcewicz’s attempt on Heidegger’s behalf to develop some sense of moral responsibility for technology, despite Dasein’s complete lack of agency when it comes to being technological (as opposed to simply doing what it could not do otherwise because Being destines it to do so).  In his attempt Rojcewicz first acknowledges that the “concept of responsibility may involve either blame or credit,” and with this is mind, he goes on to suggest that Heidegger’s emphasis on Being as the sole source of the essence of technology “does not absolve humans from responsibility;” rather it “heightens human responsibility in the sense of moral responsibility,” in so far as “humans can be blamed” for how technology manifests itself, even as it “diminishes responsibility” insofar as humans don’t “deserve credit” for it. [34]  Elaborating, Rojcewicz adds: “the blame (the moral responsibility) is humanity’s own, the credit (the claim to be personally responsible for some accomplishment, to have accomplished something by one’s own efficacy) must be shared (with Being or nature).”[35]  Rojcewicz then closes by pointing out that this is a “most austere philosophy” that has nothing to do with “inaction or moral laxity.”[36] Instead, it is one that presumably provides an ethical measure for assessing our own uses of technology of technologically driven lives, one in which humanity actively engages in for its very realization as Dasein.


Now, clearly this Heideggerian notion of moral responsibility is unique, but “austere” isn’t quite the right word to describe this uniqueness.  For consider its implications in a colloquial sense, one that doesn’t even require broaching (at least not directly) the issue of the foundation for ethics.  Instead of such probing questions, just imagine the simpler context of a parent, or a coach, or a teacher using this Heideggerian measure of “responsibility” as blame and credit on a child, an athlete, or a student.  Mirroring Heidegger’s logic of Being and its entailed sense of human moral responsibility, responsibility, this person would say, is this: “either follow my instructions to the letter, or you get nothing, including any future opportunity to play, compete, or learn.  If you follow those instructions and fail, you are to blame.  If you follow those instructions and succeed, you have to share the credit with me.”  Never mind that a more faithful Heideggerian reading would not say “share” the credit and would more likely say instead “give all the credit to me,” for one side of the asymmetry of humanity’s complete dependency on Being is that human beings have no say in what Being reveals—and where there is no say, where is the “shared” credit?  But in any case, given the moral context of American society, [37] Rojcewicz’s hedge is understandable, but within it one can still only wonder: what parent, coach or teacher would not be a complete moral asshole should he or she put even this watered-down Heideggerian notion of “responsibility” into practice?  The problems with doing so shouldn’t require an argument, defying as they do the basic sense of what responsibility, moral or otherwise, is; plain restatement should suffice to make the problem clear.   Moral “responsibility” under Being in the Heideggerian account amounts to nothing more than a maxim along the lines of: “Do what I say.  If what I say works out, I get credit.  If it doesn’t you get blamed.  And by the way, if you don’t accept this choice, you get nothing.”  Applied to these simplest of terms, the proper word is not “austere;” it’s “autocratic,” and as a philosophy for assholes its only engagement, as Heidegger would have it, is one where moral leaders [sic] pawn off of the responsibility of their own leadership onto subordinates who have no real agency of their own, except an agency [sic] to do only what is dictated.  As already indicated for theoretical reasons, it is difficult—if not impossible—to see how this lack of agency could ever provide the basis for an ethics, ontological or otherwise, and boiled down to this simple extrapolation of common sense, it is difficult to see why anyone would even want it to, even if it could.  Instead of an ideal anyone should aspire to, Heidegger’s autocratic destiny of Being is more like the stuff of dictators, tyrants and pedagogues than the moral lessons of good parents, good teachers and good leaders.   Perhaps in the end it is enough to assert that even if one could stretch ethics to incorporate such a notion—and history shows that one can—one still ought not do so for rather obvious reasons.[38]


To summarize the results of this Chapter, for reasons in principle Heidegger’s indication that a basis for ethics in the question of Being could provide a ‘measure’ for normative evaluations fails because that basis denies the very notions required to make any foundation of ethics tractable, namely, the notion of agency amidst variable outcomes requiring evaluation.  In contrast to this necessary agency, the only “agency” Heidegger offers is a forced [sic] “choice” under which humanity has no real choice at all except to be technological in the manner Being prescribes, or not be technological at all—indeed, not be at all.  At the heart of this either/or that Heidegger calls the essence of human freedom there is in fact no real freedom to speak of:  Dasein cannot but be Dasein and be technological except as Being dictates, and as such it is impossible to see how in this total dependency Dasein can be ethically directive with respect to technology in any way, just as it is impossible to see how a totally dependent infant or young child could ever be held responsible for the very ministering that makes its own development possible.  In both cases, there is no directing to speak of, only following externally established directives, yet as indicated in this chapter, Dasein must in some sense be seen as ethically responsible when it comes to using technology for specified, valued ends, for the issue at the very heart of the question concerning technology is not the question of Being, as Heidegger would frame it, but the question of value itself.   This means that in response to the question implied in the ‘essence’ of technology, some measure of assessing values—some measure of evaluation—is warranted, if not necessary.  In so far as Heidegger would find that warrant or necessity in a destiny of Being that completely determines the essence of technological Dasein, ethical or otherwise, any foundation for an ethics that one might find in Being fails because it forecloses the agency that makes sense of ethical directives as directives, and with that failure yet another aspect of the solution to the problem modern technology Heidegger proposes falls by the wayside.  Simply put, technology used in such and such a way and embodying such and such values is for Heidegger a destiny, something within which Dasein has no real agency, much less one that could ever act as a basis for adjudicating directivesadjudication being minimally what ethics is about.  By limiting so-called “agency” with respect to technology only to the choice to be technological in the first place, Heidegger’s question of Being precludes even posing the question of value required to make good (or bad!) humanity’s technological future; much less does it offer an tractable answer to that question.   In the final analysis, Heidegger’s thinking on technology completely obscures the decisive issue of finding a measure for values guiding and adjudicating uses of technology, and it obscures this issue to such an extent that—like with his considerations of the “essence” of science and the “essence” of technology—he simply gets nothing right, failing as he does even to pose a useful question.  In fact, like with ‘the question of Being’ only obscuring ‘the question of values,’ the way Heidegger poses the question of ethics only intrinsically distorts the issue of its ‘foundation’—an issue that must soon be taken up in its own right.  But first, a detour into Heidegger’s own answer to the ‘question concerning technology’ is required.  That detour touches on “piety” as the Heideggerian solution to the problem of technology, so this idea is discussed in turn before resuming discussion of the underlying issue it only obscures, namely, the foundation of ethics as an answer to the question of values when it comes to technology.

[1] And stress could be placed here on “relative,” meaning that while difficult enough in its own right, determining the causes and consequences of technology on social life is relatively easy when compared to finding an agreed upon standard or method for evaluating what impact technology ought to be allowed to have.  The crux of this dilemma is the problem posed in this chapter.

[2] Werner Marx, Is There a Measure on Earth?


[4] Immunizations, antibiotics, the metal plough, electricity, and air conditioning only begin to scratch the surface of this impact.  All of these technologies had enormous impacts on human longevity and migration, as some enabled development (some might call it “exploitation”) of new areas and resources on a scale not possible prior to their application.  For an account of some aspects of this impact, see

[5] Even now CRISPR-Cas9 has been used to eliminate a genetic mutation in a human embryo stem cell line, see

[6] BP 282.

[7] His phrase “only a god can save us now” could be taken as an oblique reference to a dependency on Being for a solution to the problem of modernity, even as this notion supplants the transcendental terminology of “condition for the possibility of” prevalent in Being and Time.

[8] Pathmarks, 271.

[9] 274, emphasis added

[10] That it is more basic seems to be why Heidegger roots ethics in a properly asked and answered question of Being.

[11] Anticipating later discussion, foundation traditionally refers to determining the highest good, then deducing implications (usually as a set of universal decision rules) for acting in accord with this good in any particular situation.  By contrast, rational grounding suggests making intelligible how determining what is good and evil in a particular situation actually occurs using a reliable method, a method from which decision follows, one based on the best balance of those goods and evils.  That both approaches ultimately stem from the same controversy will be addressed, as will the nature of moral judgment generally, a problem around which lurks the bugbear of moral relativism.  That topic too will be addressed, in conjunction with its opposite, moral universalism.  See Chapter 15 for a full discussion, followed by Chapter 16 for a reconsideration of what “grounding” means in the case of values, ethics, and technology.  For now, let it be said that foundation offers a basis from which rational deductions can be made, whereas grounding makes intelligible what actually occurs in moral judgment, with an eye to making that judgment more reliable for being grounded in a reliable method.  Since their connotations are similar, both terms are used in this Chapter somewhat interchangeably, though the difference between “deducing implications” for “foundation” and “making intelligible the basis” for “ground” should always be kept in mind.

[12] As recently suggested by Sam Harris in The Moral Landscape.

[13] BT p.

[14] Is there a measure on earth?

[15] As in fact great effort was made to get the unit of the meter “right”, in the sense that it conformed to some intrinsic principle grounded in a real relation.  See

[16] Though not completely novel, as the idea is endemic to pragmatism.  To carry the idea further, one can pragmatically assess the metric system versus the English system versus the Babylonian system of weights and measures according to internal principles of how measurement needs to work in order to efficaciously meet the its goals.  In this determination, complete agnosticism about the “real” conformity of the basic units to antecedent reality is not only possible but almost necessary.  No “foot”, “meter” or “sila” need exist in physical , determinate form; one can observe how easy it is to convert units into one another, or how good the fit these units have to the sizes typical in daily commerce, without any apriori commitment to the foundation of these systems in real objects (the universal ‘meter’ platinum rod kept in controlled conditions, for instance).  By analogy using “God’, ‘some immanent principle’ or “Being” as the basis of the measure can be kept in abeyance as the ‘systems of ethics’ specific to those foundations are assed in terms of how well they provide a ‘measure’ of human conduct.

[17] Recurring to the analogy of weights and measures, answering these questions is tantamount to determining the translation of all the units into one another prior to implementing the measuring system.

[18] Heidegger would reject this emphasis on choice of out hand, obscuring it as he does into the realm of Beyng and essence.  See Beitrage, ¶ 43.  The inadequacy of Heidegger’s obscurantism will be discussed in what follows.

[19] See pp.

[20] QCT 8.

[21] QCT 7.



[24] QCT 8.

[25] GT 107

[26] GT 144

[27] GT 140-182.

[28] QCT 11 and 12, emphasis added.

[29] The nature of Beings relationship to humanity and humanity’s relationship to Being is broached many times throughout GT without ever quite nailing down what that relationship can be in a positive sense for Dasein—beyond, that is, being an authentic follower whose dignity lies in giving up any claim to controlling his destiny.  See pp.

[30] Implied here is that directedness, not freedom from cause, determines and distinguishes ethical reckoning from a mere physics of behavior.  There is nothing incompatible with saying that behavior is caused and that caused behavior can be directed toward specifiable ends.  Were this not the case, even the most basic observable behaviors like foraging would be utterly inexplicable, much less more complex behaviors dealing with multiple layers of causal factors, ranging from immediate biological dispositions to more remote influences like culture and hereditary history.  In any case, nothing about the free-will debate applies to this directedness, since virtually all parties retain a sense of voluntary, directed action as the basis for ethical judgment absent free will as such.

[31] A toddler is never held accountable for aiming a gun at anyone and shooting because they are constitutionally incapable of properly directing the ends for which guns are used, and usable.  The “aim” in this case is both literal and metaphorical for agency, for no toddler is held to be able to “aim”, i.e. direct, use of such things toward socially appropriate ends, not even understanding, as they don’t, what the gun even is.

[32] Recall that for Heidegger, despite his intent, poiesis and com-posing are norms.

[33] And the logic here is even more compelling, for it remains more possible that a two year old had some malice in his or her being for which it might be held accountable in some sense than it is that human beings have any control over the essence of technology that is the destiny consigned by Being.  Of course the logic is even more clear in the duress of forced choice in a mugging.

[34] GT 28-29, emphasis added.

[35] GT 29.

[36] GT 29.

[37] There is admittedly a sense even in our society when this “Heideggerian” responsibility is used, even by athletes and coaches, or teachers and students, for instance.  Often when being awarded, an athlete will give credit to his or her coach or family while taking little or none for him or herself, just a coaches or family members will give credit to the athlete’s hard work and take little or none for themselves. And on the flip side, in the event of failure, the reverse sometimes occurs: the athlete will credit coach and family for support and guidance and assume responsibility for missing the podium on him or herself, even as coaches will do the same.  This sense of responsibility, however, has nothing to do with what Heidegger is driving at and everything to do with being modest in the face of success and failure.  In fact, athletes and coaches know that either’s contribution can be assigned credit or blame, though publically is it gracious in winners to give rather than assume, and vice versa.  Under Heidegger, however, human beings are not just expected to be gracious because of some prevailing social norm; they are in essence only blameworthy and not creditworthy in an ontological and therefore moral sense.  The stipulation is just idiotic, not austere.


[38] That Heidegger’s ontology of responsibility is the justificatory cloak of dictators and tyrants, and that one ought to suspect it for those reasons alone, has, perhaps, never been made clearer than in Rojcewicz’s framing of human responsibility in the face of the so-called “responsibility” before Being, i.e. being on the hook for blame but being incapable of taking credit.  For consider the ease with which technology as a destiny of Being opening the possibility of being technological maps on to Heidegger’s own embrace of the Führerprinzip when he was an active member of the Nazi party, even to the extent that to accept this destiny is a defining choice for humanity, one to which it can only commit its full existence as Dasein, one for which success is credited to Being but failure assigned to humanity for not living up to Being’s essence, an essence that preserves and saves itself in its own essential abiding.  A relevant passage from an address during Heidegger’s tenure as Rector reads:


“The German people has been summoned by the Führer to vote; the Führer, however, is asking nothing from the people; rather, he is giving the people the possibility of making, directly, the highest free decision of all: whether it – the entire people – wants its own existence (Dasein), or whether it does not want it. […] This ultimate decision reaches to the outermost limit of our people’s existence.  And what is that limit?  It consists in the most basic demand of all Being [Sein}, that it preserve and save its own essence. […] On November 12, the German people as a whole will choose its future, and this future is bound to the Führer. […] There is only one will to the full existence (Dasein) of the State. The Führer has awakened this will in the entire people and has welded it into a single resolve” (emphasis added).


Add to this passage the observation that in times of hardship otherwise perfectly ordinary Germans thought they failed to live up to the Führer, not that the Führer had failed them, and that they were expected to think this…bring it all together and the transposition of the logic of Being onto the logic of the Nazi Führer-worship is almost complete.  Emphatically, this is not to say that Heidegger’s philosophy entails Nazism and the Führerprinzip, only that his autocratic ‘responsibility before Being’ just begs for a Führer principle dressed up as an ontology, and vice versa, an “essential” connection that Heidegger himself stressed more than once (and apparently maintained his entire life, for despite other clarifications and modifications he left intact the assertion of the “inner truth and greatness” of the Nazi movement in all edition of Introduction to Metaphysics).  If Being is an unaccountable, autocratic essence to which human beings must consent and in accord with which they must comply in order to fulfill their own essence, why not a Führer whose leadership will fulfill the essence of a Folk, one in accord with which only a destiny can be realized?  In other words, why not a Hitler to stand in for Being’s accountability only to itself, as opposed to a leader who is first accountable to the people he or she leads?


As a final flirt with ‘guilt by association’ (and in this case the guilt is warranted, since Heidegger was an unrepentant his entire life), it is asserted here without argument that Nazism got moral and political responsibility wrong, and that Heidegger’s lifelong embrace of its “inner truth and greatness” is no more tenable for being ontologically grounded than is garden variety delusion, for history has shown its tenants don’t work when put into practice, to say the least.  On this basis alone Heidegger’s responsibility toward Being and the fanaticism inherent in the Führerprinzip could be rejected as cut from the same normative cloth, even as that cloth has been rejected here for its more defeasible ‘ontological’ shortcomings.


The citation is from Wolin, The Heidegger Controversy, pp. 47-48.




Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s