Martin Heidegger on Technology, Ecology, and the Arts
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Martin Heidegger on Technology, Ecology, and the Arts

A. Lack

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Martin Heidegger on Technology, Ecology, and the Arts

A. Lack

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Lack begins with a discussion of Max Weber's analysis of the disenchantment of the world and proceeds to develop Heidegger's philosophy in a way that suggests a "re-enchantment" of the world that faces the modern condition squarely, without nostalgia.

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The Disenchantment of the World
Abstract: The chapter introduces the central problematic in the text: that of the disenchantment of the world. Modern people reflect on their values, life conditions, and goals in a way that is markedly different from that of traditional people. Modern humans are much less deeply “embedded” in their socio-cultural horizon of values. Art also becomes philosophical and disenchanted. How can the philosophy of Martin Heidegger be understood as a response to the problem of disenchantment? What are the various modes and manners of reinvigorating a society that has become ratiocinated by instrumental rationality, egoism, and the domination of nature as resources for technical progress?
Lack, Anthony. Martin Heidegger on Technology, Ecology, and the Arts. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. DOI: 10.1057/9781137487452.0002.
There are a number of ways to interpret the work of Martin Heidegger. For my purposes, we need to understand Heidegger as an ontological thinker with deep religious and mystical tendencies, concerned primarily with religious matters or matters of ultimate importance, as he saw them from his own Greco-German view. According to this understanding, Heidegger’s concerns focus on the redemption of humanity, motivated by his own Catholic background and some other life circumstances, channeled through a Greek theoretical filter, borrowed in part, from the Pre-Socratics and Aristotle, and structured in the language of German romanticism. Keeping this interpretation in mind, in following pages, we will address three interrelated questions in philosophy and the humanities that converge in the problem of “disenchantment.” First, what is the nature of disenchantment, as articulated in the German philosophical tradition in general and Martin Heidegger in particular? Second, how can the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, be understood as a response to the problem of disenchantment? Third, how can Heidegger’s insights be extended and applied to specific works of art and architecture?
The problem of disenchantment, so thoroughly investigated by Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and other writings, is a common German theme. In Weber’s analyses, the disenchantment of the world refers to a series of overlapping processes that Jürgen Habermas summarizes as follows:
Weber points first to modern natural science, which puts theoretical knowledge in mathematical form and tests it with the help of controlled experiments; he adds to this the systematic specialization of scientific activity in university settings. He mentions the printed products of literature produced for the market, and the institutionalization of art in theaters, museums, periodicals, and so on; harmonious music in the form of sonatas, symphonies and operas, and the orchestral instruments (organ, piano, violin); the use of linear and aerial perspective in painting and the constructive principles of great architecture. He further lists scientific jurisprudence, institutions of formal law, and the administration of justice through legally trained, specialized officials; modern state administration, with a rational organization of civil servants, operating on the basis of enacted laws. Further, he mentions calculable commerce under civil law and profit-oriented capitalist enterprise, which presupposes the separation of household and business (that is, the legal distinction between personal and corporate wealth), which has at its disposal rational bookkeeping, which organizes formally free labor from the standpoint of efficiency, and which uses scientific knowledge for improving the production plant and business organization. Finally, Weber points to the capitalist economic ethic, which is part of the rational conduct of life—for just as the development of economic rationalism is dependent on rational technique and rational law, so it is also dependent on the ability and disposition of men to adopt certain types of practically rational conduct.1
As Habermas suggests, Weber diagnoses modernity as characterized by the progressive differentiation of society into “spheres” of activity and value (e.g., aesthetics, economics, religion, law). Each of these spheres becomes largely autonomous, cut off from the others, characterized by its own “inner logic,” its own set of rules and values. We no longer live in a world characterized by what Peter Berger called the “Sacred Canopy,” a traditional world where social spheres are not differentiated, but instead, form part of a seamless whole, integrating the lives of the people with nature, the divine, and the rest of society. To the contrary, the modern world begins to resemble a hodgepodge of different values and ideals, cobbled together in some fashion, as if to represent a totality. The massive reorganization of social existence under industrial capitalism subjects “the individual” and “personality” to increasing, critique-categories, that many suppose beyond critique.
Modern people reflect on their values, their life conditions, and their goals in a way that is markedly different from that of traditional people. Reflection, when it exists in traditional societies, is always a means of connecting with a taken-for-granted set of values or ideals. The Yogi retreats to meditate and reflect, but he does not question in an everyday fashion, the ultimate goals and beliefs he is committed to. Modern humans, however, are said to be much less deeply “embedded” in the socio-cultural horizon of values. The reference point for action is reduced to the individual, his or her “beliefs” and the goals he or she adopts. Compare modern individuals, forced to choose their identities in incessant reflections on the pursuit of happiness and meaning, with the Azande, so different in worldview and behavior. What should I wear? What should I believe? Who should I vote for? Which religious tradition is for me? These are not questions the Azande must reflect upon. In the words of anthropologist Robin Horton:
Absence of any awareness of alternatives makes for an absolute acceptance of the established theoretical tenets, and removes any possibility of questioning them. In these circumstances, the established tenets invest the believer with a compelling force. It is this force which we refer to when we talk of the tenets as sacred . . . Here, them, we have two basic predicaments: the “closed”—characterized by lack of awareness of alternatives, sacredness of beliefs, and anxiety about threats to them; and the “open”—characterized by awareness of alternatives, diminished sacredness of beliefs and diminished anxiety about threats to them.2
The “closed” and the “open” tend to place the traditional and mythic society on the one hand, against the modern, secular society on the other. While traditional society seems to lack significant space for personal freedom, the modern society fluctuates in unfixed meanings and shifting values that give individuals uncertain guidance in charting their life courses. As Sartre puts it famously, the modern individual is truly “condemned to be free,” words that seem to echo the analysis of disenchantment in Weber’s essay, Religious Rejections of the Modern World and Their Directions.3
Wherever rational, empirical knowledge has consistently brought about the disenchantment of the world and its transformation into a causal mechanism, a definitive pressure arises against the claims of the ethical postulate that the world is a divinely ordered, that is, somehow ethically meaningful cosmos. For the empirical mode of viewing the world—and most completely, the mathematically oriented mode—develops in principal a rejection of every approach that inquires in any way about a “meaning” of what happens in the world.4
The modern artist, to take just one example, no longer receives his or her material from the external world and is no longer compelled to paint or write about particular types of material. Modern art, therefore reaches its apotheosis in reflexive art, when the artist begins to reflect on his or her own techniques, materials, and theories in a way that is different from previous artists. This type of reflection is not aimed at a more accurate representation; it is a pure reflection on the process. Art becomes philosophical and disenchanted. Additional examples of the theme of disenchantment in German social thought are easy to adduce: Marx’s discussion of alienation in the Paris Manuscripts of 1844, Nietzsche’s proclamation that “God is Dead,” Oswald Spengler’s discussion of the Decline of the West, and Heidegger’s critique of the en-framing of modern life by technology. These writings, each coming from a different political view, share one thing in common—the claim that humans living under the social condition known as modernity are suffering from a separation or distancing, either from religious sources of meaning, from their own human nature (species-being), from the Dionysian sources of vitality, from valuable traditions, or from an encounter with Being, as is the case in Heidegger’s thought. Among these authors, Weber and Spengler remain pessimistic about the possibilities of re-enchanting a disenchanted world. Marx exhorts the alienated worker to revolt and realize his or her true nature in communal labor and self-expression. Nietzsche suggests a different path, one based on individual transcendence of the disenchanted culture of the herd, an aristocratic stand against the decline of society under the influence of the mob, a republic of one. Heidegger falls somewhere in between the extremes of these two latter thinkers. He certainly suggests that we cannot change unless we change our society; our surroundings are what structure our existence. In that sense, he resembles Marx. However, there is a strain of Nietzschean romanticism in Heidegger’s emphasis on living authentically, against the current, not necessarily in defiance of the status quo, but in self-conscious awareness of our surroundings and their influence on us. In order to answer the second question (How can the philosophy of Martin Heidegger be understood as a response to the problem of disenchantment?) we must ask further questions. What is re-enchantment? What are the various modes and manners of reinvigorating a society that has become ratiocinated by instrumental rationality, egoism, and the domination of nature as resources for technical progress?
There are counter-modernities, just as there was a counter-reformation. Modern fundamentalism can be seen as, among other things, a response to the dry, desiccated, overly sterile world created by modern science and autonomous ethics and aesthetics on the one hand, and its compensatory orgy of consumerism, that peculiar mixture of self-expression and subordination to the law of capital, so characteristic of modern times, on the other. Fundamentalism is an anti-modern movement that seeks to restore meaning and purpose to individual life by allowing the individual to “Escape from Freedom,” to use Eric Fromm’s phrase. The powerful appeal of religious fundamentalism in the United States suggests disaffection with modernity and its strident call for the individual to “create” himself. There are, however, many ways to re-enchant the world, and religious fundamentalism is not the only means of reinvigorating the culture and, in the process, helping humanity to find its place in the cosmos.
Heidegger’s writings on technology are interspersed throughout his oeuvre, but are most succinctly stated in The Question Concerning Technology. The problem, as Heidegger sees it, is really not a problem with technology itself, but of the effects of technological thinking, seeing, and perhaps even feeling on our worldview. For Heidegger, “technological thinking” or what he calls “en-framing” distorts our relationship to nature or the divine.
Heidegger’s earlier writings express the idea of disenchantment in relation to the ideal of “authenticity.” Heidegger’s later writings not only express the idea of disenchantment more poetically, but also more mystically, as in forms of Indian philosophy, where the basic concepts are explained again and again in increasingly nonconceptual language, with the hope of shifting one’s attention from rational thought toward feeling or intuition. That is what Heidegger attempts in passages such as this from his later work.
But what gives us the right to characterize Being as presencing? This question comes too late. For this character of Being has long since been decided without our contribution, let alone our merit. Thus we are bound to the characterization of Being as presencing. It derives its binding force from the beginning of the unconcealment of Being as something that can be said, that is, can be thought. Ever since the beginning of Western thinking with the Greeks, all saying of “Being” and “Is” is held in remembrance of the determination of Being as presencing which is binding for thinking. This also holds true of the thinking that directs the most modern technology and industry, though by now only in a certain sense. Now that modern technology has arranged its expansion and rule over the whole earth, it is not just the sputniks and their by-products that are circling around our planet; it is rather Being as presencing in the sense of calculable material that claims all the inhabitants of the earth in a uniform manner without the inhabitants of the non-European continents explicitly knowing this or even being able or wanting to know of the origin of this determination of Being. (Evidently those who desire such a knowledge least of all are those busy developers who today are urging the so-called underdeveloped countries into the realm of hearing of that claim of Being which speaks from the innermost core of modern technology.)5
The problem of technology is disenchantment, alienation, and estrangement, which results from living in a world, drained of meaning and reduced to calculation, technique, and systematization. The solution is a way of seeing and making art that re-enchants the world, re-establishing the vital connections between people and things, connections that go beyond mere instrumental use. If technological en-framing reduces the world to a collection of resources to be manipulated for our pleasure, then art should highlight the irreducible value of things, their relation to nature and the divine. A key role of art is to bring meaningful connections back to the world of everyday life and to our connection to nature.
The third question asks: how can Heidegger’s insights be extended and applied to the analysis of specific works of art and architecture? We answer this in the final three chapters by applying the basic framework developed to the paintings of Paul Klee and Antoni Tàpies. In each case, we will be asking how the form, materials, concept, and execution of the work accomplish the task of re-enchantment, as set out in my reading of Heidegger. With regard to architecture, I consider the work of Frank Lloyd Wright’s student, John Lautner, as well as the “archologist” Paolo Soleri, two architects who are working with the relationship between nature and modernity in their conception of building.
1Habermas, Jürgen, The Theory of Communicative Action: Volume 1: Reason and the Rationalization of Society, Boston: Beacon Press, 1985: 157.
2Cited in Habermas, 1985: 61.
3Weber, Max, “Religious Rejections of the World and Their Directions,” in From Max Weber: Essays in Socio...


  1. Cover
  2. Title
  3. 1  The Disenchantment of the World
  4. 2  An Introduction to Heigedders Philosophy
  5. 3  The Art of Anselm Kiefer through the Lens of Martin Heidegger on Technology, Art, and Truth
  6. 4  From Art to Ethics
  7. 5  Dwelling on Earth
  8. 6  The Art of Nature, Klee and Tpies
  9. 7  Architecture and Dwelling
  10. 8  Concluding Reflections: Heidegger, Art, Architecture, Ethics
  11. Bibliography
  12. Index
Estilos de citas para Martin Heidegger on Technology, Ecology, and the Arts

APA 6 Citation

Lack, A. (2014). Martin Heidegger on Technology, Ecology, and the Arts ([edition unavailable]). Palgrave Macmillan US. Retrieved from (Original work published 2014)

Chicago Citation

Lack, A. (2014) 2014. Martin Heidegger on Technology, Ecology, and the Arts. [Edition unavailable]. Palgrave Macmillan US.

Harvard Citation

Lack, A. (2014) Martin Heidegger on Technology, Ecology, and the Arts. [edition unavailable]. Palgrave Macmillan US. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Lack, A. Martin Heidegger on Technology, Ecology, and the Arts. [edition unavailable]. Palgrave Macmillan US, 2014. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.