Two Deepities from Martin Heidegger

Daniel Dennett defines a deepity as “a proposition that seems both important and true – and profound – but that achieves this effect by being ambiguous. On one reading it is manifestly false, but it would be earth-shaking if it were true; on the other reading it is true but trivial.”[1] I might add that deepities are most likely to arise when we already expect the profound, and when we might be embarrassed if we did not actually find it.

Dennett cites the sentence “Love is just a word” as a short, sweet, and totally preposterous example: “Love” may be just a word, and a four-letter word at that, but what the word denotes is clearly no such thing. Or if it is, the claim is entirely unsupported.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Martin Heidegger:

Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology, whether we passionately affirm or deny it.[2]

On the literal reading, the statement is manifestly false. On the figurative reading – reading it to say, rather, that we all make use of technology somehow, and that we would be greatly inconvenienced without it – one is inclined to shrug. Or perhaps cheer. It is in no sense a calamity or even a profundity.

And for an encore, not one paragraph later:

We ask the question concerning technology when we ask what it is.

That’s one question we might ask. Which is trivial. But is it the question? And if so, what would that mean? That all other questions aren’t questions? That would be false.

I begin to wonder, after the first page of “The Question Concerning Technology,” whether I need to go on or not.

Notes

[1] Daniel Dennett, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking. New York: W. W. Norton, 2013, p 56.

[2] Martin Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology.”

4 thoughts on “Two Deepities from Martin Heidegger

  1. It’s not that I don’t understand these statements, although I can see the appeal that that claim must have. It’s rather that they are openly equivocal, and that equivocations of this type do some all too familiar work. If there is an adequate explanation for them later on, I have not found it, but if it does exist, it ought to have been written first, and these bits of pseudo-profundity ought not to have been written at all.

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  2. I’m quite certain that not only are you aware that you’re quoting from the third and fourth paragraphs of a lecture given as a part of a series of lectures, and therefore cannot expect to have everything explained in a couple sentences from a couple paragraphs, but that you are also aware that in the first paragraph, just a few sentences before your first quote, he says this:

    We would be advised, therefore, above all to pay heed to the way, and not to fix our attention on isolated sentences and topics.

    The entire essay is then an attempt to get at the fundamental nature not only of technology and our relationship with it, but how it mediates, or “enframes” our experience of the world, and the potential dangers this creates for us. The sentences you quote are part, and just part, of an introduction to the direction the lecture will take. If they could say much more than they do, there would be no need for the whole lecture, would there?

    Famously, or perhaps infamously, Heidegger is almost completely unquotable, because each sentence is to be interpreted as part of the whole. So you can get sentences like, “Thinging, things are things,” which seem patently silly out of context, but with a little work in the work itself are comprehensible (issues with translation aside). Trying to take a sentence of two from his work and glean their meaning is pretty much impossible, which doesn’t seem at all like a bad thing to me, unless he were trying to write aphoristically.

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