This active description of world includes the poietic capacity of humans to
create in a manner that is delimited by the matter there before them. For Heidegger, this is not ‘matter’ in the empty metaphysical sense, but matter as hyle—literally forest or thicket—that provides for human techne in such a way that its specific material constitution indicates a range of appropriate uses. Such uses recall the well-known descriptions of the ‘jug’ and the ‘bridge’ in his essays ‘The Thing’ and ‘Building Dwelling Thinking’. And what is clear in Heidegger’s examples, is that the ontological relation of humans to earth is one in which the active ‘setting-upon’ innate to world is possible only because it has earth in the first instance. Furthermore, this priority suggests that humans are placed in debt to earth. However, this priority or asymmetry is not enough by itself. Heidegger also wants to show how earth ontologically distinct and irreducible.
He thus refers to our inability to gain dominion over earth. Earth is
primarily an abundance that emerges from itself, and because of this, is selfsufficient. Its self-sufficiency, which both reveals and conceals, eludes our attempt to grasp it in its totality. Earth, as Heidegger comments, ‘is the spontaneous forthcoming of that which is continually self-secluding and to that extent sheltering and concealing.’ The uniqueness of earth as there already and as self-secluding suggests that it is not material provided for us but rather material that provides for us and yet is never mastered. This never being able to master earth introduces a kind of exigency that asks us to respond appropriately in our mode of being called production. Heidegger therefore makes use of Aristotle’s four atia, or causes, to indicate this exigency. Human making is indebted to something outside and beyond ourselves. For example, the so-called ‘material cause’ establishes a type of debt where a carpenter is held responsible for using a certain wood in a certain way, that is, for a specific kind of making. The appropriate uses of pine aredifferent than the appropriate uses of oak or ash.
The term ‘appropriate’ is decisive since the determination of what
constitutes an appropriate response is a form of indebtedness. Moving beyond a phenomenology of earth, one can then wonder how humans can be understood as being indebted to earth in their everyday practices. To see this with respect to economics, what is first required is an understanding of how earth is delineated as an economic concept.