The relationship between present-at-hand and ready-to-hand is based in Heidegger’s concept of “equipment” and Being’s relationship to it.
Present-at-hand and ready-to hand are both modes of being, in which equipment plays an important role. In our most basic way of dealing with things we deal with them as equipment. “Equipment is essentially in-order-to..
.”, that is to say that equipment, in and of itself, is something to be used in-order-to.1 An example of this is my keyboard; I’m using it in-order-to write my paper. This idea of something in-order-to is essential to equipment, and to the understanding of the relationship between ready-to-hand and present-at-hand.
The thing that is important here is the nature of equipment. Equipment’s essence is fundamentally towards other equipment. Whereby equipment is what it is only by its relationship to other equipment. “Equipment.
.. always is in terms of its belonging to other equipment.”2 An example is a screwdriver is only a screwdriver because of its relationship to screws.
The screwdriver has an in-order-to, which is in-order-to screw or unscrew. But in-order-to screw or unscrew one would have to possess not only the screwdriver, but a screw also. This example shows that the relationship of equipment to other equipment is essential. Equipment is what is it is by belonging to a “referential totality”.
3 The totality, however, doesn’t go on forever, but rather ends in a “for-the-sake-of”, an ultimate end.Our Being’s, or as Heidegger puts it, our Dasein have a fundamental relationship with equipment. Moreover, equipment is realized as what it is only through its interaction with Dasein. Though Dasein has no properties in the form of subject/object predication, it does have modes of being.
Two of Dasein’s modes of being towards equipment are the present-at-hand, and the ready-to-hand. As stated earlier, equipment is what it is, always in reference to other equipment; furthermore each piece can be placed in a “referential totality”, which will relate in some way to something Dasein is concerned with. The way the modes of being relate are through Dasein, whereby Dasein lights up a piece of equipment as what it is. Primordially, Dasein doesn’t prearrange the world in terms of its belief, nor does it engage the world through its sense perceptions.
Rather, Dasein sees the world as ready-to-hand first and present-at-hand a secondary category of relationships.When a piece of equipment is being used as what it is supposed to be used for, Heidegger calls that ready-to-hand. “Entities show up as at our disposal.”4 When Dasein encounters the world it does so as a totality, with a frame of reference.
Equipment within that totality is able to be “manipulated” because it is at our disposal.5 This is important because by using an object the way it is supposed to be used, it shows that objects manipulability. This in turn this usage of equipment leads to the ready-at-hand mode of being.”The kind of Being which equipment possesses – in which it manifests itself in its own right – we call ‘readiness-to-hand’ [Zuhandenheit].
“6 So that readiness-to-hand is simply the mode of being that presents itself when a piece of equipment is being used the way that it is supposed to be used. The term “ready-to-hand” is fundamental way of describing our everyday existence. This way of being is “non-thematic circumspective absorption in references or assignments constitutive for the readiness-to-hand of a totality of equipment.”7This is much different than the present-at-hand mode of being.
We must keep in mind the Dasein has no properties in the form of subject/object predication, but rather modes of being. Present-at-hand then, is a mode of being related to Dasein. When a piece of equipment is being used for what it is intended to be used for, Heidegger calls that mode of being ready-to-hand. When an object comes into our awareness, it becomes present-at-hand.
When theoretical enquiry comes into play an object switches from ready-to-hand to present-at-hand.Heidegger’s example of this is the hammer. He says that if one is utilizing the hammer in its proper way the hammer itself will become conspicuous and its mode of being will be the ready-to-hand.8 But should the hammer become deficient or break, its mode of being would change.
Its conspicuousness would disappear, and the hammer would come into one’s awareness. Moreover, the hammer would be brought into the presence of our attention and become present-at-hand. It is this interplay of ready-to-hand to present-at-hand, and vice versa that creates a relationship.The relationship of the two modes becomes apparent then.
In one mode, namely the ready-to-hand an object, or piece of equipment, is being utilized as what it is supposed to be used for. Therefore, the ready-to-hand is more of the practical application of an object. Whereas the present-at-hand comes when one is examining, reflecting upon, or brings into theoretical concern a given object. This is important because since the time of Plato, philosophers have privileged the theoretical way we look at the world over the everyday we live in the world.
They have privileged the present-at-hand over the ready-to-hand because they either don’t see a relationship between the two modes, or don’t think that it is important.The relationship is that there are two ways of dealing with the world, practically and theoretically, and that both ways are important, in and of themselves. In addition, these two modes of being are related through Dasein’s dealings with the world, in that without these two modes the world would not be intelligible. So not only are ready-to-hand and present-at-hand related to each other directly, but they are also relations through Dasein; these two modes of being indirectly constitute a relation between Dasein and reality.
It seems the case that of the two modes being discussed, given the right circumstances either could be prior to the other one. That is to say, the prior-ness of one of the two modes depends on the way in which Dasein encounters the world. If this is the case then the ready-to-hand would be prior in that, through Dasein’s everyday dealing with the world it sees objects, not just “things”, but rather objects to manipulated. The prior-ness of the present-at-hand seems then to be secondary to the prior-ness of the ready-to-hand.
9Present-at-hand is prior to ready-to-hand only in certain circumstances. If an object presents itself, and the object itself is in question, then it would be present-at-hand. That is to say, if there is something wrong with an object, or if Dasein encounters an object it has never encountered before, then the mode of being for those objects would initially be present-at-hand. Any type of enquiry into the nature of the object, what it is made of, how it works, how much it weighs are all ways of bringing an object into presence.
Present-at-hand is an important mode of being such that it gives us a basis for theoretical inquiry into the nature of “things”. But Heidegger wants to argue that readiness-to-hand is more primordial than the present-at-hand.Heidegger’s argument is that Dasein’s everydayness is towards the ready-to-hand rather than the present-at-hand. Through everyday, absorbed encounters with the world, we don’t see things as present-at-hand.
We deal with things as equipment ready-to-hand. Using a piece of equipment is ontologically more fundamental than trying to figure out what substances make it up. Thus, the ready-to-hand is prior to the present-at-hand. Readiness-to-hand, as stated above, is the mode of being which uses equipment in-order-to.
The everyday being-in-the-world of Dasein is to be with equipment, and to use the equipment as what it supposed to be used for within its referential totality.10Dasein’s everyday dealing with the world is towards the ready-to-hand primordially, and as a secondary way of understanding the world it is towards the present-at-hand. Dasein’s essential nature is to use things as what they are supposed to be used for. This being the case, the privileging of present-at-hand over the ready-to-hand is an abstraction of the world.
Things in the world present themselves by their use ontologically, and therefore the ready-to-hand is prior.11 So it can be said that epistemologically the world is present-at-hand prior, but ontologically it is primordially ready-to-hand. Moreover, present-at-hand is prior when we are trying to figure an object out. The mode of ready-to-hand is prior in the way Dasein is absorbed in, and deals with the world.
All in all, the relationship between the present-at-hand and the ready-to-hand is now apparent, the two modes of being a related through Dasein, and how Dasein deals with the world. In a natural state Dasein deals with the world as ready-to-hand in that it sees and uses equipment as what it is for, within a referential totality. When objects present a problem for Dasein, the ready-to-handness of the world changes to present-at-hand.Dasein brings the problem into presence in order to be examined, and thus the present-at-hand.
In that way it can be said that the present-at-hand is an abstract view that emerges only when something is presented as a problem to be examined. This being said, present-at-hand is a secondary way of dealing with the world. The primary way is that of ready-to-hand which is how we deal with the world on a day-to-day basis.