The quickening pace of technological development on a global scale and its increasing impact on the relation between human beings and their lifeworld has led to a surge in philosophical discussions concerning technology. Philosophy of technology after the “empirical turn” has been dominated by three approaches: actor-network theory, critical theory of technology and postphenomenology. Recently, scholars have started to question the philosophical roots of these approaches. This paper critically questions Ihde’s early adoption of Heidegger’s philosophy of technology in postphenomenology. First, the paper clarifies the central contributions of Heidegger’s philosophy of technology to postphenomenology. It then uses Heidegger’s early work on Aristotle to argue that Ihde’s notion of “use context” is based on a distorted account of Heidegger’s notion of the “totality of relevance”. Correspondingly, it contends that this has led to a misinterpretation of Heidegger’s technology critique. Second, an alternative reading of Heidegger’s ideas concerning technology is offered. This reading traces Heidegger’s use of the concept of telos in the totality of relevance to his discussion of Aristotelian virtue. It is subsequently shown how the question of the temporality of the mode of being of virtue is related to the notion of authenticity, which lies at the heart of Heidegger’s philosophy. Finally, the paper argues that postphenomenology could gain from philosophers who targeted Heidegger’s central notion of authenticity, notably Arendt and Ricoeur.
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Feenberg engaged with Heidegger in length as well, but his interpretation has already thoroughly been critiqued by Thompson (2005). Latour, in contrast, rarely engages with Heidegger in his work.
Surprisingly, Ihde does not confront Aristotle directly in his work, but he makes it abundantly clear that he is trying to revive the Aristotelian “praxis-philosophies” as the basis for his philosophy of technology. In the Introduction of Technics and Praxis, Ihde explicitly states: “It will be noted here that I have left out the Aristotelian tradition. This is purposeful in that it was precisely against what was taken as Aristotelian that early modern philosophy reacted. What I intend to pair here is the dominant contemporary situation with its ancient roots”.
Ihde’s strategy in setting up his postphenomenological programme can basically be derived from his interpretation of Husserl’s notion of the intentional arc (ego-cognising-world), reinterpreted through the Heideggerian notion of the praxical as the basis for this intentional arc, therefore restating is as (human-technology-world) (Ihde1979: 116f.).
It should be noted that for Ihde, human-technology-world relation seems to be the equivalent of a human-technology-world context. For instance, while discussing embodiment relations, he argues: “I call this first set of existential technological relations with the world embodiment relations, because in this use context I take the technologies into my experiencing in a particular way by way of perceiving through such technologies and through the reflexive transformation of my perceptual and body sense” (Ihde 1990: 72).
“Technology” is more consistently used by Stiegler who defines it as a “discourse on technics” (Stiegler 1998: 93).
As Brogan shows, the virtues are implicitly present in Being and Time in the form of some of Heidegger’s central German concepts. Especially care (Sorge) is argued to be derived from Heidegger’s interpretation of Aristotle’s phronêsis (Brogan 2005: 19).
Aristotle argues: “there is virtue [or vice] in the use of craft, but not [in the use] of prudence,” which implies that the use of prudence always involves virtue, and that, in contrast to prudence: “in a craft, someone who makes errors voluntarily is more choiceworthy” (NE, 6.5, 1140b23-26, trans. Irwin—emphasis added).
It should be noted as well that in Heidegger we can distinguish three different meanings of “world”: (1) an ultimate totalising horizon, (2) a concrete lifeworld (or “work-world”) or (3) a historical epoch (Bartky 1979: 213). It is unclear to which of these three meanings Ihde refers.
Moreover, Heidegger states that the way of revealing of enframing blocks poeisis (Heidegger 1977: 30), which indicates that he did not intend to make his concepts “collapse” into one-another.
Similar to Ihde, Verbeek also inadequately deals with this point. Initially, Verbeek’s criticism of Heidegger’s philosophy of technology is appealing, when he states that we should question whether to accept Heidegger’s claim that in the modern epoch enframing is the only way in which technological devices bring the real into unconcealment (Verbeek 2005: 66). His reasons for this questioning, however, are inadequate because he mostly plays on the reader’s intuition (e.g., by stating rhetorically: “medical technologies interpreting the body as standing reserve certainly have to do with care as well?”), without challenging Heidegger’s notion of “challenging into ordering”.
As Thompson argues, in reply to Feenberg’s criticism of Heidegger, Heidegger understands technology ontologically, but also understands ontology historically (Thomson 2005: 58).
As Heidegger asserts: “the technê, the method, that is related to beings as political animals, is the political science, this knowing-one’s-way-around in the being of human beings that is determined as being-with-one-another” (Heidegger 2009: 48).
Similar to MacIntyre, Heidegger argues that a person’s virtue consists in having a good at one’s disposal in undertaking an activity. However, Heidegger’s notion of a good diverges from MacIntyre’s in that it from the outset does not admit for a distinction between goods “internal” or “external” to any particular activity. For Heidegger—contra MacIntyre—there is no “good in itself” and a good always refers to a limit of praxis, understood as a “being-completed” of praxis.
As a related determination of technical practice, we have to connect virtue with the mean (meson), which entails that, as a mode of being, virtue is “maintaining the mean”. Just as the mode of ready-to-hand, Heidegger approaches the mean initially through pragmata, through “things,” not insofar as things in general have an “average” mode of being, but insofar things mean something to human-beings (they “matter”) in the sense of being “not too much nor too little” (Heidegger 2009: 125).
A primary example of political action for Arendt is the American Revolution, which she argues constituted a radical new beginning (Arendt 1958: 228).
Considerations of space and scope for this paper do not allow me to go into the intricacies of Ricoeur’s (1988) outstanding critique of Heidegger’s notion of temporality. Suffice it to say, in brief, that he attacks Heidegger’s notion of ordinary time, the time of everydayness, by arguing that ordinary time does not solely result from a process of ‘levelling off’ of authentic temporality through datability, lapse of time, and the publicness of time of preoccupation (Ricoeur 1988: 84), but also from human apprehension of cosmic movement. He thereby denies the possibility of phenomenology to offer a unified account of temporality, and instead puts phenomenology’s notion of temporality, that ultimately appeals to a time of the soul, in an unresolvable tension with world time, that ultimately appeals to the movement of celestial bodies. Human time, according to Ricoeur, can only be understood as mediating between these two contrasting temporalities, through the narrative mode. Authenticity is therefore never completely attained, but can only be approached in an open-ended fashion.
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Reijers, W. Beyond Postphenomenolgy: Ihde’s Heidegger and the Problem of Authenticity. Hum Stud 42, 601–619 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10746-019-09492-9