Martin Heidegger

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Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), who was born in Messkirch, Germany, on September 26 and died there on May 26, was among the most important thinkers of the twentieth century. His significance for science, technology, and ethics may be approached from four directions.

Theoretical Science and Practical Activities

Heidegger's first and still most important book, Sein und Zeit (1927; English trans. Being and Time, 1962), is a cornerstone of the existentialism that became prominent after World War II. The book's major terms—anxiety, resoluteness, everydayness, authenticity, concern, care, and the like—are concepts Heidegger helps make intellectually cogent. Albert Camus (1913–1960) and Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980) work on territory Heidegger opened up philosophically.

Heidegger's own goal, however, was not to outline a theory of human beings as radically insecure or irrationally committed, but to uncover the central openness of human beings to being as such. Humans are the entities for whom how to be is always an issue. This is true for everyone and not merely true generally or abstractly. Heidegger's goal is to clarify the question of being by working out what being is and how it matters for each human being.

Heidegger's analysis in Being and Time follows a path that begins with the significance of ordinary human concerns and concludes with the temporal meaning of being. The usual implicit meaning of being is that which is most fully or eternally present. As a result humans conceive all things as essentially static entities with fixed, general characteristics suitable for neutral measuring, spatially and temporally. People objectify even their own selves in this manner. The meaningful present, however, cannot exist apart from the ordinary worlds of significance into which people find themselves thrown. This richer temporality, not static presence, is the heart of being human, and the clue to being as such. There is a historical and temporal motion, indeed, a dizzying abyss beneath all presence.

The relation between theory and practice that Heidegger's analysis suggests has important implications for understanding scientific technology. Purely theoretical enterprises such as natural science or mathematics depend on views of time and space that flatten or narrow the rich meanings of being projected in the ordinary worlds of action and concern. Dealing with things as they are actually used is primary; theoretical and scientific analysis is secondary. The right time and place to use particular tools cannot be determined, for example, from the neutral coordinates of physics, but are inherent in use itself. Instead, physics abstracts from and narrows the richness of tools that do their jobs usefully in the appropriate place and time.

This narrowing does not mean, however, that what science discovers is false in its own realm. The relativism or inordinate human responsibility for meaning that is inseparable from Heidegger's understanding does not imply that everything is magically at human disposal. Rather, what natural science discovers may be correct, but humans must see how it is grounded on the broader truths of being and of human openness to being.

The History of Science

Many of the works of Heidegger and his followers include some notion that use, practice, and everyday concern precede the flattening on which modern science and technology are built. Indeed, this view has served as the basis for Heidegger's influence on academic studies in the history of science. Heidegger's teacher Edmund Husserl (1859–1938) and several of Heidegger's students or those he affected, such as Jacob Klein (1899–1978) and Alexander Koyré (1892–1964), made important contributions to the history of mathematics and science. Klein's Greek Mathematical Thought and the Origin of Algebra (1934) and Koyré's Galileo Studies (1939) may even be said to have transformed the field, because Heidegger's procedure, which influenced them, involved a relentless search for the experience and understanding at the heart of worn-out philosophical concepts commonly employed by academic history.

To grasp the existential origin of scientific concepts was to uncover their meaning, power, and range. Heidegger himself explored in various places the original Greek understanding of nature (phusis) and the changed understanding of nature and motion that differentiates Aristotelian and Newtonian physics. His 1936 lecture course "Die Frage nach dem Ding" (published in 1962; English trans. What Is a Thing? 1967) is especially cogent in this regard.

The Technology Question

Heidegger's most direct discussion of scientific technology is in his "Die Frage nach der Technik," delivered in early versions in the 1940s and published in 1954 (English trans. The Question concerning Technology, 1977). His analysis became a basic text for those worried about the power and dominance of contemporary technology. Both directly and indirectly it has influenced thinkers and activists (such as the German Greens) who in the name of the environment opposed growing industrialization and mechanization. Here and in other works, Heidegger's prescient sense of the importance of information science and life chemistry also connects his views to pressing controversies of the day.

Heidegger argues that the essence of technology is nothing technological, that is, that technology is not itself a tool or implement. Rather, the essence of technology involves the manner in which things first present themselves in the contemporary world, namely, as "standing reserve" to be manipulated or rearranged at will. Everything approaches humans as a source of energy, a human "resource," a matter to be organized. Lost in this scenario are the independence of things, their distinctive presence and shape, and the way in which they take place in a meaningful world they help to form. The simple bridge across a river allows the river to meander and stand forth in its own power; the dam that helps to generate electricity transforms this river into an implement interchangeable with other energy resources. Because people see themselves so generally as resources to be manipulated, they become alienated from their roots and traditions, and from the significance of birth and death. Technology sunders human beings from the lifetimes and the times of life that give individuals weight and direction.

Heidegger does not seek to solve the problem of technology directly or to overcome humanity's technological leveling. To do so would make his own effort one more link in the strangling technological chain. Rather, he tries to show that as the predominant presentation of beings today, technology itself must open to and be placed in being as such. The apparent technological annihilation of all other significance becomes a clue to the source of meaning generally. The results of uncovering this source cannot be predicted. But being and human openness to it can be addressed and discussed in the manner of Being and Time, or in the more direct yet more elusive way of some of Heidegger's work from the mid-1930s on, in which discussions of poetry and gods come to the fore.

The Nazi Question

Heidegger's work is tainted by his association with the Nazis. He joined the National Socialist Party when he became rector of Freiburg University in May 1933, whereupon he praised Adolf Hitler publicly. The intensity of his support subsequently diminished, and some remarks in his lectures may be read as opposition to the views of Nazi ideologues. Other remarks continued to defend the Nazis, however, and he remained a party member throughout World War II.

The important question for students of Heidegger and of technology is whether his support of the Nazis flows from his philosophical arguments or, rather, stems from personal idiosyncrasy or political naïveté. It would be difficult to take seriously a thinker whose discussions of what it is to be a human being were in no way linked to political actions and judgments; Heidegger'sarguments do, in fact, display such a link. Heidegger's thought leads to immoderation and illiberalism because the standpoint from which he confronts issues is too encompassing to allow relevant ethical distinctions to matter or even become clear. Too many issues that to a responsible citizen or political leader involve significant differences between what is just and unjust look, from Heidegger's ontological point of view, to be the same. The substance of his understanding of human openness to being, moreover, with its emphasis on fate, authentic resolve, and the Volk (people), allows Heidegger to believe he has found essential links between his thought and the Nazis, and to accommodate his rhetoric to theirs.

It would be incorrect to claim that Heidegger's philosophical immoderation or basic concepts led him inevitably to support the Nazis or to approve all of Hitler's actions. The Nazis, he believed, ultimately failed to live up to what he called in 1935 "the inner truth and greatness of this movement." In the Introduction to Metaphysics, the version of 1935 lectures that he published in 1953, he described this "truth" and "greatness" as "the encounter between global technology and modern humanity. This same standpoint, however, led him not only (finally) to question the Nazis but to also treat the substance of Soviet Marxism, American democratic capitalism, and failed Nazism as essentially identical. The ethical and political immoderation to which Heidegger's view of technology can lead is strikingly captured not only in his political judgment but also in his identification of mechanized agriculture and the Holocaust: "Agriculture is now a motorized food industry, essentially the same as the manufacture of corpses in gas chambers and extermination camps, the same as the blockade and starvation of countries, the same as the manufacture of hydrogen bombs" (Polt 1999, p. 172, translating from Heidegger's "Das Ge-Stell").

Heidegger's thought cannot be reduced to his connection to the Nazis. His understanding of being and being human revitalized the study of philosophy by encouraging an encounter with the phenomena that the great works of Western thought have in view. His central concepts stimulated many to rethink the true sources of human freedom, excellence, and happiness. His view of scientific technology captures its breadth and centrality in a novel and still cogent manner. The paths he helped to open, however, can become closed by dogmatic application of his procedures. Heidegger's politics, moreover, encourage more than ordinary caution in dealing with his insights.


SEE ALSO Alienation; Arendt, Hannah; Existentialism; German Perspectives; Husserl, Edmund; Phenomenology.


Blitz, Mark. (1981). Heidegger's "Being and Time" and the Possibility of Political Philosophy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. A commentary on being and time.

Heidegger, Martin. (1962). Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. New York: Harper and Row. Translation of Sein und Zeit, 1927. Heidegger's major work

Heidegger, Martin. (1967). What Is a Thing? trans. W. B. Barton Jr. and Vera Deutsch. Chicago: Henry Regnery. Translation of Die Frage nach dem Ding, 1962. Includes a comparison of Aristotle and Newton.

Heidegger, Martin. (1977). The Question concerning Technology, trans. William Lovitt. New York: Harper and Row. Translation of Die Frage nach der Technik, 1954. Heidegger's chief essay on technology.

Heidegger, Martin. (1993). Basic Writings, rev. edition, ed. David Farrell Krell. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. Includes "The Question concerning Technology," selections from Being and Time and What Is a Thing? and other works relevant to Heidegger's understanding of science and technology.

Heidegger, Martin (2000). Introduction to Metaphysics, trans. Gregory Fried and Richard Polt. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Translation of Einfuhrung In Die Metaphysik (1953). Important lectures delivered originally in 1935.

Klein, Jacob. (1968). Greek Mathematical Thought and the Origin of Algebra, trans. Eva Brann. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Originally published 1934. Early work in the history of science influenced by Heidegger.

Koyré, Alexandre. (1978). Galileo Studies, trans. John Mepham. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press. Originally published 1939. Early work in the history of science influenced by Heidegger.

Lovitt, William, and Harriet Brundage Lovitt. (1995). Modern Technology in the Heideggerian Perspective. 2 vols. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press. Discussions of Heidegger and technology.

Polt, Richard. (1999). Heidegger: An Introduction. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Overall introduction to Heidegger's thought.

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HEIDEGGER, MARTIN (18891976), was a German philosopher. Young Heidegger's concern with the meaning of holy scripture was matched by his interest in the question of the meaning of being. Raised as a strict Roman Catholic, he studied for the priesthood for two years before deciding to pursue philosophy at the University of Freiburg. After receiving his Ph.D. in 1915, he stayed on at the university to work with Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology. During the years 1916 to 1919, Heidegger came to find Catholic dogma too rigid and moved toward liberal Protestantism. In the 1920s he appears to have abandoned his faith altogether, yet throughout his life he remained deeply involved with religious and spiritual issues. From 1923 to 1928, he taught at the University of Marburg, where he was a colleague of Rudolf Bultmann, Paul Tillich, and Rudolf Otto. Then he returned to Freiburg to replace the aging Husserl as professor of philosophy. In 19331934, while rector of the university, he openly supported National Socialism, but he soon changed his position and began challenging Nazi views in his classes. As a result, he was eventually declared expendable and was sent to work on the Rhine dikes. After World War II, he returned to Freiburg, where he spent the rest of his life teaching and writing as a professor of philosophy. Heidegger's thought can be divided into an early and a late phase. The late phase, the so-called turn, began in the late 1930s. This "turn" was not a radical shift in his thinking but rather the mature expression of insights he had voiced earlier.

Heidegger's Early Thought

In his major work, Being and Time (1927), Heidegger claims that human existence, or Dasein, constitutes the temporal-historical clearing in which beings can manifest themselves, or "be." For Heidegger, being does not mean the metaphysical ground of reality, a role traditionally assigned to God, but instead the finite presencing or manifesting of entities as entities, as things that are. One's ability to use the word is shows that one understands the difference between being (presencing) and entities (things that present or reveal themselves). Because one is constantly understanding and interpreting what it means for oneself and other beings "to be," Heidegger concludes that human existence is essentially hermeneutical. Although one often understand oneself as a thing, such as an egos or thinking subject, Heidegger argues that humans are not things at all. Instead, they are the finite openness in which things, such as subjects and objects, can first manifest themselves, or "be." Each person must decide how to be this openness, whether inauthentically or authentically. As inauthentic, human Dasein conceals the fact that it is mortal openness and interprets itself as an enduring thing, like an ego or a soul. Yet, the mood of anxiety can at any time reveal that Dasein is not a thinglike substance, but instead finite openness for the being of beings. This revelation invites Dasein to halt its flight into distractions and roles that conceal who Dasein really is. In the moment of authenticity, Dasein resolves to undergo a radical change in its temporal openness. As a result of this change, Dasein no longer understands itself as an ego bent on avoiding death, but instead as a finite individual called on to take responsibility for its own limited possibilities and to act in concert with others to promote the community's heritage. Authenticity, then, is not merely a personal matter, but an event that aligns one with the destiny of one's people. For Heidegger, authenticity is a prerequisite for genuine philosophical understanding of being. Influenced by Augustine, Pascal, Luther, Kierkegaard, Dostoevskii, and Nietzsche, he maintains that theoretical knowledge must be rooted in the personal experience of authentic human existence. Only such experience promotes the fulfillment of Western philosophy: to understand the being of beings.

Heidegger's Later Thinking and Its Impact on Theology

In Being and Time, Heidegger approaches being by analyzing the being (human Dasein ) who understands being; in his later works, however, he approached being in other ways. For example, he meditated on the role played by language in the self-revealing, or being, of beings. Moreover, he no longer spoke of authenticity in voluntaristic terms, such as "resoluteness," but instead described it as "releasement" (Gelassenheit ) from will, ego, and subjectivism. This turn in his thinking, which took on a mystical element influenced by Meister Eckhart, revealed new possibilities for a dialogue between philosophy and theology. The idea of releasement, for instance, has clear affinities with the Christian doctrine of grace. Heinrich Ott, a student of both Rudolf Bultmann and Karl Barth, was one of the first to point out the theological implications of Heidegger's later thought. Although the analysis in Being and Time of human Dasein had been inspired in part by Barth's work on the apostle Paul, Barth rejected Heidegger's philosophy because it overemphasized human understanding and did not properly address the being of God. Bultmann's theology supposedly suffered from a similar problem. But Ott argues that the later Heidegger corrected his early overemphasis on the human and spoke instead of humanity's need to be "appropriated" (ereignet) by and for the "event" (Ereignis ) that "gives" being to us. Preparing for such appropriation requires a thinking that is more fundamental than science, that is, thinking that lets being reveal itself. True thinking discloses that language is not a tool one possesses to dominate entities; instead, one is "owned" by language. Language is the "house of being," the gathering and sheltering that lets entities reveal themselves in their own terms, not merely as objects for human use. In Ott's view, Heidegger's talk of responding to the presencing of entities through language may be analogous to Barth's claim that faith demands a response to the Word of God: Philosophy is to being as theology is to the self-manifesting Word of God.

Heidegger himself always warned of the dangers of misusing his thought for theological purposes. In 1928, he distinguished sharply between philosophy and theology. Much later, he claimed that if he were taken by faith, he would have to give up philosophy. He maintained that Christian faith cannot be fully understood in ontological terms; it must be rooted, instead, in the historical events of Christ's death and resurrection. Hence, he had doubts about the implications for faith of Bultmann's demythologizing. Although indebted to motifs drawn from the Judeo-Christian tradition, Heidegger did not intend to revive it. His call for a return of the gods shows his abiding concern for the sacred, but he denied that being can be identified with God. God is a kind of being, but being, as such, refers to the historically different ways in which entities reveal or manifest themselves. He hoped that, in the current dark time, the "destiny of being" would bring forth a new world in which the gods would reappear. It is not clear how he could have such hope in being, however, because it lacks a personal dimension. Still, his impact on modern theology has been great. Heidegger's early concern with hermeneutics was transmitted to theology by his student Hans-Georg Gadamer as well as by Bultmann. Furthermore, by offering an alternative to the dualistic understanding of human existence, by calling for a nonobjectifying way of speaking of the holy, and by urging us to remain open for a return of the sacred, Heidegger provided much insight not only for such Protestant theologians as Bultmann, Tillich, Gogarten, Fuchs, Ebeling, and Macquarrie, but also for such Catholic theologians as Karl Rahner.


Caputo, John D. The Mystical Element in Heidegger's Thought. Athens, Ohio, 1978. Excellent treatment of Heidegger's debt to Eckhart.

Caputo, John D. Heidegger and Aquinas: An Essay Overcoming Metaphysics. New York, 1982. An important study of the ontological and religious views.

Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. New York, 1962. Indispensable for understanding Heidegger's early and later thought.

Heidegger, Martin. Discourse on Thinking. Translated by John M. Anderson and E. Hans Freund. New York, 1966. Includes dialogue on "releasement."

Heidegger, Martin. The Piety of Thinking. Edited and translated, with commentary, by James G. Hart and John C. Maraldo. Bloomington, Ind., 1976. Contains Heidegger's famous article "Phenomenology and Theology" as well as other short essays on philosophy and theology.

Heidegger, Martin. The Basic Problems of Phenomenology. Translated by Albert Hofstadter. Bloomington, Ind., 1982. Excellent historical approach to the question of being; purports to be the "working out" of a missing portion of Being and Time.

Kearney, Richard, and Stephen O'Leary, eds. Heidegger et la question de Dieu. Paris, 1980. Helpful collection of recent essays.

Macquarrie, John. An Existentialist Theology: A Comparison of Heidegger and Bultmann (1955). Reprint, New York, 1980. Insightful, comprehensive, and sympathetic treatment of this important topic.

Ott, Heinrich. Denken und Sein: Der Weg Martin Heideggers und der Weg der Theologie. Zollikon, Switzerland, 1959. Groundbreaking work on later Heidegger and theology.

Perotti, James L. Heidegger on the Divine. Athens, Ohio, 1974. Best short introduction to Heidegger and religion.

Robinson, James M., and John B. Cobb, Jr., eds. The Later Heidegger and Theology. New York, 1963. Useful survey of the German theological debate on Heidegger. Also includes American views.

Thiselton, Anthony C. The Two Horizons: New Testament Hermeneutics and Philosophical Description with Special Reference to Heidegger, Bultmann, and Wittgenstein. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1980. Scholarly and often penetrating treatment of a great variety of issues relating to Heidegger and theology.

Zimmerman, Michael E. Eclipse of the Self: The Development of Heidegger's Concept of Authenticity. Athens, Ohio, 1981. Analysis of authenticity in light of Heidegger's religious-spiritual concerns.

Michael E. Zimmerman (1987)

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Existentialist philosopher; b. Sept. 26, 1889, in Messkirch, Baden, Germany; d. May 26, 1976 and was buried in the place of his birth. Early in life he had intended to become a Catholic priest, but due to a heart condition he ended his theological studies in 1911 and switched to mathematics. He earned a doctorate in philosophy in 1913. From 1915 to 1923, with the exception of his military service, he taught at Freiburg, where he was associated with Edmund husserl, who had a significant impact on Heidegger's thought. He then was professor at Marburg until 1928, when he returned to Freiburg as Husserl's successor. He was rector there from 1933 to 1934, where as a German nationalist and anti-communist he supported Hitler's rise to power and joined the Nazi Party. After the war Heidegger was suspended from teaching until 1950 due to his Nazi sympathies. He retired from teaching in 1952, but continued to publish until his death.

The early influence of The Many Senses of Being according to Aristotle, by Franz brentano, and his own habilitation thesis on pseudo-Scotus's Grammatica speculativa, foreshadowed Heidegger's lasting concern with the themes of being and speech. In treating these themes, however, Heidegger developed a characteristic style and terminology that resist translation into ordinary language. In fact, attempts to reduce his thought to usual philosophical expressions tend to distort its meaning, if only by conferring upon it a false clarity. For this reason, in what follows Heidegger's thought is rendered in rather literal translation, in many instances accompanied by the German expression itself.

Das Sein. Heidegger develops his philosophy around the difference and interplay between being (Seiendes ), the "to be" (das Sein ), and Dasein, viz, man as the only being who questions the "to be" is its presence or thereness (da ) as differentiated from being. For Heidegger, the question concerning being as being, which characterized classical metaphysics and ontology, must be transcended toward the more radical question concerning the "to be" itself, the most questionable theme. The "dis-coveredness" of beings in their beingness (Seiendheit ) presupposes unthematic openness and standing out (ek-stasis, "ex-sistence") toward the "to be," as opposed to beings; but the "to be," obscured by the beings it illuminates and withdrawn into coveredness by being, is forgotten. The history of the "to be" is that of the epochs or difference of ways the "to be" sends and withholds itself, goes forth and returns to itself, and promises and loses its name or saying (Sage ), which is variously rendered as presence out of absence (physis ), being insofar as it is (das Sein des Seienden ), object for subject, position (Setzung ), and construct (Ge-stell ).

Since the "to be" is hidden, what manifest being can one question concerning it? The answer is man himself, the only available being concerned with the "to be." The method of investigation is phenomenological: letting be seen whatever shows itself in the way, as self-manifesting, it uses itself to show itself (Sein und Zeit, 7th ed., n.7). Truth as "un-concealment" and "unforgetting" (a-letheia ) is the inseparability of "disclosedness" and "re-collection" from hiddenness and finitude. One can speak of the veiled "to be" only by manifesting oneself as Dasein. A neutral or absolute perspective is impossible. The difference between that "from which" man questions and the theme "concerning which" he questions is constitutive of philosophy.

Dasein. The phenomenological analytic of Dasein begins with man as he exists proximally and usually, or in his everydayness. It manifeststhrough such pretheoretical structures ("the existentials") as instrumentality, thrownness, call, they (das Man ), inauthenticity, and fallennessthat man cannot "catch up with" (einholen ) his being as disengaged from being in the world with others. Calling the analysis of the passions in Book 2 of Aristotle's Rhetoric the first systematic hermeneutic of the everydayness of being with others (Sein und Zeit, 138), Heidegger shows that man's fundamental way of being is disposed attunement (Gestimmtheit ): man is in concern and dread. But the analytic of Dasein is neither of man as man (anthropology), nor of being as being (metaphysics), but of man in his ordinary way of "being toward" the "to be" as differentiated from beings. Thus concern and dread are neither ontic states nor abstract principles but ontological perspectives (Sein und Zeit, 57). Concern is the way in which man finds himself as "thrown forward toward "; dread is the pathos of "being toward" the "not" of being as a whole, viz, toward the "to be" that makes beings be, but that is not a being. The naught is the "to be" differentiated from the perspective of worldliness. Temporality is the unity of being "already in and with," anticipating what is not yet; beingtoward-death is being already "thrown forward toward" the coming nihilation of being-in-the-world-with-others. The ontological constitution of historicity (Geschichtlichkeit ) is based on Dasein's anticipatory openness to the source: what-is-as-having-been still coming to manifestation through "re-petition" (Wiederholung ). Dasein -in-world is before, between, and beyond consciousness of objects. Itself "ec-static" toward the "to be," Dasein illuminates a purview in which beings can be obvious or show themselves. Projection (Entwurf ) of and by the "to be" frees the ontological space in which beings are encounteredthe world.

There being no adequate manifestation of, and speaking about, the "to be" in differentiation, the reversal (Kehre ) that goes beyond the phenomenological analytic of Dasein to the limits of a nonphenomenological use of language breaks down before the impossibility of speaking clearly what is most hidden; but this reversal is anticipated in the analysis of Dasein as the phenomenon that manifests the "to be" by questioning it: Sein und Zeit, 3839; Ueber den Humanismus (Klostermann), 17, 4142; Holzwege, 3d ed., 286; Nietzsche, 2:353359, 367369, 389390: Unterkunft der Ankunft des Ausbleibens. The logos of the "to be" in differentiation is silence, but to be silent is possible only for a being that can speak.

Heidegger speaks of the absence (Fehl ) of God and is silent about the relation of God to the "to be," although he does distinguish them. Atheism is the price of considering God the first and highest among beings (Holzwege, 240; Identität und Differenz, 71).

Heidegger's influence has, for the most part, resulted from the misinterpretation of his earlier work as an anthropology (Wesen des Grundes, 4th ed., 43, n. 59; Vom Wesen der Wahrheit, 3d ed., 2627).

Writings. Two-thirds of Heidegger's writings remain unpublished; he made arrangements for the definitive edition, being published by Klostermann; see F.-W. von Herrmann, "Observations on the Definitive Collected Works of Martin Heidegger," Universitas 17 n. 1 (1975) 2937. The edition is divided into four parts: (1) already published works, 191476, with Heidegger's marginalia (already available and of special interest are the marginalia to Sein und Zeit, also in the Niemeyer edition, 14 Aufl., 1977); (2) the lectures, Marburg, 192328, Freiburg, 192844, early Frieburg, 191923; (3) private monographs and lectures, 191967; (4) preparations and sketches, reconsiderations and indications.

Bibliography: m. heidegger, Being and Time, tr. j. macquarrie and e. robinson (New York 1962); Nietzsche (Pfullingen, Ger. 1961). a. chapelle, L'Ontologie phénoménoligique de Heidegger (Paris 1962). o. pÖggeler, Der Denkweg Martin Heideggers (Pfullingen 1963). r. polk, Heidegger: An Introduction (Ithaca, N.Y. 1999). j. mccumber, Metaphysics of Oppression: Heidegger's Challenge to Western Philosophy (Bloomington, Ind.1999). e. Øverenget, Seeing the Self: Heidegger on Subjectivity (Boston 1998). h. philipse, Heidegger's Philosophy of Being: A Critical Interpretation (Princeton, N.J. 1998). j. o. prudhomme, God and Being: Heidegger's Relation to Theology (Atlantic Highlands, N.J. 1997). d. a. white, Logic and Ontology in Heidegger (Columbus 1985).

[t. prufer/eds.]

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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 □

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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


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.


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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 (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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