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Martin Heidegger, the 20th-century German philosopher, introduced to the world a large body of work that represented a profound change of direction for philosophy. Such was the depth of change that he found himself needing to introduce a number of neologisms and adapted vocabulary, often connected to idiomatic words and phrases in the German language.

Two of his most basic neologisms, present-at-hand and ready-to-hand, are used to describe various attitudes toward to things in the world. For Heidegger, such an "attitudes" are prior to, i.e. more basic than, the various sciences of the individual items in the world. Science itself is an attitude, one that attempts a kind neutral investigation. Other related terms are also explained below.

However, Heidegger's overall analysis is quite involved, taking in a lot of the history of philosophy. See Being and Time for a description of his overall project, and to give some context to these technical terms.[1][2]


(Ancient Greek: αληθεια)

Main article: Aletheia

Heidegger's sense of Aletheia is an attempt to understand the meaning of truth in a completely new, or rediscovered manner. See main article on Aletheia for more information.


(German: In-der-Welt-sein)

Being-in-the-world is Heidegger's replacement for terms such as subject, object, consciousness, world. For him, the split of things into subject/object, as we find in the Western tradition and even in our language, must be overcome, as is indicated by the root structure of Husserl and Brentano's concept of intentionality, ie, that all consciousness is consciousness of something, that there is no consciousness, as such, cut off from an object (be it the matter of a thought, or of a perception). Nor are there objects without some consciousness beholding or being involved with them. See intentionality.

At the most basic level of being-in-the-world Heidegger notes that there is always a mood, a mood "assails us" in our unreflecting devotion to the world. A mood comes neither from the "outside" nor the "inside," but arises from being-in-the-world. One may turn away from a mood, but that is only to another mood, it is part of our facticity. Only with a mood are we permitted to encounter things in the world. Dasein (a co-term for being-in-the-world) has an openness to the world that is constituted by the attunement of a mood or state of mind. As such, Dasein is a "thrown" "projection," projecting itself onto the possibilities that lie before it or may be hidden, and interpreting and understanding the world in terms of possibilities. Such projecting has nothing to do with comporting oneself toward a plan that has been thought out. It is not a plan, since Dasein has, as Dasein, already projected itself. Dasein always understands itself in terms of possibilities. As projecting, the understanding of Dasein is its possibilities as possibilities. One can take up the possibilities of "The They" self and merely follow along or make some more authentic understanding.


(German: Sein-zum-Tode)

Being-towards-death is not an orientation that brings Dasein closer to its end, in terms of clinical death, but is rather a way of being.[3] In the analysis of time, it is revealed as a threefold condition of Being. Time, the present and the notion of the "eternal", are modes of temporality. Temporality is the way we see time. For Heidegger, it is very different to the mistaken view of time as being a linear series of past, present and future. Instead he sees it as being an ecstasy, an outside-of-itself, of futural projections (possibilities) and one's place in history as a part of one's generation. Possibilities, then, are integral to our understanding of time, our projects both one's ongoing or created are what absorb and direct us. The future is a primary mode of Dasein's temporality.

Death is that possibility which is the absolute impossibility of Dasein. As such, it cannot be compared to any other kind of ending or "running out" of something. Eg, one's death is not an empirical event. For Heidegger, it is non-relational, that is nobody can take one's death away from one, it is one's own; the "not-yet" of life is, in a sense, already a part of Dasein, "as soon as man comes to life, he is at once old enough to die." The threefold condition is thus simultaneously one's "ownmost potentiality-for-being, non-relational, and not to be out-stripped". Here, Heidegger describes a "way of being" that is completely one's own (that is, it entirely encompasses Dasein's world), not able to be understood or experienced by observation of another's experience or understanding, and totally inevitable.[4]

With average, everyday (normal) discussion of death, all this is concealed. The "they-self" talks about it in a fugitive manner, passes it off as something that occurs at some time but is not yet "present-at-hand" as an actuality, and hides its character as one's ownmost possibility, presenting it as belonging to no one in particular. It becomes devalued - redefined as a neutral and mundane aspect of existence that merits no authentic consideration. "One dies" is interpreted as a fact, and comes to mean "nobody dies".[5]

On the other hand, authenticity negates the effect of the "They". Heidegger states that Authentic being-towards-death erupts Dasein out from its "they-self", and frees it to re-evaluate life from the standpoint of finitude. In so doing, Dasein opens itself up for "angst" which throws Dasein into shocking individuation, in turn allowing the "call of the conscience" to lead Dasein into living resolutely in un-concealment.[6]

As a result, the question "Why do something rather than nothing?" is answered by this projection towards one's own impossibility, and meaning may be given to the resoluteness of our action.


(German: Mitsein)

Both modes of "present-at-hand" and "ready-to-hand," are distinguished from how other things are primarily encountered. While all entities (non-Dasein, other Daseins, and itself) are encountered in these modes, the mode of "being-with" and all the emotion, loneliness and togetherness that it implies, is a unifying mode of being for Dasein and its world.

Being-with is a nuanced concept for Heidegger, made especially difficult for readers because of his writing style and the challenge of translating his works into English. However, in describing the Dasein's fundamental mode of being-in-the-world as Care (German: Sorge), for example "Dasein cares about its own Being", it could be said that being-with is a fundamental way of understanding Dasein's character as a being that is interested in its world; it is not a secondary role, but a descriptive characteristic.

Destruktion Edit

Here is Martin Heidegger on philosophy as the task of destroying ontological concepts, in other words also including, ordinary everyday meanings of words like time, history, being, theory, death, mind, body, matter, logic etc.:

When tradition thus becomes master, it does so in such a way that what it 'transmits' is made so inaccessible, proximally and for the most part, that it rather becomes concealed. Tradition takes what has come down to us and delivers it over to self-evidence; it blocks our access to those primordial 'sources' from which the categories and concepts handed down to us have been in part quite genuinely drawn .Indeed it makes us forget that they have had such an origin, and makes us suppose that the necessity of going back to these sources is something which we need not even understand. [citation needed]

Heidegger considers that tradition can become calcified here and there:

If the question of Being is to have its own history made transparent, then this hardened tradition must be loosened up, and the concealments which it has brought about dissolved. We understand this task as one in which by taking the question of Being as our clue we are to destroy the traditional content of ancient ontology until we arrive at those primordial experiences in which we achieved our first ways of determining the nature of Being---the ways which have guided us ever since. [citation needed]

Heidegger then remarks on the positivity of his project of destruktion:

it has nothing to do with a vicious relativizing of ontological standpoints. But this destruction is just as far from having the negative sense of shaking off the ontological tradition. We must, on the contrary, stake out the positive possibilities of that tradition, and this means keeping it within its limits ; and these in turn are given factically in the way the question is formulated at the time, and in the way the possible field for investigation is thus bounded off. On its negative side, this destruction does not relate itself towards the past; its criticism is aimed at 'today' and at the prevalent way of treating the history of ontology... But to bury the past in nullity (Nichtigkeit) is not the purpose of this destruction; its aim is positive; its negative function remains unexpressed and indirect. [citation needed]


Main article: Dasein

Dasein is a German word and is sometimes translated as "Being-there" or "Being-here". (Da means "here" or "there", Sein is the infinitive, "to be") mostly it is not translated at all. Heidegger uses the word in place of such terms as subject, ego or the "I think" since for Heidegger these terms forget that someone is always in-the-world, there is no subject by itself. Dasein is the being that is there and in a mood, and for which existence is a question.


(German: das Zeug)

A nearly un-translatable term, Heidegger's equipment can be thought of as a collective noun, so that it is never appropriate to call something 'an equipment'. Instead, its use often reflects it to mean a tool, or as an "in-order-to" for Dasein. Tools, in this collective sense, and in being ready-to-hand, always exist in a network of other tools and organizations, eg, the paper is on a desk in a room at a university. It is inappropriate usually to see such equipment on its own or as something present-at-hand


Simply put, Heidegger uses this word only to denote the noun - that something is.

The two related words, Existentiell and Existentiale, are used as descriptive characteristics of Being. An "existentiell" is a categorically or ontically characteristic while an "existentiale" is an ontologically characteristic.


Heidegger uses the term ontic when he typified a descriptive characteristic of a thing as either dealing primarily with existence and plain facts of the world. A thing is ontic if it deals with what is apparent in reality. For example, the objects that are studied by physics or chemistry are ontical, they are certain given things in the world that are studied without necessarily raising more global questions.


As opposed to "ontic", ontological is used when the nature, or meaningful structure of existence is at issue. Ontology, a discipline of metaphysics, focuses on the formal study of Being. Thus, something that is ontological is concerned with understanding and investigating Being, the ground of Being, or the concept of Being itself.


(German: vorhanden, presence-at-hand: Vorhandenheit)

With the present-to-hand one has an attitude, like that of a scientist, of merely looking at or observing something - concerned only with the bare facts of a thing as they are present and in order to theorize about it. It is disinterested in the concern it may hold for Dasein, its history or usefulness. This attitude is often described as existing in neutral space without any particular mood or subjectivity. However, for Heidegger, it is not completely disinterested or neutral, it has a mood, and is part of the metaphysics of presence. The deconstruction of which Heidegger sets out to accomplish.

Presence-at-hand is not the way things in the world are usually encountered, and it is only revealed as a deficient mode, eg, when a hammer breaks it loses its usefulness and appears as merely there, present-at-hand. When a thing is revealed to have presence-at-hand, it is stands apart from any useful set of equipment.


(German: zuhanden, readiness-to-hand, handiness: Zuhandenheit)

However, in almost all cases we are involved in the world in a much deeper way. We are usually doing things with a view to achieving something. Take for example, a hammer, it is ready-to-hand, we use it without theorizing, in fact, if we were to look at it as present-at-hand, we might easily make a mistake. Only when it breaks or something goes wrong might we see the hammer as present-at-hand, just lying there. Even then however, it may be not fully present-to-hand, as it is now showing itself as something to be replaced or disposed. If the hammer were in a glass case in a museum it would be essentially different.

Importantly, the present-to-hand only emerges from the prior attitude in which we care about what is going on and we see the hammer in a context or world of equipment that is handy or remote, and that is there "in order to" do something or is obstructive. In this sense the ready-to-hand is primordial compared to that of the present-at-hand. Primordial here refers to Heidegger's idea that Being is understood better in what is always with us, in what is everyday and "close" to us, thus getting at the all embracingness of Being as opposed to the beings of individual things that might be studied by the different areas of science, such as physics, chemistry or biology.[7]

For Heidegger in Being and Time this illustrates, in a very practical way, the way the present-to-hand, as a present in a "now" or a present eternally (as, for example, a scientific law or a Platonic Form), has come to dominate intellectual thought, especially since the Enlightenment. To understand the question of being one must be careful not to fall into this levelling off, or forgetfulness of being, that has come to assail Western thought since Socrates, see the metaphysics of presence.

The TheyEdit

(German: Das Man)

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Heidegger refers to the concept of The They in explaining inauthentic modes of being, in which Dasein, instead of truly choosing to do something, does it because "That is what one does," where the German equivalent of one as used in this way is man, hence das Man. In this way Heidegger contrasts "the authentic self" (myself) with "the they self".

Care or ConcernEdit

A fundamental the basis of our being-in-the-world is for Heidegger, not matter or spirit, but care (in German Sorge):

Dasein's facticity is such that its Being-in-the-world has always dispersed itself or even split itself up into definite ways of Being-in. The multiplicity of these is indicated by the following examples: having to do with something, producing something, attending to something and looking after it, making use of something, giving something up and letting it go, undertaking, accomplishing, evincing, interrogating, considering, discussing, determining. . . . All these ways of Being-in have concern (Fürsorge, care) as their kind of Being. [8]

Just as the scientist might investigate or search, and presume neutrality, we see that beneath this there is the mood, the concern of the scientist to discover, to reveal new ideas or theories and to attempt to level off temporal aspects.


Ereignis is translated often as an event. It comes from the German prefix, er-, comparable to 're-' in English and Eigen, one's own. It is a noun coming from a reflexive verb. Note that the German prefix er- also can connote an end or a fatality.

Ereignis appears in Heidegger's later works and is not easily summarized. The most sustained treatment of the theme occurs in the cryptic and difficult Contributions to Philosophy. In the following quotation he associates it with the fundamental idea of concern from Being and Time, the English etymology of con-cern is similar to that of the German:

...we must return to what we call a concern. The word Ereignis (concern) has been lifted from organically developing language. Er-eignen (to concern) means, originally, to distinguish or discern which one's eyes see, and in seeing calling to oneself, ap-propriate. The word con-cern we shall now harness as a theme word in the service of thought... [9]


Heidegger gives us four ways of using the term world:

1. "World" is used as an ontical concept, and signifies the totality of things which can be present-at-hand within the world.
2. "World" functions as an ontological term, and signifies the Being of those things we have just mentioned. And indeed 'world' can become a term for any realm which encompasses a multiplicites of entities: for instance, when one talks of the 'world' of a mathematician, 'world' signifies the realm of possible objects of mathematics.
3. "World" can be understood in another ontical sense -- not, however, as those entities which Dasein essentially is not and which can be encountered within-the-world, but rather as the wherein a factical Dasein as such can be said to 'live'. "World" has here a pre-ontological existential signification. Here again there are different possibilities: "world" may stand for the 'public' we-world, or one's 'own' closest (domestic) environment.
4. Finally, "world" designates the ontologico-existential concept of worldhood. Worldhood itself may have as its modes whatever structural wholes any special 'worlds' may have at the time; but it embraces in itself the a priori character of worldhood in general.[10]

Note, it is the third definition that Heidegger normally uses.


(German: Lichtung)

In German the word, lichtung, means a clearing, as in, for example, a clearing in the woods. Since its root is the German word for light (licht), it is sometimes also translated as "lighting," and in Heidegger's work it refers to the necessity of a clearing in which anything at all can appear; the clearing in which some thing or idea can show itself, or be unconcealed.[11] Note the relation that this has to Aletheia (see the main article or the entry above) and disclosure (Erschlossenheit).

Being, but not beings, stand out as if in a clearing, or physically, as if in a space. Thus, Hubert Dreyfus writes, “things show up in the light of our understanding of being.”[12]


All citations referring to texts authored by Heidegger use "H.x" to refer to the original page number.

  1. Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. New York: Harper & Row, 1962.
  2. Heidegger 1962, H.67-72
  3. Heidegger 1962, H.247
  4. Heidegger 1962, H.255
  5. Heidegger 1962, H.253-4
  6. Heidegger 1962, H.260-74
  7. Heidegger 1962, H.67-73
  8. Heidegger 1962, H.56
  9. Martin Heidegger, Identity and Difference, trans. Joan Stambaugh. New York: Harper & Row, 1969.
  10. Heidegger 1962, H.64
  11. Heidegger 1962, H.133
  12. Hubert Dreyfus, Being-in-the-World. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995. p.162

See also Edit

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