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Tool-being: Elements in a theory of objects

, DePaul University, United States

DePaul University . Awarded


This dissertation aims to develop Martin Heidegger's famous analysis of equipment (Zuhandenheit) into an ontology of objects. Although numerous commentators have discussed the role of the tool in Heidegger's work, all have interpreted it too narrowly as a question of human practical activity, in connection with a limited range of familiar utensils such as chisels, jackhammers, and saws. Chapter One argues that Heidegger's analysis actually holds good of all possible entities, whether they be “useful” or not. The term ‘tool-being’ holds good for grains of sand as much as saws, for angels as much as windmills. In truth, all entities are caught up in Heidegger's famous reversal between readiness-to-hand and presence-at-hand, a crippling global dualism from which nothing in the cosmos is immune. My related claim is that all of Heidegger's various attempts to discuss any sort of concrete subject matter quickly implode into a sheer repetition of the duel between tool and broken tool. His supposed discussions of “space,” “truth,” and “time” are nothing more than distracting code words for a repetitive duality that Heidegger tries (and fails) to escape by means of his abortive project for a ‘metontology.’ His monotonous appeal to the drama of tool and broken tool is complicated by only one further dualism, one found in his work as early as the 1919 Freiburg course Zur Bestimmung der Philosophie. The interplay of these two principles is what leads Heidegger to his infamous notion of the fourfold (das Geviert), a concept too hastily ridiculed even by many of his admirers. Chapter Two offers a critical engagement with the secondary literature, focusing in particular on the concepts of Dasein, being, time, truth, Ereignis, language, and technology. Chapter Three attempts to develop the implications of this reading of Heidegger for a theory of the structure of objects in general. I argue in conclusion that Heidegger's holistic theory of the world, expressed in even clearer form in the works of Whitehead, leads to just as many perplexities as the substance-based theories of Aristotle and Leibniz. The concept of ‘tool-being’ requires some sort of compromise position between context and substance.


Harman, G. Tool-being: Elements in a theory of objects. Ph.D. thesis, DePaul University. Retrieved December 11, 2023 from .

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