Martin Heidegger, the 20th-century German philosopher, produced a large body of work that intended a profound change of direction for philosophy. Such was the depth of change that he found it necessary to introduce a large number of neologisms, 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 things in the world. For Heidegger, such "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 of neutral investigation. Other related terms are also explained below.
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.
Heidegger's idea of aletheia, or disclosure (Erschlossenheit), was an attempt to make sense of how things in the world appear to human beings as part of an opening in intelligibility, as "unclosedness" or "unconcealedness". (This is Heidegger's usual reading of aletheia as Unverborgenheit, "unconcealment.") It is closely related to the notion of world disclosure, the way in which things get their sense as part of a holistically structured, pre-interpreted background of meaning. Initially, Heidegger wanted aletheia to stand for a re-interpreted definition of truth. However, he later corrected the association of aletheia with truth.
An assertion (as opposed to a question, a doubt or a more expressive sense) is apophantic. It is a statement that covers up meaning and just gives us something as present-at-hand. For Instance, "The President is on vacation", and, "Salt is Sodium Chloride" are sentences that, because of their apophantic character, can easily be picked-up and repeated in news and gossip by 'The They.' However, the real ready-to-hand meaning and context may be lost.
Being-in-the-world is Heidegger's replacement for terms such as subject, object, consciousness, and 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, i.e., 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.
At the most basic level of being-in-the-world, Heidegger notes that there is always a mood, a mood that "assails us" in our unreflecting devotion to the world. A mood comes neither from the "outside" nor from 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" (geworfener Entwurf), 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 (see Hubert Dreyfus's book Being-in-the-World.)
Being-toward-death is not an orientation that brings Dasein closer to its end, in terms of clinical death, but is rather a way of being. Being-toward-death refers to a process of growing through the world where a certain foresight guides the Dasein towards gaining an authentic perspective. It is provided by dread or death. 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 from 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, or thrown projection in-the-world, are what absorb and direct us. Futurity, as a direction toward the future that always contains the past--the has-been--is a primary mode of Daseins 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. For example, one's death is not an empirical event. For Heidegger, death is Daseins ownmost (it is what makes Dasein individual), it is non-relational (nobody can take one's death away from one, or die in one's place, and we can not understand our own death through the death of other Dasein), and it is not to be outstripped. The "not-yet" of life is always already a part of Dasein: "as soon as man comes to life, he is at once old enough to die." The threefold condition of death is thus simultaneously one's "ownmost potentiality-for-being, non-relational, and not to be out-stripped". Death is determinate in its inevitability, but an authentic Being-toward-death understands the indeterminate nature of one's own inevitable death -- one never knows when or how it is going to come. However, this indeterminacy does not put death in some distant, futural "not-yet"; authentic Being-toward-death understands one's individual death as always already a part of one.
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".
On the other hand, authenticity takes Dasein out of the "They," in part by revealing its place as a part of the They. Heidegger states that Authentic being-toward-death calls Daseins individual self out of its "they-self", and frees it to re-evaluate life from the standpoint of finitude. In so doing, Dasein opens itself up for "angst," translated alternately as "dread" or as "anxiety." Angst, as opposed to fear, does not have any distinct object for its dread; it is rather anxious in the face of Being-in-the-world in general -- that is, it is anxious in the face of Daseins own self. Angst is a shocking individuation of Dasein, when it realizes that it is not at home in the world, or when it comes face to face with its own "uncanny" (German Unheimlich "not homelike"). In Daseins individuation, it is open to hearing the "call of conscience" (German Gewissensruf), which comes from Daseins own Self when it wants to be its Self. This Self is then open to truth, understood as unconcealment (Greek aletheia). In this moment of vision, Dasein understands what is hidden as well as hiddenness itself, indicating Heidegger's regular uniting of opposites; in this case, truth and untruth.
The term "Being-with" refers to an ontological characteristic of the human being, that it is always already with others of its kind. This assertion is to be understood not as a factual statement about an individual, that he or she is at the moment in spatial proximity to one or more other individuals. Rather it is a statement about the being of every human, that in the structures of its being-in-the-world one finds an implicit reference to other humans. We all live with others, and in fact we could not live without them. Humans have been called (by others, not by Heidegger) "ultrasocial" and "obligatorily gregarious." Without others of our kind we could not survive. Heidegger, from his phenomenological perspective, calls this feature of human life "Being-with" (Mitsein), and says it is essential to being human. We are inauthentic when we fail to recognize how much and in what ways how we think of ourselves and how we habitually behave is influenced by our social surroundings. We are authentic when we pay attention to that influence and decide for ourselves whether to go along with it or not. Living entirely without such influence, however, is not an option.
A fundamental basis of our being-in-the-world is, for Heidegger, not matter or spirit but care:
All these ways of Being-in have concern (Sorge, care) as their kind of Being. 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.
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. Note the relation that this has to Aletheia (see the main article or the entry above) and disclosure.
Beings (Seiendes), but not Being itself (Sein), 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." Thus the clearing makes possible the disclosure of beings (Seiendes), and also access to Dasein's own being. But the clearing is not, itself, an entity that can be known directly, in the sense in which know about the entities of the world. As Heidegger writes in On the Origin of the Work of Art:
Founded in the work of Martin Luther, 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.:
Heidegger considers that tradition can become calcified here and there:
Heidegger then remarks on the positivity of his project of Destruktion:
In his effort to redefine man, Heidegger introduces a statement: 'the ownmost of Dasein consists in its existence" (BT, 68). Let us first clarify what Heidegger means by existence.' He had already said that what is unique to the being of man is that "in its very being its own being is an issue for it" (BT, 33). A cat doesn't concern itself with being a cat, a tree doesn't concern itself with being a tree, but persons do concern themselves with being certain kinds of persons (a builder, painter, woman, parent and so on). This is because, unlike cats or trees, we define our own being as we go along. We are continually faced with possibilities from among which we can choose and, at each choice, we actualize at least one of the possibilities available to us while closing off others in the process. This grasping of only some possibilities defines us as one kind of self rather than another: a dishonest choice defines us as dishonest, fixing broken windows defines us as a glazier, and so on. We have to carry out these choices daily; being brave last week for instance does not mean that you are being brave today. Therefore, living the life of a person is a matter of constantly (a) taking a stand on who we are and (b) being defined as who we are by taking that stand (no choice is 'once and for always' so we have to keep on choosing to be who we are). Added to this, the being of everything else on the planet is also an issue for us because we deal with things as what they are and persons as who they are. Only persons, for example, deal with spades as spades or cards as cards (i.e., we relate to them as meaningful and as fitting meaningfully into and with other things and/or activities). Only that being that is in the manner of existence can encounter another entity in its instrumental character as a spade or a playing card.
Again, 'to be an issue' means to be concerned about something and to care for something. In other words, being of Dasein as existence is so constituted that in its very being it has a caring relationship to its own being. This relationship is not a theoretical or self-reflective one but rather it is a pre-theoretical one which Heidegger calls a relation or compartment of understanding. Dasein understands itself in its own being or Dasein is in the manner that its being is always disclosed to it. It is this disclosure of being that differentiates Dasein from all other beings. This manner of being of Dasein to which it relates or comports itself is called 'existence' (BT, 32). Further it is essential to have a clear understanding of the term 'ownmost'. It is the English rendering of the German 'wesen' translated usually as 'essence' (the whatness). The verbal form of German term 'wesen' comes closer to the Indian root 'vasati' which means dwelling, living, growing, maturing, moving etc. Thus, this verbal dynamic character implied in the word 'wesen' is to be kept in mind to understand the nuance of the Heideggerian usage of 'existence'. If traditionally 'Wesen' had been translated as essence in the sense of 'whatness,' for Heidegger such a translation is unfit to understand what is uniquely human. Heidegger takes the form of existence from the Latin word Ex-sistere (to stand out of itself) with an indication of the unique characteristic of the being of man in terms of a dynamic 'HOW' as against the traditional conception in terms of 'whatness'. Hence existence for Heidegger means how Dasein in its very way of being is always outside itself in a relationship of relating, caring as opposed to a relationship of cognitive understanding to other innerworldly beings. Thereby, it is to differentiate strictly, what is ownmost to Dasein from that of other modes of beings that Heidegger uses the term 'existence' for the being of man. For what is ownmost to other modes of beings, he uses the term present-at-hand. The various elements of Existence are called 'existentials' and that of what is present-at-hand are called the 'categories'. According to Heidegger "man alone exists, all other things are (they don't exist)". It is important to understand that this notion of 'existence' as what is ownmost to man is not a static concept to be defined once and for all in terms of a content but it has to be understood in terms of something that is to be enacted that varies from individual to individual and from time to time unlike other beings that have a fixed essence. Now that being whose ownmost is in the manner of existence is called Dasein. In German 'da' has a spatial connotation of either being 'there' or 'here'. Dasein thus can mean simply "being there or here". In German, it could also refer to the existence (as opposed to the essence) of something, especially that of man. But Heidegger invests this term with a new ontological meaning. The German term 'Dasein' consists of two components: 'Da' and 'sein'. In the Heideggerian usage, the suffix '-sein' stands for the being of man in the manner of existence and 'Da-' stands for a three-fold disclosure. According to Heidegger, the being of man is in the manner of a threefold disclosure. That is, the ontological uniqueness of man consists in the fact that its being becomes the da/sphere, where not only its own being, but the being of other non-human beings as well as the phenomenon of world is disclosed to Dasein because of which it can encounter the innerworldly beings in their worlding character. Hence, for Heidegger the term Dasein is a title for the ontological structure of the ontical human being.
Hubert Dreyfus and Charles Spinosa write that: "According to Heidegger our nature is to be world disclosers. That is, by means of our equipment and coordinated practices we human beings open coherent, distinct contexts or worlds in which we perceive, feel, act, and think."
Heidegger scholar Nikolas Kompridis writes: "World disclosure refers, with deliberate ambiguity, to a process which actually occurs at two different levels. At one level, it refers to the disclosure of an already interpreted, symbolically structured world; the world, that is, within which we always already find ourselves. At another level, it refers as much to the disclosure of new horizons of meaning as to the disclosure of previously hidden or unthematized dimensions of meaning."
The ontological-existential structure of Dasein consists of "thrownness" (Geworfenheit), "projection" (Entwurf), and "being-along-with"/"engagement" (Sein-bei). These three basic features of existence are inseparably bound to "discourse" (Rede), understood as the deepest unfolding of language.
An object in the world with which we have meaningful dealings.
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, e.g., 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.
Another, less prosaic, way of thinking of 'equipment' is as 'stuff we can work with' around us, along with its context. "The paper we can do things with, from the desk, in the university, in the city, on the world, in the universe." 'Equipment' refers to the thing, and its usefulness possibilities, and its context.
Ereignis is translated often as "an event," but is better understood in terms of something "coming into view." It comes from the German prefix, er-, comparable to 're-' in English, and Auge, eye. It is a noun coming from a reflexive verb. Note that the German prefix er- also can connote an end or a fatality. A recent translation of the word by Kenneth Maly and Parvis Emad renders the word as "enowning"; that in connection with things that arise and appear, that they are arising 'into their own'. Hubert Dreyfus defined the term as "things coming into themselves by belonging together."
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:
See Dasein above
Often translated as "releasement," Heidegger's concept of Gelassenheit has been explained as "the spirit of disponibilité [availability] before What-Is which permits us simply to let things be in whatever may be their uncertainty and their mystery." Heidegger elaborated the idea of Gelassenheit in 1959, with a homonymous volume which includes two texts: a 1955 talk entitled simply Gelassenheit, and a 'conversation' (Gespräch) entitled Zur Erörterung der Gelassenheit. Aus einem Feldweggespräch über das Denken ("Towards an Explication of Gelassenheit: From a Conversation on a Country Path about Thinking" or "Toward an Emplacing Discussion [Erörterung] of Releasement [Gelassenheit]: From a Country Path Conversation about Thinking"). An English translation of this text was published in 1966 as "Conversation on a Country Path about Thinking". He borrowed the term from the Christian mystical tradition, proximately from Meister Eckhart.
Geworfenheit describes our individual existences as "being thrown" (geworfen) into the world. For William J. Richardson, Heidegger used this single term, "thrown-ness," to "describe [the] two elements of the original situation, There-being's non-mastery of its own origin and its referential dependence on other beings".
Wild fantasies of authors are at work in dealing with Heidegger's usage of the term "Kehre" or "turn". There is a whole group of authors, who adopt T. Kisiel's line of interpretation of "die Kehre" as a "re-turn" to the "zero-point" of 1919. There are some others, notably Caputo and Macquarrie, who speak of "several turns" in Heidegger, namely: "the turn away from Catholicism to a kind of independent Protestantism"; "the turn to something close to atheism or even nihilism extending perhaps through the time of his involvement with National Socialism"; and yet even during these years "there are hints of a 'return'" to "'Heidegger's private religion'". Not to be left unmentioned is obviously the position of Smith, for whom the whole notion of "turn" is "part of a specific tactical need." According to him, "Heidegger helped invent a canard regarding a 'turn' or 'reversal' in his thought in an attempt to argue that anything in his early thought that seemed to move inexorably in the direction of National Socialism was discarded and replaced by a subsequent thinking that was not prone to the same potential difficulties."
However, one should differentiate a threefold meaning of Kehre in Heidegger. In his Letter on Humanism, Heidegger writes: "here the Whole turns around [Hier kehrt sich das Ganze um]." Writing to Richardson, Heidegger himself points to the fact that this statement has been misinterpreted as if "since 1947 Heidegger's thought has undergone 'in-version', or even, since 1945, 'con-version'". But the expression "The Whole" in the above statement refers to the "matter [involved] in 'Being and Time', 'Time and Being'. The turning around is in play within the matter itself." Thus, the first meaning of Kehre refers to a turning around within the third section of Being and Time itself, which is called the "fundamental ontological turn". As different from this is the "meta-ontological turn" as illustrated in the Marburg lecture course of summer semester 1928, which is a turning-over of fundamental ontology to various regional ontologies. To be differentiated from these two is the being-historically understood Kehre as the "turning-relation in being", referring to the resonating-counter-resonating relationship between the enowning forth-throw of being and the enowned projecting-opening of Da-sein that Heidegger calls the "Turning in Enowning". It is the unfolding of this resonating-counter-resonating movement that is captured by Heidegger in his being-historical thinking by the term Ereignis. It is also to be emphasized further that Kehre is in no way the transition from phenomenology to a so-called "meditative thinking" as some interpreters would have us to believe, but it stands primarily for der kehrige Bezug (turning relation) within the coming to pass of being.
Heidegger uses the term ontic, often in contrast to the term ontological, when he gives descriptive characteristics of a particular thing and the "plain facts" of its existence. What is ontic is what makes something what it is.
For an individual discussing the nature of "being", one's ontic could refer to the physical, factual elements that produce and/or underlie one's own reality - the physical brain and its substructures. Moralists raise the question of a moral ontic when discussing whether there exists an external, objective, independent source or wellspring for morality that transcends culture and time.
As opposed to "ontic" (ontisch), ontological is used when the nature, or meaningful structure of existence is at issue. Ontology, a discipline of philosophy, 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.
For an individual discussing the nature of "being", the ontological could refer to one's own first-person, subjective, phenomenological experience of being.
A term used only once in a particular edition of Being and Time. In the text, the term appears to denote "the possibility whose probability it is solely to be possible". At least, if it were used in context, this is the only plausible definition.
With the present-at-hand one has (in contrast to "ready-to-hand") an attitude like that of a scientist or theorist, of merely looking at or observing something. In seeing an entity as present-at-hand, the beholder is concerned only with the bare facts of a thing or a concept, as they are present and in order to theorize about it. This way of seeing 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 that tends to level all things down. Through his writings, Heidegger sets out to accomplish the Destruktion (see above) of this metaphysics of presence.
Presence-at-hand is not the way things in the world are usually encountered, and it is only revealed as a deficient or secondary mode, e.g., when a hammer breaks it loses its usefulness and appears as merely there, present-at-hand. When a thing is revealed as present-at-hand, it stands apart from any useful set of equipment but soon loses this mode of being present-at-hand and becomes something, for example, that which must be repaired or replaced.
However, in almost all cases we are involved in the world in an ordinary, and more involved, 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-at-hand, as it is now showing itself as something to be repaired or disposed, and therefore a part of the totality of our involvements. In this case its Being may be seen as unreadiness-to-hand. Heidegger outlines three manners of unreadiness-to-hand: Conspicuous (damaged; e.g., a lamp's wiring has broken), Obtrusive (a part is missing which is required for the entity to function; e.g., we find the bulb is missing), Obstinate (when the entity is a hindrance to us in pursuing a project; e.g., the lamp blocks my view of the computer screen).
Importantly, the ready-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. In this sense the ready-to-hand is primordial compared to that of the present-at-hand. The term primordial here does not imply something Primitive, but rather refers to Heidegger's idea that Being can only be understood through what is everyday and "close" to us. Our everyday understanding of the world is necessarily essentially a part of any kind of scientific or theoretical studies of entities -- the present-at-hand -- might be. Only by studying our "average-everyday" understanding of the world, as it is expressed in the totality of our relationships to the ready-to-hand entities of the world, can we lay appropriate bases for specific scientific investigations into specific entities within the world.
For Heidegger in Being and Time this illustrates, in a very practical way, the way the present-at-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 leveling off, or forgetfulness of being, that has come to assail Western thought since Socrates, see the metaphysics of presence.
Resoluteness refers to one's ability to "unclose" one's framework of intelligibility (i.e., to make sense of one's words and actions in terms of one's life as a whole), and the ability to be receptive to the "call of conscience."
One of the most interesting and important 'concepts' in Being and Time is that of Das Man, for which there is no exact English translation; different translations and commentators use different conventions. It is often translated as "the They" or "People" or "Anyone" but is more accurately translated as "One" (as in "'one' should always arrive on time"). Das Man derives from the impersonal singular pronoun man ('one', as distinct from 'I', or 'you', or 'he', or 'she', or 'they'). Both the German man and the English 'one' are neutral or indeterminate in respect of gender and, even, in a sense, of number, though both words suggest an unspecified, unspecifiable, indeterminate plurality. The semantic role of the word man in German is nearly identical to that of the word one in English.
Heidegger refers to this concept of the One in explaining inauthentic modes of existence, in which Dasein, instead of truly choosing to do something, does it only because "That is what one does" or "That is what people do". Thus, das Man is not a proper or measurable entity, but rather an amorphous part of social reality that functions effectively in the manner that it does through this intangibility.
Das Man constitutes a possibility of Dasein's Being, and so das Man cannot be said to be any particular someone. Rather, the existence of 'the They' is known to us through, for example, linguistic conventions and social norms. Heidegger states that, "The "they" prescribes one's state-of-mind, and determines what and how one 'sees'".
To give examples: when one makes an appeal to what is commonly known, one says "one does not do such a thing"; When one sits in a car or bus or reads a newspaper, one is participating in the world of 'the They'. This is a feature of 'the They' as it functions in society, an authority that has no particular source. In a non-moral sense Heidegger contrasts "the authentic self" ("my owned self") with "the they self" ("my un-owned self").
A related concept to this is that of the apophantic assertion.
Heidegger gives us four ways of using the term world:
Note, it is the third definition that Heidegger normally uses.
All citations referring to texts authored by Heidegger use "H.x" to refer to the original page number.
Heidegger... chose a name for it which itself reflects the importance of Luther to his thinking: 'Destruktion', a Germanized version of the term 'destructio' used quite frequently in Luther's early writings.
I have followed the established consensus in translating this term as 'releasement.' However, it should be kept in mind that the traditional and still commonly used German word conveys a sense of 'calm composure,' especially and originally that which accompanies an existential or religious experience of letting-go, being-let, and letting-be.
The word Gelassenheit [...] has a long history in German thought. It was coined by Meister Eckhart in the thirteenth century and subsequently used by a number of other mystics, theologians, and philosophers.