Heidegger, as a tangent in his discussion of Daesin, talks about objects/tools which can be either ready-to-hand or present-at-hand.

As I find Heidegger painfully unreadable, but his concepts useful, which philosophers discuss these concepts and apply them to the philosophy of technology?

At present, I'm aware of Dreyfus's discussion of the concepts, are there any others?

  • I'm pretty sure you have those terms backwards. I've always seen this translated as "ready-to-hand" and "present-at-hand". As far as where to find easily readable versions of Heidegger, well, good luck. ;-) Jun 8, 2011 at 5:31
  • The book I found that wasn't completely painful was Dreyfus's Companion to Heidegger, 2004. But... yeah. no. Jun 8, 2011 at 5:37

2 Answers 2


Heidegger is one of (if not the) most influential philosopher of the twentieth century, so there have been several 'return-to-Heidegger!' sort of movements which really plunged into his metaphysical work. (In particular, this notion of 'instrumentality' or 'tool-being' has received a lot of treatment.)

The philosophers involved with the Linguistic Turn are one very good place to go. Derrida, of course, writes a great deal on Heidegger.

As far as serious contemporary work goes, the object-oriented ontology of Graham Harman utilizes Heidegger extensively, and in particular radicalizes the concept of tool-being. I might suggest starting there, as it's really accessible. Zizek writes a little bit on Heidegger, but again that will be true of any serious thinker of the last century with some exceptions (but not that many.)

  • Yeah, I'm aware of his history, but just like Marx, he actually has some interesting ideas for the philosophy-of-technology, though some of his ideas (especially when he starts talking about windmills) are bloody scary. I'd suggest editing out that last paragraph, as it's a little off-topic. Jun 8, 2011 at 1:08
  • Alright -- I'm removing the suggestion to look at Heidegger's work under the Nazi regime and the critical-social assessments thereof.
    – Joseph Weissman
    Jun 8, 2011 at 1:10
  • 1
    Beyond that, awesome :) Derrida was an excellent suggestion, as well as Harman. Jun 8, 2011 at 1:13

According to Wrathall's reading of Heidegger, tools can switch between readiness to hand and presence at hand and that they become present only when they break.

This struck me as having been highlighted in Winograd & Flores's Understanding Computers and Cognition. They talk about the detail revealed by breakdown providing the opportunity for improved understanding and new design.

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