Tool-Being

Here is Graham Harman’s tool-being in a very tight nutshell. There is a dual(if not quadruple) nature to objects. Objects are perceived, reveal themselves to us and to each other and are simultaneously withdrawn, even from themselves, never fully exhausted by their relations. Harman derives his theory from Heidegger’s tool-analysis, the short summary of which is that things exist in their context as equipment and we don’t think about these things until we bring our attention to them for some reason. Take the trusty hammer, for example: when the carpenter uses the hammer, he or she is not thinking about it as a tool. It is, in Heidegger’s terms, ready-to-hand. If the hammer breaks, then it becomes present-at-hand. This doesn’t necessarily mean that for an object to be present-at-hand it must break. In turning his or her attention to the hammer, the carpenter becomes aware of it as a thing.


Harman develops this notion into the dualism inherent in every object, between tool and broken-tool. A tool does not exist for some purpose. A tool is. It’s out there in the world busy being. The hammer is. It is not a hammer until we, or some other entity, perceives it as such. On the other side of the coin, a broken-tool is an object extracted from its contexture, no longer simply being, whether or not it has ceased to function for some entity(human or non). Even through “breaking”, we never access the withdrawn reality of that object or exhaust its relations because we never encounter the real hammer, as it exists for itself.

Harman then extends the tool-analysis to all entities, not just equipment for hum

an productivity. The tree and iron ore are tools long before they are constituted into the “tool” we refer to as “hammer”. All objects are tools. By extension, humans are also tools(some more so than others). So, contrary to popular opinion, humans are not the center of the universe. We are objects among objects. Anything and everything is an object.


From this it follows that all objects are constituted of objects all the way down. And each and every relation is constitutive of an object, no matter how fleeting or transitory. The hammer, again, is composed of wood and metal, each component is in its own right an object. Yet, each of those objects are composed of various cellular and molecular structures that are in their own right objects. And on and on. The carpenter using the hammer is a carpenter-hammer object. The hammer striking the nail, however briefly, is a hammer-nail object. Or, from a larger perspective, a carpenter-hammer-nail object. Add to that the structure into which the nail is being driven and our carpenter-hyphen object continues to expand.


— Jared Nielsen

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