For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Heidegger's Ontology of Work"

by Blok, Vincent (2015)


In this chapter, the author shows that Heidegger's ontology of work in the 1930s is already prefigured in Being and Time. With this, the question arises how this prefiguration of the "total" work-character in Being and Time is related to the ontology of work in the 1930s. As Heidegger characterizes human dealing with the world indeed as being-at-work in the work-world, but this inclusiveness of our being-in-the-world is not total. Heidegger's conceptualization of care in terms of work makes clear that Junger initially did not have a negative influence on Heidegger's thought at the beginning of the 1930s, as suggested by Michael Zimmermann, namely the stimulus to develop an alternative for the technological future forecasted by Junger. Heidegger's use of the concept of work in the period 1930–1934 is definitely positively inspired by Junger, although not necessarily completely the same as Junger's.

Key Passage

In  a  lecture  about  the    Basic  Concepts  of  Aristotelian  Philosophy  in  the  same  period  (1924),  this  world  of  equipment  and  work  is  explicitly  con-nected with the concept of work. In his productive appropriation  12  of Aristo-tle’s basic concepts, Heidegger explores what primarily encounters us in the world: “A being thus in the world is there and can, as  dunamis, at the same time be something usable.  Dunamis, ‘not yet,’ can mean: is usable for . . ., transformable into. . . . This being that is there thus, as there completed and usable for . . . is characterized by the  dichoos as a being.”  13  We encounter here not only Heidegger’s interpretation of Aristotle’s concept of  dunamis, but also an early formulation of his own analysis of equipment in  Being and Time: the leather is usable for shoes, it  can become a shoe, like timber can become  a  table.  On  the  one  hand,  we  encounter  the    readiness-to-hand  of  equipment in this ability-to-be of timber; timber is usable to make a table or—in  terms  of    Being  and  Time—a  useful  piece  of  equipment  in  order  to  make such a table. On the other hand, precisely this ability-to-be is under-stood  as  being-in-work  (  in-Arbeit-Sein)  of  the  table;  the    being-serviceable for . . . or  usable for . . .  14  of ready-to-hand equipment is thus understood here  as    being-in-work  of  equipment.  This  being-in-work  is  according  to  Heidegger  not  only  “thought”  by  us  but  also    a  way  of  being,  namely  the  way the timber primarily encounters us in the environment in its usefulness for or serviceability as a table.As  in    Being  and  Time,  Heidegger  argues  in  this  lecture  as  well  that  the  being-in-work  of  ready-to-hand  equipment  does  not  only  concern  instru-ments  and  handicrafts,  but  is  extended  to  the  whole  of  nature:  “The  her-meneutic  fact  of  the  matter:  I  and  you,  we  are  not  concerned  with  it  [the  being-in-work of beings], and yet it is there, it happens, is concerned with itself, is there arising, and the like—to come from itself into presence and, e.g. to rest therein—reality.  Phusis characterizes a being that is:  to be in itself the worker of itself.”   16  Here we encounter therefore the work-character of the ready-to-hand world in which we are at home  as    worker. As in  Being and Time, this work-character is extended to the whole of the world of practice, i.e., this work-character determines beings in the whole. As  our  dealing  geared  to  equipment  in    Being  and  Time  is  included  in  the work-world, so is the work-character of the world also in this lecture understood in relation to human being as worker. As equipment only  is   in our  dealing  geared  to  equipment  and  in  our  focus  on  its  work,  so  is  the  relation with timber here characterized in the following way: the timber is originary  at work, provided that the carpenter has it in hand. “What is able-to-be (the wood lying before in the workshop), that is in work, is there as able-to-be precisely when it is taken up into work.”  17  The whole of nature is therefore being-at-work—the  phusis is “worker of itself”—but  originarybeing-at-work is nature precisely in our dealing with it: “In work, one has the surrounding world (also that which is of interest, and the like). We are concerned with the surrounding world in hand.”  18  Work is thus understood in a relational way, as the unity of the being-at-work of the work-world and human work with regard to this world, and concerns therefore the appear-ance  of  the  world  as  being-at-work  and  our  human  responsiveness  to  the  world of work as worker. Also  in    Being  and  Time,  our  dealing  geared  by  equipment  is  explicitly  called “work”; the work-world “is found when one is at work,”  19  we meet other people “at work,” etc.  20  It is precisely this handling or working with equipment with regard to the works of labor, which is called being-in-the-world by Heidegger. (p.65)


Heidegger, Ontology, Pragmatism, Relationality, Being, Junger, Zimmermann


On Jünger, On Heidegger

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