A sign is something ontically ready-to-hand, which functions both as this definite equipment and as something indicative of [was ... anzeigt] the ontological structure of readiness-to-hand, of referential totalities, and of worldhood. Here is rooted the special status of the sign as 83 something ready-to-hand in that environment with which we concern ourselves circumspectively. Thus the reference or the assignment itself cannot be conceived as a sign of it is to serve ontologically as the foundation upon which signs are based. Reference is not an ontical characteristic of something ready-to-hand, when it is rather that by which readiness-to-hand itself is constituted.
In what sense, then, is reference 'presupposed' ontologically in the ready-to-hand, and to what extent is it, as such an ontological foundation, at the same time constitutive for worldhood in general?
¶ 18. Involvement and Significance; the Worldhood of the World
The ready-to-hand is encountered within-the-world. The Being of this entity, readiness-to-hand, thus stands in some ontological relationship towards the world and towards worldhood. In anything ready-to-hand the world is always 'there'. Whenever we encounter anything, the world has already been previously discovered, though not thematically. But it can also be lit up in certain ways of dealing with our environment. The world is that in terms of which the ready-to-hand is ready-to-hand. How can the world let the ready-to-hand be encountered ? Our analysis hitherto has shown that what we encounter within-the-world has, in its very Being, been freed1 for our concernful circumspection, for taking account. What does this previous freeing amount to, and how is this to be understood as an ontologically distinctive feature of the world? What problems does the question of the worldhood of the world lay before us ?
We have indicated that the state which is constitutive for the ready-to-hand as equipment is one of reference or assignment. How can entities with this kind of Being be freed by the world with regard to their Being? Why are these the first entities to be encountered ? As definite kinds of references we have mentioned serviceability-for-, detrimentality [Abträglichkeit], usability, and the like. The "towards-which" [das Wozu] of a serviceability and the "for-which" [das Wofür] of a usability prescribed the ways in which such a reference or assignment can become concrete. But the 'indicating' of the sign and the 'hammering' of the hammer are not properties of entities. Indeed, they are not properties at all, if the ontological structure designated by the term 'property' is that of some definite character which it is possible for Things to possess [einer möglichen Bestimmtheit von Dingen].
1 'freigegeben'. The idea seems to be that what we encounter has, as it were, been released, set free, given its freedom, or given free rein, so that our circumspection can take account of it.