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 7"


III. The Worldhood of the World

  18. Involvement and Significance; the Worldhood of the World


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




January - February 2007


(page 114)




¶18. Involvement and Significance; the Worldhood of the World

Since the ready-to-hand is encountered within-the-world, Heidegger argues that its Being must stands in some ontological relationship towards the world and towards 'worldhood.'

In anything ready-to-hand the world is always 'there'. In this sense the world is in fact that which the ready-to-hand is ready-to-hand for.

In our pre-ontological understanding, we can say that the phenomenon of the world already manifests as that which the ready-to-hand is ready-to-hand for - The world is discovered through a patterning of relations: 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' [¶15, page 100]. The 'environment' is therefore discovered through a kind of regression of 'ready-to-hands' forming a discernible pattern or perhaps a kind of structure. However, if this is the case, then this kind of understanding is what Heidegger calls "non-thematic", because the form of this patterning or structure is so nebulous and undefined that as yet that we cannot say anything precise about it. And for that reason we cannot yet define it so as to make any predictions from it.

Assignment and Reference

In terms of equipment, Heidegger has indicated that the state in which the ready-to-hand is constituted is one of an 'assignment.' However, in terms of a signs, it is a 'reference.'

A reference, (defined as the 'towards which of a serviceability') pertains to that which is usually called a sign's significance; whereas an assignment, (defined as the 'for which of a usability) pertains to the significance of equipment, i.e. the 'goal for which the equipment is employed. It should be noted that when talking about an assignment, the word 'significance' is not actually very descriptive of what is taking place, since equipment only discloses its significance in a rough and ready fashion [ref. ¶17, page 109].

I want to emphasize the distinction between reference and assignment because in the following paragraphs Heidegger tends to concentrate on boundary cases where the distinction is not clear. Consequently, its possible for the reader's conception of 'assignment/usability' and 'reference/serviceability' to get rather muddled. In order to avoid any potential confusion, here is a quick mnemonic for you:

Equipment = assignment = the 'for which of a usability'.

Sign = reference = the 'towards which of a serviceability'.

Assignments and References are not properties

The "for-which" of a usability (pertaining to equipment) and the "towards-which" of a serviceability (pertaining to signs) are ways in which assignments or references can become analytically concrete. But they should not be understood as properties of equipment or signs (since that implies that entities have a 'thingly' character). The ontological patterns upon which the ready-to-hand of things are grounded are not themselves things. Rather they way that the ready-to-hand should be regarded is as a way in which certain aspects of the world have been realised so that they come to the attention of Dasein's concernful understanding.

This, in a nutshell, is how Heidegger conceives that we arrive at our notion of objects, although the conception is still vague and unthematic at this point. Nevertheless, we should keep in mind that the ready to hand only become a thing when it has been 'given its freedom' by being taken up and used by Dasein. Incidentally, this observation also pertains (negatively) to such privative expressions as "inconspicuousness", "unobtrusiveness", and "non-obstinacy," where the (un)ready to hand is not free and therefore has the character of holding itself in [ref. ¶16, page 107].

The above passage can be illuminated in the following way. Imagine watching a scene in a movie where a toddler picks up a loaded gun. You may feel some suspense, precisely because you know what the toddler does not know - namely that the gun deadly weapon. In Heideggarian language the gun readiness to hand is holding itself in, thus from the point of view of the child, it appears to be inconspicuous - a mystery object. During the course of her investigation, the toddler points the gun at her head and pulls the trigger. The suspense becomes unbearable at that moment, but luckily nothing happens. The gun is jammed. Again, the obstinacy of the broken tool is completely lost on the child. The unreadiness to hand of the gun is not free and consequently the 'holding-itself-in' of the gun is not even noticed. In sum, the child has no idea what the gun is, because she has no ideas what the gun is for.

Harkening back to the "What is Being?" question asked at the very beginning of Being in Time [ref. ¶2, page 26], when a young child points at an entity and says "What's that?" she is really asking a question about the purpose of an entity (in essence the question is "what's that for?"). And the answer, although it results only in the naming of an object, is meaningful because it names the purposes of the object. The purpose of an object is in fact the very readiness-to-hand which gives an object its worldly context. Names are signs through which an a purpose is initially objectified. On the other hand, Names are signs which cover up purposes. This double aspect of is part of the equipmentality of naming as a phenomenon. A name makes an object graspable in its being by holding in its purpose, yet paradoxically the concealing of purpose is the very thing that frees the object. The unfortunate consequence of this freeing is that at the same time an imprisoning, because the name stands guard in front of the purpose.

Now we are armed with an understanding of the reciprocity of naming, we can see the name and the purpose and thus we can see why and how the present-at-hand is also that which is also (inconspicuously) ready-to-hand.


While it is true that these certain aspects of assignment and references designate the definite characters that 'Things' can possess, the caveat is that they possess these only after they have been freed by being ready-to-hand.

Thus, paradoxically, the use to which equipment is put has ontological priority over its 'thingness' (substance). Which means that if we were to ask which came first? The answer would be, not the 'thing' that was lying around waiting to be used, but the use lying around waiting to waiting to be named.

But what this implies is that the ready-to-hand must be grounded on that which is, so to speak, already ready-to-hand.

The ready-to-hand is not a fixed quality which can be applied to things, for a rock may just as easily become a hammer and, for its part, a hammer may in some context be just the perfect thing for keeping a troublesome sash window open, and thus a 'hammer' becomes ready-to-hand as a window prop.

Anything ready-to-hand is, at the worst, appropriate for some purposes and inappropriate for others; and its 'properties' are, as it were, still bound up in these ways in which it is appropriate or inappropriate.' Thus the assignment or reference defines the entity, and not the other way around.

In the case of a sign, serviceability takes the form of a reference.

In signs the significance is obvious. In the road sign warning of running deer, you have the problem, which is the significance, then you need to think of a way of representing that in a way that is comprehensible to other car drivers.

However, this is not to say that equipment signifies nothing, whereas in fact a 'serviceability for' is also just as much a constitutive state for a piece of equipment as it is a sign. In fact it is the condition which makes it possible for the character of a 'piece of equipment' to be defined by its appropriateness for a certain task.

In the case of equipment, significance is the idea that some job needs to be done and then you need a tool for doing the job.

Appropriateness for the task and 'context,' therefore, apply both to signs and to equipment. Although they are never constituted by the signs and pieces of equipment themselves.

In the case of signs, to prioritise the sign over context would be particularly absurd, analogous to putting up a sign to warn of an incident that had not yet happened. The appropriateness for the sign as a piece of equipment is the context in which it is used. In other words, both a tool and a sign's significance is realised and the job of the tool or the sign. In this way, the existence of signs is another proof that the world as a phenomenon must already exist in our pre-ontological understanding, for if it were otherwise, there would be no significance and nothing could be taken up and used as a sign.


An entity is only 'discovered' as ready-to-hand when it has been assigned or referred to something else and in this way it can be said to have an involvement with something.

Heidegger introduces the term involvement to answer the question what, is the wider meaning of the terms "references" or "assignments."

And that meaning is that such involvements describe a structure of meaning that I alluded to at the beginning of this section as "a patterning". Heidegger defines this patterning as an involvement.

To say that the Being of the ready-to-hand has the structure of assignment or reference means that it has in itself the character of having been assigned or referred to something (thus there is a regression of assignments). The way this works in practice is that an entity is only 'discovered' as ready-to-hand when it has been assigned or referred and this then is its involvement. Therefore:

With any such entity there is an involvement which it has in something else, which comes prior to Dasein's apprehension of the assignment the entity is destined to fulfil.

An example of these involvements was given on by Heidegger when he talked about equipment structures:

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, even though 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 [ref. ¶15, page 97]

Characterising these structures as involvements emphasises that the ready to hand is not a mere isolated form, but anchored in a structure of ready-to-handedness, so to speak. These structures stretch back much further and go down much deeper than we might at first be aware. Thus we con conclude that any newly discovered ready to hand is not grounded on 'things present at hand,' but rather on involvements.

The character of Being which belongs to the ready-to-hand manifests as just such an involvement. If something has an involvement, this implies letting it be involved in something. The relationship of the 'in' in that last sentence is what has hitherto been indicated by the term "assignment" or "reference". But from now on Heidegger says, he will define assignment and reference more formally to mean "an involvement in something, or an involvement within something."


When an entity within-the-world has already been proximally freed for its Being by its taking up as ready-to-hand, that Being is its involvement. In other words an involvement is the kind of Being anything ready to hand has.

There is always some kind of involvement when any entity is taken as an entity. And the fact that it has such an involvement is ontologically definitive for the Being of such an entity. Therefore, when we talk about the kinds of involvement an entity has, we are not speaking ontically but ontologically.

This is very important. The structural understanding we obtain through naming and using, and using and naming is both an 'involvement in' and an 'involvement within' an entity. The reciprocity of the 'in' and 'within' reveals the Being of the entity - its phenomenological meaning.

Use is in fact what constitutes the ontological understanding of any object. Ask not just what it is, but also what it is for.

The way an entity is involved is the "towards which" of serviceability, (assignment) and the "for-which" of usability (reference). However, with the "towards-which" of serviceability there can again be an involvement. For example, there is an involvement in a thing, which is ready-to-hand, and which we accordingly call a "hammer", there is also an involvement within hammering, which is an ontological convept. Perhaps that there is a need to make something fast? Within that involvement is Dasein concern about protection against bad weather; and this protection 'is' for the sake of providing shelter for Dasein-that is to say, for the sake of a possibility of Dasein's Being.

again we have an example from Heidegger of the wider significance of hammering, which is revealed in involvement and which reaches back ultimately to the Being of Dasein's Being-in-the-world.

This pattern of an involvement, premised on a prior involvement, which is in turn premised on a yet more prior involvement, and so on right back to Dasein's involvement with the world, is a clue to the ontological understanding of the world because, whenever something ready-to-hand has an involvement with it, what involvement this is, has in each case been outlined in advance, in terms of the totality of such involvements. In a workshop, for example, the totality of involvements which is constitutive for the ready-to-hand in its readiness-to-hand, is 'earlier' than any single item of equipment; so too for the farmstead with all its utensils and outlying lands.

It may be objected that there are instances where the workshop is built long after the tools have been acquired. But in this instance we have to understand that it wasn't the case that there was no workshop before a dedicated one was built. But rather that any place, is designated a 'working area,' can be called a workshop. So any corner in a house or garden shed where the work gets done serves as 'the workshop'. Workshop is just as mutable a concept as a hammer in this respect. The equipmental context of equipment is always in place before the possibility for the other involvements are disclose as dedicated individual 'pieces' of equipment.

This hitherto strange context for understanding equipment is made clearer when we examine the case of signs. For after all it is the job of signs to make concrete these obscure significances that revealed in equipment only in a rough and ready fashion.

If a warning sign is put up, say, because of the likelihood of wild animals bolting across a busy road, there must exist in the first place the danger of that incident happening. For if it were otherwise, it would seem an absurd act to put up a warning sign. Furthermore, it would be equally absurd to see a warning sign warning of wild animals at busy urban crossing, or in a discotheque, butcher's shop, theatre foyer. Context is primarily important for the particular significance of signs. However even before the particular context discloses itself, that is to say, before an animal has bolted across a road, there must first be in place a prior general context, that of danger. If we did not understand danger, no warning sign would make sense in any context. The concept of danger is derived from Dasein's Being in the world. From this experience Dasein obtains the knowledge that the world can be a dangerous place and therefore Dasein must be wary of the world in certain situations. Thus the general context of danger determines the specific context where there is a danger.

Context then always determines the significance of signs, and the particular context in which a sign functions is itself made comprehensible by a more general context. And we can extend that idea, for even a general context is only made comprehensible by an even more general context, and so on and so forth, right back to the origin of context itself...

The origin of context

But if we extend the analysis back yet further we can say that the totality of involvements itself goes back ultimately to a "towards-which" in which there is no further involvement: this "towards-which" is not an entity with the kind of Being that belongs to what is ready-to-hand within a world; it is rather an entity whose Being is defined as Being-in-the-world, and to whose state of Being, worldhood itself belongs.

Dasein in other words...

This primary "towards-which" is not just another "towards-this" as something in which an involvement is possible. The primary 'towards-which' is a "for-the-sake-of-which". But the 'for-the-sake-of' always pertains to the Being of Dasein, for which, in its Being, that very Being is essentially an issue.


Thus 'the world' and Being-in-the-world are ontologically related because they ultimately originate with the Being of Dasein and its concern with the world.

Heidegger has now articulated the interconnections by which the structure of an involvement leads to Dasein's very Being as the sole authentic "for-the-sake-of-which." However before this can be clarified further he must first explicate the relationship of involvement that permits us taking up an entity as ready-to-hand.

Letting something be involved

For the structure of involvements to be clarified enough to give us access to the phenomenon of worldhood must actually let something be involved. This also grant worldhood the kind of definiteness which makes it possible to formulate any problems about it. The purpose of letting something be involved is methodological, it allows us to discover the world as a phenomenon. One lets something be involved by thinking about all the involvements that prompt us to consider this "something" as a non thing. That is to say not present-at-hand but ready-to-hand, and in the process recognising this ready to hand is grounded on other ready-to-hands (the structure of involvements that constitute the phenomenon of world).

letting-something-be-involved is the condition for the possibility of encountering anything ready-to-hand‚" and ‚"Letting an entity be involved, if we understand this ontologically, consists in previously freeing it for its readiness-to-hand within the environment

Letting something be involved is premised on two notions, firstly that entities do not become 'things' until they are taken up and used (they have to be freed for a purpose by being taken up as something ready-to-hand). It is only then that our awareness of them obtains a level of concreteness, to warrant the label 'thing,' Secondly, there is the contradictory assertion that things are not simple created in the ready-to-hand (as if from nothing), because there must be some purpose "there" in the first place (that exists as a potential to be freed).

The normal way we are taught to think about objects is that they are determined by other objects (materials) - someone took metal metal ore, quarried from the earth, smelted to make iron, and wood, cut from trees, that they fashioned together to create the hammer. But Heidegger maintings that hammering came before the hammer, which in turn came from Daseins need to fashion the world into shelter, into weapons, which in turn came out of Dasein's concern for shelter and security, which in turn came out of Dasein's concern for its Being. Hammering, first realised in rock and bone only became a hammer later - a tool that was realised in metal and wood much later still.

This then is the ontological way to think about how the thingness of things comes about. The present at hand always concerns things; things that are not Dasein and are therefore worldless [ref. ¶ 12, page 81 - 81]. The very existence of object is premised on a structures of relations of assignments and references (involvements). The first hammer was probably a rock, but that rock was not a nothing before it was taken up and used as a hammer for it already had involvements of its own. In fact, to be uninvolved is the same things as saying that something is non existent. Involvements are what initially give a thing its meaning. The names we give to things are arbitrary and quite superfluous, ontologically speaking, they do not pertain to the meaning of an entity's Being. Although the names and substances seem important, it is only because they masks and are therefore mistaken for the importance of these involvement structures.

A formal definition of involvement

Letting something be involved signifies that, within our factical concern, we let something ready-to-hand be what ever it is already in order that it be such.

This phase emphasises the importance of the structure over that of the thing. Heidegger deliberately does not want to flesh out the nodal points of this structure, the 'so and so' and 'in order that it be such' with examples. Because then our habit of regarding things and ontologically prior to their use will get the upper hand again. He is more interested in the connections between these points, which structure their arrangement.

When Heidegger denies objectivity and substance to the world, he is not questioning the existence of existence, but the assumption that existence is intrinsically related to things. This is what other philosophers would call the fallacy of reification. Descartes for instance can be criticised in this respect (as we shall find out later) because he invokes the concept of substance as the sine qua non of existence. The concept of substance implies that things are real and the relations between things are not.

Letting something be involved is how we Interpret the meaning of previously freeing of what is proximally ready-to-hand within-the-world. Heidegger observes that even though this is an ontical proposition, the way we take this ontical sense of 'letting be' is in principle, ontological.

When a 'thing' becomes something ready-to-hand there is an involvement with something else and you can trace those involvements back until you reach the fundamental 'in order to' of Dasein's existence. This is why the structure is ontological not ontical.

Previously letting something 'be' does not mean that we must first bring it into its Being and produce it; it means rather that the something which is already there in terms of its Being must be freed in the ready-to-hand and discovered by our circumspectful concern. In other words we must let the entity which has this Being be encountered for what it is.

So here Heidegger acknowledges explicitly that entities are not called into being by the ready-to-hand, for that would be akin to the kind of divine fiat that God performs in Genesis "let their be light and there was light". Our notion of entities does not begin with 'the word,' but with our involvements within the world.

A Priori' Letting-Some Thing- Be-Involved.

The freeing of an entities Being through the ready-to-hand Heidegger call an 'a priori' letting-some thing- be-involved. This 'a priori' [from the Latin for 'before'] is the condition for the possibility of encountering anything ready-to-hand, so that Dasein, in its ontical dealings with entities when thus encountered, can thereby let them be involved in the ontical sense. This is actually the logic that underpins the sense of differentiation behind the tautology that "things are things." For if we look deeper into this ontical statement we realise that things are only things if we are already aware of their existence, (in the sense that their existence is defined by our prior involvement with them).

On the other hand, when letting something be involved is understood ontologically, what is then pertinent is the freeing of everything which has the potential to be ready to hand in that something.

In other words there is a whole host of different ways an entity can be ready to hand. This is illustrated in Robert Pirsig's Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Pirsig describes the feeling of being stuck, in the context of trying to fix a motorcycle and reaching a stage where the problem gets the better of his understanding. Here Pirsig says of 'stuckness,' that it is not the objective qualities that are important, for when you are trying to mend something there is no objective 'you' and 'it.' To be immersed in a problem is in fact to lose all sense of differentiation between object and subject. When one experiences stuckness, what is of primary important to the solution of a problem is the care you take in solving it. Pirsig talks about the difficulties of trying to extract a screw whose head has broken off. He says to solve this problem you could try any number of strategies, solvents, drilling, or burning it out. You may even

"come up with some new way of extracting it that has never been thought of before and that beats all the rest and it patentable and makes you a millionaire five years from now. The solutions are all simple--after you have arrived at them. But there simply only when you know already what they are." (Pirsig 2000, page 287)

This illustrates that the ready to hand, is not fixed, nor is it bound to the object itself, but rather the solutions to the problem may be many and varied because they are located in involvement structures. And when the solutions is discovered it is the right solution, (even though it may be one of many) because it is premised on the structures of involvements that make up the world for us.

In this ontological context it does not matter whether and entity is involved or not, or if it is an entity that is not yet existent. (For ontically speaking to say that something does not exist is to say that it is not involved at all).Ontologically those entities are those with which we concern ourselves when we do not let them 'be' as we have discovered them, but that work upon them, make improvements in them, or smash them to pieces.

When we speak of having already let something be involved, so that it has been freed for that involvement, we are using a Perfect tense a priori which characterise the kind of Being belonging to Dasein itself.

As a reminder for those whose grammar is a little creaky, perfect tense formed by using the word ‘have’ plus the past participle of the verb. For example, ‘I have let something be involved,’ or ‘She has begun to understand Heidegger.’

'Letting an entity be involved,' if we understand this ontologically, consists in previously freeing it for its readiness-to-hand within the environment. (118) A 'thing' is never 'world-stuff ' that is merely some 'thing' present-at-hand. Our concern encounters it as ready-to-hand. Heidegger describes this as a relation: the extent that an entity shows itself to our concern, is the extent to which it is discovered in its Being. Therefore it is already something ready-to-hand for it to be considered a thing.


Discoverdness is Heidegger's term for a possibility of Being which every entity without the character of Dasein may possess.

Discoverdness is really the hook on which this argument hangs. Discoveredness is a concept which we implicitly acknowledge the presence of an involvement in every act of creation or inspiration. This involvement is experienced as the feeling that our creations did not come sui generis from out of our heads but from somewhere else entirely. Permit me to illustrate this with a personal example. For example I write songs for the pleasure and challenge of doing something creative. On occasions a song's birth is a long and arduous process. Although at other times, a song can be written in the time it takes to play. When this happens it is accompanied by a feeling of pure elation. This I liken to experiencing discovery in its most powerful form. For the dominant emotion attached to discovery is astonishment - "How did that happen?". The feeling of astonishment derives from the sense that it is not me who was in control of the process of giving birth to this song. Although I was notionally its author, the song came from somewhere else. The act of creation feels like the realising the existence of something which is already there. It may sound rather grand to say it, but I think the role of a songwriter is to help the song sing itself into existence.

The Ontological Priority of Involvements

If the Being of something ready-to-hand is to be discoverd, an involvement itself has to be discovered. And this occurs only on the basis of the prior discovery of a totality of involvements. So in any involvement that has been discovered what we have called the "worldly character" of the ready-to-hand, which has been discovered beforehand.

Therefore In this totality of involvements discovered beforehand, there lurks an ontological relationship to the world. In letting entities be involved so that they are freed for a totality of involvements, one must have disclosed already that for which they have been freed. And it is no surprise to discover what the primary 'for the sake of which' from which the structure of involvements emerge is Dasein's Being-in-the-world. Past, present and future belong to this Being. In terms of our existence then we can say that, 'Dasein,' 'Being' and 'the world' are all that ever were, or is, or will be.

But the world itself cannot itself be conceived as an entity with this discovered kind of Being. Because there always has to be a "for which" in order that something ready-to-hand can been freed. Since in terms of the world, there can be no further regress, no uncovering that which is before Dasein and the World. The world itself is therefore essentially not discoverable as an entity, since there is no assignment to free the world for the world in its Being.

Thus I presume that by the same prohibition Dasein is prevented from discovering itself, and so too is Being - except in the general, structural sense that Heidegger has outlined.

Dasein's Understanding of Being

But what does it mean to say that that for which entities within-the-world are proximally freed must have been previously disclosed? As Heidegger has already stated Dasein is that which has a reflexive understanding of its own being, thus: to Dasein's Being, an understanding of Being already belongs.

Any understanding has its Being in an act of understanding. If Being-in-the-world is a kind of Being which is essentially befitting to Dasein, then to understand Being-in-the-world belongs to the essential content of its understanding of Being.

The previous disclosure of that which we encounter within-the-world results in the subsequently freeing of an entity within the world. This amounts to nothing else than an understanding the world, towards which Dasein as an entity always comports itself. The horizon of understanding is therefore constituted by the understanding of Dasein and the world, and since there can be no further involvements beyond Dasein's Being-in-the-world, this is a horizon beyond which nothing can be said to exist.



Anything which serves as the basis for involvements, must be disclosed beforehand with a certain intelligibility. And it is only with a certain intelligibility of the primordial involvement that every other involvement is subsequently disclosed. Or to flip this around, intelligibility designates Dasein's awareness that every new involvement is grounded on a previous involvement and the ultimately all these involvements have to be grounded on something which is the primordial involvement. This involvement is the primary 'towards which' of Dasein's involvement with the world - the wherein in which (119) Dasein understands Being-in-the-world pre-ontologically?


The authenticity/inauthenticity of Dasein assigning itself

Being in the world as the primary 'in order to' clarifies why the authenticity or inautheticity of Dasein is the ground on which Dasein's Being stands, so to speak. In understanding a context of relations, Dasein assigns itself to an "in-order-to", and it does in terms of a potentiality-for-Being for the sake of which it itself is.

We all are aware, to a greater or lesser extent, of the strengths and limitations of our Being. This knowledge is what determines the kinds of choices we make in our lives. Code deontologies like the ten commandments are premised on the fact that we have a choice. Although these ethical codes presuppose that the choice is essentially between right way and the wrong way - not a choice at all, in any meaningful sense. Heidegger also presupposes a binary distinction based on a choice between authenticity and inauthenticity. Dasein can chose itself and win itself, or conversely lose itself and never win itself, or perhaps only seem to do so [ref. ¶ 9, Page 68]. Of the choices presented here, seeming to live an authentic life collapses into inauthenticity, so the choices are really only two: living an authentic life or living an inauthentic one. Is this really a choice at all?

The wherein of Being = the phenomenon of the world

The "wherein" of Being is an act of understanding which assigns or refers itself to itself and lets entities be encountered in the kind of Being that belongs to involvements;

This is where Dasein itself becomes, as it were, the piece of equipment assigned to itself, for the job of realising itself in the nexus of involvements that is the world. The wherein of Being is where Dasein lets itself in the first instance Be involved. Here is where Dasein frees itself as an entity within the world.

The "wherein" of Being is Dasein's involvement with the phenomenon of the world. And the structure of that to which Dasein assigns itself is also what makes up the worldhood of the world.

The wherein of Being is therefore no just where Dasein frees itself but where Dasein frees the world also, since Dasein and the world are reciprocally involved with one another.

The Ontological Structure of The World

Now that he has further clarified the purpose of worldhood, Heidegger's task is to articulate the ontological structure of the world. His first move is to emphasis again that Dasein always assigns itself, "for-the-sake-of-which" a "with-which" of an involvement..

The worldhood of the world

The structure of that to which Dasein assigns itself is what is important here not the actual assignment. This structure is what makes up the worldhood of the world and it is something Dasein is always primordially familiar with. This familiarity with the world (structure) does not necessarily require that the relations which are constitutive for the world should be theoretically transparent. However, the possibility of giving these relations an explicit ontologico-existential interpretation, is grounded in this familiarity with the world; and this familiarity, in turn, is constitutive for Dasein, because it constitutes the wherein of Dasein's understanding of Being.

In so far as Dasein has set itself the task of giving a primordial Interpretation for its own Being, it can be seized upon explicitly and this is how we will begin to make the possibilities of Being theoretically transparent, and indeed approach and understanding of the meaning of Being in general.


Dasein's assigning of itself

But as yet our analyses have done no more than lay bare the horizon within which such things as 'the world' and 'worldhood' are to be sought. If we are to consider these further, we must clarify further how the context of Dasein's 'assigning-itself' is to be grasped ontologically.


Heidegger first manoeuvre is to examine the act of discovery itself. The word discovery presupposes that no find is absolutely novel. For the absolutely novel lies outside of our understanding. Therefore discovery is linking one involvement with another. The act of discovery is also one of understanding. The understanding it that Dasein realises that the relations which are discovered when it lets something be involved must have been previously disclosed. This is the true meaning of discovery after all. In fact Heidegger says that any act of understanding is the purposeful grasping and holding of these involvement relations in their disclosedness. Disclosedness is Heideggarian term related to discovery, that underscores the fact that new knowledge is derived from discovery of new relations between involvements rather than things. Disclosedness therefore can be regarded as Dasein purposefully attempting to hold these relations before itself, in order to understand them. Through this action of disclosedness Dasein discovers how its various assignments operate in relation with one another. Disclosedness is therefore the understanding that lets Dasein make assignments both of these relationships and in them.

Signifying and Significance

The relational character which these relationships of assigning possess, is one of signifying. The existence of an involvement is like a sign, in that it can be used to point to the existence of other involvements. Once one understands the necessary inter-dependence of structures involvements, all one needs to do is look for them - this is letting something be involved. But on a more primordial level, Dasein 'signifies' to itself giving to itself both its Being and its potentiality-for-Being. Dasein also signifies to itself an understanding with regard to its Being-in-the-world. The "for-the-sake-of-which" signifies an "in-order-to"; this in turn, a "towards-this"; the latter being an "in-which" of letting something be involved; and therefore also, the "with-which" of an involvement.

This sentence is so difficult to follow because there are no objects in it, and therefore nothing to orientate the reader and guide her interpretation. In fact this is because the objects are superfluous and potentially misguiding. Heidegger is more concerned that you notice the structure than get hung up about what these assignments actually are. All of the "towards which" and "for the sake of which" terms he is using undermine the potentially thingly character of the nodal points in these structure, while emphasising the structures of involvements themselves, as well outlining how they interconnect. These structures are the very structures of our Being. They represent the resolutions we make in the case of authentic Being, or avoid making in the case of inauthentic Being. And they determine our personal conduct in our life. Still it may be argued that this could be expressed a little more clearly. Which is quite true, but Heidegger has other reasons of keeping this deliberately vague which will be discussed in section B or this part. For now it will suffice to realise that this is important do not try to pick it apart too much yet. I think the best way to appreciate what Heidegger is talking about is firstly by thinking on what discovery means. For here is an instance where we implicitly acknowledge the existence of pre-existent structures. And secondly realising that these structures do not lie outside of us, but are in fact shaped by us as part of our very being.


These relationships are bound up with one another as a primordial totality; This system of relations, so to speak, between Dasein, Being and the world is what it is because Dasein, Being and the world are what they are. They can be discerned as a 'signifying,' in which Dasein gives itself beforehand its Being-in-the-world as something to be understood. The self evident proposition that "I exist" presupposes that I have existence in a world which also exists. For if it were otherwise it would be hard to discover what existence is (this is one of the problems with Descartes famous cogito ergo sum). For the statement "I exist" to mean anything, "I" and "the world" must already exist before the realisation can be thought - this is the relational totality of this signifying we call 'significance'.

Significance is what makes up the structure of the world-the structure of that wherein Dasein as such already is.

Dasein, and its familiarity with significance, is the ontical condition for the possibility of discovering anything that it encounters within the world in terms of involvement (In fact the discovery that I exist is the sin qua non of involvements. It is the primordial involvements that is the ground upon which all the others are built. And it is in this involvements that we discover the primordial ready-to-hand, that which Dasein itself is ready-to-hand for.

Dasein reflexively encounters itself in these involvements as the kind of Being that can make itself known to itself as it is in itself. Dasein, as such, is always something of this sort and a context of the ready-to-hand already having been discovered along with its Being,. Dasein, in so far as it is, has always submitted-' itself already to a 'world.'

If we flip this proposition around, we can also approach a definition of the phenomenon of the world. The world is that which Dasein has already encountered and submitted to and this act of submission' belongs essentially to its Being.


Dasein's capacity to understand and interpret

But in the significance itself, with which Dasein is always familiar, there lurks the ontological condition which makes possible Dasein's ability to disclose such things as 'significations.' This ability, more properly these abilities for there are two, are Dasein's capacity to understand and interpret. For Dasein is after all separated from other beings because of its ability to understand and interpret. These abilities then are what sets the ontological condition for disclosure and the significance, thus disclosed, is an existential state of Dasein. That is to say, a state of its Being-in-the-world. As such it is also the ontical condition for the possibility that a totality of involvements can be discovered.

Significance comes before Language

Interestingly, Heidegger also adds that the Being of words and of language is also founded upon these abilities. This is a big claim, as it suggests the ability to understand and interpret significance comes before language. Which means that language makes no fundamental contribution to our understanding of significance itself and that therefore there is no reciprocity between the sign and its reference. However, I think it can be convincingly argued that this process is dialectical rather than a causal. If we take the example of a road sign warning of animals crossing [my example ¶17, page 111] we can say that, while it is true signification needs to be experienced before a sign can be put up, It can also be argued that an understanding of the role of the sign itself (to signify this significance) it at least as important as an understanding of the significance itself.

Magical Thinking

Heidegger seems to refute this. He posits a simple determination: significance comes before sign. But I think the converse can just as convincingly be argued. In the case of magical thinking, for instance, this reciprocity between the sign and the significance was consciously exploited. The witch doctor or shaman would attempt to evoke the significance merely by producing the sign in rituals. Heidegger interestingly forestalled any legitimisation of this line of inquiry by disparaging the consideration of magic as being important (see his remarks on 'primitive Dasein' [ref. ¶16, page 112 - 113]). And yes, here we can argue that the realisation of significance must be in place before it can be reversed in the magical ritual. But I ask, what kind of significance is this. Is it a preconscious something that lacks a means of expression? Or is it and significance that can be articulated in language? Heidegger suggests it is the former. But is this unarticulated significance by itself powerful enough to determine the means of its articulation? Or does it need to be articulated in order to realise its own power? In other words does the power of significance not grow in being expressed in signs? Is this process then not dialectical?


If the case of money is examined, I would argue that we can detect the remnants of this magical thinking in our own society. For the way we regard money has been subject to a dynamic change over time, which I argue is illustrative of the dynamic dialectical relationship between the sign and the significance contributing to the power of both in the history of our culture. In medieval times there was little or no money and it was made of precious metals like gold. Therefore money did not signify value since it was already valuable in itself. However, it was not until the twentieth century that the indexical relationship between gold lodged in the bank of England or in Fort Knox in the US, was dropped in favour of a completely symbolic relationship of monetary exchange. And what better symbol could you have of this then the credit card? In conclusion I argue that money is an illusion and yet we treat money as if it were still made of gold. Therefore I pose this question, if the relationship between significance is a simple determination, and such a strong one that even language is formed out primordial significance. How is it that the relationship between the sign and the significance can be subject to such a dynamic changes and even reversals over time, as in the case with magical thinking and money?

A system of Relations?

In this last section, Heidegger has seemingly determined that

1/ the Being of the ready-to-hand is definable as a context of assignments or references (involvements),

2/ so that even worldhood may so be defined.

Does this not mean that there exists no 'substantial Being' of entities within- the-world, but instead that all this Being consists of it a system of Relations?

Does this not mean also that the Being of entities within-the-world has been dissolved into 'pure thinking'? Inasmuch as Relations are always thought of rather than perceived directly,

The answer to both these questions is no, but the explanation is complex. Remember in section 4 that Heidegger outlined four possible ways of perceiving the world:

  1. World signifies the totality of things which can be present-at-hand within the world.
  2. World signifies the Being of those things within the world.
  3. World is the place where a factical Dasein 'lives.
  4. World designates the ontologico-existential concept of Worldhood [ref. ¶14, page 93].

Heidegger has developed these initial conceptions in the last few sections, but now he notes that, within the present field of his investigation, several ontological problematics have had to be kept analytically distinct:

  1. the Being of those entities within-the-world which we proximally encounter as ready-to-hand;
  2. the Being of those entities whose nature we can determine if we discover them in their own right by going through the entities that we proximally encounter as present-at-hand;
  3. the Being of that ontical condition which makes it possible for entities within-the-world to be discovered at all. In other words, the worldhood of the world.
  4. The worldhood of the world that gives us an existential way of determining the nature of Being-in-the-world, that is, of Dasein.

The third and fourth concepts are Existentialia, while the other two are categories, because they pertain to entities whose Being is not of the kind which Dasein possesses [ref. ¶ 9, page 71].

A system of Relations?

While it is true that the context of assignments or references, which, as significance, is constitutive for worldhood, can be taken formally in the sense of a system of Relations, Heidegger is reluctant to formalise this system too much. (Hence all the "for the sake of which" vague terminology in the preceding section). The problem with such formalisations Heidegger notes is that the phenomena get levelled off so much that their real phenomenal content may be lost. This is especially the case of such 'simple' relationships as those which lurk in significance. The phenomenal content of these 'Relations' and (122) 'Relata' the "in-order-to", the "for-the-sake-of", and the "with-which" of an involvement is such that they resist any sort of mathematical functionalisation despite the fact that they appear formal. However, these relations are not just formal and are not merely something created in an 'act of thinking.'


Against the Mathematisation of Being

These systems of Relations (so called) are better described as relationships in which concernful-circumspection already dwells. While it is true that system of relations', are analytically constitutive for worldhood, they do not create the Being of the ready-to-hand within-the-world. Because it is actually worldhood itself that forms the basis on which such entities as systems of relations can be discovered. And they are not discovered notionally either, but as they are, 'substantially' 'in themselves'. Entities must have already encountered within-the-world, in order to make accessible what is present-at-hand.

The Substance Trap

These entities can have their 'properties' defined mathematically in 'functional concepts. But that does not mean that these concepts are constitutive of the entities themselves. Because, ontologically, such concepts are only possible in relation to entities whose Being has the character of pure substantiality. And this is a problem, because like language the very assumptions on which mathematics are grounded presuppose a Cartesian kind of ontology, involving substance, which is precisely the kind ontology that Heidegger is seeking to overthrow. Functional concepts are not granted even the possibility of being anything more than insubstantial concepts. In order to explain why this is wrong, Heidegger must explain how Descartes himself got it wrong

Therefore To bring the specifically ontological problematic of worldhood more sharply into focus, Heidegger will pursue this analysis no further until he has explicated a critique of Descartes. He will do this in order to clarify his own Interpretation of worldhood (in the negative sense) by demolishing the opposition.

B. A Contrast between our Analysis of Worldhood and Descartes' Interpretation of the World

The concept of worldhood and the structures wherein that this phenomenon embraces can only secured if this investigation proceeds step by step. The reason the tradition of philosophy has continually failed to grasp the phenomena of the world successfully will now be examined in more detail.

Firstly we should note that, Descartes begins his Interpretation of the world by examining some entity within-the-world. However we should not that if this is done, then the phenomenon of the world in general no longer comes into view.

In order to critique this Heidegger will do two things.

1/ briefly outline the basic features of the Cartesian view.

2/ Compare it with his ontological understanding of worldhood.

In doing this Heidegger's aim is to disclose the undiscussed ontological 'foundations' of the Cartesian Interpretations of the world.

Descartes' extensio

Descartes basically sees the extensio (extension) as ontologically definitive of the world. Extension is the core constituent of Cartesian spatiality, it is the idea that a fixed point in space can be extended along X, Y, or Z axes to create a geometrical solid. This is then a fundamentally a mathematical view of space. Heidegger asks how can this abstract and mathematical theory be constitutive of the world?


With regard to Descartes' ontology there are three topics which need to be examined:

  1. The definition of the 'world' as res extensa (Section 19)
  2. The foundations of this ontological definition (Section 20);
  3. And a hermeneutical discussion of the Cartesian ontology of the 'world' (Section 21).

The latter point will not be properly appreciated until the 'cogito sum' has been phenomenologically demolished.


Go back to the previous section

Continue to next section



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

Additional Reference

Pirsig, Robert M. (1999), Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, London: Vintage.


This is the seventh 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.

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