Martin Heidegger ( (1889–1976)) is famous for his early analysis of tools, and equally famous for his later reflections on technology. This might suggest an easy literal reading of these themes in his work along the following lines: ‘Heidegger began his career fascinated by low-tech hardware such as hammers and drills, but later took an interest in advanced devices such as hydroelectric dams’. But such a literal interpretation would miss the point, since neither Heidegger’s tool analysis nor his views on technology are limited to a narrow range of specific kinds of entities. When he speaks of ‘tools’, his analysis holds for trees and monkeys no less than for hammers; when he speaks of ‘technology’, he has little to tell us about specific high-tech instruments. In both cases he is more concerned with a general ontology than with a theory of tools or technology. Hence, this article will focus on the basic ontological background of Heidegger’s reflection on these themes; there is more to say about his ontology of things than about his relatively sparse discussions of technology per se.
The tool analysis is probably Heidegger’s most important contribution to philosophy, and contains his other breakthroughs in germinal form. The tool analysis was first published in 1927 in his masterwork Being and Time (Heidegger, 1962) but dates back to his 1919 lecture course during the so-called Freiburg War Emergency Semester (see Heidegger, 2000). Thus, the occasional claims that Heidegger stole the tool analysis from Edmund Husserl’s unpublished works of the early 1920s result from a flawed chronology and can be dismissed without further comment.1 In fact, the tool analysis marks Heidegger’s definitive break with Husserl, not a plagiarism of his teacher.