Jordan Peterson regularly talks about how we view things in the world as tools, instead of mere objects. Some examples:

1) We see something as a chair because we can sit on it. If you cannot sit on it, it's not a chair. A car is a vehicle we drive. If all human life would disappear, things like 'chairs' or 'cars' wouldn't exist anymore, since there are no lifeforms to sit in them or drive them.

2) An umbrella is something to protect yourself from rain falling on you. In case of a self defense scenario, it's not an umbrella but something like 'a long pointed object to stab someone with'.

3) A pigeon is a bird some people enjoy feeding or watching, others see them as a nuisance. In case of a famine, a pigeon turns into 'potential food source'.

Is there a philosophical term for seeing this world like this?

Edit: I'm not asking whether or not people agree with this. My question is: is there a philosophical term for it, and might it be part of a certain philosophical school of thought?


You might look into Heidegger's phenomenology for a philosophical framework for this. It is sometimes referred to as instrumentality or Heidegger's special term ready-to-hand. Heidegger argues that we first and foremost encounter things in the world as equipment that fits into a for-the-sake-of structure. We become aware of ourselves as always already embedded in a world of equipment and tools that are ready-to-hand (i.e., ready to be taken up for-the-sake-of something). In his famous example, Heidegger considers a hammer. The carpenter does not first see a particular color and shape and only then infer that this is something that he can use for fixing nails. Rather, the carpenter encounters this thing immediately as something that can be used for the sake of fixing nails. Moreover, the fixed nails can be used for the sake of building a chair, which in turn can be used for the sake of sitting, which in turn can be...etc.. In this sense, not only do we encounter individual objects in and by way of their instrumental value, but every instrumental value fits into a totality of involvements that form the context for our meaningful interactions with the world around us.

To encounter things as mere objects (i.e., something like a substance bearing properties) is a derivative, abstract kind of encounter, and not the way we principally engage in the world.

The entirety of the first division of Heidegger's famous Being and Time is devoted to laying out Heidegger's framework. As a first step, you might peruse Heidegger's SEP article online, and in particular look at this section: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/heidegger/#ModEnc

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.