Paul Gibbs, Azerbaijan University, Azerbaijan, Editor of Higher Education Quarterly
The technological way of being, I propose, where we use entities, and people, as resources, not as things of worth in themselves, has been at the core of the functional way of understanding of respect for others and more recently for the environment. Heidegger is one of the clearest thinkers in these matters and it forms a compelling theme in his latter works. Even before one of his most famous essays on technology – The Question Concerning Technology – we can follow his preparative thinking for this new understanding of the truth of being that is developed in Contribution to Philosophy (1999). Here, Heidegger develops his own thinking of the technological will to power and his notion of ‘machination’ and its everyday manifestation in lived-experience. ‘Machination’ refers to a technological and calculating way of making and doing which is inevitable in the modern epoch. It is created, and this is essential because of the ever-increasing withdrawal of being. It culminates in the dominance of technology and calculative ways of thinking and handling subjects. Central to machination, then, is a change to the essential nature of being in the world, where others are encountered as the means and resource to an end defined by time. The unattainable of the existential future is levelled down and captured by world time, a time of goals which can be instrumentally grasped and lived in as lived-experience; a living that is totally related to the present and where values and desires do not relate to a future which fails to thrive. We allow others to define us as part of a resource pool and there we became susceptible to nihilism and the will to power of machination.
Yet, we can resist this inevitability by deliberating and thus realise that we can use technological devices as they should be used – and also learn to let them alone – as things which do not affect our inner, real soul. ‘We can affirm the unavoidable use of technical devices and deny them the right to dominate us, and so to warp, confuse, and lay waste our nature’ (Heidegger, 1966: 54).
Such an instrumental approach to higher education has been a constant theme in much of neo-liberal criticism of the university. Such concerns are not new and looking into the records of Higher Education Quarterly, we find that Ransome made a compelling point when he argues that institutions are likely to give priority to “instrumental approaches not for pedagogic reasons but because they are convenient for the administration” (2011). Indeed, when the HEQ was Universities Quarterly, Hardie (1950) set out a compelling argument for the Platonic notion of learning in the Republic, as a way of revealing Saint Benedict’s idea of the soul being revealed through labour. But let’s rest with Plato who, of course, believes that education is concerned with the “nourishment of the soul” and distinguishes education from technical instruction and training. Plato, according to Morrison (1949), went further in the duties of academics. Those academics who envisioned their role as presenting their subject to students who wanted to learn might have been called by Socrates “mere merchants of learning; and have reserved the name of educator for those who feel that it is their business to know what is good or bad for their pupils and plan their studies accordingly” (1949:58).
In the face of the technical way of being envisioned by Heidegger, if Socrates’ challenge is accepted, the university would be involved in directing the student’s pursuits for the welfare of his whole moral being. This responsibility accepted would not run counter to the desire to enable students to earn a living, but would seek to reassert the concept of higher education as something different from professional training where students took time to reflect on what is worthy to pursue, what might be beneficial to humanity and seek to act upon that. Technical training is not outside this remit but if it focuses on the instrument by using education mainly as a mean to the end of paying off debt, increasing income and self-interested prosperity, it does not deserve public support and finances; it has forsaken the public good. . It leaves little which is meaningful to society which might claim humanitarian values and gives little reason to support it. Should we seek to revive the soul of and within, through moral duty of academics that serve it (see Gibbs, 2019) and those who seek to be taught within it we have a form of institution which warrant a special status and risk telling the truth to power.
Gibbs, P. (2019) Why academics should have a duty of truth telling in an epoch of .Post-Truth. Higher Education , 78:3 , 501–510. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-018-0354-y
Hardie, C. D., (1950) Plato or St. Benedict in University Education? Higher Education Quarterly,.4:4,.379-384. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2273.1950.tb00530.x
Heidegger, M. (1966/1959) Discourse on Thinking. New York: Harper Torchbooks.
Heidegger, M. (1974/1953). The Questions Concerning Technology and other essays, New York: Harper Torchbooks.
Heidegger, M. (1999/1938) Contribution to Philosophy (from Enowning). Bloomington, IN:
Indiana University Press.
Morrison, J. (1949) V. Socrates and the Professors, Higher Education Quarterly 4:1, 50-58. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2273.1949.tb02022.x
Ransome, P. (2011) Qualitative Pedagogy versus Instrumentalism: the Antinomies of Higher Education Learning and Teaching in the United Kingdom, Higher Education Quarterly, 65:2, 206-223. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2273.2010.00478.x
*German date of publication or manuscript original written date follow English Translation dates