Martin Heidegger's philosophy
seeks to humanize scientific
concepts. His main goal is to make us see things not as objects
defined in terms of science, but as tools that are fundamentally embedded into our lifestyles. In the essay, the Thing, he writes about how man-made things lose their meaning
when one sees them on television
. He rather wants them to only be understood in terms of their physical presence and the functions
that they offer. Such true understanding of the physicality and presence of things would also serve to remind one of nature's intrinsic participation in the human process
of making things. Heeding this knowledge, the human mind
would be encouraged consider the benevolence of nature
and perhaps even its divinity
In his essay entitled The Thing
, Martin Heidegger
shows how a man created "thing" is defined by its nearness
and its offering of gifts to its potential user
. According to him, the most important quality of a human
-created object is its ability to offer human beings the opportunity
to use that very thing in order to perform a function that would not be possible without it. Thus what defines a jug as a "thing" is its offering
of the gift
of serving as a container that holds and a liquid such as wine
and dispenses it at will to those who want to drink it.
The possibility of a function
is what defines a "thing
" according to Heidegger instead of merely its representation
. The representation of a jug
on television is not a "thing" for the viewer
since the television
jug does is not close enough to offer its services as a tool for liquid
containing and pouring.
It is thus that nearness becomes an important criterion
for determing whether something is a thing or not for a given person. This idea negates the commonly held view that television
brings us closer to distant
things. Heidegger believes that although the objects we see on television do really exist, they are not "things" for us but only for the people who are located close enough to them to be able to use them.
Television hides the true nature of man-created object
s by disclosing only their visual nature. Rather than merely viewing the visual properties of a man-made object like a television screen, beholding a thing up close would make one aware of its tangible physical material
. Seeing representations of things can often distract us from thinking about how these things were made. The focus on the raw material rather than the form of a thing may serve to remind that human-made things bear the traces of both human and non-human creation
. This is because while man has shaped the materials i.e clay with his own hands to transform them into a thing. i.e jug, the materials themselves were not his creation.
"When and in what way do things appear as things? They do not appear only
by means of human making. .." writes Heidegger and then gives several examples of how a thing, jug or otherwise, unites human and natural factors. "The dark slumber of the earth receives the rain
and dew of the sky," he writes, showing that the earthly material that contributes to the creation
of a jug is shaped by the forces of nature
By realizing that the thing that offers him its function is not only of his own making, its beholder would feel indebted to the forces of nature that have given him the raw material
to fashion his creation. To illustrate this thought
, Heidegger returns again to the example of the jug.
Heidegger says that the use of the jug is a ritual that expresses gratitude
to the non-human forces that made its creation possible.
According to Heidegger, a primitive man who believed nature to be a divine force would thank the divinity
for her assistance in creating the thing of a jug
. To express his thank you,
he would pour out the drink contained in the jug to offer it as a sacrifice
to the divinity
. Heidegger describes this offering in the following sentence: "In the gift of the outpouring
that is a libation, the divinities... receive back the gift of giving as the gift of donation."
The process of the sacrifice demonstrates the primitive
man's respect for the role of nature in the creation of the "thing." Thus, the creation and the use of thing symbol
ically "gathered" (*see note below) or brought together man and the divinities of nature. Heidegger writes that "in the gift
of outpouring ... divinities and mortals dwell together all at once" because "they are betrothed and entrusted to one another" in the process.
Heidegger is not encouraging the reader to believe that nature is divine
. He is rather reminding him that a "thing" like a jug or any "thing" for that matter should serve as a testament to the benevolence of forces that provided for its creation, regardless of whether these forces be divine
or merely biological
Note: It is rather interesting that Heidegger uses etymology
to support his arguments. Heidegger believes that the German for thing, "ding", originally meant a gathering of god and men. Not being a linguist
, I can neither validate or reject this supposition.
The essay "The Thing" can be found in the "Poetry, Language, and Thought" anthology
of Heidegger's essays.