existential primer

Martin Heidegger
a complicated philosopher

Primer Topics

Philosophy

Literature

Theology

Psychology

Before Existentialism
Beyond Existentialism
Search the Primer

Page Navigation



Evaluating Martin Heidegger is complicated by his support for the National Socialists. Here was a man close to noted Jewish thinkers — yet he embraced the Nazi movement. Some evil people have a few “good” values, while some good people end up associated with serious evil.

Revising Never Ends, Nor Should It…

Do not use this site as a study guide. The Existential Primer is a “living” academic project, unlike a static text. This primer is only a shallow introduction to the thinkers profiled. The incomplete nature of this website might result in misunderstanding the profiled individuals. These pages are revised often because scholarship is never ending. Consult any citations included because within them is where you will find the experts. Read their works!

NOTE: Citations are not in MLA or APA format to prevent “borrowing” from The Existential Primer. Full lists of citations appear at the end of each page. Present tense is used when referencing a published work, while past tense is favored on these pages because the major figures are… dead. Inline citations take the form (Author p. page) with no year. A title is included if there might be confusion as to the work. Quoted long passages appear indented with the <blockquote> tag and cited in the format:

Work; Author, p. Page


Biography

Some lives go full-circle, and Martin Heidegger’s life began and ended in the Black Forest. Born 26 September 1889 in Messkirch, he would later return to the Black Forest to escape his legacy as a Nazi sympathizer.

Martin Heidegger was a student of, and assistant to, Edmund Husserl, whom he succeeded in 1928 as professor of philosophy at Freiburg. Heidegger began his rise in the academic establishment as a phenomenologist, under the guidance of Husserl. In fact, Heidegger’s classic work, Being and Time was published in the 1927 Yearbook for Phenomenolgy and Philosophical Research.Heidegger

One of Heidegger’s students was Jean-Paul Sartre, later the most prominent French Existentialist. Sadly, history drove the two men apart, as Heidegger remained in Germany under the National Socialists, even joining the Nazi Party.

Many students of philosophy have difficulty separating Heidegger’s brilliance and use of curiously-mystic language from his support of Adolph Hitler and the National Socialists from 1933 through 1945. It must be understood that Heidegger, like all philosophers, was not immune to the events around him. This observation is a contradiction of the idea that all men are responsible for their actions, regardless of outside influences.

Heidegger, who in Sein und Zeit had spoken much of resolutely facing death, joined the Nazis after Hitler came to power and, as Rektor of his university, delivered an inaugural address which, fortunately for him, is not widely read. If, as he now says, he soon abandoned Nazism, it is the more remarkable that his resolve was kept so quiet that even today many remain unconvinced.
- Existentialism; Kaufmann, p. 47

Professor Richard Wolin and other researches now believe Heidegger was dedicated to the National Socialist Party, indifferent to how Hitler ruled Germany.

Though [Richard] Wolin’s grievance with Derrida is not at issue in “Heidegger’s Children,” one can’t help feeling that, indirectly, it is being reprised. The heart of the controversy was Wolin’s accusation that Derrida had tailored his “far-fetched and illogical” opinions about Heidegger’s Nazism to dodge an important question: by embracing the legendary German thinker’s philosophy, had Derrida and other radical postmodern leftists accepted the core of Heidegger’s dubious politics as well?
- “Heidegger’s Children”: Sins of the Father; reviewed by James Ryerson, New York Times on the Web Book Review; 21 December 2001

The Germany in which Heidegger lived was a country in a constant state of war and division. Only a few years before his birth, modern Germany was formed out of formerly feuding regions. Germany is a country with few natural borders, leading its leaders to believe that the best way to maintain Germany was a strong military. These military forces often collided.

Heidegger came to desire a state ruled by an elite group of soldier-philosophers. He came to distrust the public tastes, modernity, and democratic institutions. The National Socialists matched his vision of a new, powerful central government. What one must wonder is how Heidegger reconciled his relationships with students of Jewish descent with the Nazi concentration camps.

Before Heidegger became the Nazi rector of the University of Freidburg in 1933, he served as teacher and sage to four gifted students of assimilated German Jewish backgrounds. Hannah Arendt, who at 18 began a three-year love affair with Heidegger, achieved fame as a political thinker. Herbeert Marcuse, denounced by the Pope in the late 1960s, became a philosophical guru for the New Left. Hans Jonas matured into a pioneering theorist of environmentalism, serving as a touchstone for the German Green Party. And Karl Lowith became a distinguished scholar of modern historical consciousness.
- “Heidegger’s Children”: Sins of the Father; reviewed by James Ryerson, New York Times on the Web Book Review; December 21, 2001

One reason that Heidegger may not have opposed the Nazi conquests of World War II was the long-standing German distrust of the French. Napoleon I had conquered Germany. As a result, many Germans still consider the French culture a threat the German heritage. Later in life, many Germans would view the Soviet Union in the same light. Until his death, Germany was still an important site of the Cold War between Communism and Western democracies.

Heidegger is known to have referred to the “inner truth and greatness” of the Nazis long after the fall of the Third Reich. German superiority and nationalistic pride obscured Heidegger’s views of history.

What makes Heidegger curious as a founder of existentialism is that he strongly objected to being considered one of The Existentialists, which would place him in company with Sartre and Camus. These men, French communists, were not the sort that Heidegger wanted anyone to link to him.

 


Chronology
1889 September 26 Born in the town of Messkirch, in the Baden region of Germany.
1906 Enters secondary school (high school) in Freiburg under a scholarship from the Catholic Church.
1909 Leaves school to become a Jesuit "novice" but only a month later is discharged from his duties.
1911 Halts studies toward the priesthood, decides to pursue a degree in philosophy. Reads the works of Edmund Husserl.
1914 Receives doctorate from the University of Freiburg. Remains at the university as an assistant to Husserl.
1915 Drafted by the German army, but found unfit for combat duty. Assigned to the postal service.
1917 Marries Elfriede Petri, a Protestant.
1918 Discharged from the army. Returns to the University of Freiburg as an unsalaried lecturer and assistant to Husserl.
1919 Son Jorg is born.
1920 Forms a friendship with Karl Jaspers. They correspond for years.
1923 Moves to Marburg and serves as an associate professor.
1927 Spring Publishes Being and Time in the Yearbook for Philosophy and Penomenological Research, edited by Husserl. Publishing was only to retain a position at the University of Marburg.
1930 Rejects a chair at the University of Berlin, preferring the small towns of southern Germany.
1933 April 21 Elected Rector of the Freiburg University by the faculty.
1933 May 1 Joins the National Socialist Party.
1934 April Resigns as Rector of the University due to disputes with the faculty and the local Nazi officials.
1936 Begins a series of lectures on Nietzsche. There is some debate as to whether or not these lectures were meant to clarify Nietzsche's works, which were being used to support the Nazi ideals of racial purity.
1944 Drafted into the Volkssturm to dig anti-tank ditches along the Rhine.
1945 Officially leaves National Socialist Party.
1945 June French troops attempt to arrange a meeting between Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre, a long-time admirer. The meeting does not occur, but the two begin corresponding.
1946–1949 Banned from officially lecturing and teaching at any university. However, Heidegger continues to write and speak, just not as an active professor.
1947 Publishes On Humanism to distinguish his phenomenology from French existentialism.
1966 Interviewed by Der Spiegel, a popular German magazine. The interview is not published until after his death. Heidegger used the interview to explain his links to the Nazi movement.
1975 The first transcripts of his various lectures are published, as he wanted. The completed transcripts will be more than 100 volumes, featuring all major lectures by Heidegger.
1976 May 26 Died

Works


Commentaries

Martin Heidegger began as a recognized authority in the phenomenological movement and became an existentialist with theistic leanings. Heidegger based his philosophy upon the “hermeneutics of existence” — or the science of existence. The “scientific” method was that of phenomenological reduction.

Kierkegaard accepted the paradox of being defining itself. As a scientist, Heidegger could not accept this paradox. According to Heidegger, a concept must be defined without using itself as reference. The difficulty of definition was confronted by defining “Being” as a collection of concepts.

Dasein

According to Heidegger's writings, human being -- as opposed to human beings -- is comprised of four components: concern, being-toward-death, existence, and moods. Dasein is the act of "being there" in essence. Without being something, there is no existence.

Concern, or Sorge, is the ability to care about the self, in relation to phenomena. Being-toward-death, or Sein zum Tode, represents the finite nature of life. This belief that death defines life complements Søren Kierkegaard's thought that God does not exist, but is real. Existence, or Existenz, represents knowing one is and is changing. Finally, moods, or Stimmungen, are reactions to other beings, further allowing one to define the self.

Dasein requires choices and resulting actions to define the self. These choices allow for an almost unlimited combination of the components of being. Each choice represents a pivotal point in the individuals life -- every choice, even the seemingly minor ones, contribute to the larger definition of self. Choices occur in relation to a timeline, universal and personal. These points in time became the topic of Heidegger's Being and Time.

Existence and Essence

As with Kierkegaard and Sartre, Heidegger believed the existence of a physical body preceded the essence of self. At some point in the development process, a being becomes aware that it exists. This pivotal point in time is when essence begins to form; the individual decides to acknowledge and embrace an essence at this moment.

Because man in the only known being in which essence and existence do not appear simultaneously, man is a unique creature on this planet. All things man creates have essence, or definition, before they exist. In other words, an individual thinks about a creation and its purpose before the creation exists.

Dasien Sorge

Dasien Sorge was Heidegger's term for concern and caring about the self and its existence. When confronted with the world and other beings, the individual feels anxiety and dread. The world appears complex and unsafe -- which it is. As a result, the human being, Dasien, must care for itself as no one else can or will.

Taking care of the self is a sign that the individual recognizes dangers in the universe. Recognizing threats demonstrates an understanding of the physical self. It is reasonable to conclude that concern with the physical self precedes the awareness of concern for the emotional self. While a child might instinctively want human contact, it only understands the need for food and other basic physical needs.

Classes of Dasein Existence

Being-there, Dasein, can be expressed in several fashions. The five modes of Dasein described by Heidegger are: authenticity, inauthenticity, everydayness, averageness, and publicness. Authentic being represents a choice of self and achievement. All other modes represent a failing to embrace the individuality available to all people.

Inauthenticity results from business, preoccupation, excitement, and other external forces. An inauthentic being is working to fit the definitions of others. Averageness takes hold when the individual no longer attempts to achieve and accepts a loss of differentiation. Everydayness represents a person no longer changing or making choices, but the individual might still be different from others. Many with achievement become everyday when they no longer attempt to excel.

Publicness is the complete loss of self for a public image. The individual conforms to preconceptions and opinions. Unlike the celebrity with one achievement, this individual repeats the same achievement over and over, thereby withdrawing from independence. An example would be an artist with one style of expression, repeated with minor variations to please others. By avoiding the new, the different, the individual ceases to create and define a self.

Sein zum Tode: Toward Death

The only proof that an individual understands existence is the understanding and acceptance of death. While a child can understand the physical need for food, the known consequences of not eating are limited to hunger and illness. Death is a complex concept, beyond the grasp of an immature existence.

The moment one accepts death is the point when essence is brought into focus. Knowing that life is finite reinforces the importance of all further decisions. Poor choices result in the "Existential Guilt" of failure. For the existentialist, the worst of natural sins is a failure to define the self using free will. Guilt cannot be avoided, however, because all individuals fail to take some action, to make some choices.

Desire to Be

Though life is filled with dread that the universe is not safe and guilt that life is every complete, the human being has a desire to exist and define the self. The pursuit of authenticity is constant, for the existentialist. While it cannot be perfected, as we coexist with other beings, individuals must work to define themselves.

Individuals make decisions knowing that others might try to change the universe around them. Business is unavoidable, as is a public role in the society. Only the most dedicated existential being can rise above these challenges to define the self, without regard to others.

 


Quotes

Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man. "Building Dwelling Thinking," lecture, 5 August 1951 (published in Poetry, Language, Thought, 1971)


Bibliography

Collins, Jeff and Selina, Howard; Introducing Heidegger (New York: Totem Books, 1998) ISBN: 1-84046-088-1 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin; Poetry, Language, Thought [1st ed.] (New York,: Harper & Row, 1971)

Heidegger, Martin; The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays [1st ed.] (New York: Harper & Row, 1977)

Heidegger, Martin, and Krell, David Farrell; Basic Writings: From Being and Time (1927) to the Task of Thinking (1964). (San Francisco: Harper, 1993)

Inwood, Michael; Heidegger (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997) ISBN: 0-19-283192-5 [Amazon.com]

Johnson, Patricia Altenbernd; On Heidegger (Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 2000) ISBN: 0-534-57597-8 [Amazon.com]

Kaufmann, Walter; Existentialism: From Dostoevsky to Sartre (New York: Meridian, Penguin; 1956, 1975, 1989) ISBN: 0-452-00930-8 [Amazon.com]

Lemay, Eric and Pitts, Jennifer; Heidegger for Beginners (New York: Writers and Readers, 1994) ISBN: 0-86316-172-3 [Amazon.com]

Sahakian, Wm. S.; History of Philosophy (New York: Barnes & Noble, Harper; 1968) ISBN: 0-06-460002-5 [Amazon.com]

Complete source list.

Books: Martin Heidegger


 

Biro, Matthew. Anselm Kiefer & the Philosophy of Martin Heidegger. Cambridge University Press, Jan 1999. 0521591708 [Amazon.com]

Dastur, Francoise. Heidegger and the Question of Time. Trans. Francois Raffoul and David Pettigrew. Prometheus Books, Jan 1998. 1573923958 [Amazon.com]

Guignon, Charles B. (ed). The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger, 2nd Ed.. Cambridge University Press, Jul 2006. 0521528887 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Aristotle's Metaphysics (Theta) 1-3: On the Essence and Actuality of Force. Trans. Peter Warnek and Walter Brogan. Indiana University Press, Nov 1995. 0253329108 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Basic Concepts. Trans. Gary E. Aylesworth. Indiana University Press, Aug 1998. 0253212154 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Basic Concepts. Trans. Gary E. Aylesworth. Indiana University Press, Oct 1993. 0253327679 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Basic Questions of Philosophy: Selected Problems of Logic. Trans. Andre Schuwer and Richard Rojcewicz. Indiana University Press, Jun 1994. 0253326850 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Basic Problems of Phenomenology. Trans. Albert Hofstadter. Indiana University Press, May 1988. 025320478X [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. The Basic Problems of Phenomenology. Trans. Albert Hofstadter. Indiana University Press, Dec 1982. 0253176867 [Amazon.com] (Indiana University Press, Oct 1982) 0253176875 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Basic Writings: From Being and Time (1927) to the Task of Thinking (1964). Harper San Francisco, Feb 1993. 0060637633 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time: A Translation of Sein and Zeit. Trans. Joan Stambaugh. State University of New York Press, Oct 1997. 0791426785 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. HarperCollins Publishers, Aug 1986. 0060638508 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. A Companion to Heidegger's Introduction to Metaphysics. Trans. Gregory Fried and Richard Polt. Yale University Press, Apr 2001. 0300085249 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. The Concept of Time. Blackwell Publishers, Feb 1992. 0631184252 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Contributions to Philosophy: From Enowning. Trans. Kenneth Maly and Parvis Emad. Indiana University Press, Dec 1999. 0253336066 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Critical Heidegger. Trans. Christopher E. Macann. Routledge, Mar 1996. 0415129508 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Discourse on Thinking. Trans. E. Hans Freund and J. M. Anderson. HarperCollins Publishers, Nov 1969. 0061314595 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude. Trans. Nicholas Walker and William McNeill. Indiana University Press, Mar 2001. 0253214297 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. Trans. Kenneth Maly and Parvis Emad. Indiana University Press, Aug 1994. 0253209102 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. Trans. Kenneth Maly and Parvis Emad. Indiana University Press, May 1988. 0253327660 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Heraclitus Seminar. Trans. Charles H. Seibert and Eugen Fink. Northwestern University Press, Jan 1993. 0810110679 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. History of the Concept of Time: Prolegomena. Trans. Theodore Kisiel. Indiana University Press, Jul 1992. 0253207177 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. History of the Concept of Time: Prolegomena. Trans. Theodore Kisiel. Indiana University Press, Apr 1985. 025332730X [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Holderlin's Hymn: The Ister. Indiana University Press, Jan 1996. 0253330645 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Introduction to Metaphysics. Trans. Gregory Fried and Richard Polt. Yale University Press, Aug 2000. 0300083289 [Amazon.com] 0300083270 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics. Trans. Richard Taft. Indiana University Press, Jul 1997. 0253210674 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic. Trans. Michael Henry Heim. Indiana University Press, Aug 1992. 0253207649 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic. Trans. Michael Henry Heim. Indiana University Press, Jul 1984. 0253337836 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Nietzsche. Trans. David F. Krell. Harper San Francisco, Feb 1991. 0060638419 [Amazon.com] 0060637943 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. On the Way to Language. HarperCollins Publishers, Feb 1982. 0060638591 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Ontology--The Hermeneutics of Facticity. Trans. John Van Buren. Indiana University Press, May 1999. 0253335078 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Parmenides. Trans. Andre Schuwer and Richard Rojcewicz. Indiana University Press, Aug 1998. 0253212146 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Parmenides. Trans. Andre Schuwer and Richard Rojcewicz. Indiana University Press, May 1992. 0253327261 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Pathmarks. Trans. William McNeil. Cambridge University Press, May 1998. 052143968X [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Phenomenological Interpretations of Aristotle: Initiation Into Phenomenological Research. Trans. Richard Rojcewicz. Indiana University Press, Dec 2001. 0253339936 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Phenomenological Interpretation of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. Trans. Kenneth Maly and Parvis Emad. Indiana University Press, Oct 1997. 0253332583 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Platos Sophist. Trans. Andre Schuwer and Richard Rojcewicz. Indiana University Press, Apr 1997. 0253332222 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Poetry, Language, Thought. Rayo, Nov 2001. 0060937289 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Poetry Language Thought. Trans Albert Hofstadter. HarperCollins Publishers, Dec 1985. 0060904305 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Principle of Reason. Trans. Reginald Lilly. Indiana University Press, Feb 1996. 0253210666 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. The Principle of Reason. Trans. Reginald Lilly. Indiana University Press, Feb 1992. 0253327245 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. Trans. William Lovitt. HarperCollins Publishers, Jan 1982. 0061319694 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Toward the Definition of Philosophy. Trans. Ted Sadler. Athlone Press, Dec 2000. 0485115085 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. What is Called Thinking. Trans. Fred D. Wieck J. Glenn Gray. HarperCollins Publishers, Mar 1976. 006090528X [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Zollikon Seminars: Protocols-Conversations-Letters. Trans. Medard Boss and Richard R. Askay. Northwestern University Press, Dec 2000. 0810118335 [Amazon.com]

Heidegger, Martin. Zollikon Seminars: Protocols-Conversations-Letters. Trans. Richard R. Askay and Franz K. Mayr. Northwestern University Press, Dec 2000. 0810118327 [Amazon.com]

Inwood, Michael. Heidegger: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, Jul 2002. 0192854100 [Amazon.com]

Inwood, Michael. Heidegger. Oxford University Press, Sep 1997. 0192831925 [Amazon.com]

Irigaray, Luce. The Forgetting of Air in Martin Heidegger. University of Texas Press, Aug 1999. 0292738714 [Amazon.com] 0292738722 [Amazon.com]

Polt, Richard. Heidegger: An Introduction. Cornell University Press, Feb 1999. 0801485649 [Amazon.com]

Prauss, Gerold. Knowing & Doing in Heidegger's Being & Time. Trans. Jeffrey S. Turner and Gary Steiner. Humanity Books, Aug 1999. 1573926701 [Amazon.com]

Raffoul, Francois. Heidegger and the Subject. Trans. Gregory Recco and David Pettigrew. Humanity Books, Jan 1998. 1573926183 [Amazon.com]

Sacchi, Mario Enrique.The Apocalypse of Being: The Esoteric Gnosis of Martin Heidegger. Trans. Ralph McInerny. St. Augustine's Press, May 2001. 1890318043 [Amazon.com]

Young, Julian. Heidegger, Philosophy, Nazism. Cambridge University Press, Jan 1999. 0521644941 [Amazon.com]


Navigation by WebRing.