On Reading Being and Time:

An Explication and Commentary by Roderick Munday



The Interpretation of Dasein in Terms of Temporality
and the Explication of Time as the Transcendental
Horizon of the Question of Being



The Worldhood of the World



In this document: "Explication and Commentary 5"


III. The Worldhood of the World

  14. The Idea of the Worldhood of the World' in General

  15. The Being of the Entities Encountered in the Environment


For the contents of other sections see the main index

There is also an online glossary of terms referred to in this document.

Your comments are welcome. Please make them at my blog site Synthetic Knowledge




July - Sept 2006


(page 91)




¶ 14. The Idea of the Worldhood of the World' in General

In this section Heidegger examines BEING-IN-THE-WORLD from the perspective of the 'world' itself. The task he sets himself is to describe the world as a phenomenon. In other words, to articulate that sense we have of it as being something which actually exists.

Prolegomena to the analysis
The first thing to observe is that one does not arrive at a complete conception of the world as a phenomenon simply by amassing a collection of descriptions of all the 'entities' within the world.

Although this approach in not illegitimate in itself, Heidegger cautions that it can never provide us with primordial access to the world, because this kind of inquiry is ontical, not ontological. An ontical inquiry is distinguished from an ontological one because it is grounded upon a quite different set of paradigmatic assumptions, which means the two methods may look at the same material but they will never see their material in the same way. The paradigmatic assumptions of the ontological inquiry into the world will of course be elaborated later in this section, but first, Heidegger has a few things to say about the ontical inquiries. Here is a summary of these thoughts.

Historically, philosophical inquiries into the Being of the world have been articulated in two sorts of conceptions, which have led to two sets of arguments:

1/ a reductionist/materialist conception of the world as being only the sum of the things contained within the world, where the world as such does not exist.

2/ a metaphysical/spiritual conception of the world, where the world as such exists beyond the realm of matter.

Therefore, the conceptual choice people have faced in the past is either to deny the world's phenomenological existence, or to describe it in metaphysical terms (effectively mystifying it). In Heidegger's opinion, both theses views are mistaken, precisely because they are grounded in the flawed paradigm of traditional ontology which privileges an objective view of the world. So it is perhaps not surprising that philosophers working in this tradition have developed no concepts nor any arguments to adequately describe the world as a phenomenon. Consequently, despite a plethora of theories attempting to account for the phenomenon known as the world, none have been able to explain the extra surplus quality that the world seemingly has. The aim of Heidegger's analysis is to show how these problem disappear when the world is looked at ontologically.

In order to begin to approach the task of defining the world as a phenomenon, we should recall that Heidegger formally defined 'phenomena' as that which shows itself in its Being, which is itself also part of the structure of the Being of Dasein when looked at generally [ref. ¶ 7, Page 51]. This definition of a phenomenon is premised Heidegger notion that Being is wholeness [ref. Part 1, Division 1, page 65], which yields two additional observations:

  1. Each part of Being (which takes the form of a particular phenomenon) is never truly isolate from Being of phenomena when taken as a whole.

  2. Each part of being is itself a reflection of whole of Being.

Thus, to describe the 'world' phenomenologically means to exhibit the Being of those entities which are present-at-hand (existent) within the world, and, in addition, to fix their Being in concepts which are categorical. (This manoeuvre involves letting the Being of those entities stand out from the Being of the manifold of existence, rather than cleaving it away from that Being - as is the case with traditional objective philosophy)

Remember also that the term category should be understood its ontological sense, that is as a means of distinguishing the characteristics of the Being of entities that are not Dasein. (for Dasein we use existentalia)[ref. ¶ 9, page 70] (or see the glossary entry for category and existentiale).

Entities within the world, more commonly called "things". These are of two sorts;

  1. Things of nature, and
  2. Things 'invested with value'.

Things of Nature
Perhaps at this early stage of the inquiry, we might presume that our primary theme should be the Being of the "thinghood of things of Nature as such?*"

(* apologies for the cumbersome use of language here. Heidegger is constantly alluding to the fact that there is a reflexive component when talking about Being. Through his often cumbersome use of language, Heidegger attempts to communicate his claim that you cannot take the subject out of the proposition and vice verse without doing fundamental damage to the wholeness of being (ref. "The formal conception of Being," ¶ 12, page 80). Thus, he wages a constant battle against the tendency of natural language to cleave existence into subject/object categories. This tendency is not, as Heidegger asserts, itself a proof that these linguistic assertions are mirrored in the structuring of reality. But rather, that the subject/object positioning of language expresses an in-built philosophical bias, which colours and distorts our conceptions of the Being of reality.

If we examine entities of nature, what is it about them that we can say exists? The first answer which comes to mind is the characteristic of Being which seems to be revealed...

(page 92)

...is their substance - the very stuff that they are made of. Thus, for example, the substance of the tree is wood and the substance of the rock is various minerals). So it seems natural to ask the question, "What is its ontological meaning of substance?" Here Heidegger cautions that by asking this question, the inquiry veers dangerously near to the rocky reef of traditional philosophical inquiry. For to answer it, we would first have to ascertain that there is an ontological meaning to substance. Can we prove this? Let's just skip ahead here and answer, not really. For, even if we were able to elaborate a pure explanation of the nature of a substance 'X ,' and through this elaboration, reveal that it describes something of the Being of Nature, this approach will in fact never be up to the task of describing the 'world' as a phenomenon. For "Nature" cannot grant us phenomenological access to the world, and neither can nature of things (their substance), because both are already entities encountered within the world. Nature is a component in a greater whole we call the world. The problem is here is one of not being able to escape the frame of reference from within which the inquiry itself is conceived.

(It might seem strange to pass from a discussion of substance to a discussion of nature so quickly. But as Heidegger argued in the last division, if one reflects upon the relationship of "Being" and "the world", an entity called 'Nature' always emerges. And this entity Nature is given proximally as "that which becomes 'known'." [ref. ¶13 page 87])

So, given that explicating the Being of the world from the substance of entities of nature is a bit of a non-starter. Should we perhaps take the second path and try to discover the being of the world from examining things within the world 'invested with value'?

Things 'invested with value'
Things of value can be defines as entities with which Dasein proximally and for the most part dwells (chairs, tables, beds, various tools, houses, computers, televisions, cars street-lamps etc., etc.). Now, while it is true that we do not think of these things purely in terms of their substance (we also think of them in terms of their use for example) we must nevertheless be careful, because, if we are not, very soon these entities will also be regarded as things 'within' the world, (in terms of their substance) and we will be back in the cul-de-sac of traditional philosophy again. As soon as substance enters into the purview of the inquiry our inquiry will flounder, because we will face the same 'framing problem' we encountered when considering the substance of things of nature.

Conclusion to prolegomena
So, it seems that neither the ontical depiction of things within-the-world, nor the ontological interpretation of their Being (in terms of examining only the entities we value) is completely up to the task of describing the phenomenon that is "the world." The problem is this notion of things. No doubt then we will have to get away from this tendency of objectifying entities within the world and focus on some other aspect of their being. Perhaps we should approach this inquiry from a different direction and ask ourselves if it possible to address ourselves to the phenomenon of world,' directly in terms of its being the determinate for the ontological meaning for all of the entities within the world, and not just something which is determined by them as hitherto assumed. As Heidegger points out, we always refer to things as being "within-the-world", does this not suggest that we have a pre-ontological understanding of a notion of the world, as coming before the notion of the things which are manifest within it? In this case, rather than trying to escape the framing problem, we would be embracing it? The world after all turns out to be the frame our inquiry into the world. But in that case how is possible to describe the world? The answer to this question is that in fact the world is not the ultimate frame within which everything is conceived because the world also needs a Being to perceive it, i.e. Dasein. Therefore approach would also involve us having to concede that the 'world' is, in fact, also a part of Dasein's Being, i.e., something which dwells alongside Dasein in the same way that the entities of the world dwell alongside Dasein [ref. ¶12, page 80].

My World
However, if the latter contention is taken seriously, would it not imply that every particular Dasein 'proximally' dwells within its own world? In other words, that each Dasein's conception of the world as a phenomenon is ultimately going to be a subjective one. If this is true, it is problematic because if the world is ultimately subjective, how could there also be a 'common' world 'in' which all of Dasein all collectively dwell? Resolving this paradox is going to be one of the major themes of this inquiry.

Ontologically speaking, when we raise the question of the world, the object of the inquiry is neither the objective world of collective experience, nor is it the subjective world personal experience, but rather the Worldhood of the world as such. 'Worldhood' is an ontological concept, that stands for the structure of one of the constitutive items of Being-in-the-world. Worldhood therefore needs to be understood an umbrella term that embraces the sense of the world that both is determinate and determines all the other significations and modalities of the world. However, regarding the world in this way does not rule out the possibility that we may try to disclose its secrets by examining entities within-the-world. All it means is that the Being of these entities will not be discovered by inferring a presence of Worldhood as something surplus to them, i.e., as existing outside of entities. Rather the concept of Worldhood presupposes that the world has to exist both outside and within entities, as something which is always already perceived of as part of Dasein's being. A propos to this, as Heidegger has already pointed out (ref. ¶12, page 78), Being-in-the-world is the way in which Dasein's character can be defined existentially. In this sense, Worldhood, like the Being-in Heidegger examined (re. part 1 division 2), must likewise will have to be partly describable as an existentiale, as well as a category [see the glossary entry for category and existentiale].

All Heidegger is doing in this above passage is thinking through the implications of including an analytic of Dasein as a component of the understanding of the world. The notion of Worldhood, when conceived of in this way, can be imagined as something which surrounds both Dasein and the entities within the world with which Dasein proximally dwells. This is how we will arrive at an ontological conception of the Worldhood of the world, which does not suffer from the framing problems of the other conceptions he has discussed. And armed with this conception, we will be able to describe the world phenomenologically.

(page 93)

Four kinds of world
But before we can explore this question further, we must sort out which world we are talking about, when we use the term WORLD. because quite a lot of worlds have already emerged in the course of this discussion. By sorting out the different meanings of the world, we will be able to grasp both an idea of the various kinds of phenomena signified by the term and also the way they are structurally interconnected.

Heidegger identifies four main meanings of world.

  1. World is as an ontical concept, and signifies the totality of things which can be present-at-hand within the world. (This is the traditional ontical conception of the world. In this meaning the world is the frame of the inquiry and thus, we can have no genuine access to it).

  2. World functions as an ontological term, and signifies the Being of those things within the world. (This notion, on the other hand, makes Dasein the frame through which the inquiry is conceived. It does give us phenomenological access to the world, but it leads to a conception that the worlds is "subjective," i.e. that it belongs to each Dasein. For instance, a mathematician may talk about the world of mathematics, and a philologist can talk about the world of stamp collecting).

  3. World can be understood in an ontical sense, as the place where a factical Dasein 'lives. (This notion, like meaning #1., considers the world to be the frame through which the inquiry is examined. But in this case, rather than privileging things within the world as in meaning #1., or the 'subjective' worlds as in meaning #2, the "world" of meaning #3., is conceived of as a place where factical Dasein lives. I.e. Dasein itself is, as it were, the entity within the world.)

  4. The term "world" designates the ontologico-existential concept of Worldhood. This notion expresses in general terms the a priori character of any entity which can be taken to be a world. This conception of the world serves as an umbrella for the other meanings, because it takes into account both framing perspectives found in meanings #1 to #3. And thus the concept of Worldhood allows us to consider also how these frames operate in relation to one another. Although this is not to suggest that we can transcend the frames by doing this, for it is impossible to conceive of the world from a space outside of the world and outside of yourself. However a conception of Worldhood allows us to see the world as both a framing and a frame, which is itself an important characteristic of the world as a phenomenon.

In order not to lose site of the different significations of the term world, Heidegger proposes the following system:

  1. 'world' (with single speech marks) denotes meaning #1
  2. Worldhood - denotes meaning #2

  3. "world" (with double speech marks) denotes meaning #3

  4. worldly, (a term standing for the ontological sense of Dasein's conception of Worldhood), denotes meaning #4 (As the translators of Being and Time note, by employing the term, worldly, Heidegger does not which imply the usual connotation of world as "a man of the world,"

I realise that these four terms and the subtle means that Heidegger intends to distinguishing them is going to be a potential source of confusion (not to mention mental anguish) to readers as well as myself. However, don't worry, I will be reminding the reader of these categorical distinctions every time a particular concept of WORLD is cited.

Heidegger has already drawn our attention to the fact that the phenomenon of Worldhood, gets passed over if one tries to Interpret it in terms of the Being of entities present-at-hand within-the-world.

The world is not discoverable in Nature (against Romanticism)
One thing that has already been alluded to (but nevertheless needs to be really underscored here) is that Dasein cannot discover the Worldhood of the world by framing the discussion in terms of the concept of "Nature." This is because Nature is itself an aspect of the world and therefore is also, so to speak, and entity within it.

(page 94)

The romantics always talk about there being a natural world, and this conception implies that this world is more primordial than the mechanised world of humankind. But Heidegger cautions us that we need to abandon this view. This is because, the phenomenon of 'Nature' as conceived of in romanticism, can in fact only be grasped ontologically in terms of the onto-ontological concept of world we will now explore.

Aims of the inquiry
The arguments presented thus far in the inquiry have served to strengthen the theoretical ground upon which we stand. Now that our footing is more secure we can to proceed to outlining the questions the inquiry into the phenomenon of the world will have to answer. They are:

  1. how we should Interpret the Worldhood of Dasein?
  2. How we should discover the possible ways in which Dasein is made worldly?

We should also try to understand why the kind of Being with which Dasein knows as the world has been continually passed over.

In this sense the method of our enquiry has already been assigned in the last section. The theme of the analytic is going to be "BEING-IN-THE-WORLD", and in this section we will focus on the notion of WORLD itself to discover how this notion is illuminated and how it can in turn light up the hitherto obscure areas of Dasein's Being. The phenomena discussed in this section will also be considered within the horizon of Dasein's average everydayness. (i.e. not in the rarefied conditions of philosophical contemplation (thinking about thinking) that are the purview of normal philosophy (see the glossary entry for 'average everydayness' and 'phenomenological method')..

The Environment
That world of everyday Dasein which it is closest to it is the entity we call the environment.

We shall start by outlining an ontological interpretation of those entities within-the-environment which are closest to us. (But never losing sight of the fact that an understanding of Worldhood of the world is the goal of the inquiry)

The word "environment" is made up of the prefix 'environ' which designates a space. Therefore it seems obvious that a spatial character incontestably belongs to any environment. However, Heidegger argues that the environment does not have a primarily 'spatial' meaning. In fact its spatial quality will only be able to be clarifies in terms of the phenomena of the world (when we understand what this is), and not as its a priori condition.

As with the concept of nature, we will not be able to discover the world if we take the view that the world has spatiality as its grounding a priori condition. This statement can be read as a critique of the transcendental aesthetic of Kant, which regards space and time as being primary forms of our knowledge of the world. Kant asserted that, by means of the external sense we represent to ourselves objects as being outside of us in space. Thus, through the notion of space alone is their shape, dimensions, and relations to each other determined or determinable. [Kant 1993, p 49]. Heidegger's full critique of this position is outlined in the next section (¶15, p 95 - 102)

(page 95)

The analysis of the world will be completed in three stages, A, B and C which are structured as follows:

A. The analysis of environmentally and Worldhood in general;

B. Contrasting this analysis with Descartes' ontology of the 'world';

C. The analysis of the 'spatiality' of Dasein - (in other words, the sense of the "aroundness" of the environment)


A. Analysis of Environmentality and Worldhood in General


¶ 15. The Being of the Entities Encountered in the Environment

Heidegger's contention is that the Being of those entities which we encounter as closest to us can be exhibited phenomenologically, if we examine our everyday Being-in-the-world. This notion is expressed by the term "dealings." Thus, our dealings with entities within-the-world become the focus of the investigation. And, as was pointed out in the last section [ref. ¶ 12, page 84], these dealings are always expressed in terms of care and concern.' [for a quick reminder, see the glossary entry for these terms].

We are most concerned with the entities that are closest to us. These are the entities which are closest to us in our everyday lives and which we invest with value. We may postulate that the concern we have for these entities has its own kind of 'knowledge'. (in other words, taking things up and using them on a regular basis promotes a different kind of understanding, to that which is obtained by merely thinking about things. For a start the kind of understanding we obtain of something through use is not consciously articulated to the self, as it is with thought. Hence we may know how to ride a bicycle, but that knowledge cannot be imputed to someone else who is ignorant of the skill of bicycling merely by speaking a set of instructions). Thus, the primary theme of the analysis with be to try to describe the kind of knowledge that we have of the entities we regularly use. Although, let us not forget that these entities will not form the categories for theoretically knowing the 'world' (we are avoiding talking about things remember). But rather they should be considered as simply what gets used, and what gets produced in the context of our everyday dealings with the world.

(page 96)

Conceived of in this way, the inquiry will also provide a more complete picture of the understanding of Being that Dasein already has (as a preontological understanding), and which "comes alive" in Dasein's dealings with entities. And thus our investigation into the world. Slowly then we inch towards its ultimate goal of a more complete understanding of BEING-IN-THE-WORLD.

Looking at entities invested with value
The first entities we are going to look at are ones that put us in the position of having some concern for them. However, strictly speaking, this "putting ourselves into a position" is a misleading way of conceiving of how this concern actually manifests in terms of Dasein's average everydayness. For concern is not so much a posture we adopt, as the way in which we are always orientated towards the world. Heidegger challenges us to examine our own processes of thought. Do we have to assume a thoughtful position before we start thinking about something? No, of course we do not. Thoughts just come to us anyway, and they come to us often before we are really aware of their presence.

To gain a proper phenomenological access to the entities we are examining, we must put aside our tendency to adobt and objective posture by standing back from things; seeking an interpretation for a given phenomena even before we have properly grasped it. For example, Heidegger points out, we are on dangerous ground even by addressing entities as "Things", for in doing so we have "tacitly anticipated their ontological character". This was, in a nutshell, the mistake of Descartes and his forebears. As Heidegger has outlined, the only "thing" a Cartesian type of analysis is ever going to uncover is the totally erroneous conception of a "Thinghood and Reality." And as this is a concept whose elaboration and critique has already been well raked over--not least by Heidegger himself [ref. ¶6, page 45]-- suffice to say that this kind of thinking is never productive, because it falls back very quickly into unresolvable paradoxes. The problem, as Heidegger sees it, is as soon as we start calling entities "Things," we fix their conception in an unacceptably material way and consequently the essentially non-thing-like aspects of their character gets overlooked. And this non-material aspect is what Heidegger foremost want to fix in our thoughts.


All this talk about the kind of knowledge that is found in doing rather than thinking evokes something of the notion of praxis, or learning by doing. Heidegger notes that praxis is the Greeks term pertaining to concernful dealings with 'things'. But he remarks also, that the Greeks left undisclosed their specifically 'pragmatic' character and instead thought of these things which get used more concretely as 'mere things' (ref. B&T p96-97). In other words, Heidegger conception of our concernful dealing with entities within the world should not be defined in terms of what is normally understood by the term praxis.

To find out, what this "hidden" aspect is, we have to answer the question, "what does 'value' mean ontologically?" Which will be the topic of the remainder of this section.

(Page 97)

In our inquiry, we shall call entities which we encounter with an attitude of concern equipment. In our everyday existence we encounter equipment of numerous sorts for writing, sewing, working, transportation, measurement, etc. Of this equipment, we will presume two things:

1. That the kind of Being which equipment has must show itself in some way, and

2. If we can identify the way it shows itself, we will thus be able to defining its value.

These assumptions will be our first clue in defining what turns an 'entity' into an 'item of equipment', or, as Heidegger calls it, equipmentality.

Heidegger defines equipment as, essentially, 'something in-order-to'. As a structure, this in-order-to describes what Heidegger calls an assignment, this is the action of employing 'X' (the equipment) to achieve something 'Y' (the goal of a task). The term assignment' will be used to indicates equipment made visible in its ontological genesis. Now, you may say that a piece of equipment is always visible, "Is not a hammer an object that is quite obviously there before us?" The answer is no. Not if we take a hammer to be something defined by its use, for a rock, a piece of wood, or even a fist, can just as well serve as a hammer on occasions. Jumping to the conclusion that a hammer is a mere 'thing' is precisely the mistake people make when they view equipment purely in material terms.

Strictly speaking, there is no such 'thing' as a piece of equipment. In fact, equipment only becomes truly visible through its use, i.e., in the act of assignment. (for example a hammer is not just a wooden handle with a lump of metal on the end, for as I have pointed out, a rock can function as a hammer just as well, a fact that has probably not escaped anyone who has been on a camping holiday and found that they have had to drive the tent pegs into hard ground.

Totality of Equipment (Equipment Structure)
What we need also to consider is that behind the Being of any equipment there already belongs a totality of equipment. For instance the equipment of hammering is not merely a hammer, but an nail, piece of wood, workbench, lighting, furniture, windows, doors, room. However, we do not usually consider this totality of equipment, eventhough the task of the particular piece of equipment under consideration could not be performed without it. Thus, we can say that there is always a hidden aspect of equipmentality, which is the totality of equipment that never shows itself,

(page 98)

If we take an example of a less that obvious piece of equipment, a room, we can say that the room is both a piece of equipment (to paraphrase Le Corbusier - a machine for living in) and is also a collection of other pieces of equipment that comes together to constitute a room. Of course a room is not normally defined in terms of its equipmentality, but rather as something conceived of in terms of its spatiality. We think of a room rather passively as something merely existent - as the space 'between four walls. Hence we easily fall into the trap of considering the room philosophically in terms of the abstract notion of space, and not in terms of the more everyday notion as a piece of equipment. (Interestingly, if you put four wheels on a room and attach it to a train, the spatial aspects of the room recede and we see it much more as a piece of equipment (i.e. as a carriage which has the purpose of taking us somewhere, hopefully in relative comfort). This goes to show that our interpretation of a room as a space is at the very least conceptually unstable and fortified more by habitual inattention than a genuine philosophical grasp, and incidentally this note was written in a train, travelling from London to Birmingham)

Equipment structure
So we can say that any 'individual' item of equipment only shows itself in a metonymic sense of being a part of a greater system - a totality of equipment that Heidegger subsequently terms its equipment structure.

What is concealed when we consider a piece of equipment is a nexus of related items that also constitutes the assignment for which the individual piece of equipment stands. Equipment therefore is always a general term, which applies to a potentially unlimited number of entities which are also necessary for the assignment. The hammer object itself, for instance, is a mere component of hammering. Now, what is interesting about this is that it implies a totality of equipment has already been discovered before a piece of equipment is disclosed. Hence we could postulate that the task of hammering was initially discovered by hammering with rocks, because in order to take up the rock and hammer with it the equipment structure of hammering and a conceived of set of assignments must already by understood - and the design of a hammer actually comes out of considering that equipment structure. Thus, in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, the role of the Monolith in teaching the apes how to use tools can be seen in Heideggarian terms as imparting the equipment structure of hammering in their minds.

Equipment (or more properly equipment structures) can therefore only genuinely show themselves in the totality of assignments that they are designed for. And this is the only way equipment can be understood. In other words you find out what a price of equipment does by using it, not by thinking about it. (The equipmentality of a hammer for example is not something that is ever going to be revealed in the context of needlecraft, this notion is, of course, absurd - and so how could it be reasonably argued that the equipmentality of a hammer can be revealed in the context of the equally unrelated activity of philosophical contemplation.

The novelty of Heidegger's argument here is we can see that the actions of observation and contemplation, when considered as assignments, have "their own kind of sight," namely purposes which are nothing to do with the assignment of hammering, and thus what you have when you contemplate the hammer is a clash of assignments.

Outside of its proper context (the totality of assignments pertaining to it) a piece equipment is quite opaque in terms of its Being.

Equipmentality is not a verb
However, before we put too much emphasis on equipment in terms of use, we have to understand that in our dealing with equipment, its equipmentality is not grasped thematically as a verb, i.e. as an occurring thing. We cannot understand what a hammer does merely by miming the action of hammering in mid air, for to do this would be to disregard the piece of wood, the nail, in other word, its equipment structure, and also most importantly the task for which the equipment is intrumental in fulfilling, the in order to. Therefore, in the context of this analysis, Heidegger warns us that if we are not careful we are liable to frame the whole thing in the wrong way. For simple thinking about a hammer, or the actions of a hammer, as an isolated instance of a piece of equipment in use, will never give us knowledge of the hammer's character as a part of an equipment structure of hammering.
This misconception is revealed more clearly if we consider the example of a room as a piece of equipment conceived of purely as a verb.

Readiness-to-Hand (Ready-to-hand)
It is only when we take up a hammer in order to hammer something that our primordial relationship to the hammer's equipmentality becomes apparent . The act of hammering itself (and the context in which this action occurs) uncovers the specific 'manipulability' of the hammer. The kind of Being which equipment possesses-in which it manifests itself in its own right-we call Readiness-to-Hand.' Readiness to hand does not merely occur in the act of using equipment. But rather, equipment is only manipulatable in the first place because it has this kind of 'Being-in itself'. However the readiness-to-hand of an entity which leads us to consider it as a piece equipment is only discovered by using it. It is never discovered beforehand. This is the paradoxical nature of equipment, that comes between us and the understanding of it, for no matter how long and diligently we stare at its 'outward appearance,' we shall never be able to discover anything ready-to-hand about a piece of equipment unless we actually take it up and use it.

Conclusion (equipment)
Provisionally we can conclude these observations about equipment by emphasising again that the activity of manipulating and using equipment is not a blind one, in the sense of a mere unthinking reflex, but rather, it has its own kind of 'sight'.

(page 99)

Practical behaviour is therefore not atheoretical in the sense of 'sightlessness.' And it is not true to say that in theoretical behaviour one observes, while in practical behaviour one acts. Instead all dealings with equipment subordinate themselves to a multitude of assignments in-order-to get the task done.

The peculiarity of what is proximally ready-to-hand means that, in terms of an entity being a piece of equipment, its "thingness" must, as it were, withdraw in order to for it to be ready-to-hand in an authentic way.
(The hammer, as a thing, becomes transparent in the hammering. It is as if it becomes an extension of the human arm, in the sense that we can feel the nail as it is being driven into the wood and the resistance of the wood to the nail, as it were through the 'conduit' of the hammer - Don Ihde has a good analysis of this [see, Ihde 1979, p 121 - 122]).

All of this hopefully makes clear that Dasein does not proximally dwell with the tools themselves as things, but with the work the tools do. And because a piece of equipment always conceals an equipment structure, it implies also that work bears with it that referential totality within which the equipment is encountered. The true extent of this referential totality is something we will now explore.

The towards which (the product of work)
The work to be produced by the hammer, Heidegger conceives of as the of the hammer. And this is what has the kind of Being that belongs to equipment. Equipment is never an end in itself. The end product of the labours of the tailor is not just a garment, because the garment itself is produced for wearing; similarly the clock is manufactured for telling the time. And as is clear in these examples the towards which, although it is a product of the work done, does not have to be a product solely in a material sense.

The work which we chiefly encounter in our concernful dealings has an essential usability which belongs to it. The usability of work is that which allows us to encounter (already) the towards-which the tool is usable. This is a convoluted way of saying the meaning of the tool is only discovered in its use, and in the wider context of what it is used for is discovered in the way the products of the tools are used. We can observe that conceiving of 'equipment', 'work' and 'use' in this way, has no neat terminus, but rather these 'equipment-structures', 'work-structures' and 'use-structures' sprawl out almost indefinitely to form the very structures of the world - and of course that is precisely the point Heidegger is making.

A piece of equipment is definable only by its use (the working with it, and the goal for which it is employed) because this is where the assignment-context of entities (the equipment-structure, work-structure and use-structure) which is revealed.

How Nature is discovered as a resource
The work to be produced by equipment is not merely usable for something...

(page 100)

...The production itself is a using of something for something (The work of the tailor is the use of the equipment structures of tailoring to produce a shoe). Heidegger makes this point so beautifully, I will just quote him.

Because something is produced through work, in addition to the equipment structure there is also an assignment of 'materials': Thus the work of the tailor is dependent on leather, thread, needles, and the like. Leather, moreover is produced from hides. These are taken from animals, which someone else has raised. Animals also occur within the world without having been raised at all; and, in a way, these entities still produce themselves even when they have been raised as a resource for some other production. So in the environment certain entities become accessible which are always ready-to-hand, but which, in themselves, do not need to be produced. Hammer, tongs, and needle, refer in themselves to steel, iron, metal, mineral, wood, in that they consist of these.

Finally then, Heidegger is able to give the reason why Nature does not grant us privileged access to the Being of the World.

In equipment that is used, 'Nature' is discovered along with it, it is the 'Nature' we find in natural products.

Here 'Nature' is not to be understood as merely present-at-hand (existent), nor in terms of some mysterious "power of nature" - again Heidegger expresses this beautifully:

The wood is a forest of timber, the mountain a quarry of rock; the river is water-power, the wind is wind 'in the sails'. As the 'environment' is discovered through the resource, then 'Nature' is thus discovered in the encountered as well. If, however, its kind of Being as ready-to-hand is disregarded, this 'Nature' itself can be discovered and defined simply in its pure presence-at-hand. But when this happens, the Nature which 'stirs and strives', which assails us and enthrals us as landscape, remains hidden. The botanist's plants are not the flowers of the hedgerow; the 'source' which the geographer establishes for a river is not the 'springhead in the dale'.

So there is always a residual quality to nature, something present-at-hand which becomes apparent after nature has been first discovered as a resource (through equipment structures that do not show themselves overtly). On the other hand this surplus we call nature is something which does show itself overtly, and moreover allows us to contemplate that which has been discovered as a 'something' in its own right (perhaps a beautiful view). But let us not be like the Romantics, so beguiled by the beauty of a view that we are seduced into believing that this is in fact Nature in its most primordial sense, for nature is always also a resource.

What Heidegger has done here is reversed the normal conception of the world as Nature, in the sense of it being conceived of first and foremost as a natural resource, which is then subsequently taken up (and exploited) by humanity in the form of technological resource. However, this view of nature can never make visible the resource structure of nature. So what Heidegger is arguing is that we should consider instead the resource structure as the primordial phenomenon that makes visible the entity known as Nature, by granting us access to it (with all the attendant notions of mythical nature, beautiful nature, sublime nature, that inform our post-industrial romanticisation of the natural world). It is interesting in this context that nature was only really identifies, for example in the world of the Lake Poets, at a time when industrialisation was rampantly exploiting the resource-structure of the world.

The world context that is revealed in equipmental, resource and also person structures
The work produced refers not only to what is produced but also to the resources which produces it. Both of these facets also have a nexus of structures attached which delimit the world but whose limits are always going to be somewhat arbitrarily drawn. Hence, in addition to the notion of Dasein's Worldhood, we are for this reason also only ever going to be able to outline a general, i.e. formal conception of the world as a phenomenon.

This again has similarities with Being-in as inness discussed in the last division [ref. ¶12, page 79]. For when Heidegger talked about 'worldspace' in terms of the water being in the glass, the glass being in the kitchen, the kitchen being in the house, the house being in the village, the village being in the county and so on and so forth, he also infers the same potentially unlimited structural interconnectedness of entities that spirals out without precise termination.

People structures
But, in addition to equipment, products and resources, there are also people (factical Dasein) to consider. For work also has an assignment to the person who uses the products of work. The work of the tailor for example is cut to the figure of the person, in this sense, clothes really do "maketh the man." Even in the context of mass production, products are still cut to the person, although in this case the fit cannot be as accurate as is the case with bespoke tailoring, but rather tends towards averaging out attributes.
Heidegger employs the specific example of tailoring to explain this, no doubt because of the explicit connotations of tailoring to the idea of self image. There is a suggestion that all products are ultimately working to produce something - the self image of the person.

Along with the work, we encounter not only entities ready-to-hand but also entities infused with value, which through Dasein's concern for them, carry with them part of the Being of Dasein. In this way, the product itself becomes ready-to-hand. Thus finally, and through all the interconnecting structures that have been descried in this section, we encounter the world in which wearers and users live, which is at the same time is ours.

The environment and nature itself (as that which is environing) is discovered not in abstract terms of space but in any work which is ready-to-hand:

In roads, streets, bridges, buildings, our concern discovers Nature as having some definite direction. A covered railway platform takes account of bad weather; an installation for public lighting takes account of the darkness, or rather of specific changes in the presence or absence of daylight-the...

(page 101)

...'position of the sun'. In a clock, account is taken of some definite constellation in the world-system. When we look at the clock, we tacitly make use of the 'sun's position', in accordance with which the measurement of time gets regulated in the official astronomical manner. When we make use of the clock-equipment, which is proximally and inconspicuously ready-to-hand, the environing Nature is ready-to-hand along with it.

In the section, we have elaborated how we discover the world through our concernful absorption in whatever work lies closest to us. This is the function of world, so to speak, and it is essential to this function that those assignments, or references, which are constitutive for the work remain discoverable in varying degrees of explicitness and with a varying circumspective penetration by Dasein.

This then is how the world can be both a subjective "my world" and objective world present for all. Each Dasein constructs as it were her own world from a commonly accessible tool kit of parts. The fact that each world is going to be different does not mean that the world itself is necessarily subjective because a person's world is actually constituted by how one arranges the same kit of parts available to all.

The kind of Being which belongs to equipment word and resource structures is readiness-to-hand. But this characteristic is not to be understood unreflexively as merely a way of naming these structures and then forgetting that they are in fact too complex to be conceptualised under a name

One cannot simply conceive of the world as something formerly 'present at hand' which is now 'ready to hand', if one does not try to understand the seismic paradigm shift that lies behind the action of substituting 'ready-to-hand' for 'present-at-hand.' Such a superficial interpretation overlooks, for instance, the fact that entities which are 'ready-to-hand' have to be understood and discovered beforehand something 'present-at-hand' can even be inferred.

The conception of entities as existent things, (the present-at-hand) must have priority and take the lead in the sequence of those dealings with the 'world' in which something is discovered and made one's own. Readiness-to-hand is the way in which entities as they are 'in themselves' defined ontologico-categorically. Yet only by reason of something present-at-hand, does there exist anything ready-to-hand. However, even if it is the most primordial way of understanding what the world is, Heidegger wonders if all these explications been of the slightest help towards understanding the phenomenon of the world ontologically? In interpreting these entities within-the-world, however we have always...

(page 102)

...'presupposed' the world. Even if we join them together, we still do not get anything like the 'world' as their sum. If, then, we start with the Being of these entities, is there any avenue that will lead us to exhibiting the phenomenon of the world?

Unravelling this conundrum will be the task of the next section...


Continue to next section



Heidegger, Martin (2000), Being and Time, John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson (trans), London: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.


Additional References

Ihde. Don (1979), "Chapter 9 - Heidegger's Philosophy" in Technology and Praxis, Bloomington U.S.: Indiana Publishing, pp 103 - 129

Kant, Immanuel, Critique of Pure Reason, Translated by J. M. D. Meiklejohn, London: Everyman, 1993


This is the fifth part of my explication and commentary of Being in Time, for contents of previous sections see the main index

There is also an online glossary of terms referred to in this document.

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