Vorhanden, Zuhanden, and Dasein, three modes of being

Vorhanden – Abstract Presence

The concept of vorhanden is translated ‘present-at-hand in BT. This is one mode of being in which being lies in the fact that something is, and is as it is in reality, which provides the mode of vorhanden for that entity (BT, 26). Awareness of the vorhanden character of an entity has a temporal structure because awareness is an event, which is necessarily tied to time and cannot be eternal. Thus, the awareness of vorhanden is a making-present of the entity (BT, 48), and thus brings the entity to a state in which it can become the object of some kind of relation to that which is aware of it, Dasein. The process of appearing that results in entities of the mode vorhanden being known is not a showing of themselves, but rather that they are evidenced by something else (BT, 52). These attributes of that which is vorhanden demonstrate that the word ‘what’, rather than ‘who’, is properly associated with the concept of vorhanden (BT, 71). Another characteristic of the vorhanden mode of being is that it is ‘in-the-world’ where ‘in’ means “sharing the same space as” (BT, 79).

The consequence of ‘being-in’ is that all entities that ‘be-in’ have a mode of being that can be reduced to vorhanden, but any such reduction of a view of the entity to merely vorhanden results in a denial of the higher modes of being that properly belong to the entity through the abstraction necessary to regard the entity as vorhanden. In contrast to things that are ‘in-the-world’ hut have a higher mode of being than is expressed in vorhanden, entities that only exist with the vorhanden mode of being are ‘belonging-to-the-world’ and so are a part of the world (BT, 93). The effect of being a part of the world is  that such entities become a part of the context o0f which Dasein is aware and with which Dasein interacts. 

Zuhanden –  Tool-Being

Heidegger identified zuhanden, ready-to-hand, as a mode of being that contrasts with vorhanden. He argues that entities become accessible when we concern ourselves with them in some way, that is, when we care about them (BT, 96). To care for entities is to become interested in them in some way so that the entity is no longer a mere object at a distance from us, as something observed and analysed, as described in the vorhanden mode of being, but rather to come into some interested relation to the entity. The fact of care makes the entity of
the kind described  ‘equipment’, zeug, that which is useful for something, and so to have a mode of being zuhanden (BT, 96).

Heidegger argues that strictly there is no such thing as ‘an equipment’ where ‘equipment’ means ‘something-in-order-to’. The ‘in-order-to’ character of the zuhanden mode implies a reference of something to something (BT, 97). That is, in the mode of being zuhanden the equipment is always linked to something else as an entity that has the purpose of effecting something other than itself for something other than itself. That which is zuhanden is known
in its relational nature as equipment for a purpose, but is not known as what it is in itself because when we use something our awareness is of its purpose rather than of it in and of itself, that is, its mode of being vorhanden (BT, 98). Thus, in order to be zuhanden the  vorhanden character must withdraw to release Dasein to perceive the entity as for a purpose.

This relation of vorhanden and zuhanden follows because when equipment is used the awareness of the user concerning the purpose of the entity rather than awareness of the entity in and of itself (BT, 99). Now, work involves using something for achieving something, whether the purpose is public or private, and thus is dependant on use of equipment (BT,  100).  However, that which is zuhanden must also be reducible to vorhanden, since there can be no
equipment where that equipment does not tangible exist as something that can be apprehended and analysed if one is able to penetrate beyond the perception of that entity as equipment (BT, 101). Consequently, that which is to be useful, has a mode of being of zuhanden and must have a mode of being vorhanden, and the difficulty in perceiving the  vorhanden character arises because it is obscured by the zuhanden character that is most immediately perceived by Dasein.

Should an entity normally perceived according to its zuhanden character be broken then it is perceived in its not useful vorhanden mode of being (BT, 103). In addition, should an item perceived by one as zuhanden be apprehended by another, who due to a lack of appropriate  experience or knowledge, is unable to perceive it as that particular zuhanden the latter may perceive it as a different zuhanden, that is as for a different purpose, or possibly as purposeless, and thus only as vorhanden.  All uses of that which has a mode of being of zuhanden relate somehow to serving one or more purposes of Dasein (BT, 116). Thus the generation of the zuhanden mode of being is dependent on Dasein generating it as an additional mode of being for an entity that is first of all vorhanden. However, having effected this transformation of vorhanden to zuhanden Dasein then primarily perceives the entity as zuhanden, and only with difficulty, if at all, as
vorhanden.  Heidegger also suggests that there may be some entities known as zuhanden that may not be encounterable and thus not knowable as objective entities that could be analysed, and their vorhanden character cannot be separated from their zuhanden character (BT, 122).

Heidegger does not posit examples of zuhanden that cannot be encountered as vorhanden. It may be worth contemplating whether such entities as knowledge or inter-personal relationships may be such unencounterables, and thus only perceivable as zuhanden because we are unable to remove the interpretative overlays of the underlying vorhanden entity in order to be able to encounter and perceive that vorhanden entity in an of itself. If this is so it would provide a foundation for our difficulty in understanding such entities.


Heidegger uses Dasein to name and describe the mode of being experienced by humans in their own existence (BT, 32). However, Heidegger does not definitively limit Dasein to humans, and so it is possible, or plausible, that there is some other non-human entity that may also have the Dasein mode of being, but Heidegger does notdiscuss this perspective on the issue either. The distinguishing characteristic of Dasein is that Dasein is aware of Dasein’s
existence, and is aware of the question of existence, and anything that is not Dasein is not so aware (BT, 32,33). Since Dasein is aware of its being and understands the question of being, one of the pursuits of Dasein has been to pursue and explore the nature of Dasein’s being seeking the authentic meaning of being (BT, 62). This pursuit contrasts with the other pursuit that Dasein conducts in parallel, which is shared in various ways by other entities, of seeking
to support its material being. That is, in parallel with pursuit of questions of the nature of being Dasein also pursues the mundane matters of life that enable physical support of the body in a desirable manner. Dasein pursues these mundane matters in a more sophisticated manner than other entities, but the other entities do pursue the mundane in some way, as their primary activity.
Dasein is not of the mode of vorhanden because it is not something that we ‘come across’ as we go about (BT, 69), but rather it is close to us, and is well known because it is inseparable from ourselves, but it is little understood in everyday experience because it is very close to us (BT, 69). In addition, Dasein is not zuhanden because it exists but is not for the purpose of effecting something.

The traditional view of people has been as rational animals,  through
rationalist concepts such as Decartes’ “I think therefore I am”, cogito ergo sum, but this yields Hiedegger with the problem that ____ is of a vorhanden kind and _____ is of an unclear kind of being, resulting in a person, viewed in this way having an indeterminate kind of existence (BT, 74).

At this point Heidegger departs from Ancient Greek and Christian anthropology, which both  define man as essentially an entity (BT, 75). Heidegger introduces the idea of ‘mineness’ as a quality that belongs to Dasein, as being that which is the true nature of Dasein, which results  in the possibility of Dasein living either authentically or inauthentically, depending on the way of life lived by Dasein (BT, 78).
Now Dasein experiences ‘being-in-the-world’ as sharing in the space of the world, but not as being a part of the world (BT, 79). Thus Dasein lives in the world as it is, and interacts with the world, but is of a different kind to the other entities in the world. A result is that it is possible to say Dasein is of vorhanden kind, but this either is a wilful disregarding of the ‘being in’ state of Dasein or an unintentional not seeing of that ‘being-in’ state (BT, 82). The possibility of seeing Dasein as either vorhanden or zuhanden results from the fact that in ‘being-in-the-world’ Dasein is constructed of stuff like the world and could be mistaken.   Such a mistaking of Dasein for one of the other kinds of being would result in inappropriate relations and behaviour because it would reduce people to being either equipment or mere objects. That Dasein can be ‘being-in-the-world’, Heidegger’s defining concept of Dasein, is the consequence of Dasein being able to know and to conduct I-thou relations, which are entities that cannot be known as of vorhanden kind. The view of Dasein as ‘being-in-the-world’ contrasts with the vorhanden which are, ‘in-the-world’ or ‘belonging-to-the-world’ and so parts of the world (BT, 93).
Previous western views of humanity regarded people as either bipartite, body and soul, or tripartite, body, soul and spirit, and lead to the assumption that a person is a synthesis of the parts, but in Heidegger’s view Dasein is existence, not a synthesis of separately existing parts (BT, 153). Thus, Heidegger argues for regarding Dasein as a complete and indivisible being that enters into relations and intrinsically is a complete, unified, entity. There are multiple Dasein, which necessarily have some kind of relation to each other, whether warm and        friendly or hermitic or otherwise, and these relations are characterized by Heidegger as ‘Being-with’.

Zuhanden  – Slave-Being  

In a sense then with slave-being we do take the slave as zuhanden, ready-to-hand, useful, a tool for use.  In consensual slavery the slave agrees, wants, needs to be taken this way.  As dasein he/she is still being-in-the-world but in this case, the world is not his/her world, but her Master’s world.  The slave is never merely an object, and in fact all ‘objectification’ of the slave is in reality de-subjectification, because the slave remains at the same time dasein and equipment, a tool and a being with its own sense of being, but the sense of being a tool in the equipmental totality of the Master’s world.

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