The Law of the Instrument

Sometimes I wonder if I overdo this fourfold thing. The law of the instrument says something like “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. Dividing things up into four parts, or bringing four things together into a whole, is the belabored theme of this blog. Fourfolds are my hammer, and what a nice hammer it is!

When my father was in a nursing home, he had a roommate for a period of time that would just draw houses continuously. Not nice architectural renderings either, but houses like a child would, where you can see three sides of it at once (the front and both sides). I might be doing that one day, endlessly drawing fourfold diagrams in endless fourfold permutations.

Speaking of hammers, Martin Heidegger also wrote at length about them in regards to equipment or instrumentality. He contrasted a working hammer that was “ready-to-hand” to a broken hammer that was “present-at-hand”. The working hammer recedes into the background of its ready utility, but the broken hammer, being useless, is merely present in pieces.

The notion of science as negative enterprise was raised by Heidegger since scientific investigation only gives you the present-at-hand, and not the smooth extension of ability that is ready-to-hand. I disagree, because how can you fashion a hammer in the first place or repair it if you aren’t full cognizant of its constituents and construction?

I realize that some worthwhile analyses are made by this approach to technology. For example, few are able to construct or repair modern automobiles or smartphones. In a sense, that should make Heidegger happy, since most are using this modern equipment with no clue as to how they work. And if they wear out or break or become obsolete, they are too costly to repair or upgrade and are sent to the scrapheap. But I say this tongue-in-cheek.

Heidegger’s “tool analysis” is the basis for much of his later writings, specifically concerning “das Geviert” (simply meaning square). If tool analysis is itself a tool, what happens when you apply tool analysis towards itself? Does one get an infinite fractal of fourfolds, ascending and descending, approaching and receding?

Further Reading:,_everything_looks_like_a_nail

Look at this painting!




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