Ethics: Scope/Applications: Technology and Ethics: The Ubiquity of Evil

Below are the first hesitating steps to approach Ethics as an Area of Knowledge. This requires the clearing of the ground of the assumptions that we have about what ethics are and the obfuscation that surrounds the topic. In discussing Ethics it is most important to clarify the viewing so that technology as a way of knowing can be understood. This understanding will, hopefully, open the domain of that area that we call ethics which we will make clear are not principles but the actions themselves as understood in the philosophy of Aristotle from which the word ethics gets its origin.

In the thinking on technology that we have been concerned with in these writings on TOK, we have discovered that our “understanding” of technology as instrument and as human activity, or a means to an end, is a notion so commonplace and prevalent in everything we say and do that this “understanding” has become self-evident. This self-evident nature is, as we have come to understand it, a “correct” understanding, but it does not go far enough in reaching towards what technology is; that is, while it is “correct”, it is not the truth of what technology is, or rather, it is not the true nature of the situation we find ourselves in. Framing (in both Heidegger’s and William Blake’s understanding) is the essence of technology and the technological.


If we remember from our reading of the Cave in Bk. VII of Republic, for Plato the essence of something is not the same thing as the thing itself. In thinking of the essence of a tree, “that which pervades every tree, as tree, is not itself a tree that can be encountered among all the other trees. Likewise, the essence of technology is by no means anything technological.”(Heidegger, QT, p. 4) The “un – usual” or “uncanny” nature of this situation, whereby we see no essential difference between modern technology and older forms of craftsmanship and agricultural methods, is due to technology’s framing nature. The instrumental definition of technology in a sense has blocked our access to the fundamental differences between modern machine technology and the older tools of farmers and craftsmen. This has happened as a result of Framing or, in German, Gestell. Technology is a way of knowing and a way of being in the world. The “knowing” (logos) precedes the “making” (techne: “the knowing one’s way about”, the praxis) that forms the root words “techne” and “logos” or “technology”. The logos is the gathering and the rendering of the techne.

Martin Heidegger

In his essay on “The Question Concerning Technology” (which is the foundational core of the writing on Technology as a Way of Knowing here) the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, says that in order for us to understand technology we must proceed along the “path of thinking” which is illuminated for us in an “extraordinary manner” by language.  In giving ourselves to thinking, we do an activity which subverts much of what we take to be ordinary (and for many of you that has been, or should be, your experience of the TOK course: a subversion of what you take to be the ordinary); the thinking leads us to the extra-ordinary, the extra-mundane. Thinking involves the privation of the usual, of the normal, the ‘un’-doing of what we take to be the usual. In German, the root wohnlich means “homely,” something we are at-home-with and familiar with, and Heidegger likes to use this term regarding thinking. The root in turn of wohnlich is the verb wohnen – to live, to dwell, where we are at home. When we think that we drive and control the issues that arise from within technology itself, we fail to see the true nature of our comportment, our role, how our thinking proceeds, how one can properly answer the call of thinking and the kind of attention (See Glossary of Key Terms) that is necessary to think. In thinking, rather than deluding ourselves with the idea that we can bend technology to our will, and lead it or drive it somewhere (progress), we need to see that we can only respond appropriately to what thinking and technology give us when we allow thinking to open the technological to our reflection. That is, that what is called thinking in the technological framing is not the thinking that will allow us to understand the essence of this framing in itself. To understand this essence requires a different kind of thinking altogether. That is, the thinking is outside what has come to be called the “knowledge framework” in our TOK course.

But what is this framing and how are we to understand it? For Heidegger, framing is a “revealing” or a bringing into “unconcealment” of that which was previously hidden. “To reveal” or to bring to “unconcealment” is, in Greek, aletheia, or “truth”; so framing involves “truth” in some way. The type of revealing or truth that rules in modern technology is the setting-upon and challenging forth that regulates and secures some thing as a resource and a disposable. Everywhere everything is ordered to stand by and to be immediately at hand so that it may be on call for further ordering or use. This is sometimes referred to as logistics. When we order some thing to stand by we determine some thing’s “value” for us.

Whatever is on call and stands by in the sense of resource no longer stands over against us as object. When human beings investigate, observe, ensnare nature as an area of their own conceiving, human beings are already claimed by a way of revealing truth that challenges them to approach nature as an object of research, until the object disappears into the objectlessness of resource. (M. Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, tr. W. Lovitt (New York: Harper & Row, 1977 herein after referred to as QT, p. 19). Framing is, thus, a way of being in the world and enfolds what we understand by cognition, our understanding of what we call our “ways of knowing”.

How is framing a way of being in the world, and as a way of being, how does it determine what we call “ethics”? While framing is a way of revealing, it is also a way of “concealing”; for example, it conceals the very nature of instrumentality that is our common understanding of what technology is. Our common collective assumption is an anthropological (human) and an instrumental definition of technology.  These definitions reciprocate each other insofar as technology involves human activity (anthropological) and technology seems to facilitate the securing of various human needs and desires by providing the means (instrumental) to securing both which, in turn, involves all of human activity.  The anthropological definition must require an instrumental definition of technology since all human action seems to be for-the-sake-of something – it is teleologically oriented (purpose, goal-oriented).

The purpose or goal oriented root of the instrumental view of technology was, as we have seen in our unit on Technology as a Way of Knowing, found in the discussion of Aristotle’s four causes and in our discussion on the Greek word aition or “to occasion”. The four modes of occasioning (material, formal, final and efficient) are said to be “unifiedly ruled over by a bringing that brings what presences into appearance”, what we call “cognition”. (Heidegger, QT, p. 10).  Plato in his Symposium has Diotima say through Socrates: “Every occasion for whatever passes over and goes forward into presencing from that which is not presencing is poiesis, is bringing-forth.” (Symposium. 205b.) Poiesis is where something is brought forward, pro-duced, and becomes something that is present for us. Heidegger distinguishes the production (the bringing-forth) that belongs to nature (which is of itself i.e. a flower bursting forth in bloom, physis), and the production or bringing-forth that belongs to human beings which is the result of the occasioning in the four causes that we have spoken about. “…every bringing–forth is grounded in revealing…If we inquire, step by step, into what technology, represented as means, actually is, then we shall arrive at revealing. The possibility of all productive manufacturing lies in revealing.” (QT p. 12) This is the essence of many TOK essay titles where “the production of knowledge” is being considered.


Technology then is not simply a means to an end; it is a way of revealing the world we live in: the essence of technology is the realm of truth. As a way of revealing, it is a way of knowing. How human beings determine what truth is will determine how they will live, their actions, in the world i.e. their ethics. Ethics are not morals or laws. This understanding is a result of the influence of Christianity on the thinking of the Greeks. Ethics are the end products of human beings’ deliberations on what the essence of truth is. A reading of Aristotle’s The Ethics illustrates this; and it is this text which is the origin of the word ethics. 

Heidegger claims that techne (making) has, from the Pre-Socratics until Plato, been connected with episteme (knowing): “Both words are names for knowing in the widest sense. They mean to be entirely at home in something, to understand and be expert in it. Such knowing provides an opening up. As an opening up it is a revealing.” (QT p. 13 ) Heidegger goes on to argue that “what is decisive in techne does not lie at all in making and manipulating nor in the using of means, but rather in the aforementioned revealing. It is as revealing, and not as manufacturing, that techne is a bringing–forth. (QT p. 19) “But man does not have control over revealing or unconcealment itself, in which at any given time the real shows itself or withdraws…Only to the extent that man for his part is already challenged to exploit the energies of nature can this ordering revealing happen. If man is challenged, ordered to do this, then does not man himself belong even more originally than nature within the resource?” (QT p. 19) Any human activity, and by this we can take Heidegger to mean any activity by humans at any time in history, does not occur within the vacuum of a false sense of autonomy but rather involves humans being “brought into the unconcealed. The unconcealment of the unconcealed has already come to pass whenever it calls man forth into the modes of revealing allotted to him.” (QT p. 19) It is not so much straightforward human progress which has led us to treat nature as a phenomenon to be investigated in this manner; rather there is something beyond us which seems to challenge us to reveal nature in this way:

Modern technology as an ordering revealing is, then, no merely human doing. Therefore we must take that challenging that sets upon man to order the real as resource in accordance with the way in which it shows itself. That challenging gathers man into ordering. This gathering concentrates man upon ordering the real as resource. (QT p. 19)

ArendtFraming is the hegemonic force at the heart of the essence of modern technology (that which “spreads like a fungus”, as Hannah Arendt would say in her discussion on evil) which is itself nothing technological; evil itself is not a construct of the human mind but, as Plato would say, is the deprivation of the good. It is the deficiency of the truth of things, the deficiency of knowledge. Framing is the manner in which the real, and our understanding of the real, is revealed by us such that modern human activity and behaviour is something which resembles what we now understand as modern technology.  Technology is our way of being in the world. Techne, which we understood as a primordial or original kind of revealing from our brief discussion of the passages from Aristotle regarding “occasioning” which Heidegger cites earlier, has now come to be shown as the essence of modern technology, and has come to be shown to be the kind of revealing that modern technology ordains; however, it is a very particular kind of revealing and is not a revealing as poiesis:

In Framing, that unconcealment comes to pass in conformity with which the work of modern technology reveals the real as resource. This work is therefore neither only a human activity nor a mere means within such activity. The merely instrumental, merely anthropological definition of technology is therefore in principle untenable. (QT p. 21)

The revealing at work from out of Framing does not happen “decisively” through humans, though it does happen exclusively through us. We are not in a position where we can bend the real to our vision or will, try as we might to overcome and conquer necessity and chance. In trying to take up a position with respect to Framing, we can only assume any comportment to framing subsequently, that is, after we have already articulated its manner of revealing the real.  Since we have been granted by Being that we are always and everywhere the beings who reveal, our attempts to grasp that which allows us to reveal can only ever be subsequent to its actual appearance as the precursor to our activities or thoughts.

But, as Heidegger states: “Never too late comes the question as to whether we actually experience ourselves as the ones whose activities everywhere, public and private, are challenged forth by Framing.”(QT p. 24-25) The essence of modern technology then pushes us in a direction, or as Heidegger puts it “starts man upon the way,” with a view to constraining us to reveal the real everywhere as resources to be at human disposal. To be so affected is to be delivered or “sent” by Framing. But in the process of being delivered over in this way, we are gathered up into effecting a unified and unidirectional way of being in the world; we are drawn together into a course of action, we are made to cohere, as what we are, as beings that reveal in this way. Heidegger calls this “sending-that gathers” destining. In this destining, both East and West come together in their mode of being and in their mode of revealing in the world. This coming together has sometimes been referred to as globalization.

Framing, so construed then, is “an ordaining of destining, as is every way of revealing.”(QT p. 25) Even poiesis is an ordinance of destining when we understand things in this manner. Framing ordains the manner in which we are ‘sent’ such that we tend to reveal the real in a specific, pre-determined, predestined way (the mathematical, calculable). That we reveal and are destined to reveal in a specific way has always been the case for humanity throughout history, but the destining we are subject to, so Heidegger argues, “is never a fate that compels.” (QT p. 25) The reason that we are not utterly given over to destining as an ineluctable fate relates to the fact that, as the beings who are called forth in this way and, as such, are capable of listening to and hearing this summons, we are more than simply beings who are “constrained to obey” but are beings who can hearken. (See Glossary of Key Terms) It is through the “hearing” that we can attain “freedom” within the technological. “The essence of freedom is originally not connected with the will or even with the causality of human willing.” (QT p. 25) When speaking of freedom, Heidegger insists that it is freedom understood as that which “governs the open in the sense of the cleared and lighted up, i.e., of the revealed. It is to the happening of revealing, i.e., of truth, that freedom stands in the closest and most intimate kinship.” (QT p. 25)

For Heidegger, this revealing, however, fundamentally and at the same time belongs within a concealing and harbouring.  Aletheia, as “unconcealment”, “revealing”, “truth”, is the dis-closure or un-concealing.  Privation, the “a-“ in a-letheia, involves the privation of the opposite state, “lethe”, which is “oblivion”, “forgetfulness”. The state of being closed/covered over or concealed becomes un-covered, dis-closed, unconcealed. Similarly what frees is itself concealed already and is perpetually concealing itself. If something is freed, it had to come from the opposite state which preceded that event, namely, being confined or unfree. The happening of revealing occurs from out of the open “goes into the open, and brings into the open.” (QT p. 25) But freedom, as that which governs the open, has nothing to do with “unfettered arbitrariness” or the “constraint of mere laws.” Rather freedom is something that in concealing sheds light and opens up so that light can penetrate through to what was concealed, “in whose clearing there shimmers that veil that covers what comes to presence of all truth and lets the veil appear as what veils.” (QT p. 25) Freedom is our allowing the light to be as light and as such “Freedom is the realm of the destining that at any given time starts revealing upon its way.” (QT p. 25) For Heidegger, and as we shall see later for Simone Weil, any other conception of freedom is an illusion which captures us within the confines of the Framing which holds sway and which causes us to turn from the light as light.

The alternative that Heidegger sees for modern human being is “…that man might be admitted more and sooner and ever more primally to the essence of that which is unconcealed and to its unconcealment, in order that he might experience as his essence his needed belonging to revealing” (QT p. 26). But, “The destining of revealing is as such, in every one of its modes…. danger.” (QT p. 26) What is the danger of which Heidegger speaks? Is it that the technological has led us to the possibility of nuclear annihilation or climate catastrophe? No. When the unconcealed is no longer revealed for us as an object or objects but rather is revealed “exclusively as standing reserve” or “disposables”, those who allow the real to be so revealed become nothing more than the orderers and organizers of the resource. We are, at that stage, on “the very brink of a precipitous fall” as we are now in a position such that we ourselves have come to be “taken as standing reserve.”  (QT p. 26) Cybernetics, the unlimited mastery of men by men, is the ineluctable and inevitable conclusion to this “precipitous fall” for it is within cybernetics that human beings are seen, ultimately, as merely disposables or resources to be manipulated and used.

We fail to understand what our essential situation is if we fail to attune ourselves to the way in which we are determined in advance by Framing and how this essentially dictates the manner we comport ourselves toward reality and towards others within that reality. Framing in its revealing everything as ordered and calculable excludes all the other possibilities available to us with respect to how the real can be revealed. Framing binds us so that there is nothing other than a challenging, calculating view of the world and this view is one which endures at the expense of all others. Framing ultimately blocks the advent of ‘truth’, again truth as the revealing or unconcealment, which is the ultimate danger. Technology itself is not what threatens us but rather “the mystery of its essence.” (QT p. 28)  Framing threatens to separate us completely from where originary truth happens, leaving us abandoned and forlorn on an Earth where contact with our essence as human beings is impossible and denying any possibility of true human freedom.

For Heidegger, we are not completely lost to Framing. For him, within Framing is the “saving power also”. “To save,” for Heidegger means to reunite something with its essence (See Glossary of Key Terms) and in that sense to readmit something into that for which it is fitted i.e. its justice. In discussing Framing’s danger, Heidegger looks to finding its essence. He, like Socrates, finds its essence to be related to human being in communities and he speaks of the site of a village (we might even say “the global village”) where the “city hall” is the place where the community gathers or the “they-Self”:

that share in revealing which the coming-to-pass of revealing needs. As the one so needed and used, man is given to belong to the coming-to-pass of truth. The granting that sends in one way or another into revealing is as such the saving power. For the saving power lets man see and enter into the highest dignity of his essence. This dignity lies in keeping watch over the unconcealment – and with it, from the first, the concealment – of all coming to presence on this earth. (QT, p. 32)

How are we to counter the “unholy blindness” (QT p. 33) that presents itself to us in the essence of Framing? “Here and now and in little things, that we may foster the saving power in its increase. This includes holding before our eyes the extreme danger.” (QT p. 33)

What is the “extreme danger”? The extreme danger is that which threatens all revealing, “threatens it with the possibility that all revealing will be consumed in ordering and that everything will present itself only in the unconcealedness of resource. Human activity can never directly counter this danger. Human achievement alone can never banish it. But human reflection can ponder the fact that all saving power must be of a higher essence than what is endangered, though at the same time kindred to it.” (QT p. 33)

Heidegger goes on to find that it is in the revealing that is to be found in art that is the manner that human beings may hope to find the “saving power” from the manner of revealing that lies in the essence of Framing. In this way, Heidegger turns from Socrates who in his thinking did not find in art the “saving power” or the way to the revealing of the good, beauty and truth, and turns, instead, to Nietzsche.

Ethics and the They-Self: Finding The Link between Duty and Evil

If Framing as a way of being in the world is to be overcome and transcended, then it is through and within thinking that this overcoming and transcendence will take place. By “overcoming” is not meant conquering; Heidegger makes it quite clear that we cannot conquer “Framing”. But if Framing is the essence of modern human being in the world, and if this essence is part of the fallenness of human being, how will it be possible to overcome it? We do not wish to use the words “optimism” and “pessimism” here; as modes of Being-in, these words are products of the technological world-view. (“Optimism” and “pessimism” as world-views are first found in the writings of Spinoza. These later become taken up by Leibniz in his securing of the principles of reason.)

For the existentialists (Heidegger, although this term is used guardedly with reference to him since he rejected the term to describe his philosophy), the German word verfallen carries connotations of “lapsing” or “deterioration”, the “lethe” of oblivion and forgetfulness as distinct from the “alethe” of disclosure, unconcealment, and truth. One “falls into” bad habits.  Despite these connotations, Heidegger insists that Verfallen is not a term of moral disapproval and has nothing to do with the Christian fall from grace (It is interesting to note (and cannot be forgotten) that of all the great German philosophers of modernity, Heidegger is the only one that was from a Roman Catholic and not from a Protestant sect.) “Human Being has first of all always already fallen away from itself as authentic ability-to-be-itself and fallen into the “world” (Sein und Zeit (15th ed. Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1979) Being and Time, tr. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson (Oxford: Blackwell, 1962) referred to as BT throughout. BT, 175). The fall is an Angst-driven ‘flight of Human Being from itself as authentic ability-to-be-itself (BT, 184). Heidegger gives three accounts of what Human Being has fallen into and, implicitly, of what it has fallen away from (BT, 175):

  1. 1- Verfallen means: ‘Human Being is firstly and mostly alongside the “world” of its concern’ (cf. BT, 250).
  2. ‘This absorption in . . . mostly has the character of being lost in the publicness of the They’.
  3. “Fallenness into the “world” means absorption in being-with-one-another, as far as this is guided by ‘idle talk, curiosity and ambiguity’.

For Heidegger, the Fallenness suggested in Account 1 is that in virtue of falling Human Being attends to its present concerns. It is shopping at the shopping mall, busy at the word-processor. In what sense has Human Being fallen away from its ‘authentic ability-to-be-itself’? It does not have in view its whole life from birth to death. It interprets itself in terms of the world into which it falls, ‘by its reflected light’ (BT, 21; perhaps Plato’s allegory of the Cave should be kept in mind here as well as the understanding of Framing); it thinks of itself in terms of its current preoccupations. It is not making a momentous decision about the overall direction of its life. It is not suspended in Angst, aware only of its bare self in a bare world.

In Account 2, Human Being’s present concern is mostly a publicly recognized and approved activity, even if done in private. Heidegger implies that Human Being is doing what it does only because it is what THEY recommend. Within the Framing mode of the technological, the separation of public and private spheres becomes blurred and, perhaps, there is in fact no separation. The they-Self rules and takes predominance. We might think about this with regard to our social networks and virtual world activities.

In Account 3, what I do may be tacitly guided by others (the They, corporations, the State, ideologies). The self becomes ‘absorbed’ in togetherness and in ‘idle talk’, curiosity and ambiguity. The essential feature of Human Being here is in the way its concern is for the present and for the public recognition of its activities. It needs to be remembered that all of these activities are conducted within Framing.

Human Being’s falling impairs its ability to think: as well as falling into its world, Human Being also ‘falls prey to its more or less explicitly grasped tradition (Framing) or our ‘shared knowledge’. This deprives it of its own guidance, its questioning and its choosing. That applies not least to the understanding rooted in Human Being’s very own being, to ontological understanding and its capacity to develop it’ (BT, 21).

Concern with the present, which is central to falling in all three accounts, obstructs a critical inspection and introspection of what is handed down from the past, since that would require an explicit examination of the tradition in its foundations and development (what we have been attempting to do here in TOK by understanding Framing as the essence of technology and how it impacts our understanding of our “shared knowledge”). This is the sense in which Human Being, engrossed in its present concerns, is ‘lost in the publicness of the They’: it mostly continues to act and think in traditional ways or in the mannerisms of Framing, but its actions are characterized by “rootlessness”. Busy businessmen and women do business and network in the same old ways; consumers busy themselves with ‘getting and spending’; students attempt to make their ‘thinking visible’ within ‘design cycles’ which are themselves within the same old ontology of Framing which does not question its own origins. For Heidegger, ‘Being abandons beings, leaves them to themselves and so lets them become objects of machination’.

To understand “machination” is to remember that technology is not primarily a ‘making’, but the ‘knowing’ that guides our dealings, our making, with and within the world about us, nature and other human beings. Technology is a way of ‘revealing’ that precedes the making: ‘That there is such a thing as e.g. a diesel engine has its decisive, ultimate ground in the fact that the categories of a “nature” utilizable by machine technology were once specifically thought and thought through by philosophers’. Heidegger retrieves its link with making and interprets it as ‘makership, machination, productivity’, the tendency to value only what we have made and what we can make into something, including human beings (empowerment). “Machination” also includes our understanding of “producing” knowledge.

Glossary of Key Terms/Concepts Used

Aletheia and Truth

Aletheia is Greek for ‘truth; truthfulness, frankness, sincerity’. Alethes is ‘true; sincere, frank; real, actual’. There is also a verb, aletheuein, ‘to speak truly, etc’. The words are related to lanthanein, with an older form lethein, ‘to escape notice, be unseen, unnoticed’, and lethe, ‘forgetting, forgetfulness’. An initial a- in Greek is often privative, like the Latin in- or the Germanic un-. (The ‘privative alpha’ occurs in many Greek-derived words in English: ‘a-nonymous’, ‘a-theism’, etc.) Alethes, aletheia are generally accepted to be a-lethes, a-letheia, that which is ‘not hidden or forgotten’, or he who ‘does not hide or forget’. (These characteristics/meanings of truth can all be applied to Shakespeare’s Macbeth and doing so will provide an approach or an opening to an understanding of that play).

We reach the ‘essence of truth’, the ‘openness of the open’, from two directions: from ‘reflection on the ground of the possibility of correctness (adaequatio, ‘truth as correctness’ or ‘correspondence’)’ and from ‘recollection of the beginning (aletheia)’ Aletheuein is ‘to take out of hiddenness, to uncover; aletheia is ‘uncovering’; and alethes is ‘unhidden.

This has three implications: 1. Truth is not confined to explicit assertions and discrete mental, primarily theoretical, attitudes such as judgments, beliefs and representations. The world as a whole, not just entities within it, is unhidden – unhidden as much by moods (emotion as a way of knowing) as by understanding. 2. Truth is primarily a feature of reality – beings, being and world – not of thoughts and utterances (reason and language as ways of knowing). Beings, things, entities are, of course, unhidden to us, and we disclose them ‘to unconceal; -ing; -ment’, they can have an active sense: ‘alethes means: 1. unconcealed said of beings, 2. grasping the unconcealed as such, i.e. being unconcealing’. But beings, etc. are genuinely unconcealed; they do not just agree with an assertion or representation. 3. Truth as ‘unconcealment’ explicitly presupposes concealment or hiddenness. Human being and Being is in ‘untruth as well as truth. This means that ‘falling’ human being misinterprets things. (‘Falling’ has the character of being lost in the publicness of the They, or being absorbed in the shadows of the Cave. Macbeth’s first soliloquy: Act I sc. Vii and the imagery/metaphors associated with ‘leaping’ and ‘falling’; his second soliloquy “Is this a dagger that I see before me…” where the dagger is ‘revealed’ to him as the ‘instrument’ that he will use to kill Duncan rather than as the last warning sign at that last moment where Macbeth still has a choice.)

Shakespeare 2
William Shakespeare

Untruth’ is not plain ‘falsity’, nor is it ‘hiddenness’: it is ‘disguisedness’ of the truth. In Shakespeare’s plays Julius Caesar and Macbeth, ‘untruth’ is still not ‘falsity’, but ‘hiding, concealing’. What conceals is no longer human being, but Being. There are two types of unconcealing: (a) of the open, the world or beings as a whole; (b) of particular beings within this open space. The first type (a) involves concealment: everything was hidden before the open was established, and concealment, persisting in that the open, reveals only certain aspects of reality, not its whole nature. It is not possible for human beings to have knowledge of the whole. Each area of knowledge provides a ‘field’ or an ‘opening’ in which the beings that it studies are illuminated and hidden simultaneously. The second type (b) involves a concealment that we overcome ‘partially and case by case’. Plato, in assimilating truth to light, and of the light to Love indicates the ‘openness’ that is necessary for things to be revealed in their full ‘unconcealment’ (Stage 4 of the Cave where the human being is outside of the Cave; the journey outside of the Cave occurs ‘within’ the human being and the Cave). We choose, like Macbeth for instance, the idea of hiddenness or darkness over the light and ‘unhiddenness’ (thus the many metaphors of darkness and disguise, hiddenness and forgetfulness in the play; after the killing of Duncan, Macbeth loses all sense of ‘otherness’ and becomes a tyrant), and thus the privative force of a-letheia: the light is constant – never switched on or off (Jean Paul Sartre’s play No Exit as a reversal of this but also a denial) – and reveals everything there is to anyone who looks. We lose the idea of the open (and the comportment of Love), which must persist throughout our unconcealing of beings. For Plato, morality is purely internal; and it is here in the revealing that morality, ethics and ontology are given substance (as they are, for instance, in Shakespeare’s Macbeth).

In Plato, aletheia ‘comes under the yoke of the idea’. Idea, from the Greek idein, ‘to see’, refers to the visual aspect of entities or things. The ascent of the prisoners out of the cave is a progressive opening of their vision to this idea and the idea of the Good from which all ideas spring (although we cannot speak of the Good as an ‘entity’ in the sense of a ‘thing’ or ‘object’ whose idea it is). Hence aletheia is no longer primarily a characteristic of beings in themselves: it is ‘yoked’ together with the soul, and consists in a homoiösis, a ‘likeness’, between them which is generated through Beauty (or Eros). This can be understood as a triad (or triangle): the soul + the idea + Beauty. Homoiösis has since become adaequatio (in the Latin interpretation of the word, ‘correctness’ or ‘coherence’) and then ‘agreement’; and since Descartes, the relation between soul and beings has become the subject-object relation, mediated by a ‘representation’, the degenerate descendant of Plato’s idea. Truth becomes correctness, and its ‘elbow-room’, the open, or the experience of Beauty and of eros, is neglected. (‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’).


Some counterclaims to this version of truth: It is not certain that alethes comes from a- and lanthanein. Even if it does, it hardly ever means ‘unhidden’ in Homer, Hesiod (the earliest authors) and later authors, but has three main senses: the correctness of speech and belief (epistemological); the reality of being (ontological); the genuineness, truthfulness and conscientiousness of an individual or character (‘existential’). These three aspects of aletheia are united in Plato (and also for Shakespeare). The ascent from the cave is an ascent of being, of knowledge and of existence. Throughout the history of philosophy, it is assumed that if Plato regards truth as correctness of apprehension, he has jettisoned its other senses; while if another sense reappears, this is because Plato is indecisive and ‘ambiguous’. The three senses are fused together in Plato. Interpreting truth as unhiddenness would not save it from modern subjectivity: unhiddenness must be unhiddenness to someone.

Plato says that the things we ‘make’ by holding up a mirror are not beings that are ‘unhidden’, and that the things painters make are not alethe (Republic, 596d,e). But perhaps this may be a joke of Plato’s since he himself has written a book, a dialogue, which is a ‘mirror’ of the being of Socrates. How is it that the things in mirrors and in paintings are not ‘unhidden’? How are we to understand how it can be said that to make things by holding up a mirror, we must take ‘making’ as Techne in the Greek sense? Are things no more hidden in a mirror than in their being in the world? To discuss this at length would be to have to examine the nature of the Platonic dialogue and particularly the dialogue Phaedrus which is the dialogue on writing, and this cannot be done here. In the allegory of the Cave the shadows, too, require light, but in their revealing the things that they are, they are not fully ‘shown’.

(Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act 3 sc. 2 may be of help here: “… let your own discretion be your tutor. Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature. For anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.”) Plato’s (and Shakespeare’s, through his use of personification) point is that things in a mirror are not real, not alethe in the ontological sense, but that their revealing requires a special human beholding, a beholding that takes place in the open, that the mimetic art is directed to us and to the Forms themselves and what is created are the ‘images’ and the outward appearance of these entities.


Simone Weil
Simone Weil

Simone Weil’s thinking on attention is that it is really a “thoughtful waiting” where we try to empty ourselves of “goals” or ends so as to let truth arrive and come-to-presence in ourselves. She will say: “Attention is the purest and rarest form of generosity”; and for Weil, this “generosity” is directed both to other human beings and to nature itself. See the writing “What is Thinking?”in the TOK materials here.

Being in the world

Human being, a properly functioning human being, is essentially in the world, and conversely, a world – in contrast to a collection of things – essentially has Human being in it. ‘Being-in-the-world’ is almost equivalent to ‘Human being’. Only Human being is in the world, and the adjective ‘worldly’ with the abstract noun ‘worldliness, worldhood’, can be applied only to Human being, and to features of Human being, such as the world itself. Non-human entities/things are said to be ‘within the world’ but never ‘worldly’ or ‘in the world’. It is this possession of “a world” that distinguishes human intelligence from artificial intelligence and human beings from other animals.

Van Gogh Shoes

  1. The world is introduced by way of the familiar ‘being-with’ and being-in-the-world has a sense of familiarity, of knowing one’s way around in the world. Things are knit together to form a unified world by significance: the tools we use refer to other tools, and together they form a workplace, which in turn refers to the wider world beyond the workplace. The craftsman’s hammer refers to his nails, to wood and leather, and the bench on which he works; beyond the workplace are his customers, the cows that supply the leather, the forest that supplies the wood, and so on in indefinitely expanding circles of decreasing familiarity. (Look at the painting by Van Gogh on the left and reflect on the manner in which it reveals “world”).
  2. In certain moods, notably anxiety or angst, everyday things lose their significance: ‘Everyday familiarity collapses. Human being has been individualized, but individualized as being-in-the-world. Being-in enters into the existential “mode” of the “not-at-home”‘. Human being is no longer ‘at home’ in the world, but it has not ceased to be in it; it could not do so without ceasing to be Human being.

Being-in-the-world refers to Human Being and its relation to the entities/things within the world or beings as a whole and Human Being’s relation to them. The essence of Human Being is not how we handle a knife and fork or travel by train. It is not, for instance, concerned about whether Pluto is a ‘planet’ or a ‘dwarf planet’ and with the definitions of these. It is concerned with how beings as a whole stand with Human Being. The world of the Human Being is a ‘with-world’.

Worlds are contrasted with ‘earths’: ‘Worlds ordain themselves and decline, earths open up and suffer destruction’. Worlds and earths (roughly, civilizations and their natural locations) come and go. The world, and beings as a whole, is not a being, nor simply a collection of beings.


The ‘essence’ is the inner nature or principle of a thing. Used alone it means “the quintessence of a thing”, “its basic nature”, “its essential nature”, “inner being”. But it can also mean the way this essence manifests itself outwardly. It is ‘to be, stay, last, happen’, and originally meant ‘dwelling, stay, life, way of being, etc.’ The verb essence also supplies the perfect participle ‘to be’, and survives in compounds: ‘to be present’ and ‘to be absent’.

The Greek ousia or ‘presence’ can mean ‘essence’, but essence is associated with Aristotle’s expression to ti en einai, ‘essence, lit. The what [it] was to be’, which, like essence, has to do with the past. He explains it as meaning what a thing was, or has been, before it is actualized, and also what we understand ‘earlier’, already or apriori about something. In Aristotle, these discussions centre around his thinking on dynamis (potentiality) and energeia (actuality, or energy). The Latin essentia invariably contrasts with existentia; they refer respectively to the What-being and the How-being of something. The Greek saying: “The future comes to meet us from behind”.

Essence is often used in the non-verbal sense of ‘essence’. In ‘clarifying the essence’ of e.g. freedom we determine three things: 1. it’s What-being, what freedom is; 2. the inner possibility of the What-being, how it is intrinsically possible; 3. the ground of this inner possibility. This is more than an analysis of the concept of freedom or of the meaning of the word ‘freedom’: it involves our transcendence to a world. The essence of truth changes over history, though there is a persistent core that preserves the identity of the essence. And ‘not only the essence of truth, but the essence of everything essential has a wealth of its own, from which each historical age can only ever draw a little as its share’. (Heidegger) A significant statement of the essence of e.g. poetry is a persuasive definition of an essentially contested concept: it ‘forces us to a decision, whether and how we take poetry seriously in the future.

Owing in part to the historicality of essences, essence can also be linked directly to ‘essencing’. Another reason for this innovation is the unsuitability of the non-verbal Essence for the question about being. ‘If we ask about the “essence” in the usual sense of the question, the question is about what “makes” a being what it is, thus about what makes up its What-being, about the beingness of beings. Essence is here just another word for being (in the sense of beingness). And accordingly means the event, so far as it happens in what belongs to it, truth. Happening of the truth of beyng, that is essencing. Heidegger’s ‘essencing’ is an original unity of What- and How-being, and for him it belongs only to being and to truth. Essencing means the way in which beyng itself is, namely beyng’ (Heidegger changes the word ‘being’ to beyng in order to distinguish it from its traditional usage). Beyng neither has nor is a non-verbal essence. Like Plato’s idea of the good or Aquinas’s God, it confers essences on beings by the light it sheds on them. It is not; it ‘essences’.

For Heidegger the unessence of truth is a degenerate concept of truth: ‘correctness’ or ‘reason’ and the rational: the degeneration of the concept of truth is itself a crucial ‘errancy’ (much like for William Blake who sees Satan as ‘error’).

To think of being as a ‘value’ is to think of it ‘in its Unessence’. The ‘inauthenticity of nihilism lies in its essence. The Unessence belongs to the Essence’. That is, 1. Earlier phases of nihilism such as the ‘devaluation of the current highest values do not exhaust its essence’, but are nevertheless essential to the long historical process by which nihilism ‘enters into its own essence’. Since we are ourselves entangled in nihilism, it is essential to nihilism that its essential nature eludes us. Even Care has its Unessence: it is not ‘gloom and apprehension and agonized distress about this and that. All this is just the Unessence of care’.


Hearken/hearing Hören goes back to a root-word that meant ‘to attend, notice, hear, see’, but it now means ‘to hear (of, about); to listen (to); to attend, obey’. Horchen, ‘to listen (to, in), hearken, hark’, developed out of hören, but has more the flavour of listening to sounds, while hören involves understanding. Thus one can horchen without hören: ‘Someone who cannot hear in the genuine sense (as when we say of a person, “He cannot hear” – which does not mean he is deaf) may listen [horchen] very well and for that very reason, since mere listening is a definite privative modification of hearing and understanding’. But even listening involves understanding: ‘Even listening is phenomenally more original than the mere sensing of tones and the perceiving of sounds. Even listening is hearing with understanding, i.e. “originally and at first” one hears not noises and sound-complexes but the creaking wagon, the electric tram, the motor-cycle, the column on the march, the North wind. It takes a very artificial and complicated attitude to “hear” such a thing as a “pure noise”‘.
Hören forms several compounds connected with hearing, such as überhören, ‘not to hear, ignore’, and hinhören, ‘to listen’ (cf. BT, 271). It also gave rise to gehorsam, ‘obedient’, and hörig, ‘in thrall, in bondage, enslaved’. The most important for Heidegger is gehören, which once meant ‘to hear, to obey’, but then lost contact with hearing and came to mean ‘to belong (to), be fitting, etc.’ Gehörig, ‘belonging, fitting’, and zugehörig, ‘accompanying, belonging’, developed out of gehören. Thus: ‘Human Being hears because it understands. As understanding being-in-the-world with others it is “in thrall” to Human Being-with and to itself, and in this thralldom it belongs to them’ (BT, 163). And: ‘Being-with has the structure of hearing-obedient-belonging to others, and only on the basis of this primary belonging are there such things as separation, group-formation, development of society, and the like’. Hearing is essential to talk: ‘Hearing belongs to talking as being-with belongs to being-in-the-world’. Nevertheless, we ‘hear first of all what is said, what the talk is about, not the saying of it and the talk about it’. Physiology, like acoustics, is secondary: ‘That there are for hearing such things as ear-lobes and ear-drums is pure chance’.
Later, Heidegger argues that we hear not only others, but language itself: ‘We do not just speak language, we speak out of it. We can do this only by having always already listened to language. What do we hear there? We hear the speaking of language. The ‘language speaks in that it says, i.e. shows. Its saying [Sagen] wells up from the saying [Sage] that was once spoken and is so far still unspoken, the saying that pervades the structure of language. Language speaks in that it is the showing that reaches into all regions of presence and lets whatever comes to presence from these regions appear and fade away’ (On the Way to Language, 124). Language opens up, reveals and orders the world for us. It reveals aspects of the world of which particular speakers are not usually aware. The affinity of gehören and hören, for example, was ‘once spoken’ explicitly, but it is long forgotten, ‘so far still unspoken’. It is still there in language, waiting for us to hear it.  (Oxford: Blackwell, 1962) referred to as BT throughout.)



Author: theoryofknowledgeanalternativeapproach


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