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Andrew Feenberg - Heidegger, Marcuse and the Philosophy of Technology

A reevaluation of Marcuse's philosophy of technology - UTas ePrints

1 Heidegger, Marcuse and the Philosophy of Technology Andrew Feenberg Heidegger is often considered to be the most important continental philosopher of Heidegger, Marcuse and the Critique of Technology Andrew Feenberg Criticism of technology is nothing new We hear it constantly

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e based on the Preface to Heidegger and Marcuse: The Catastrophe and Redemption of History (Routledge,


[Text of a lecture based on the Preface to Heidegger and Marcuse: The Catastrophe and Redemption of History (Routledge,


Marcuse and the Philosophy of Technology Andrew Feenberg Heidegger is often considered to be the most important continental philosopher of the 20th Century

He is certainly one of the most controversial

Despite his politics,

Heidegger had four Jewish students who went on to brilliant careers as social philosophers,

Hannah Arendt,

Hans Jonas,

Karl Löwith,

I had the good fortune to study with Marcuse and have been influenced by his thought,

although I am by no means a "Marcusean

" Several years ago I decided to investigate the links between Heidegger and Marcuse more closely and discovered to my surprise that they share a common interpretation of Aristotle,

an interpretation that seems to originate in Heidegger's early courses which Marcuse attended

I have followed up this connection in a book entitled Heidegger and Marcuse: The Catastrophe and Redemption of History

This lecture will review some of the main themes of this book

California in the fall of 1965 as a graduate student in philosophy

One of my reasons for coming was what I had heard of Herbert Marcuse

He was not yet famous but he was well known and what was known about him intrigued me

I was interested in phenomenology,

but a philosopher wild enough to synthesize Marx and Freud was wild enough for a young graduate student looking for an alternative to the positivism then dominating American philosophy

At the first opportunity I asked Professor Marcuse to help me study Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time

He accepted my proposal and we spent many Tuesday afternoons debating the meaning of obscure passages in this book which,

had inspired Marcuse to leave Berlin for Freiburg 38 years before

One afternoon as we left Marcuse’s office a magnificent sunset appeared before us

Standing on the balcony of the Humanities Building dazzled by the spectacle of nature,

Marcuse turned to me and said,

“Make me a phenomenological reduction of this

I remember feeling the demand to be unfair,

Zen Buddhists are supposed to achieve sudden enlightenment meditating on an unsolvable problem called a koan

Phenomenology seemed to collapse in the face of Marcuse’s stunning koan,

but sudden enlightenment did not follow

It could not possibly have occurred to me then that the rejection of a phenomenological reduction that late afternoon confirmed yet again Marcuse’s decision to abandon Heidegger’s mentorship in 1933

He had found another way to understand beauty and its promise of happiness

A few months later,

my fellow graduate students and I created a magazine to publicize our anti-war views

Recall that this was early in the Vietnam War and the American public was still supportive

Dissent was the act of a small minority to which we belonged

We asked Marcuse for an article to start us off

He contributed “The Ind ividual in the Great Society” This article described the suppression of individuality under the impact of technological advance

It ends with a convoluted passage I want to quote here as it offers a clue to my koan and the agenda of Marcuse’s later work

Under both aspects,

the traditional concept of the individual,

in its classicliberal as well as Marxist form seems to be untenable — canceled (aufgehoben) by the historical development of productivity…

Authentic individuality would remain the distinction of the creative artist,

The idea of making this creative potential general among the population at large militates against the very function and truth of the artistic creation as a form of expression …because it [art] implies dissociation from,

common sense and common values: ingression of a qualitatively different reality in the established one

In the case of the second alternative (fundamental transformation of the society),

individuality would refer to an entirely new existential dimension: to a domain of play,

and imagination which is outside the reaches of any policy and program today

This article was composed in 1965

It accurately foresaw the shipwreck of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society on the rock of Vietnam

What it did not,

could not foresee was the rise of the New Left and the counter-culture

At that time demonstrations against the war in Vietnam on most campuses,

attracted students by the dozens,

not the thousands who would soon be mobilized by the anti-war movement

Marcuse believed that the elimination of true individuality in “one-dimensional society” explained the absence of opposition

Individuality requires mental independence and a standard,

The arts have always represented such an alternative

(Our magazine was called Alternatives

) In modern times a limited form of individuality became widely available

The Enlightenment opened a public sphere within which political ideals sustained a critical stance

Now the space of public debate was closing down

Once again individuality was to be found primarily in the aesthetic realm

For it to emerge from behind its old artistic borders,

Marcuse claimed,

it would have to take a far more radical form than in the past

The new individuals would realize the negative,

critical content of art in the real world,

overthrowing its common sense and

Aesthetics as the form of a new consciousness and sensibility

! The generalization of the oppositional force of beauty as social critique

! I had no idea that in 1918 Marcuse participated in the German Revolution as a member of the Berlin Soldiers’ Council and shortly afterwards wrote a thesis on novels featuring artists in conflict with society

For him the unity of political and aesthetic opposition was no mere fantasy

But I also recall this personal detail from my student days: on the wall of his dining room in California he had a large print of Breughel's Fall of Icarus which he kept as a permanent warning against romantic idealism

The full implications of Marcuse’s ideas on individuality unfolded finally with the rise of the New Left

In France the May Events of 1968 demanded “All Power to the Imagination,” a slogan that refuted his gloomy prognostication in the passage quoted above

He was only too happy to be refuted

We witnessed the beginnings of the movement together in Paris

Returning to his hotel in the Latin Quarter he was accosted by a group of students who had just occupied the Ecole des Beaux Arts

They recognized him from his picture in the newspapers where he was celebrated as the “Guru of the Students in Revolt

” We entered the Ecole and Marcuse addressed the hundred or more young artists gathered in the main assembly hall

It is easy to imagine the excitement of the author of a thesis on aesthetic resistance at the podium of this monument to “affirmative culture

French students celebrated the grandfathers of the revolution in preference to their fathers who they blamed for social ills

Marcuse made a short speech in French,

greeting the students in the name of the American student movement and congratulating them on challenging “consumer society

” They seemed impressed by this echo from the depths of history although the Maoists in the audience were visibly puzzled by the reference to consumption

When An Essay on Liberation appeared a year later it was dedicated to the French “militants,” the students and young workers in revolt

“The radical utopian character of their demands,” Marcuse wrote in the preface,

“far surpasses the hypotheses of my essay”

That book explored in some detail the generalization of aesthetic resistance that the earlier article had dismissed

The boundaries of art had burst and aesthetics had become a new kind of politics with the transformation of the technical base of society as its goal

The young resisted not merely because they disagreed with government policy but because their sensibility rebelled at the waste and violence of the society around them

An Essay on Liberation and the several books that followed attempted to explain the new forms of opposition emerging in one-dimensional society

Although this was a topic that fascinated me during this same period,

I was never fully convinced by Marcuse’s approach

The emphasis on aesthetics did not quite correspond with my experience of the movement

I would have said its core impulse was revulsion at the conformist pressures of the culture of the 1950s in which we had all grown up rather than an aesthetic vision of the future

In any case,

what I took from Marcuse was his critique of technology which I have developed further in my own books over the last 15 years

My doubts about the aesthetic interpretation of the New Left were widely shared

Marcuse’s last writings had diminishing impact and eventually contributed to the decline of his reputation

looking back on Marcuse’s work,

I am still not convinced

But I see his

thought in a very different light today

When Marcuse left Heidegger he rescinded the phenomenological reduction for all situations and occasions,

But rereading him,

I find the traces of Heidegger’s thought everywhere in his writings and in the most surprising places

And I miss reference to Heidegger there too,

in the most problematic of Marcuse’s speculations where phenomenology might have been helpful

Those speculations are a development of ideas already present in his earliest publications under Heidegger’s tutelage

These early works constitute a unique philosophical position that has been called “Heidegger-Marxismus

” Marcuse arrived at this position by a twofold path: on the one hand he concretized the concept of authenticity in Being and Time,

on the other hand he developed a new interpretation of the Hegelian and Marxian dialectics of “real possibility” or “potentiality

” Marcuse did not quite follow these paths to the point of intersection but we can project a likely unification of his thought at which he would no doubt have arrived had he remained under Heidegger’s influence for a few more years

Heidegger’s concept of authenticity continues a philosophical tradition that begins with Rousseau and Kant

In their thought the essence of the human being is freedom

This marks a break with substantive notions of human nature such as Aristotle’s that define the human in terms of definite qualities and virtues

Human nature,

insofar as there is such a thing for a philosophy of freedom,

consists of formal properties of the subject rather than a repertoire of attributes

But the logic of freedom in Rousseau and Kant is bound to a notion of rationality that ends up determining the telos of human development much as had earlier substantive theories of human nature

For existentialists – and despite his denial Heidegger is a kind of existentialist – freedom is illusory unless it escapes every rationalistic conception of its end

This Heidegger accomplishes by defining human “Dasein” as a self-questioning and selfmaking being “thrown” into a world without rhyme or reason and destined to discover its own meanings there

But inauthentic existence,

consists in conformism and refusal of self-responsibility

The insight into freedom represented by Heidegger’s philosophy is too hard a lesson to be commonly lived

To be fully human – authentic – is to acknowledge the groundlessness of human existence and ne vertheless to act resolutely

By resoluteness Heidegger does not mean arbitrary decisions but rather “precisely the disclosive projection and determination of what is factically possible at the time,” that is,

the response called for by the historical situation

In resoluteness the human being intervenes activity in shaping its world and defining itself,

as opposed to inauthentic conformism


Heidegger’s philosophy offers no means for determining criteria of what is “factically possible” and so leaves the question of action in the air

There is,

a hint whic h Heidegger himself does not follow up

The first chapters of Being and Time connect making and self- making in the concept of being- inthe-world

As I will explain later,

Dasein’s answer to the question of its being is bound up with the technical practices through which it gives meaning to and acts in its world

This connection suggests a way of giving content to the idea of authenticity

Perhaps a specific type of technical activity could figure in it

production drops out when Heidegger explains authenticity in the second division of his master work

There he focuses on the heroic retrieval of the past instead

This ambiguity disappears as Heidegger develops his later critique of technology

Technical practice ends up unmaking

worlds and the reference to self- making,

and with it the whole problematic of authenticity,

simply disappears from Heidegger’s discourse

Marcuse took over the theory of authenticity in his early writings,

but he rejected Heidegger’s abstract formulations

What is this “situation” in which the human being is “thrown,” and what are these “possibilities” so vaguely invoked by Heidegger in Being and Time

? The emptiness of such categories invites revision

Heidegger himself filled in the blanks with Nazi ideology for a time

While several recent studies argue that this was an inescapable consequence of his early thought,

I do not believe it could have been quite so evident as it now appears in retrospect to these commentators

The leap from Heidegger’s abstract formulations to the lower depths of nationalism and racism represented by Hitler came as a shock to his Jewish students who,

were right there on the scene and certain to spot the obvious

In any case,

Marcuse turned in the opposite direction from his teacher toward Marxism

The self is thrown into a capitalist society where the alienation of production is the source of the inauthenticity that must be overcome

Now authenticity becomes the “radical act” of revolutionary refusal of the existing society

Marcuse first introduces the Marxist idea of revolution in a two-sided formulation that encompasses the transformation of both individual and society

As he describes it,

the central concern of “the Marxist fundamental situation…is with the historical possibility of the radical act — of an act that should liberate a new and necessary reality as it brings about the actualization of the whole person”

Marcuse soon turns to the Hegelian idea of labor as an objectification of the human spirit to join Heidegger’s phenomenological analysis of production with his abstract conception of human selfmaking

Labor is an engagement with possibilities actualized through struggle with nature,

possibilities which belong to the human being as well as the object

The “possibility” required by the “situation” is thus neither the determined outcome of objective processes as orthodox Marxists supposed,

nor an ineffable intuition with dubious results as in Heidegger himself,

but a free appropriation of the human essence in a socially concrete form through the liberation of labor

In Marcuse’s view,

all this is implicit in Heidegger’s own analysis of Dasein,

but Heidegger fails to achieve the level of concreteness implied by the notion of being- in-theworld

The world cannot be understood without reference to the divisio ns within the community through which each Dasein is situated socially

In one early essay Marcuse asks,

“is the world ‘the same’ even for all forms of Dasein present within a concrete historical situation

It is not only that the world of significance varies among particular contemporary cultural regions and groups,

abysses of meaning may open up between different worlds Precisely in the most existentially essential behavior,

no understanding exists between the world of the highcapitalist bourgeois and that of the small farmer or proletarian

Here the examination is forced to confront the question of the material constitution of historicity,

a breakthrough that Heidegger neither achieves nor even gestures toward”

Marcuse believes he can achieve this breakthrough with a Hegelian-Marxist interpretation of the dialectic of life

Life resembles Heidegger’s Dasein in seeking its unity and wholeness through a future oriented construction of its own potentialities

It does not have a prior essence but must create itself under the given conditions

In this sense it is “historical,” a being that relates its past and future

Yet Marcuse’s concept of

life differs from Heidegger’s Dasein

The expression of its “care” in work and world leads to objectification and mutual recognition,

themes entirely absent from Heidegger’s existential analytic

Marcuse conceives the notion of the human “essence” in HegelianMarxist terms,

as self- conscious unity of self,

and on this basis he argues that it can only be realized through overcoming the alienation of the worker under capitalism

Marcuse never articulated the relation between his theories of authenticity and possibility quite as clearly as this

The radical act and the dialectical interpretation of history are the two sides of an arch awaiting the keystone to join them

I argue in my book that that keystone is the later critique of technology through which Marcuse returned to these themes in disguised forms

In the process,

he again encountered Heidegger’s thought which in the interim had become a critical philosophy of technology

Like Heidegger the later Marcuse saw technology as more than technical,

it is the form of modern experience itself,

the principal way in which the world is revealed

For both philosophers "technology" thus extends its reach far beyond actual devices

It signifies a way of thinking and a style of practice,

a quasi- transcendental structuring of reality as an object of technical control

Release from this form of experience can only come through another form of experience,

In Heideggerian terms,

as Hubert Dreyfus explains them,

Marcuse calls for a new disclosure of being through a transformation of basic practices

Marcuse's critique of technology does not just introduce humanistic criteria of technological reform into radical political judgments,

but describes the a priori form of a new type of experience belonging to a new social order

While the later Heidegger no longer calls for resoluteness in the face of the inauthentic world of technology,

Marcuse remains committed to something like “authentic ind ividuality”

In his last works an authentic human existence is to be achieved at the level of society as a whole through the transformation of technology into an instrument for realizing the highest possibilities of human beings and things

Marcuse argues now that this cannot be achieved on the basis of the existing capitalist technology regardless of the prevailing property and political relations

The very general notions of labor and possibility with which he worked in his early writings covered over the awful gap between making and self- making in a world organized around modern technology

A further concretization is necessary to distinguish the type of technology that can join them

But Heidegger-Marxismus long since abandoned,

Marcuse lacked the theoretical means to articulate his new position coherently and persuasively

His last works are inspiring gestures at a theory at which he no more than hints

How then are we to understand the concept of a new technology in which these works culminate

? A possible solution to the enigma of Marcuse’s later thought came to me three years ago when reading Heidegger’s 1931 lectures on Aristotle’s Metaphysics

These lectures,

which Marcuse attended as Heidegger’s assistant,

present a strange reading of Aristotle which is decisive for the later technology critiques of both Heidegger and Marcuse

The 1931 lectures were anticipated by an earlier lecture in 1923 in which its themes were more crudely expressed

Aristotle’s greatest achievement according to this lecture is his analysis of kinesis,

but movement in a sense no earlier interpreter of Aristotle had ever conceived

It is the movement of “factical life,” later called “Dasein,” that

Aristotle is supposed to have grasped for the first time

This movement consists in practical engagements with the world and these are interpreted in Aristotle’s theory of techne

Thus in Heidegger’s account,

Aristotle’s conception of being in general is derived from the Greek practice of technical making

Techne is the model of “revealing” for the Greeks,

the form of Greek experience of the world

The fundamental kinesis is the realization of the true essence of things in earthly existence

While we tend to interpret these categories through their scholastic degeneration products as objective facts,

Heidegger shows them to be rooted in Aristotle’s analysis of the technical practice of the craftsman,

who enables the potential of the artifact to enter the world through appropriate actions

Heidegger here approves the Greeks’ focus on production but he claims they,

and especially their successors,

grasped it inauthentically as an object in the world and not as the original disclosure of a world

In its role as an ontological model,

techne must not be treated objectively,

but phenomenologically described from within on its own terms

The study of kinesis in this sense leads directly to an ontology of practice

In this interpretation Aristotle appears to anticipate Heidegger’s own theory in Being and Time according to which everyday instrumental activity offers the basic access to reality

Exaggerating only slightly,

one could say that Aristotle is presented here as a phenomenological philosopher of technology who anticipated Heidegger’s own thought

Theodor Kisiel sums up Heidegger’s view at this early stage in the development of his thought: “The field of objects which yields the original sense of being is that of the produced object accessible in the course of usage


it is not the field of things in their theoretical reification but rather the world encountered in going about our producing,

the according-to-which and towardwhich of the original experience of being…

Being means being produced,

begin accessible for use and disposable,

meaningful in regard to one particular way of getting around”


as he develops his later critique of technology,

Heidegger begins to argue that the Greek production model is the remote source of modern technological thinking and therefore fundamentally misguided

In some of his later works the Greek concept of production is redefined by Heidegger as a purely ideal process of manifesting entities

Production is cut loose from its common sense roots in the making of artifacts and becomes a synonym for revealing

Interpreters often project this later negative attitude toward production back on the early work,

with confusing results since Heidegger never entirely breaks with his own phenomenological account of it

“The Question Concerning Technology” contains an analysis of the making of a Greek chalice based on Heidegger’s early Aristotle interpretation

Greek techne appears here implicitly as a model of an emancipatory techno logy,

contrasted favorably with modern technology insofar as it is respectful of human beings and nature

Techne realizes the inherent potentialities of things rather than violating them as does modern technology

Modern technology does not realize objective essences inscribed in the nature of the universe as does techne

It appears as purely instrumental,

It does not respond to inherent purposes,

but is merely a means serving subjective goals

For modern common sense,

means and ends are independent of each other

Technology is “neutral” in the sense that it has no preference as between the various possible uses to which it can be put

This is the instrumentalist philosophy of technology that is a spontaneous product of

assumed unreflectively by most people

Technology in this scheme of things encounters nature as raw materials,

not as a world that emerges out of itself,

but rather as stuff awaiting transformation into whatever we desire

This world is understood mechanistically not teleologically

It is there to be used without any inner purpose

The West has made enormous technical advances on the basis of this understanding of reality

Nothing restrains us in our exploitation of the world

Everything is exposed to an analytic intelligence that decomposes it into usable parts

In the 19th century it became commonplace to view modernity as an unending progress

But for what ends

? The goals of our society can no longer be specified in a knowledge of some sort,

They remain purely subjective,

Reason now concerns only means,

This has led to a crisis of civilization from which there seems no escape: we know how to get there but we do not know why we are going or even where

The Greeks appear to have lived in harmony with the world whereas we are alienated from it by our very freedom to define our purposes as we wish

So long as no great harm could be attributed to technology,

this situation did not lead to serious doubts beyond the usual literary protests against modernization

But the 20th century,

with its effective propaganda machines,

concentration camps and environmental catastrophes,

has made it more and more difficult to ignore the strange aimlessness of modernity

Because we are at such a loss to know where we are going and why,

philosophy of technology has emerged in our time as a critique of modernity

The focus on technology gives rise to several different kinds of critique

Situating Heidegger and Marcuse in this field correctly proves important for interpreting their thought

The most important forerunner of modernity critique is Max Weber

Weber distinguishes between "substantive" and "formal" rationality in a way that corresponds roughly to the distinction between techne and technology

Substantive rationality,

begins by positing a good and then selects means to achieve it

Many public institutions are substantively rational in Weber's sense: universal education is a good which determines appropriate means such as classrooms and teachers

Formal rationality is concerned uniquely with the efficiency of means and contains no intrinsic reference to a good

Modernization consists in the triumph of formal rationality over a more or less substantively rational order inherited from the past

The market is the primary instrument of this transformation,

substituting the cash nexus for the planned pursuit of values

Bureaucracy and management are other domains in which formal rationality eventually prevails

Heidegger’s diagnosis of our time resembles Weber’s superficially but it is basically different

Weber assumed the ultimate subjectivity of goals,

as we all tend to in a modern society where there is no universal rational consensus on meaning and value

For Weber as for us,

modern society is right to rely only on facts

The Greek faith in an objective logos has long since been refuted by modern science

Heidegger too believed that the triumph of value neutral technical means over objectivistically goal-oriented thinking is the necessary consequence of our modern condition

But he saw this condition as itself historically relative

Our inability to take meaning and value seriously,

our prejudice in favor of factual knowledge,

is precisely the mark of that relativity

It is this which makes us overlook the ontologically fundamental character of being- in-the-world

As a result,

we see Greek techne as prescientific

But can we find a way of understanding it that is not internal to modernity

? This is the task Heidegger sets himself and he believes it can be accomplished with a phenomenology of everyday human existence

Heidegger’s account of techne is thus quite different from the Weberian approach sketched above

He starts out from the assumption that the world is initially revealed through techne and does not pre-exist it in the form of a collection of present-at-hand things taken up by human technical activity in a contingent manner,

on this or that occasion to fulfill this or that passing need

Every aspect of being he uncovers in the study of techne is thus originally posited by techne

This even includes the raw materials of technical work

These materials are understood from out of their place in production rather than as pre-existing objects

Heidegger attributes to the material a quality he calls “bearance

” Bearance is not merely the absence of resistance,

but signifies the essential availability of the material for form

The clay is not simply there to be formed into a jug

insofar as it is part of the process of production,

it demands the achievement of form

“With the transformation of the clay into the bowl,

but fundamentally it loses its formlessness

and hence the tolerating here is at once a positive contribution to the development of something higher”

There is something like a phenomenological reduction at work here

The “natural attitude,” in which things are given objectively is suspended to allow them to appear as they are originally revealed to human activity

Techne itself is considered ontologically,

as a relation of Dasein to world,

rather than as a causal interaction with things

Although this reverses our usual perspective,

After all,

every human society known to us,

with the exception of our own,

has notions equivalent to the Greek idea of techne,

notions that describe the meaning or essence of things in objective terms on the basis of the practices underlying the society’s relation to its world

Of course each society assigns these meanings without a scientific basis in our modern sense

But they all do assign meanings

that is the important fact that we overlook in our enthusiasm for the objective scientific view

Something is going on in the traditional relationship of society and world we conceive as arbitrary and subjective but which Heidegger takes for the founding act in which worlds are revealed

There must then be some equivalent founding of our modern world too,

and indeed Heidegger identifies this equivalent with modern technology

But we moderns are uniquely ignorant of the very idea of “world” as it appears to all other peoples and is theorized by the Greeks

We can learn from them to grasp the process of revealing that is at the basis of our existence too

Considered as a phenomenology in this sense,

Aristotle’s techne analysis displays an original unity underlying the dichotomies of objectivistic thinking

Heidegger’s theory of revealing appears to justify a return to a concept of essence,

but it specifies no content to that concept

Much as we might like to revive the ancient concept of essence,

it rests on an outdated ontology with socially conformist implications

For example,

Heidegger’s famous example of the chalice has a predetermined form laid down in the culture and accepted uncritically as essential by the craftsman and the community

Greek philosophy betrayed an unconscious fidelity to historically surpassable limitations of its society in treating conventions as essences

Modern philosophy cannot proceed in this naive fashion

Marcuse continues the early Heidegger’s production centered concept of being

Although Heidegger himself never proposed a revival of techne,

his description of its structure anticipates Marcuse’s own theory in which an emancipatory technique that respects the essence of its objects is projected into the future rather than found in the past

Heidegger’s early Aristotle interpretation thus influences him profoundly although its presence in his thought is soon masked by references to Hegel and Marx

Marcuse's early book on Hegel is a study of this very same problematic of techne as movement central to Heidegger's own early philosophy and is based on an interpretation of Hegel’s debt to Aristotle

And Marcuse’s Marxism remains linked to the idea of techne through the emphasis on the disalienation of labor he discovered in the Paris Manuscripts of 1844 while still a student of Heidegger

Marcuse accepts the usual modern view that essences can neither be based on tradition and community standards nor speculatively derived in an a priori metaphysics of some sort

But what he calls "one-dimensional thinking" plays out that modern skepticism by rejecting the idea of essence altogether and remaining at the empirical level

It thereby avoids tradition-bound conformism and outdated metaphysics but only by treating the logic of technology as an ontological principle

Today we can design our technological “chalices” any way we wish and this seems a liberation

But liberation has a price: one-dimensional thinking cannot recognize inherent potentialities and so can offer no guidance to social reform

To what can we appeal for criteria

are the grounds for preferring respect for nature to its ruthless exploitation,

? The core of the problem is once again the concept of essence

Like Heidegger,

Marcuse dismisses any return to Greek metaphysics

But unlike Heidegger,

he refuses to reduce all essential thinking to the contemplation of the process of revealing


he seeks to reconstruct the concept of essence historically

Ancient philosophy joined logos to eros,

theoretical abstraction to striving toward the good

But it lacked historical selfconsciousness

The temporal dynamic it found in things was specific to an individual or species

Each type of thing had its own essence,

although these essences were objects of striving,

they themselves did not exist in time

Hence ancient philosophy arrived at a static conception of eternal ideas

The fixed nature of its essences corresponds to its own lack of historical self-consciousness,

its inability to conceive of becoming as the fundamental ontological determination

Today such an unhistorical conception of essence is unacceptable

We have learned that human beings make themselves and their world in the course of history

Not just individual things are caught up in time,

If we are to revive the language of essence today,

its conceptualization must therefore be historical

Marcusean historicism is rooted in the materialism of the Marxist tradition


as a logic of the interconnections and contexts revealed in historical strife,

offers an alternative to ancient dogmatism and modern positivism

Hegel’s dialectic is in fact an attempt to achieve the very reconstruction of essence Marcuse requires

Hegel’s Logic dissolves the traditio nal distinction between essence and appearance

Things do not have fixed essences separate from their manifestations because things are not themselves stable and fixed


they belong to a field of interactions which establishes their inner coherence and their boundaries

These interactions are a source of tensions that drive things forward toward their developmental potentialities

For Hegel,

potentialities are inscribed in things but do not constitute them as independent Aristotelian substances


the constellation of their present connections gives a direction to their development

Once Marcuse joins the Frankfurt School,

this original Heideggerian Hegelianism is overlaid with a messianic concept of the future derived from Walter Benjamin

Now the future is not simply a human creation but a redemptive possibility interrupting the continuity of history

The essential potentialities,

while remaining rationally grounded in social analysis and critique,

revealing the world in its truth

As Adorno writes,

“The only philosophy which can be responsibly practiced in face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption

Perspectives must be fashioned that displace and estrange the world,

as indigent and distorted as it will appear one day in the messianic light…

Consummate negativity,

delineates the mirror image of its opposite”

All this determines the shape of Marcuse’s later critique of technology

He is neither hostile nor indifferent to technology but calls for its radical reconstruction

Marcuse remarks that in a liberated society “certain lost qualities of artisan work may well reappear on the new technological base”

And he refers to “The Greek notion of the affinity between art and technics” to illustrate his thesis that technology can be redeemed by the imagination

Although Marcuse does not use the term,

now reappears as the basis for a new type of world relation,

grounded in a life affirming “sensibility,” or existential project

This project would instill technology with the mission of realizing the potentialities of human beings and things

Reason itself would be transformed,

recovering the progressive promise of the Enlightenment against the present catastrophe

Thus redeemed,

reason would transcend the opposition of technique and values,

Like Adorno,

Marcuse turns to aesthetics for some trace of negativity in the face of the success of capitalism at integrating its opposition

This turn belongs to a long tradition,

particularly strong in Germany,

of aesthetic opposition to the status quo

In Eros and Civilization he identifies beauty with that which is "life-enhancing

" "For the aesthetic needs have their own social content: they are the claims of the human organism,

for a dimension of fulfillment" denied by the established society

The "ugliness" of modern societies is not merely unsatisfying to the senses of sight and hearing but offends against the "life instincts," i

against a wide range of needs that cannot be channeled into profit- making and war

An Essay on Liberation develops this position in a surprising way

Marcuse's argument there is rooted not in the study of anti-capitalist struggle but in the history of the artistic avant gardes

His aesthetic theory attempts to recapitulate the turning point in the development of modernism when radical experiments in overcoming the split between art and life proliferated in the first years of the century

On Marcuse's view,

technological civilization can only be released from the bind it is caught in by a return to the promise of those early avant gardes

This aesthetic transformation is now possible,

Marcuse argues,

because the very wealth of modern societies has rendered their repressive organization obsolete

Marcuse’s argues that once increasing wealth releases society from the struggle for existence,

perception can transcend the given toward unrealized potentialities foreshadowed in art

Art has anticipated the realization of these potentialities in

imagination for thousands of years

They “cannot possibly be given in the immediate experience which prevails in repressive societies

They are given rather as the horizon under which the immediately given forms of things appear as ‘negative,’ as denial of their inherent potentialities,

In such societies,

the aesthetic imagination produces images that serve as the normative context of what is revealed in sensation

the sheer technical possibility of the realization of these norms destabilizes the structures of class rule and the underlying forms of experience and individuality on which it is based

At this higher stage of economic and technical development,

the aesthetic ceases to be a “horizon” of appearance and begins to structure perception itself

In the emerging “aesthetic Lebenswelt ” the senses take on the utopian function of art

With this “new mode of experience” “the imagination [turns] into a metapolitical power”

The earlier Hegelian-Marxist argument that establishes the “second dimension” of essence theoretically now becomes practical,

Sensation itself has a normative aspect inseparable from its truth value

Marcuse writes that the violation of nature “offends against certain objective qualities of nature — qualities which are essential to the enhancement and fulfillment of life

And it is on such objective grounds that the liberation for man to his own humane faculties is linked to the liberation of nature — that ‘truth’ is attributable to nature not only in a mathematical but also in an existential sense

The emancipation of man involves the recognition of such truth in things,

The use of the term existential here,

like Marcuse’s references to an “aesthetic Lebenswelt,” invites a phenomenological interpretation he does not elaborate


wondering precisely what he means


the existential truth is not rationally validated in scientific research (“mathematically”)

What makes it an existential truth must be its experiential character

Marcuse seems to intend a truth that is revealed in experience rather than one that is proven by experience

But in what modern philosophical framework other than phenomenology does this make sense

? By failing to draw on that framework Marcuse appears to advocate a naïve reenchantment of nature rather than the existential ontology he actually intended but did not develop

How would all these changes rung on Heideggerian themes have appeared to Heidegger himself

? He never commented on Marcuse’s later work but we do have one hint of his view of Heidegger-Marxismus

In 1969,

Heidegger met with a group of friends in Le Thor,


The record of their discussions has been published in a volume entitled Four Seminars

Here we find the only reference to Marcuse in Heidegger’s published writings

He notes that production is defining for the “world” in Marx,

that production is a type of praxis

“Reversing Hegel’s idealism in his own way,

Marx requires that being be given precedence over consciousness

Since there is no consciousness in Being and Time,

one could believe that there is something Heideggerian to be read here [in Marx]

! At least Marcuse had understood Being and Time in this way”

What is implied in this derisive remark about Marcuse

? Marx claimed that the fundamental relation to being is not consciousness but praxis

Being and Time similarly describes the human relation to the world as fundamentally practical

In his student days,

Marcuse noted the parallel and read Being and Time as the key to Marx

But Heidegger himself goes on to dismiss productionist metaphysics

cannot be understood through the model of technical making

This is the stance consistently maintained by the later Heidegger which he projected back onto his early

The Aristotle course gives the lie to this self-representation

Heidegger was not a consistent critic of productionism

In fact much of Being and Time was inspired by Aristotle’s account of techne

He told his class in 1931: “We have to clarify for ourselves what it signifies that man has a relation to the works that he produces

It is for this reason that a certain book called Sein und Zeit discusses dealings with equipment

and not in order to correct Marx,

nor to organize a new political economy,

nor out of a primitive understanding of the world”

Thus Marcuse was not mistaken in interpreting Being and Time as a productionist text,

and hence also in finding Heidegger relevant to Marx

Marcuse remained true at some level to an earlier Heidegger the later Heidegger rejected and concealed

Marcuse’s aesthetic radicalism in his own later work is intricately intertwined with these repressed themes in Heidegger

In my view,

there remains much in Marcuse that is theoretically incomplete precisely because he refused either to drop these phenomenological themes or to develop them phenomenologically

Marcuse’s aesthetics of technology introduces a fatal ambiguity in his thought

At first it seems that he follows the usual Marxist formulations in which potentialities are objective properties of society

But in the late Marcuse potentialities are revealed aesthetically,

Suc h a subject,

technically engaged with the potentialities of its objects,

is analyzed for the first time not in Marx but in Heidegger’s phenomenological interpretation of Aristotle

Only a phenomenological account of values in action can make sense of the notion that aesthetics provides the normative basis for the reconstruction of technological rationality

And when Marcuse imagines aesthetics incorporated into everyday sensation as a critical force,

he implies a phenomenological conception of experience

It is not unreasonable to suppose that such a conception of experience could be reconciled with the sort of objective considerations brought forward in Marcuse’s social theory

But he does not pursue this line and falls between the two alternative interpretations of potentiality,

an existential-aesthetic interpretation and a Marxist notion based on an evaluation of social forces

Why did Marcuse fail to explain the links between his early work under Heidegger’s influence and his later work

? He could not go back to his existential roots after the “Fall of the Titans of Germa n philosophy”

Heidegger’s betrayal stood as an absolute barrier between Marcuse as a Marxist and the other great trend of 20th century European thought,

phenomenology and existentialism

The split between these trends now appears less significant than it did before they were both overshadowed by postmodernism and poststructuralism

Perhaps they were not opposites but frères ennemis with too much in common not to be in rivalry

Sartre’s later work represents the one great failed attempt to synthesize the contending trends in the framework of a philosophy of consciousness

I believe that philosophy of technology could have offered another possible synthesis that was never developed to its logical conclusion

To demonstrate this,

I attempt in my new book to break through the barrier between these trends and make explicit a remarkable theory of techne initiated by Heidegger,

and suppressed in the end by both