Heidegger on technology- separating the philosopher from the philosophy?
September 29, 2021 3:47 PM   Subscribe

I'm in the middle of a writing project about tech and I've reached the point were I need to discuss Heidegger, whose Question Concerning Technology is considered one of the cornerstones of the philosophy of technology. I don't know how to address his Nazism.

His relationship with the Nazi party (and whether or not he was a "real" Nazi) has always been problematic, but because he eventually distanced himself from the party it has long been argued that it was possible to separate the artist from the art. However, everyone was forced to reconsider that in 2014 when his notebooks containing his anti-semitic comments were published. (This thread is a good starting point.)

Now that the dust has settled, is there common consensus on how his anti-semitism and German nationalism influenced his views of technology? I'm looking for writing that shows that it is/isn't possible to disentangle his thinking (which was and is hugely influential) from the person he was. Or do you have examples of how people teach his ideas about technology while at the same time addressing his anti-semitism? Is it still the case that "moral disgust does not relieve a reader--let alone a critic--of the burden of intellectual engagement"?

I'm looking for examples that go beyond, for instance, The New Yorker's "Is Heidegger Contaminated by Nazism?" Saying that his sins "reduce the ardency with which his readers relate to him" isn't a very helpful answer to that question.
posted by not_the_water to Religion & Philosophy (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This short essay by Morgan Meis, "The Heidegger in All of Us", was helpful to me in addressing the basic issue (it's from around the time of the Faye book that your Linker piece is referring to). But the previous Mefi thread seemed to have a lot of good links on this as well, and I haven't read them all. I think we can be pretty confident that there is no consensus. (But consensus among who? Also, I realize I'm not specifically addressing the technology topic, so this comment might be unhelpful.)

Edit: It looks like this 2018 volume contains a couple of articles that might be useful.
posted by demonic winged headgear at 4:30 PM on September 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I haven't read QCT in >20 years, but IIRC it had an early draft given as a lecture in Bremen, and in that draft, Heidegger himself used the operation of concentration camps and gas chambers as an example of how he thought about technology. Googling a bit, here's a random link with details you'd need. He edited it out--AFAIK we don't know why, only that he went ahead and published the rest and presumably thought he'd said something about technology (calling forth as standing reserve, sure, sure, OK). But my thought is that the edit reveals his position on technology was wildly inadequate at least to the example and perhaps for grasping the traumas of modernity in general. It's also not separable from his Nazism--like, maybe he was reflecting on it a little there, but he seriously hadn't figured it out.
posted by Wobbuffet at 4:34 PM on September 29, 2021 [3 favorites]

maybe this is a dumb question, but why do you *need* to discuss this guy? has his writing influenced your thinking in some way, and you want to credit him? are you filling in historical context? are you in an academic community which demands his writing be addressed in order for your work to be accepted? is it just because he's considered influential -- and you want to give your writing an aura of respectability that would be missing if he weren't there?

the lasting influence of heidegger (and other Great Men like him) isn't just because of his ideas. there are sociological forces which keep people talking about him in order to reproduce his status as an influential thinker. the extent to which his ideas were influenced by his nazism is unknowable, but you might get some clarity by interrogating your own motivations here.
posted by panic at 5:48 PM on September 29, 2021 [6 favorites]

Here's the definition of argumentum ad hominem. The real question is how much of his f***ing Nazism seeped into his writing about technology. Insofar as that writing has already been influential, this is more important to address directly than to ignore because you don't want to think about Heidegger-the-Nazi.
posted by heatherlogan at 5:49 PM on September 29, 2021

Best answer: J-F Lyotard “Heidegger and the “Jews”” - is a wonderful book on the topic of Heidegger’s antisemitism, that approaches it philosophically. As a general comment, you cannot separate ‘the artist from the art’ or the philosopher from his politics, because philosophy provides the ethical justification for politics. In QcT Heidegger’s politics is visible in the longing to the age of pre-industrial technology, in which the river Rhein was a magnificent natural wonder and not an energy source of hydro-electric plants.
Heidegger has another essay “positionallity” that is a early version of QcT (in Bremen and Freiburg lectures) in which he makes the one and only mention of the extermination camps, saying that the gas chambers are exactly like automated harvesters and intensive farming. I might find the quote later today. Email me if you want to discuss further.
posted by slimeline at 12:48 AM on September 30, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm basically unread on philosophy and work in technology, so I offer a better-alternative philosophical book describing the foundations of our current internet-connected, advertising-funded, data-aggregating situation: Micheal Lewis's The New New Thing which followed SGI/Netscape founder Jim Clark with Netscape setting the precedent for the VC-funded model that drives contemporary disruptive internet companies.

Technology is about tools and the technique to use them. I don't think that there's a universal truth to a tool, it achieves purpose in amplifying the efforts of the person responsible for driving it. In that sense, financing upstart companies is one tool used, and the novelty (to those paying, a bunch of things are 'new to us' but well established elsewhere) of a disruptor is a different tool, and the automation to do one specific job a few billion times per second is another tool, and the internetwork between computers in companies is another tool. We're responsible as individuals for our actions and responsible collectively for the channels that enable our actions -- with technology becoming a significant tool for cutting new channels for human action, both for better and worse outcomes.

Responsibility over Power. F_ck Nazism and f_ck fascism.
posted by k3ninho at 1:39 AM on September 30, 2021

I was also going to suggest Lyotard.
posted by aramaic at 7:18 AM on September 30, 2021

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