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Martin Heidegger

Martin Heidegger

German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) has become widely regarded as the most original 20th century philosopher. Recent interpretations of his philosophy closely associate him with existentialism (despite his repudiation of such interpretations) and, controversially, with National Socialist (Nazi) politics.

Martin Heidegger was born in Messkirch, a small town in Baden in southwest Germany, on Sept. 26, 1889. His father was a verger in the local Catholic church, and the boy received a pious upbringing. After graduation from the local gymnasium, he entered the Jesuit novitiate; later, he studied Catholic theology at the University of Freiburg. The markedly philosophical cast of medieval theology helped attract Heidegger to philosophy, and he finished his education in that subject. In 1914 he presented a doctoral thesis entitled "The Theory of Judgment in Psychologism," which showed the strong influence of Edmund Husserl's writings. A year later he was admitted to the faculty of Freiburg as a lecturer. His habilitation thesis was on a work of medieval logic, then thought to be by John Duns Scotus.

In 1916 Husserl was called to Freiburg as professor of philosophy, and when Heidegger returned from brief military service in World War I (spent in part at a meteorological station), he sought out the teacher whose works he had admired. In the following years Heidegger became an academic assistant for Husserl and edited the latter's manuscripts for The Phenomenology of Internal Time-consciousness.

Heidegger was called to a professorship in Marburg in 1923. Among his colleagues there were Rudolf Bultmann and Paul Tillich, theologians whose own work was profoundly shaped by discussions with Heidegger and by the publication in 1927 of his major work, Being and Time. In the autumn of 1928 Heidegger was recalled to Freiburg to take Husserl's chair, singled out by Husserl as his only qualified successor. Though Heidegger had been, in effect, designated as the leader of the developing phenomenological movement, it soon became clear that his own philosophical aims differed radically from those of Husserl.

In Being and Time Heidegger had made it plain that he was fundamentally interested in one great question, about the meaning of Being. Later, in the Introduction to Metaphysics (1935) he accepted G.W. von Leibniz's formulation: "Why should there be any being at all and not rather nothing?" But the bulk of Being and Time has to do with a fundamental analysis of human existence. Heidegger regarded this as only a preparation for ontology, arguing that it is characteristic of the human being (Dasein) to raise the question of Being (Sein). The promised second half of Being and Time, which was to provide the new ontology, did not appear.

His analysis introduced a number of concepts that later received wide currency in existential philosophy: for example, "human finitude," "nothingness" "being-in-the-world," "being-unto-death," and "authenticity." When these ideas were picked up and developed by French philosophers during and after World War II, Heidegger explicitly repudiated the designation of his views as existentialist in a Letter on Humanism (1949). Nevertheless, his reputation and considerable influence stem from Being and Time "a work that, though almost unreadable, was immediately felt to be of prime importance."

After 1930, Heidegger turned to a more historical approach, presenting man's understanding of the "nature of being" in different epochs (especially in Ancient Greece) leading up to the 20th century, which he found to be deeply flawed in large part because it was technologically overboard. But his works did not become easier to understand because of the historical turn. His articles and short books were Delphic in their obscurity and mystical in tone. (Contemporary mainstream British and American academic philosophers who read Heidegger "tend to divide into two camps: those who believe his writings are largely gibberish and those who believe they are entirely gibberish.") Heidegger laments man's forgetfulness of Being. But it seems that Being now hides itself from man. "We come too late for the gods and too early for Being." The true calling of the philosopher, shared only with the poet, is to "watch for Being" and, in rare moments, "to name the Holy" or "speak Being."

Beginning in the 1920's Heidegger lived in a primitive ski hut high on an isolated mountain in the Black Forest. He did not know how to drive a car. Dressing in the Swabian peasant costume of his family, he and his wife lived a simple, ascetic life close to nature, from which, with the help of his favorite poet, Friedrich Hölderlin, Heidegger attempted to learn the secret of Being.

Shortly after the electoral triumph of the National Socialist party in 1933, Heidegger began an association with the Nazis which is the subject of much contemporary controversy. The leaders of the Third Reich were determined to enforce conformity on all the institutions of Germany and immediately began to pressure the universities. The rector at Freiburg resigned, and in April 1933, shortly after Hitler was elected Chancellor, Heidegger was unanimously elected rector by the teaching faculty. Heidegger later claimed that the faculty "hoped that my reputation as a professor would help to preserve the faculty from political enslavement." But in his inaugural address and particularly in addresses to students in July and November of that year, Heidegger went far beyond what would have been required of any rector under the regime. In these speeches he rejected the concept of academic freedom as "implying uncommittedness in thought and act," and he urged students to make an "identification with the New Order." In his declaration to students on Nov. 3, 1933, Heidegger said, "Doctrine and 'ideas' shall no longer govern your existence. The Führer himself, and only he, is the current and future reality of Germany, and his word is your law." Despite the strength of these statements, Heidegger left his position as rector within a year, but he continued to see a unique destiny for German culture. Philosophy, he said, can be written only in Greek or German, and Germany to him was still entrusted with the fate of European culture, a nation caught in great pincers between two powers, Russia and America, which share "the same dreary technological frenzy, the same unrestricted organization of the average man."

Until the late 1980's most Heideggerians viewed his encounters with Nazism as an error of enthusiasm or philosophical misunderstanding or both, and it was not much of an issue. But in 1987 Victor Faríias published Heidegger and Nazism (in French); the book "dropped like a bomb on the quiet chapel where Heidegger's disciples were gathered, and blew the place to bits." The story Heidegger had offered after the war that he supported the Nazis briefly and only to protect the university was overwhelmed by evidence of Heidegger's deep and long-lasting commitment to National Socialism, his blatant anti-Semitism, and his blackballing of colleagues for holding pacifist convictions, associating with Jews, or being "unfavorably disposed" toward the Nazi regime.

Heidegger was by no means the only German philosopher who signed up, but he was the most important, by far, and the only one who "saw himself as one of the greatest thinkers in the history of the West." After the war, a "de-Nazification" committee of Heidegger's peers at the university, many of them favorably disposed to him, were unconvinced by his claims of "intellectual resistance" to Nazism and removed him from his job, denying him emeritus status, and pensioning him off. Heidegger himself finally admitted that his lectures after he left the rectorship were anything but tough attacks on Nazism. Otherwise, after the war, he maintained "an almost hermetic silence" about the Holocaust. For some, this was "Heidegger's crime:" he was a thinker and writer who believed such people should be "the guardian of the memory of forgetting," but who "lent to extermination not his hand and not even his thought but his silence and nonthought … he 'forgot' the extermination."

Heidegger spent his last 20 years writing, publishing, and guest-lecturing at various places. He died in Freiburg in 1976.

Further Reading

Heidegger is the subject of much scholarship. Collections of essays on his work include Charles Guignon (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger (1993); Hubert L. Dreyfus and Harrison Hall (eds.), Heidegger: A Critical Reader (1992); and Michael Murray (ed.), Heidegger and Modern Philosophy (1978); On Heidegger's politics, see Julian Young, Heidegger, Philosophy, Nazism (1997); James F. Ward, Heidegger's Political Thinking (1995); Hugo Ott, Martin Heidegger A Political Life (1993); Hans Sluga, Heidegger's Crisis, Philosophy and Politics in Nazi Germany (1993), Richard Wolin, The Heidegger Controversy (1993); Victor Faríias, Heidegger and Nazism (1987); For more listings, articles, and book reviews, see the Heidegger page at www.webcom.com/~paf/ereignis.html. □

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"Martin Heidegger." Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. 29 May. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Heidegger, Martin

Heidegger, Martin

One cannot fully live unless one confronts one's own mortality. This hallmark of existentialist thought owes much to the works of Martin Heidegger. Heidegger (18891976) was born in Germany's Black Forest region. He held an early interest in theology and the priesthood, but soon shifted his attention to philosophy. At the University of Freiburg he studied under Edmund Husserl, and eventually succeeded him as chair of philosophy. Heidegger went on to become a leading exponent of phenomenological and existential philosophy, which he blends together in his Being and Time (1927).

In this monumental work Heidegger addresses issues related to death, exploring the human being in his or her temporality. This connection is important. For Heidegger, the human being cannot achieve a complete or meaningful life, or any kind of "authentic existence," unless he or she comes to terms with temporalitya uniquely human awareness that a human being is a finite, historical, and temporal being. The awareness of death is a central beginning for understanding this temporality.

According to Heidegger, the human being must understand that he or she is a "being toward death" (Being and Time ). "As soon as man comes to life," he says, "he is at once old enough to die" (Heidegger 1962, p. 289). Therefore the awareness and acceptance of death is a requirement for authentic existence. Heidegger refers to the inauthentic self as the "they-self." This is the self that is influenced by the crowd or the "they," rather than by its own unique potentialities. The they-self sees death as a subject producing "cowardly fear, a sign of insecurity" (p. 298) and therefore a fit topic to be avoided. Avoidance of death can be achieved by an evasion technique Heidegger refers to as the "constant tranquilization about death." In so doing, the they-self "does not permit us the courage for anxiety in the face of death" and promotes instead an "untroubled indifference" (p. 299) about death.

Death, the they-self argues, is something all human beings will experience one day in the undetermined and, therefore, easily ignored future. People experience death in the death of others, and draw conclusions about their own deaths. As Heidegger states, this is as if to say, "One of these days one will die too, in the end; but right now it has nothing to do with us" (p. 297). But for Heidegger death is not a shared experience at all; rather, it is one's "ownmost" and a "non-relational" experience. That is, death is something one can only do by oneself, as each person dies his or her own death.

What is the proper attitude toward one's death? Heidegger rejects the cowardly fear proposed by the they-self. The only proper mood, he argues, when one comes "face-to-face" with the "nothing" that death reveals, is a courageous "anxiety" (p. 310). This anxiety or dread, as the scholar Michael Gelven points out, is different from fear in that fear attaches to some actual object, while anxiety focuses on freedom and possibility. Only such a mood, says Heidegger, will bring about an "impassioned freedom towards death " (p. 311). Heidegger's reflections on death, therefore, are not obsessions with morbidity. Nor does he offer a religious hope of life after death. Rather, healthy anxiety about death provides courageous awareness and acceptance of death, and of one's finitude.

See also: Anxiety and Fear; Kierkegaard, SØren; Philosophy, Western

Bibliography

Gelven, Michael. A Commentary on Heidegger's Being and Time. New York: Harper and Row, 1970.

Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. 1927. Reprint, New York: Harper and Row, 1962.

Krell, David Farrell. Intimations of Mortality: Time, Truth and Finitude in Heidegger's Thinking of Being. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1986.

WILLIAM COONEY

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COONEY, WILLIAM. "Heidegger, Martin." Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. 29 May. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

COONEY, WILLIAM. "Heidegger, Martin." Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. (May 29, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3407200131.html

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Heidegger, Martin

Martin Heidegger (mär´tēn hī´dĕger), 1889–1976, German philosopher. As a student at Freiburg, Heidegger was influenced by the neo-Kantianism of Heinrich Rickert and the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl. In 1923 he became professor at Marburg, where he wrote and published the only completed part of his major work, Sein und Zeit (1927; tr. Being and Time, 1962). On the basis of this work Heidegger was called (1928) to Freiburg to succeed Husserl in the chair of philosophy, which he occupied until his retirement in 1951. He actively supported Adolf Hitler during the dictator's first years in power, and was a member of the National Socialist party from 1933 to 1945. After World War II he was banned from teaching and publishing for five years. Controversy has raged regarding nature and depth of Heidegger's Nazism and anti-Semitism and the degree to which they are reflective of his philosophical thinking.

Although generally considered a founder of existentialism, Heidegger vehemently rejected the association, just as he came to reject Husserl's phenomenology. Heidegger's fundamental concern, as announced in Sein und Zeit and developed in his subsequent works, is the problem of being. In Sein und Zeit, being is shown to be intimately linked with temporality; the relationship between them is investigated by means of an analysis of human existence. Strongly influenced by Sören Kierkegaard, Heidegger delineated various aspects of human existence, such as "care," "moods," and the individual's relationship to death, and related the authenticity of being, as well as the anguish of modern society, to the individual's confrontation with his own temporality. It was this work and its influence upon Jean-Paul Sartre that have led many critics to consider Heidegger an existentialist. In addition to its influence on Sartre, Heidegger's thought influenced both modern Protestant theology (through Paul Tillich and Rudolph Bultmann) and the work of Jacques Derrida and other advocates of deconstruction.

The ontological aspect of Heidegger's thought assumed greater prominence in his later writings, which included studies of poetry and of dehumanization in modern society. Heidegger considered himself the first thinker in the history of Western philosophy to have raised explicitly the question concerning the "sense of being," and he located the crisis of Western civilization in mass "forgetfulness of being." Among his other works are Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics (1929, tr. 1962), What Is Metaphysics? (1929, tr. 1949), An Introduction to Metaphysics (1953, tr. 1959), What Is Philosophy? (1956, tr. 1958), and The End of Philosophy (1956, tr. 1973).

See studies by T. Langan (1959), M. King (1964), J. M. Demske (1963, tr. 1970), L. M. Vail (1972), S. L. Binderman (1981), H. G. Wolz (1981), R. Wolin (1990; ed., 1993; and 2001), K. Lowith (tr. 1995), R. Safranski (1998), and P. E. Gordon (2010); V. Farias, Heidegger and Nazism (1987); E. Ettinger, Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger (1995) and D. Villa, Arendt and Heidegger: The Fate of the Political (1995).

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Heidegger, Martin

Heidegger, Martin (1889–1976) German philosopher. A founder of existentialism and a major influence on modern philosophy, his most important work was Being and Time (1927). Influenced by phenomenology and Christian ontology, his central concern was how human self-awareness depends on the concepts of time and death. For him, Western science and philosophy led to nihilism. His later work focused more on the role of language.

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Heidegger, Martin

Heidegger, Martin (1889–1976) A German existentialist philosopher, who adopted Edmund Husserl's phenomenological method, in order to investigate the nature of human existence. His most significant work is Being and Time (1926), which was an important influence on post-modernism, and a source for Anthony Giddens's ideas about time and space.

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GORDON MARSHALL. "Heidegger, Martin." A Dictionary of Sociology. 1998. Encyclopedia.com. 29 May. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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