I often hear people say that Heidegger’s big accomplishment in Being and Time was the “reversal” of presence-at-hand and readiness-to-hand. These people will of course tell the standard story of how Heidegger was dissatisfied with traditional philosophy making vorhandenheit dominant in Western thought. Being dissatisfied, they say Heidegger then “reversed” vorhandenheit with zuhandenheit, and made readiness-to-hand dominant in ontology. That is, Heidegger hated how objects and objectivity had played such a dominant role in philosophy and created all these problems so he replaced it with Dasein i.e. readiness-to-hand. These two ontological modes play off each other. Traditionally, zuhandenheit was derivative of vorhandenheit but it is said that Heidegger “reversed” this relation, claiming instead that vorhandenheit was derivative from zuhandenheit.
According to this line of thought, Heidegger’s ontology consists of a dualism between vorhandenheit and zuhandenheit. Being a dualism, this will obviously get Heidegger into a lot of trouble, especially with the so-called “anti-correlationists”. The anti-correlationists claim that because of Heidegger’s reversal, he is stuck with anthropomorphism because he claims that vorhandenheit (objectivity) is derivative from zuhandenheit (subjectivity).
I want to challenge this dualism. A careful reading of Being and Time reveals that there is actually a tripartite ontology in Heidegger’s phenomenology: zuhandenheit, vorhandenheit, and the real. This is evidenced in the following passage:
The ‘Nature’ by which we are ‘surrounded’ is, of course, an entity within-the-world; but the kind of being which it shows belongs neither to the ready-to-hand nor to what is present-at-hand as ‘Things of Nature’. (SZ 211)
Passages like these clearly call for a rejection of the simple dualism between readiness-to-hand and presence-at-hand. There is a third element in play: the Real, the environs, the Earth, etc. These terms are all synonymous with Heidegger’s first definition of world as “the totality of entities present at hand”. Thus, we need to distinguish between two different forms of vorhandenheit. There is the vorhandenheit which shows up within-the-world which is derivative from zuhandenheit. This is a phenomenological conception of presence-at-hand. It describes how the world shows up as objective when our familiarity breaks down. But then there is the ontic and naturalistic conception of presence-at-hand which is independent of human concerns. This is a metaphysical notion of vorhandenheit. Heidegger cashes it out in terms of the “Real”.
“As we have noted, being (not entities) is dependent upon the understanding of being, that is to say, Reality (not the Real) is dependent upon care” (SZ 212)
“But the fact that [phenomenological] Reality is ontologically grounded in the being of Dasein, does not signify that only when Dasein exists and as long as Dasein exists, can the Real be as that which in itself it is” (SZ 212)
This means that there is an underlying naturalistic metaphysics in Being and Time (*gasp*). This metaphysics isn’t made very explicit, but it is there. For example, he says:
Thus Dasein’s Being becomes ontologically transparent in a comprehensive way only within the horizon in which the being of entities other than Dasein — and this means even of those which are neither ready-to-hand nor present-at-hand but just ‘subsist’ — has been clarified. (SZ 333)
Only in so far as something resistant has been discovered on the basis of the ecstatical temporality of concern, can factical Dasein understand itself in its abandonment to a [totality of entities] of which it never becomes master. (SZ 356)
Clearly, Heidegger wants to separate the Earth as it exists naturally and the Earth as it exists within-the-world of human experience. Heidegger recognizes that if humans vanished from the planet the planet would still exist, without Dasein. Indeed, he says that “The present-at-hand, as Dasein encounters it, can, as it were, assault Dasein’s Being; natural events, for instance, can break in upon us and destroy us” (SZ 152).
Accordingly, I have never understood the claim that because Heidegger “destroyed” Western metaphysics he didn’t have his own metaphysics. I find this claim to be absurd, not only philosophically, but textually as well. A close reading of Heidegger reveals that even within the densest descriptions of worldhood there are oftens cracks of Earth poking through, “rupturing” the world structure. In fact, I think this is what Heidegger is describing when he talks about the breakdown structure of both circumspective concern and anxiety before the “nothingness”. The nothing is literally the no-thing, the Real which has not yet been “worlded” and object-ified in terms of human concern. The no-thing is not itself nothing. It is something. It is the all-present, all-surrounding natural environs which grounds our dwelling. We can thus see a metaphysical continuity running from early Heidegger to late Heidegger.