Keyword Forum 2

Please refer to the readings assigned for 26 September.

Key Words

Instrumentality: In one sense, all technology is instrumental. “It is a means to human activity” (2). Yet, this popular understanding of technology as a way of accomplishing tasks, as an object manipulated through human activity, hides the true essence of technology. An instrumental conception of technology understands tools as something to be mastered. “The will to mastery becomes all the more urgent the more technology threatens to slip from human control” (2). To better understand what is meant by instrumentality, Heidegger impresses the importance of understanding what it actually means for a technology to get things done. How does it unite the means of building an object to its eventual form (2)?

Instrumentality is tied directly to the concept of Cause. “Wherever ends are pursued and means are employed, wherever instrumentality reigns, there reigns causality” (2). Heidegger draws from and moves beyond the doctrine of four causes within philosophy. Causa materialis refers to the material used to create an object. Causa formalis is understood at the form taken by an object. Causa finalis speaks to the end goal of the object, tasking it with specific qualities. Causa efficiens is the completed effect represented through the object (2-3). The last cause tends to become the “standard for all causality” (3). The final representation of a technology becomes enmeshed with its means to activity, its instrumentality. Heidegger stresses that the original meaning of the Greek term aition, connected to the Roman causa, provides sense of mutual responsibility amongst the the four causes. Simply an understanding of an object must encompass all of its generative causes.

In discussing the four causes in relation to instrumentality, Heidegger wants to impress a distinction between the person who creates the final form of an object and the potentiality of the final object. The causa effienciens is not the inventor, the craftsman, or the baker. Rather these creators bring together the first three causes, material, form, and context to hold together within the final form (4). Instrumentality emerges from mutual responsibility amongst the causes, impressed upon a produced material good.

Poesis is a “bringing forth” that applies not only to material goods, but artistic and poetic products as well (5). Bringing forth broadly captures the process of transforming the internal into a external representation. Poesis has two meanings for Heidegger. Physis is a form of poesis where what is brought forth emerges directly from its progenitor, there is no physical or material intermediary. Physis is the bloom of a flower, the birth of a child, the raspberry on the vine. Physis bursts into the universe, bringing into the world something that was not previously there. It does not manipulate already existing matter, rather it generates the matter through its own processes. Poesis, on the other hand, involves a transformation, an emergence and separation from its creators body. The craftsman carves a desk, the artist sculpts a small maquette, the writer pens an article, none of these products materialize from the resources of the self. Poesis in either form is also a way of revealing, of announcing its new and novel presence into the world. For Heidegger, bringing forth is also a way of entering into “the realm of revealing of truth” (5).

Technology and poesis are connected through their true original meanings. Techne, the root of what would eventually become the word technology encompasses both physical materializations and “the arts of the mind and fine arts” (5). Techne too represents a bringing forth and revealing into the world.

Yet, poesis as revealing does not occur with the emergence of modern technologies. Rather these technologies present a challenging by radically transforming the energy of the matter from which it emerges (6). This challenging changes the ordering of the natural landscape. Trees cease to be trees, they instead take on new meanings and circulations. Rather than bringing forth something new out of nature, modern technology imparts new meanings, uses, and transformations (6-7).

Enframing (Gestell)

Enframing, or Gestell, is used by Heidegger to describe what lies behind modern technology. Gestell in German means physical framework, but Heidegger uses the word in a more abstract way. Heidegger gives the definition of Enframing in his writing:

“Enframing means the gathering together of that setting-upon that sets upon man, i.e., challenges him forth, to reveal the real, in the mode of ordering, as standing-reserve. Enframing means that way of revealing that holds sway in the essence of modern technology and that it is itself not technological.” (16)

According to Heidegger (1977), technology is brought into existence through poesis (12), or some entity, and modern technology is brought into existence in a way that “sets upon nature” and “challenges forth the energies of nature.” Therefore, humans order the entities in our world in such a way that they are always standing ready to be put to use, and this causes humans to view and treat nature as the “chief storehouse of the standing energy reserve”, as something always standing ready to be put to use, to be “set upon unlocked, transformed, stored, distributed, and redistributed”. In other words, the world has been framed by humans as the “standing reserve” waiting to be revealed. Humans, living in a modern world that is already “framed” in this way, collectively understand the fact that this world is an energy resource waiting to be exploited. This collective mood or ‘sense’ is what Heidegger calls Enframing. Hence, Enframing or Gestell can be understood as a revealed truth about the world, and as thinking about and engaging with the world in a collective sense.

Standing reserve

Standing reserve refers to resources or entities present-at-hand that are open to human exploitation and manipulation. Modern technology reveals the world as an energy resource, something to be used, what Heidegger describes as a “standing-reserve”.
Also refer to the definition of “Enframing” above.


Essence is the traditional translation of the German noun Wesen. Heidegger states that, “In the academic language of the philosophy, “essence” means what something is; in Latin, quid. Quidditas, whatness, provides the answer to the question concerning essence” (20). In the traditional sense, essence is genus, it refers to a class of things that are all the same kind of thing.

The traditional definition of essence, however, does not suit modern technology. Essence does not simply mean what something is. Heidegger tries to come up with a more suitable definition of essence by looking at the connection between the German words wesen, “to develop”, and währen, ‘to endure’. Essence is the way in which something pursues its course and remains through time as what it is.

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