All page numbers refer to "The Question Concerning Technology" as it appears in Martin Heidegger: Basic Writings, ed. David Farrell Krell, trans. William Lovitt, New York: Harper & Row, 1977.

pages 292-294

"Today we are too easily inclined. . ."

It should be clear by now that one of Heidegger's aims in this essay is to return his readers to earlier--and, for Heidegger, more fundamental--meanings of commonly used terms. For Heidegger, far more often than not, these "more fundamental" meanings are those developed in ancient Greek philosophy. Heidegger seems to suggest that part of the exhaustion and despair that characterizes modern life and culture in the West has to do with Western culture's neglect of the real, original sense of its most basic ideas.

For example, rather than thinking of "being responsible" or "being indebted" in overly moralistic terms (being responsible for a crime, or being in debt to one's parents or the bank), Heidegger wants us to think of responsibility as the Greek supposedly did. He devotes some of the most abstract language in the entire essay to his explanation of what the Greeks meant by aitia, "to occasion."

We sometimes use the verb "to occasion" to mean "cause," as in "his stupid hat occasioned a lot of laughter." The Greek word aitia, according to Heidegger, has a much broader meaning: "to make present," in sense of bringing something that was not present before into time and space. Heidegger's language becomes increasingly poetic as he describes being responsible for something as bringing that thing into appearance, or "starting something on its way to arrival" (292). The four "causes" in the chalice example, which Heidegger has redefined as the four "ways of being responsible," all serve less to "create" the chalice than to assist the potential chalice in the silver, in the idea of chaliceness, and in the context of the Christian church, in making its appearance.

Heidegger asks us to imagine a chalice that is "on its way" to existence; the four "ways of being responsible" help it to "arrive" there. They are responsible for what the Greeks called hypokeisthai, which designates how something that we see as "present" is made present to us.

It's appropriate that Heidegger's language takes on such a poetic quality at this point, for the next term he will introduce is poeisis, the Greek word from which our word "poetry" is derived. For the Greeks, Heidegger tells us, poeisis, is intimately related to "being responsible" in the sense he has just discussed.

Poeisis means "bringing forth." Heidegger distinguishes between two forms of bringing forth. The first is directly associated with poeisis, as it is the bringing forth into existence that the craftsperson and the poet (and anyone who produces things) practice. The products of this activity are brought forth by something else [en alloi--"in another"], that is, the poet makes the poem, the craftsperson makes the wood carving, etc. The second is physis, the bringing forth that occurs in nature, in which things such as flowers are brought forth in themselves {en heautoi]. Both instances, however, fall into the category of poeisis in the sense that something that was not present is made present.

Heidegger states the idea of bringing forth again in slightly different terms: "Bringing-forth brings out of concealment into unconcealment" (293). This image of poeisis as a kind of revealing leads him to yet another Greek word: aletheia, which literally means "unveiling" or "revealing." It is also the Greek word for "truth."