вторник, 5 января 2016 г.

Stephen Mulhall THE HUMAN WORLD: SCEPTICISM, COGNITION AND AGENCY (M. Heidegger Being and Time, §§9–24)

The first division of Being and Time presents a preparatory fundamental analysis of Dasein. It is fundamental in so far as Heidegger’s concern is ontological, or more precisely existential. He does not aim to list all of Dasein’s possible existentiell modes, or to analyse any one of them, or to rely upon assumptions about human nature that have hitherto guided anthropologists, psychologists or philosophers. Instead, he offers a critical evaluation of those assumptions by developing an existential analytic of Dasein that truly allows Dasein’s Being to show itself in itself and for itself. However, this fundamental analytic is also preparatory: its conclusions will not provide the terminus of his investigation, but rather a starting point from which it can be deepened, revealing the fundamental relationship between the Being of Dasein and temporality. In this sense, the first division prepares the way for the second.

The overall structure of this first division is reasonably perspicuous. An account of Dasein’s average everydayness is used to demonstrate that the Being of Dasein is Being-in-the-world, which is an essentially unitary or holistic phenomenon. Heidegger thereby contests the Cartesian understanding of the human way of being as essentially compound, a synthesis of categorially distinct elements (i.e. of mind and body) in a purely material world. Nonetheless, the hyphenated elements of Being-in-the-world are relatively autonomous; so Heidegger provides separate analyses of the notion of ‘world’, then of the being who inhabits that world with others of its kind, and finally of the element of ‘Being-in’ itself. He concludes by revealing that the Being of Dasein as Being-in-the-world is founded upon and unified by what he calls ‘care’. This chapter will focus upon the critique of Descartes that follows from Heidegger’s analysis of the worldhood of the world; Chapter 2 will examine Dasein’s relations with others and with its own affective and cognitive states; and Chapter 3 will elucidate the conceptions of language, reality and truth that follow from this conception of human existence as essentially conditioned by its world and by those with whom it occupies that world. Our discussion of Division One as a whole will conclude by elucidating the notion that Dasein’s Being is essentially care (Chapter 4).

Two assumptions about the distinctive character of Dasein orient this analysis from the outset – assumptions which Heidegger initially presents simply as intuitively plausible, but later tries to elaborate more satisfactorily. The first (already introduced) is that Dasein’s Being is an issue for it. The continuance of its life, and the form that life takes, confront it as questions to which it must find answers that it then lives out – or fails to. The second is this: ‘that Being which is an issue for this entity in its very Being, is in each case mine’ (BT, 9: 67). In part, this merely draws out one implication of the first assumption; for any entity that chooses to live in a particular way makes that existential possibility its own – that way to be becomes its way to be, that possibility becomes its own existentiell actuality. This is why Heidegger glosses his talk of Dasein’s ‘mineness’ by saying that one must use personal pronouns when addressing it. It is his way of capturing the sense in which beings of this type are persons, but without employing such prejudicial philosophical terms as ‘consciousness’, ‘spirit’, or ‘soul’; he thereby asserts that they have, if not individuality, then at least the potential for it.

These two characteristics sharply distinguish Dasein from material objects and most animals. As I emphasized earlier, tables and chairs cannot relate themselves to their own Being, not even as a matter of indifference. They have properties, some of which (what Heidegger will term their ‘categories’) go to make up their essence, but Dasein has – or rather is – possibilities; in so far as it has an essence, it consists in existence (whose distinguishing marks Heidegger labels ‘existentialia’). But this means that human lives, unlike those of other creatures, are capable of manifesting individuality. Birds and rabbits live out their lives in ways determined by imperatives and behaviour patterns deriving from their species-identity; they instantiate their species. However, entities whose Being is in each case mine can allow what they are to be informed by, or infused with, who they are (or can fail to do so):


Because Dasein is in each case essentially its own possibility, it can, in its very Being, ‘choose’ itself and win itself; it can also lose itself and never win itself; or only ‘seem’ to do so. But only insofar as it is essentially something which can be authentic – that is, something of its own – can it have lost itself and not yet won itself. As modes of Being, authenticity and inauthenticity . . . are both grounded in the fact that any Dasein whatsoever is characterized by mineness.
                                                                                                                  (BT, 9: 68)

Since tables and rabbits do not, in the relevant sense, exist, they cannot be said to exist authentically or inauthentically; but since entities with the Being of Dasein do exist, they can do so either authentically or inauthentically. Inauthentic existence is not a diminution of Being; it is no less real than authentic existence. Nor is Heidegger’s talk of (in)authenticity intended to embody any sort of value-judgement; it simply connotes one more distinguishing characteristic of any entity whose Being is an issue for it.

Nevertheless, this particular characteristic of Dasein motivates two other aspects of Heidegger’s procedures in this part of his book. The first is the initial focus of his analysis. As we saw earlier, in order to minimize the prejudicial effects of culturally sedimented human self-understandings, he intends to orient his existential analytic around an account of Dasein in its most common, average everydayness – an essentially undifferentiated state, in which no definite existentiell mode has typically been made concrete. However, as one mode of Dasein’s existence, average everydayness must also be subject to evaluation in terms of authenticity; and, according to Heidegger, it is in fact inauthentic. Although it can, therefore, perfectly legitimately be analysed in order to reveal Dasein’s basic existential structures, it must not be thought of as somehow more authentic or genuine than the existentiell states typically focused upon by philosophers – states appropriate to theoretical cognition or scientific endeavour, for example.

The second thing worth noting here is Heidegger’s observation that, despite the distinctiveness of Dasein’s mode of Being, it is constantly interpreted in ways that fail to acknowledge it; in particular, the ontological structures appropriate to the Being of substances and physical objects are projected upon the Being of Dasein. We tend to understand Dasein in terms of what-being, as if it were possessed of an essence from which its characteristics flow in the way that a rock’s properties flow from its underlying nature; we interpret ourselves as just one more entity among all the entities we encounter. Heidegger’s analysis of Dasein as Being-in-the-world reveals the misconceptions underlying this interpretation; but its very prevalence, the fact that a misunderstanding of its own Being is so commonly held by the being to whom an understanding of its own Being properly and uniquely belongs, requires explanation.

Присутствие есть всегда своя возможность и «имеет» ее не всего лишь свойством как нечто наличное. И поскольку присутствие есть по сути всегда своя возможность, это сущее может в своем бытии «выбрать» само себя, найти, может потерять себя, соотв. никогда и лишь «мнимо» найти. Потерять себя и пока еще не найти себя оно может лишь поскольку по своей сути оно в возможности собственное, т.е. само свое. Два бытийных модуса собственности и несобственности – эти выражения избраны терминами в строгом смысле слова – коренятся в том, что присутствие вообще определяется через всегда-мое.
(Бытие и Время. Глава 9)

Поскольку столы и кролики не экзистируют – о них нельзя сказать, что они экзистируют собственно или несобственно. Но поскольку сущие с бытием присутствия экзистируют, они могут делать это собственно или несобственно. Несобственная экзистенция не есть уменьшение бытия – она не менее реальна, чем собственная экзистенция. Также, Хайдеггер не стремится воплотить в собственности или несобственности какую-либо ценностную оценку. Он просто отмечает это как одну из черт, отличающих сущее, сущность которого, лежит в его 'быть'.

Однако, эта специфическая черта присутствия мотивирует два других аспекта.

1)      Начальный фокус его анализа. С целью минимизировать вредное действие культурных наслоений человеческого самопонимания, он стремится направить свою экзистенциальную аналитику на присутствие в его наиболее общей, усреднённой повседневности – сущностно недифференцированное состояние, в котором не определён бытийный модус. Однако, как модус бытия присутствия, усреднённая повседневность должна также быть темой оценки в терминах собственности, и, по Хайдеггеру, фактически она несобственна. Хотя она может, по этой причине, совершенно законно быть проанализирована в порятке вскрытия основных экзистентных структур присутствия, она не может быть помыслена как нечто более собственное и подлинное чем экзистенциальные состояния, на которых обычно фокусируются философы – состояния связанные, например с теоретическим и научным познанием.

2)      Хайдеггер отмечает, что, несмотря на исключительность способа бытия присутствия, оно постоянно толкуется ошибочно. В частности, онтологические структуры, соответствующие бытию субстанций и физических объектов проецируются на бытие присутствия. Мы стремимся понять присутствие в терминах 'sosein' (бытие-как-оно-есть), как если оно обладало сущностью, из которой его черты вытекают, как свойства камня вытекают из его лежащей в основе природы. Мы истолковываем самих себя как одно из сущих встречаемых среди других сущих. Хайдегггеров анализ присутствия как бытия-в-мире вскрывает заблуждения, обосновывающие его толкование, но преобладание этих заблуждений, факт, что непонимание своего собственного бытия сущим, которому бытие принадлежит, требует прояснения. 



 And his claim that authenticity is an existentiale of Dasein (i.e. that it is one of its existentialia) helps to provide it. For, if Dasein’s average everyday state is inauthentic, then the self-understanding it embodies will be equally inauthentic; indeed, one of the distinguishing marks of Dasein’s being in such a state will be its failure to grasp that which ought to be closest to it, to be most fully its own. And since philosophical enquiry is itself something that ordinary human beings do, an aspect of practical activity in human culture, the conceptions of human nature that emerge from it are likely to be similarly inauthentic.

This diagnostic move does not completely solve Heidegger’s problem; for any entity capable of inauthentic existence must also be capable of authentic existence, so we still need to know why we typically end up in the former rather than the latter state – whether in philosophy or everyday life. Nonetheless, recognizing the possibility of inauthenticity at least makes it intelligible that beings, to whom an understanding of their own Being belongs, might enact their everyday existence within an inauthentic self-understanding, and proclaim that understanding as the epitome of philosophical wisdom.


THE CARTESIAN CRITIQUE (§§12–13)


The question of the human relationship with the external world has been central to Western philosophy at least since Descartes; and standard modern answers to it have shared one vital feature. Descartes dramatizes the issue by depicting himself seated before a fire and contemplating a ball of wax; when searching for the experiential roots of causation, Hume imagines himself as a spectator of a billiards game; and Kant’s disagreement with Hume’s analysis leads him to portray himself watching a ship move downriver. In other words, all three explore the nature of human contact with the world from the viewpoint of a detached observer of that world, rather than as an actor within it. Descartes does talk of moving his ball of wax nearer to the fire, but his practical engagement with it goes no further; Hume does not imagine himself playing billiards; and Kant never thinks to occupy the perspective of one of those sailing the ship. Being and Time shifts the focus of the epistemological tradition away from this conception of the human being as an unmoving point of view upon the world. Heidegger’s protagonists are actors rather than spectators, and his narratives suggest that exclusive reliance upon the image of the spectator has seriously distorted philosophers’ characterizations of human existence in the world.


Of course, no traditional philosopher would deny that human life is lived within a world of physical objects. If, however, these objects are imagined primarily as objects of vision, then that world is imagined primarily as a spectacle – a series of tableaux or a play staged before us; and the world of a play is one from which its audience is essentially excluded – they may look in on the world of the characters, but they do not participate in or inhabit it. Such a picture has deep attractions. A world that one does not inhabit is a world in which one is not essentially implicated and by which one is not essentially constrained; it is no accident that this spectator model attributes to the human perspective on the world the freedom and transcendence traditionally attributed to that of God. But there are also drawbacks: for the model also makes it seem that the basic human relation with objects is one of mere spatial contiguity, that persons and objects are juxtaposed with one another just as one object might be juxtaposed with another. As Heidegger puts it, it will be as if human beings are ‘in’ the world in just the way that a quantity of water is in a glass; and this distorts matters in two vital respects.

First, it makes this inhabitation seem like a contingent or secondary fact about human existence, rather than something which is of its essence; the water in a glass might be poured out of it without affecting its watery nature, but the idea of a human life that is not lived ‘in’ the world is not so easy to comprehend. Astronauts travelling beyond our planet would not thereby divest
themselves of a world in the sense that interests Heidegger. Even Christian doctrines which posit a continuing personal life after our departure from the world of space and time conceive of it as
involving the possession of a (resurrected) body and the inhabitation of another (heavenly) world – an environment within which they might live, move and otherwise enact their transfigured being. Heidegger’s use of the term ‘Dasein’, with its literal meaning of ‘there-being’ or ‘being-there’, to denote the human way of being emphasizes that human existence is essentially Being-in-the-world; in effect, it affirms an internal relation between ‘human being’ and ‘world’. If two concepts are internally related, then a complete grasp of the meaning of either requires grasping its connection with the other, although the two concepts are not thereby conflated. For example, pain is not reducible to pain-behaviour, but no one could grasp the meaning of the concept of pain without a grasp of what counts as behaviour expressive of pain. Heidegger’s view is that the human way of being is similarly incomprehensible in isolation from a grasp of the world in which it ‘is’.


The second problem with the ‘spatial contiguity’ model of the relation between human beings and their world is that it obliterates its distinctive nature – the proper significance of the ‘in’ in

‘Being in-the-world’. For Heidegger, a human being confronting an object is not like one physical object positioned alongside another. A table might touch a wall, in the sense that there may be zero space between the two entities, but it cannot encounter the wall as a wall – the wall is not an item in the table’s world. Only Dasein, the being to whom an understanding of Being belongs, can touch a wall in the sense that it can grasp it as such.

The ambiguity of this last phrase is instructive. Heidegger is not suggesting that philosophers such as Descartes ignored the comprehending nature of human relations to objects – after all, Descartes holds up his ball of wax precisely in order to demonstrate that human reason can penetrate to the essence of reality. But human beings can attain not only a mental or theoretical grip on objects, but also a physical or practical one – they can literally grasp them. The things Dasein encounters are usable, employable in the pursuit of its purposes: in Heidegger’s terms, they are not just present-at-hand, the object of theoretical contemplation, but handy or ready-to-hand. That is the way in which Dasein encounters them when it looks after something or makes use of it, accomplishes something or leaves something undone, renounces something or takes a rest. Dasein not only comprehends the objects in its world, but also concerns itself with them (or fails to); and Heidegger feels that philosophers not only tend to pass over this phenomenon but are also unable to account for its possibility

A Cartesian philosopher might respond to Heidegger’s charge by arguing that, although she may not have paid much attention to practical interactions with the world, she can perfectly well account for readiness-to-hand on the basis of her understanding of presence-at-hand. True, Descartes’ ball of wax lies on his palm, detached from any immediate practical task and from the complex array of other objects and other persons within which such tasks are pursued. The features which make it so handy for sealing letters and making candles appear as its present-at-hand characteristics, the focus of the philosopher’s speculative gaze. But that gaze reveals the properties which account for its handiness for letter-writers and churchwardens; and the practical contexts within which it is so employed can be understood as compounded from a complex array of similarly present-at-hand objects and their properties, together with a story about how values and meanings are projected upon the natural world by the human mind. Such an account would demonstrate that presence-athand is logically and metaphysically prior to readiness-to-hand; and if it is explanatorily the more fundamental concept, philosophers should be concentrating their attention upon it.

A more detailed account of how such a strategy might work will emerge later. It is important, however, to be clear in advance about what Heidegger is and is not claiming against its proponents. He does not argue that the primacy such philosophers accord to theoretical cognition and presence-at-hand should instead be accorded to practical activity and handiness – as if building a chair were more imbued with the Being of Dasein than sitting in it to contemplate a ball of wax. Readiness-to-hand is not metaphysically prior to presence-at-hand. He does claim that focusing exclusively on theoretical contemplation tends to obscure certain ontologically significant aspects of that mode of activity which stand out more clearly in other sorts of case, and which underpin both. For, if we concentrate on cases where an immobile subject contemplates an isolated object, then our reflections upon it are likely to be significantly skewed. First, in a situation in which the human capacity for agency is idling and our understanding is preoccupied with categories appropriate to the Being of the object before us, we will tend to interpret our own nature in the terms that are readiest-to-hand – as that of one present-at-hand entity next to another. And, second, we will tend to see the relationship between these two isolated entities as itself isolated, as prior to or separable from other elements in the broader context from which we have in theory detached it, but within which that theoretical activity (just like any other activity) must in reality occur. In other words, certain features intrinsic to theoretical cognition encourage us to misinterpret its true nature, to overlook the fact that it is a species of activity, a modified form of practical engagement with the world, and so only possible (as are other, more obviously practical activities) for environed beings, beings whose Being is Being-in-the-world. But, by overlooking our worldliness, we overlook something ontologically central to any form of human activity, theoretical or otherwise; and, if this notion of ‘world’ grounds the possibility of theoretically cognizing present-at-hand objects, it cannot conceivably be explained as a construct from an array of purely present-at-hand properties and a sequence of value-projections. What is ontologically unsound is thus not theoretical cognition or presence-at-hand as such, but rather the (mis)interpretations of them – and the consequent (mis)interpretations of non-theoretical modes of activity – that have hitherto prevailed in philosophy. The true ontological importance of readiness-to-hand is that a careful analysis of it can perspicuously reveal the crucial element missing from those (mis)interpretations – the phenomenon of ‘the world’.


Heidegger’s discussion of Being-in-the-world therefore has a complex structure. First, he must show that practical encounters with ready-to-hand objects are only comprehensible as modes of Being-in-the-world – thus revealing the fundamental role of the hitherto unnoticed phenomenon of ‘the world’. Second, he must show that theoretical encounters with present-to-hand objects are also comprehensible as a mode of Being-in-the-world – thus demonstrating that the species of human activity seemingly most suited to a Cartesian analysis can be accommodated in his own approach. And, third, he must show that a Cartesian account of readiness-to-hand is not possible – thus demonstrating that the phenomenon of ‘the world’ is not comprehensible as a construct from present-at-hand entities and their properties, but must be taken as ontologically primary. In the sections under consideration, Heidegger outlines his attack under the second and third headings – indicating how a phenomenological account can, and why a Cartesian account cannot, make sense of a purely cognitive relationship with entities.

He begins by pointing out that our dealings with the world typically absorb or fascinate us; our tasks, and so the various entities we employ in carrying them out, preoccupy us. Theoretical cognition of entities as present-at-hand should therefore be understood as a modification of such concern, as an emergence from this familiar absorption into a very different sort of attitude:

If knowing is to be possible as a way of determining the nature of the present-at-hand by observing it, then there must first be a deficiency in our having-to-do with the world concernfully. When concern holds back from any kind of producing, manipulating and the like, it puts itself into what is now the sole remaining mode of Being-in, the mode of just tarrying-alongside. In this kind of ‘dwelling’ as a holding-oneself-back from any manipulation or utilization, the perception of the present-at-hand is consummated.

(BT, 13: 88–9)

To call ‘knowing’ a deficient mode of Being-in-the-world does not amount to accusing it of being less real or authentic. It implies only that it – like neglecting or taking a rest from a task – can usefully be contrasted with other sorts of activity that involve making use of objects to get something done. Only in so far as it involves holding back from interaction with objects is it ‘deficient’; in all other senses (and necessarily so, since it is a mode of Being-in-the-world), it is itself a fully-fledged, perfectly legitimate and potentially important way of engaging with objects. Properly understood, knowing – whether this amounts to staring at a malfunctioning tool or analysing a substance in a laboratory – is an activity carried out in a particular context, for reasons that derive from (and with results that are, however indirectly, of significance for) other human activities in other practical contexts. In short, knowing is simply one specific mode of worldly human activity, and so one node in the complex web of such activities that make up a culture and a society.


If, however, it is not properly understood, if we conceptualize it as an isolated relation between present-at-hand subject and present-at-hand object, then we face the challenge of scepticism without any way of accommodating it. For then knowledge must be conceived of as a property or possession of one or the other entity. Since it is clearly not a property of the object known, and not an external characteristic of the knowing subject, it must be an internal characteristic – an aspect of its subjectivity. In this way, the ‘closet of consciousness’ myth is born, and the question inevitably arises: how can the knowing subject ever emerge from its inner sanctum into the external, public realm whose entities with their properties are the supposed object of its ‘knowledge’? How can such a subject ever check the supposed correspondence between its idea of an object and the object itself, when its every foray into the material realm can result only in more ideas with which to furnish its closet? How, indeed, can it ever be sure that there is an object corresponding to its ideas? As Hume famously discovered, no such demonstration is possible; and, when the very concept of an object begins to crumble, it takes with it the companion concept of an external realm, the world within which we claim to encounter objects with a life independent of their being observed by us.

Heidegger’s claim (a claim that the history of philosophical attempts to refute scepticism seems to bear out) is that no answer to these sceptical challenges is possible if the subject–object relationship is understood as the being-together of two present-at-hand entities. If, however, knowing is understood as a mode of Being-in-the-world, the challenge is nullified. For ‘if I “merely” know about some way in which the Being of entities is interconnected . . . I am no less alongside the entities outside in the world than when I originally grasp them’ (BT, 13: 89–90). In short, an analysis of Dasein as essentially Being-in-the-world deprives the sceptic of any possibility of intelligibly formulating her question, whereas a Cartesian analysis deprives us of any possibility of intelligibly answering it.

This may seem like a transparent attempt to beg the question against the sceptic by dismissing the Cartesian model because it fails to refute scepticism, and then helping oneself to the very concepts that scepticism places under suspicion; but it is not. For, remember, the Cartesian investigation is meant to provide an ontologically adequate account of knowing; but, if the terms of that account make scepticism irrefutable, then they exclude the possibility of knowledge – and thereby annihilate the very phenomenon they were intended to explain. In other words, the irrefutability of scepticism in Cartesian terms constitutes a devastating internal obstacle to the Cartesian model of the human relationship to the world. It is unable to characterize coherently the very mode of human engagement with objects that it takes to be the logical and metaphysical foundation of all our interactions with the world. And, of course, Heidegger’s diagnosis locates the root of this inability in a more fundamental weakness in the Cartesian model – its failure to take account of the phenomenon of the world. For its initial interpretation of human knowledge as an isolated relation between two present-at-hand entities entirely omits that phenomenon; and the consequent irrefutability of scepticism is, in effect, a demonstration that it is not possible to arrive at a viable concept of the world if one begins from that starting point – a demonstration that the concept of the world cannot be constructed. One must therefore either reconcile oneself to the loss of the concept altogether, or recognize that any account of the human way of being must make use of it from the outset.

The Cartesian can, of course, protest that, whatever the lessons of the history of philosophy, it is possible to refute the sceptical challenge from within the Cartesian perspective and construct a

viable concept of the world. And, to be sure, Heidegger cannot rely upon past failure as a guarantee of future failure. Nevertheless, the ball is very much in the Cartesian’s court; and, as we delve further into Heidegger’s own account of Dasein as Being-in-the-world, and gain a clearer understanding of exactly what the phenomenon of the world really is, we will discover further powerful reasons for doubting that she will be able to make good her claim.

THE WORLDHOOD OF THE WORLD (§§14–24)

According to Heidegger, the notion of ‘world’ can be used in at least four different ways:
  1. As an ontical concept, signifying the totality of entities that can be present-at-hand within the world.
  2. As an ontological term, denoting the Being of such present-at-hand entities – that without which they would not be beings of that type.
  3. In another ontic sense, standing for that wherein a given Dasein might be said to exist – its domestic or working environment, for example.
  4. In a corresponding ontological (or, rather, existential) sense, applying to the worldhood of the world – to that which makes possible any and every world of the third type.
Heidegger uses the term exclusively in its third sense, although his ultimate goal is to grasp that to which the term applies in its fourth sense. Consequently, the adjective ‘worldly’ and its cognates are properly applicable only to the human kind of Being, with physical objects or other entities described as ‘belonging to the world’ or ‘within-the-world’. Thus, although the world must be such as to accommodate the entities encountered within it, it cannot be understood in the terms appropriate to them. The world in this third sense is one aspect of Dasein’s Being, and so must be understood existentially rather than categorially (to use the Heideggerian terminology we defined in the third section of the Introduction).

Accordingly, to get the phenomenon of the world properly into view, we must locate a type of human interaction with entities that casts light on its own environment. Since certain features of theoretical, purely cognitive relations to objects tend to conceal its worldly background, Heidegger focuses instead upon a more ubiquitous and non-deficient form of human activity – that in which we make use of things, encountering them not as objects of the speculative gaze but as equipment, or more loosely as gear or stuff (as in ‘cricket gear’ or ‘gardening stuff’). In such practical dealings with objects, they appear as ready-to-hand rather than present-at-hand; and this is where Heidegger’s famous hammer makes its appearance:

[H]ammering does not simply have knowledge about the hammer’s character as equipment, but it has appropriated this equipment in a way that could not possibly be more suitable. . . . [T]he less we just stare at the hammer-Thing, and the more we seize hold of it and use it, the more primordial does our relationship to it become, and the more unveiledly is it encountered as that which it is – as equipment. The hammering itself 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 readinessto-hand.

(BT, 15: 98)

Descartes’ ball of wax lies on his palm, the qualities that make it handy for sealing letters and making candles manifest as occurrent properties. But Heidegger’s hammer is caught up amid a carpenter’s labours, one item in a toolbox or workshop, something deployed within and employed to alter the human environment; its properties of weight and strength subserve the final product, the goal of the endeavour.

Thus, the notion of readiness-to-hand brings with it a fairly complex conceptual background that is not so evident when objects are grasped in terms of presence-at-hand, and that Heidegger aims to elucidate – handicapped as always by the fact that philosophers have hitherto ignored it, and so constructed no handy, widely accepted terminology for it. He first points out that the idea of a single piece of equipment makes no sense. Nothing could function as a tool in the absence of what he calls an ‘equipmental totality’ within which it finds a place – a pen exists as a pen only in relation to ink, paper, writing desks, table and so on. Second, the utility of a tool presupposes something for which it is usable, an end product – a pen is an implement for writing letters, a hammer for making furniture. This directedness is the ‘towards-which’ of equipment. Third, such work presupposes the availability of raw material; the hammer can be used to make furniture only if there is wood and metal upon which to work and from which the hammer itself can be made – that ‘whereof’ it is constituted. And, fourth, the end product will have recipients, people who will make use of it, and so whose needs and interests will shape the labour of the person producing the work – whether that labour is part of craft-based, highly individualized modes of production or highly industrialized ones. This is the most obvious point at which what Heidegger calls the ‘public world’ invades that of the workshop; here, it becomes clear that the working environment participates in a larger social world.

A piece of equipment is thus necessarily something ‘in-order-to’: its readiness-to-hand is constituted by the multiplicity of reference or assignment-relations which define its place within a totality of equipment and the practices of its employment. In this sense, any single ready-to-hand object, however isolated or self-contained it may seem, is encountered within a world of work. Even in a working environment, however, this equipmental totality tends to be overlooked. For anyone concentrating on the task at hand will be focusing her attention primarily on the goal of her labours, the correctness of the final product, and the tools she is employing to achieve this will of course be caught up in the production process, rendered invisible by their very handiness. Paradoxically enough, objects become visible as ready-to-hand primarily when they become unhandy in various ways, of which Heidegger mentions three. If a tool is damaged, then it becomes conspicuous as something unusable; if it is absent from its accustomed place in the rack, it obtrudes itself on our attention as something that is not even to hand; and, if we encounter obstacles in our work, things that might have helped us in our task but which instead hinder it, they appear as obstinately unready-to-hand – something to be manhandled out of the way.

In all three cases the ordinary handiness of equipment becomes unreadiness-to-hand, and then presence-at-hand, as our attempts at repair or circumvention focus more exclusively on the occurrent properties with which we must now deal. Such transformations can, of course, occur in other contexts – in particular, whenever we refrain from everyday activities in order to consider the essential nature of objects – which helps explain why we then tend to reach for the category of presence-at-hand; but, in the present context, it can also bestow a certain philosophical illumination. For the unhandiness of missing or damaged objects forces us to consider with what and for what they were ready-to-hand, and so to consider the totality of assignment-relations which underpinned their handiness; and it reveals that handiness as ordinarily inconspicuous, unobtrusive and non-obstinate. In short, precisely because we cannot perform our task, the task itself, and everything that hangs together with it, is brought to our explicit awareness:

[W]hen an assignment has been disturbed – when something is unusable for some purpose – then the assignment becomes explicit. . . . When an assignment to some particular ‘towards-this’ has been thus circumspectively aroused, we catch sight of the ‘towards-this’ itself, and along with it everything connected with the work – the whole ‘workshop’ – as that wherein concern always dwells. The context of equipment is lit up, not as something never seen before, but as a
totality constantly sighted beforehand in circumspection. With this totality, however, the world announces itself.

(BT, 16: 105)

However, although with most pieces of equipment the world only announces itself retrospectively – when that object becomes somehow unhandy and its assignment-relations are disturbed – one type of tool is precisely designed to indicate the worldly context within which practical activity takes place: the sign. Heidegger’s example is a car indicator, and, if we substitute a flashing amber light for his outmoded red arrow, his discussion becomes perfectly clear. In one sense, such a sign is simply one more piece of equipment, a tool whose proper functioning presupposes its place in a complex equipmental totality – one including the car, road-markings, conventions governing how to alter the direction of a car’s travel without disrupting that of other cars, and so on. Only within that social or cultural context can the sudden appearance of a flashing amber light on the right rear bumper of a car signify that it intends to turn right. But that flashing light also lights up the environment within which the car is moving. When pedestrians and other drivers encounter it, they are brought to attend to the pattern of roads and pavements, crossings and traffic lights within which they are moving together with the signalling car, and to their position and intended movements within it. In short, the light indicates the present and intended orientation not only of the signalling car, but also of those to whom its driver is signalling; it provides a focal point around which a traveller’s awareness of a manifold of equipment in the environment through which she is moving can crystallize. Heidegger puts it as follows:

A sign is . . . an item of equipment which explicitly raises a totality of equipment into our circumspection so that together with it the worldly character of the ready-to-hand announces itself.

(BT, 17: 110)

And what the world announces itself as is clearly neither something present-at-hand nor something ready-to-hand. For it is not itself an entity, but rather a web of socially or culturally constituted assignments within which entities can appear as the particular types of object that they are, and which must therefore always be laid out (‘disclosed’, as Heidegger phrases it) in advance of any particular encounter with an object. Growing up in, or otherwise coming to inhabit, a specific culture involves acquiring a practical grasp of the widely ramifying web of concepts, roles, functions and functional interrelations within which that culture’s inhabitants interact with the objects in their environment. Learning to drive a car or to make furniture is a matter of assimilating that network, within which alone specific entities can appear as the entities that they are – as steering wheel, gearstick and kerb, or as tool, handle or chair. This totality makes up what Heidegger means by the world; and precisely because it is not itself an object, it is not typically an object of circumspective concern, even when it emerges from its normal inconspicuousness in ordinary practical activity. In general, it can only be glimpsed ontically in the essentially indirect manner we have just outlined. But Heidegger’s concern is ontological rather than ontic; he wants to utilize such experiences as a means of access to that which underpins and makes possible the now conspicuous web of assignment-relations, to get a secure grasp on the essential nature – the worldhood – of the world.


Any piece of equipment is essentially something ‘in-order-to’: it is encountered as part of a manifold of equipment deployed in the service of a particular task, and so as something essentially serviceable and involved. But the widely ramifying system of reference-relations which go to make up this serviceability has a terminus:

With the ‘towards-which’ of serviceability there can again be an involvement: with this thing, for instance, which is ready-to-hand and which we accordingly call a ‘hammer’, there is an involvement in hammering; with hammering there is an involvement in making something fast; with making something fast, there is an involvement in 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.

(BT, 18: 116)

Any given ready-to-hand entity is always already involved in an (actual or potential) task which may itself be nested in other, larger tasks; but such totalities of involvement are always ultimately grounded in a reference-relation in which there is no further involvement – a ‘for-the-sake-of-which’ that pertains to the Being of Dasein. The handiness of a hammer is ultimately for the sake of sheltering Dasein; the handiness of a pen is ultimately for the sake of communicating with others. In other words, the modes of practical activity within which entities are primarily encountered are by their nature contributors to Dasein’s modes of existence in the world – to specific existentiell possibilities. In this sense, the ontological structures of worldhood are and must be existentially understood. The world is a facet of the Being of Dasein; Dasein’s Being is Being-in-the-world.

In this way, Heidegger’s detailed phenomenological analysis of Dasein as Being-in-the-world dovetails perfectly with his initial characterization of Dasein as the being whose Being is an issue for it; each implies the other. For, if distinctively human being is not only life but activity, then Dasein always faces the question of which possible mode of existence it should enact; and answering that question necessarily involves executing its intentions in practical activity. But this in turn presupposes that Dasein exists in a world – that it encounters a manifold of material objects as a field for such practical activity. If, then, Dasein’s practical relation to its own existence is essential to its Being, its practical relation to the world it inhabits must also be essential. Encountering objects as ready-to-hand (and so as referred to a particular possibility of Dasein’s Being) is the fundamental ground of Dasein’s Being-in-the-world.

This notion of ‘world’ is, of course, not at all familiar to those acquainted with the Western philosophical tradition – as Heidegger emphasizes when he contrasts his phenomenological understanding of space with the Cartesian alternative. For Descartes, space is essentially mathematicized: spatial location is fixed by imposing an objective system of coordinates upon the world and assigning a sequence of numbers to each and every item in it, and Dasein’s progress through this fixed array of present-at-hand items is a matter of measuring off stretches of a space that is itself present-at-hand. On Heidegger’s view, however, Dasein most fundamentally understands its spatial relations with objects as a matter of near and far, close and distant; and these in turn are understood in relation to its practical purposes. The spectacles on my nose are further away from me than the picture on the wall that I use them to examine, and the friend I see across the road is nearer to me than the pavement under my feet; my friend would not have been any closer to me if she had appeared at my side, and moving right up to the picture would in fact distance it from me. Closeness and distance in this sense are a matter of handiness and unhandiness; the spatial disposition of the manifold of objects populating my environment is determined by their serviceability for my current activities. In Heidegger’s terminology, Cartesian space is an abstraction from our understanding of space as a region or set of regions, an interlinked totality of places and objects that belong to an equipmental totality and an environing work-world. Objects are in the first instance handy or unhandy, and it is their significance in that respect – rather than a pure coordinate system – that most fundamentally places them in relation to one another and to Dasein. Space and spatiality are thus neither in the subject nor in the world, but rather disclosed by Dasein in its disclosure of the world; Dasein exists spatially, it is spatial.

On the basis of this account of Dasein as Being-in-the-world, and of the worldhood of that world, Heidegger regards the logical or metaphysical priority given to presence-at-hand over readiness-tohand in the philosophical tradition as getting things precisely the wrong way around. For him, encountering objects as present-at-hand is a mode of holding back from dealings with objects, a species of provisional and relative decontextualization, in which one is no longer absorbed in a task to which those objects and their properties are more or less handy means. Similarly, encountering Nature – the substances, stuffs and species of the natural world – is understood as primarily involving a task-based encounter with natural resources which appear as the source of useful materials rather than as something that stirs and enthrals us through its own power and beauty, and which might then become the object of scientific speculation. As this last example makes clear, however, recontextualization is as fundamental to Heidegger’s analysis here as decontextualization. For, since such encounters with entities are legitimate modes of Dasein’s existence, and since Dasein is necessarily Being-in- the-world, they too must be understood as essentially worldly phenomena. Concentrating upon them may lead us to overlook the worldly character of our existence, but that does not mean that they are really unworldly, or any less reliant upon a (modified) totality of assignment-relations.

Accordingly, in addition to the argument from scepticism that we examined earlier, Heidegger has at least two main lines of attack against those who would assign logical and metaphysical priority to presence-at-hand, claiming that readiness-to-hand can be understood as a construct from – and so as reducible to – presence-at-hand. First, he could argue that, in so far as encountering objects as present-at-hand is itself a form of worldly engagement with them, such a reductive analysis would presuppose what it was claiming to account for. Any such analysis of readiness-to-hand requires an account of the worldhood of the world, but any such account which begins from the conceptual resources supplied by present-at-hand encounters with objects would already be presupposing the phenomenonof the world. It seems evident that an understanding of a particular landscape in terms of the resources it provides for carpenters or millers is no less dependent upon a particular, culturally determined way of conceptualizing its elements, its form and their relation to human perception and human life, than is an understanding of it in terms of its natural beauty. But precisely analogous points can be made about the various ways in which one can encounter objects as present-at-hand. A carpenter who studies the occurrent properties of a hammer with a view to repairing it does so against the background of a particular set of assignment-relations to which she wishes to return it, and which accordingly informs the direction of her gaze and efforts. Even the scientist whose goal in studying the hammer is to comprehend its molecular structure can do so only within the complex web of equipment, resources, theory and cultural understanding (and the corresponding totality of assignment-relations) within which anything recognizable as a chemico-physical analysis of matter could even be conceived, let alone executed.  And when someone – perhaps a philosopher – achieves a state of genuinely disinterested attention to the objects in front of her, simply staring at them, the very disinterest she evinces is itself only possible for a being capable of being interested. As Heidegger would put it, she can tarry alongside entities only because she can also have dealings with them, so even holding back from manipulation does not occur entirely outside the ambit of worldliness. In short, even when decontextualizing really means just that – even when no recontextualization is implicitly presupposed – it cannot be understood except as a deficient mode of Being-in-the-world; so encounters with present-at-hand entities cannot intelligibly be regarded as a jumping-off point from which a conception of worldhood might be constructed.

Heidegger’s second line of argument amounts to the claim that the species of worldly understanding drawn upon in encounters with objects as ready-to-hand simply could not be reduced to the species of understanding that is manifest in theoretical cognition of occurrent
entities. The worldhood of the world is not comprehensible in the terms developed by speculative reason for the comprehension of present-at-hand objects and their properties. This argument is, in fact, fairly well buried in Heidegger’s text: and, even when it comes to the surface, it is formulated extremely cautiously:

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. But one must note that in such formalizations the phenomena get levelled off so much that their real phenomenal content may be lost, especially in the case of such ‘simple’ relationships as those which lurk in significance. The phenomenal content of these ‘Relations’ and ‘Relata’ – the ‘in-order-to’, the ‘for-the-sakeof ’ and the ‘with-which’ of an involvement – is such that they resist any sort of mathematical functionalization.

(BT, 18: 121–2)

In fact, however, as certain influential interpreters of Heidegger have stressed (perhaps most famously, Hubert Dreyfus), the basis of Heidegger’s argument here licenses the far stronger conclusion that the worldhood of the world is simply not analysable in such terms.

The argument rests on two tightly interlinked points: the indefinability of context, and the difference between knowing how and knowing that. First, the point about context. The capacity to encounter a pen as a handy writing implement or a hammer as a carpentry tool depends upon a capacity to grasp its role in a complex web of interrelated equipment in certain sorts of context; but spelling out its relations with such totalities is far from simple. A hammer is not just something for driving nails into surfaces: anyone who understands its nature as a tool also knows which kinds of surface are appropriate for receiving nails, the variety of substances from which a usable hammer can be made, the indefinite number of other tasks that a hammer can be used to perform (securing wedges, loosening joints, propping open windows, repelling intruders, playing
games of ‘toss-the-hammer’ and so on), of other objects that might be used instead of a damaged hammer or adapted so as to be usable in these ways – the list goes on. Knowing what it is for something to be a hammer is, among other things, knowing all this; and knowing all this is an inherently open-ended capacity – one which cannot be exhaustively captured by a finite list of precise rules. Our practical activities always engage with and are developed in specific situations, but there is no obvious way of specifying a closed set of all the possible ways and contexts in which our knowledge of a hammer and its capacities might be pertinently deployed. In so far as any attempt to reduce readiness-to-hand to presence-at-hand necessarily involves reducing our understanding of an object’s serviceability to a grasp of a finite set of general rules together with a precise specification of a finite set of situations in which they apply, then it is doomed from the outset.

This brings us to the second of the issues mentioned above – the difference between knowing how and knowing that. Encountering a hammer as ready-to-hand is, as we have seen, intimately related to a capacity to make use of it as the piece of equipment it is – the capacity to hammer. This is a species of practical ability, manifest in the first instance in competent action, in what we might call know-how; but theoretical cognition, as understood by the philosophical tradition, is primarily manifest in a grasp of true propositions, in what might be called knowing that (such-and-such is the case). To argue that the readiness-to-hand of a hammer can be understood as a construct from its occurrent properties together with certain facts about its relations with particular contexts of action thus amounts to arguing that know-how can be understood in terms of knowing that – as the application of knowledge of facts about the object, the situation and the person wishing to employ it in that situation. Ever since the time of Ryle’s Concept of Mind, however, this idea has been under severe pressure, since its proponents face a dilemma. For the propositional knowledge they invoke must be applied to the situations the knower faces, a process which must itself either be based on further propositional knowledge (a knowledge of rules governing the application of the theorems cognized) or entirely ungrounded. If the former option is chosen, it follows that applying the rules of application must itself be governed by application rules, and an infinite regress unfolds. If the latter is preferred, the question arises why the original practical ability cannot itself be ungrounded: if the theorems can be applied without
relying upon propositional knowledge, why not the actions that the theorems were designed to explain? In short, the idea that know-how is based upon knowing that involves assigning a role to propositional knowledge which it is either impossible or unnecessary for it to perform; so the idea that the knowledge manifest in our encounters with ready-to-hand objects can be reduced to knowledge of the sort appropriate to encounters with present-at-hand objects must be either vacuous or superfluous.

Putting these two lines of argument together with the argument from scepticism suggests that Heidegger can meet the challenge posed by the Cartesian philosopher to his analysis of Dasein as Being-in-the-world. His concept of ‘world’ does not illegitimately give priority to systems of value that are merely subjective projections upon an ultimately meaningless but metaphysically fundamental realm of matter; it rather constitutes the ontological underpinning of any and every mode of human engagement with objects, including the seemingly value-neutral theoretical encounters of which philosophers are generally so enamoured.

Even here, however, a worry can resurface about the strength of Heidegger’s case: the worry that it is undermined by a perfectly obvious fact about material objects – namely, their materiality. For surely no object can be encountered as ready-to-hand or as present-at-hand unless it is actually there to be encountered and possessed of certain properties; a hammer could not be used for hammering unless it had the requisite weight, composition and shape, and it could not even be contemplated unless it was actually there before us. But, if so, if any form of human encounter with an object presupposes its material reality, must not the whole web of culturally determined assignment-relations that constitutes the world of human practical activity be conceptually or metaphysically dependent upon the material realm within which human culture emerges and without which it could not be sustained? Is it not obvious that ‘the world’ in the third and fourth senses of that term presupposes ‘the world’ in the first and second senses?


This worry should not be dismissed lightly; but it is one that Heidegger only confronts in convincing detail much later – in his reflections on truth and reality (which we will examine in Chapter 3 of this book). He does, however, attempt to assuage the worry at this point, so I will conclude this chapter by outlining his strategy. The crucial move is to distinguish the ontic and the ontological levels of analysis, and to suggest that the worry I have just articulated conflates the two. Heidegger never denies that a hammer could not be used for hammering unless it had the appropriate material properties and was actually available for use; in this sense, the materiality of any given object is needed to explain its functioning. But this is an issue on what he would call the ontic level – the level at which we concern ourselves with particular (types of) human practices and the particular (types of) objects that are involved in them, and simply take it for granted that there are such practices and that within them objects are encountered as ready-to-hand, unhandy and present-at-hand. At the ontological level, however, we put exactly those assumptions in question: we enquire into the Being of human practical activity and of material objects, asking what must be the case for there to be a human world of practical activity, and what the readiness-to-hand, unhandiness or presence-at-hand of an object really amounts to. It is to this task that Heidegger has devoted these opening sections of his book. His line of argument entails that, if we are to understand the essential nature (the Being) of any of these phenomena, then we must invoke the notion of ‘world’ and its ontological presuppositions. Those presuppositions are not only impossible to account for in terms of the categories appropriate to species of theoretical cognition, but must themselves be invoked to account for the ontological presuppositions of theoretical cognition itself. By overlooking or downplaying the concept of ‘the world’ in its third and fourth senses, therefore, philosophers have prevented themselves from understanding both the mode of human activity in which we most often engage, and also that to which they accord the highest priority; and they thereby deprive themselves of any proper understanding of the Being of Dasein.

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