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||Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)|
German philosopher, one of the most controversial and original thinkers of the 20th century. Sein und Zeit (1927, Being and Time), Heidegger's most famous publication, deals with the question of Being. Although Heidegger has been dismissed sometimes as unintelligible, his thoughts have influenced Sartrean existentialism, philosophical hermeneutics, Derridean deconstruction, literature criticism, theology, psychotherapy, aesthetics and even environmental studies.
"All research – especially when it moves in the sphere of the central question of being – is an ontic possibility of Da-sein. The being of Da-sein finds its meaning in temporality." (from Being and Time)
Martin Heidegger was born in Messkirch, Baden-Württenberg, the son of Friedrich Heidegger, a Catholic sexton, and Johanna Heidegger (née Kempf). In his childhood Heidegger developed an interest in religion. While still at school he read Franz Brentano's (1838-1917) academic essay On the Manifold Meaning of Being According to Aristotle (1862), which led him to Edmund Husserl's Logical Investigations (1900-01), the founding work of the phenomenological movement. Heidegger read it again and again in the years to follow. At the age of twenty he decided to become a Jesuit, but his noviciate lasted only two weeks. He then entered the theological seminary of Freiburg University, receiving his doctorate in 1913 with a thesis on the doctrine of judgment in psychologism. Heidegger's habilitation thesis on the philosophy of Duns Scotus appeared in 1915. During WW I Heidegger's career in the army was sporadic, and he was released several times for health reasons. In 1917 Heidegger married Thea Elfride Petri, his former student; they had two sons and a daughter.
At Freiburg Edmund Husserl made him his private assistant (1920-1923). Heidegger was fascinated by Husserl's early writings, but did not accept his programme of "transcendental phenomenology". Husserl's critics accused him of ending in solipsism. By 1919 Heidegger ended his struggle with Roman Catholic scholastic philosophy and wrote in a letter: "Epistemological insights encroaching upon the theory of historical knowledge have made the system of Catholicism problematic and unacceptable to me – but not Christianity and metaphysics..."
Karl Jaspers, already a well-known figure in German intellectual life, met Heidegger in 1920, and soon felt united with him in their common opposition to academic rituals. The friendship survived Heidegger's crushing review of Jaspers's Psychology of Worldviews. Later Heidegger's engagement with Nazism separated the two philosophers. In 1922 Heidegger became a teacher of philosophy at the University of Marburg, where he lectured on Greek, medieval, and German idealist philosophy. A charismatic and inspiring lecturer, he attracted students from all over Europe. Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), born into an old Jewish family, started in 1924 to attend Heidegger's lectures. "There was hardly more than a name, but the name traveled all over Germany like rumor of the hidden king...," Arendt recalled in her essay 'Martin Heidegger at Eighty' (1969). She became Heidegger's lover, offering him her "unbending devotion." They met in Arendt's attic room in absolute secrecy; the only witness was Arendt's little roommate, a mouse, which she fed. She was also his muse for Being and Time.
Heidegger published his major work, Being and Time, at the age of thirty-eight. When his mother died in 1927, Heidegger put on her deathbed his own copy of the book. Gilbert Ryle, reviewing the work in Mind (1929) drew attention to Heidegger's "unflagging energy with which he tries to think beyond the stock categories of orthodox psychology and philosophy." Nowadays Being and Time can be read as a complementary work or anti-thesis to Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West (1918-22), both intellectual monuments to the crumbling Weimar State. However, the prophesies of Spengler and other writers of doom Heidegger dismissed as sensational. When Spengler dealt with the life and death of civilizations, Heidegger focused on the Being of human beings, and death. Was ist Metaphysik? (1929, What is Metaphysics?) he ended with the question: "Why are there beings at all, why not rather nothing." Rudolf Carnap condemned the work as strictly meaningless in his essay 'Überwindung der Metaphysik durch logische Analyse der Sprache' (1932).
In Germany Spengler's ideas were discussed widely, but the ideas of Being and Time were understandable only for a limited group of people, and it never was the favorite reading of ordinary SA brownshirts in the 1930s. The "barely decipherable" book, as one critic said, established Heidegger's fame as a major European philosopher. Heidegger succeeded Edmund Husserl as Professor of Philosophy at Freiburg. His inaugural lecture, 'Was ist Metaphysik', was his first major essay; the essay, written in poetic prose, became for Heidegger in the postwar period his primary form of expression. Heidegger never published the second part of his magnum opus, dealing with the history of ontology, Kant, Descartes' cogito ergo sum, and Aristotle, but Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics (1929) and lectures on Cartesian ontology and the Aristotelian conception of time mostly covered the rest of his writing plan.
The clash between idealist cultural philosophy and
existentialism become evident in the legendary discussion in Davos in
1929 between Ernst Cassirer, champion of the
republic and humanist tradition, and Heidegger, who was famous for
rejecting all social conventions. The place had also been the scene of
Thomas Mann's novel Magic Mountain (1924), which depicted a
fight between liberal and conservative values, the enlightened
civilized world and non-rational beliefs.
Herbert Marcuse, who became Heidegger's assistant in 1928,
attempted to synthesize Heidegger's thought with Marxism. Whether
Heidegger himself ever really studied Marx, is an open question. In the
Letter on Humanism,
published after the war, he said that Marx's view of history excels all
other history. Basically Heidegger's artificial, airtight world of Dasein, removed from reality and
defined by anxiety, dread, boredom and so on, was far from the
historical concreteness of Das
and its message of liberation and a salvation. Marcuse saw Heidegger
again after the war. They had a talk but there was no reconciliation
between the two philosophers separated by their stance toward Nazism. (The Essential Marcuse,
edited by Andrew Feenberg and William Leiss, 2007, pp. 116-121)
In 1933 Heidegger joined the Nazi Party and cut off his relations with all his Jewish colleagues, including Husserl. By taking this step, Heidegger made it plain, that the German Idealism has come to an end. "Let not principles and ideas rule your being," he declared. "Today, and in the future, only the Führer himself is German reality and its law." When Being and Time was reprinted in 1937, its dedication to Husserl was omitted. Arendt, who was arrested for eight days, left Germany for Paris and eventually settled in the United States. She renewed her contacts with Heidegger after the fall of the Third Reich. Arendt respected Heidegger as a great philosopher, and ignored his dark political side. Heidegger himself said once to Ernst Jünger that he would only apologize for his Nazi past if Hitler could be brought back to apologize to him.
From April 1933 to February 1934 Heidegger was Rector of
adding to his letters and speeches the standard "Sieg Heil!"
Heidegger's infamous rectorial address about a "new intellectual and
spiritual world for the German nation" was reported all over the world.
To his brother Fritz he sent Hitler's Mein
Kampf for Christmas reading.
Disappointed with real life politics, Heidegger resigned his post, and devoted himself to lecturing. He still supported the Nazis, but gradually lost his faith in the "inner truth and greatness" of National Socialism. The political authorities had reservations about his philosophy and he was under surveillance by the Gestapo for some years. In 1936 he spoke in Rome to a large audience on 'Hölderlin and the Nature of Poetry'. "... our job is to fight for philosophy in a quiet, unobtrusive way," he wrote in a letter to Jaspers. During the war Heidegger resigned in protest from the committee charged with editing the work of Nietzsche – he did not accept the order to remove those passages in which Nietzsche speaks contemptuously of anti-Semitism. In the late 1944 Heidegger served in a Volksturm (People's Militia) detachment, but his stay in the work brigade was short and he returned to Freiburg.
In 1945 Jaspers testified before a de-Nazification commission,
Heidegger's manner of thinking is in its "essence unfree, dictatorial,
and incapable of communication, would today be in its pedagogical
effects disastrous." Between 1945 and 1951 Heidegger was prohibited
from teaching under the de-Nazification rules of the Allied
authorities. In the spring of 1946, Heidegger had a physical and mental
breakdown. The visit of Jean Beaufret inspired his essay 'On Humanism,'
in which asks what is thinking and states that "for a long time, for
much too long, thinking has been out of its element." When Heidegger
reappointed Professor in 1951 at Freiburg, where he lectured to limited
classes, he received a package of wine from Bremen as a gift for this
occasion. Expressing his gratitude in a letter, Heidegger said,
"The wine from Bremen, an excellent libation, arrived here at noon
before the lecture - an appropriate time." (Encounters and Dialogues with Martin
Heidegger, 1929-1976 by Heinrich Wiegand Petzet, 1993, pp.62-62)
Heidegger's extremely complex later philosophy revolved increasingly around language. In 'Letter on Humanism' (1949) he stated that "language is the house of being", and in Was ist das – die Philosophie? (1956) he said that the "Greek language and it alone is logos." Poetry was for Heidegger more important than the other arts. He was especially fascinated by the works of Hölderlin. "Poetry proper is never merely a higher mode (melos) of everyday language," Heidegger wrote in his essay 'Language', dealing with Georg Trakl's poem 'A Winter Evening.' "It is rather the reverse: everyday language is a forgotten and therefore used-up poem, from which there hardly resounds a call any longer."
After the war Heidegger distanced himself from his "philosophical anthropology," seeing that it described human nature instead of approaching the nature of things. Like many other thinkers, he argued that technology has grown beyond control and warned of a technological understanding of being. Instead of saying "yes" or "no" to technology he offered a new ideal of letting-be or open-handedness (Gelassenheit); his answer was "yes" and "no": "We let the technical devices enter our daily life, and, at the same time, leave them outside, that is, let them alone, as things which are nothing absolute but remain dependent on something higher. I would call this compartment toward technology which expresses 'yes' and at the same time 'no' by an old word – open-handedness". In the late 1940s he equalled "the manufacturing of corpses in gas chambers" with "mechanized agriculture," a senseless formulation, which has become a standard evidence of his impenitence in the face of the horrors of Nazism.
The Jewish poet and a former concentration camp inmate Paul Celan in 1967 visited Heidegger's famous cabin in Todnauberg, but what they talked about is unknown. Todnauberg had been Heidegger's mountain retreat since the 1920s, a place where Nietzsche's Zarathustra would have felt comfortable. Celan's entry in the logbook was ambiguous: "Into the cabin logbook, with a view toward the Brunnenstern, with hope of a coming word in the heart." In the 1960s Heidegger visited Delos several times and participated in seminars in Provence. He continued to write and lecture until his death on 26 May 1976. He was buried in Messkitch in the local graveyard. Der Spiegel's interview 'Nur noch ein Gott kann uns retten,' made in 1966, was published soon after Heidegger's death. In it he stated: "How can a political system accommodate itself to the technological age, and which political system would this be? I have no answer to this question. I am not convinced that it is democracy."
Heidegger's past has never been forgotten, and the debate about the relationship between his philosophy and Nazism still continues. Mark Lilla argued in The Reckless Mind (2001) that Heidegger "was never able to confront the issue of philosophy's relation to politics, of philosophical passion to political passion. For him, this was not the issue; he simply had been fooled into thinking that the Nazis' resolve to found a new nation was compatible with his private and loftier resolution to refound the entire traditon of Western thought, and thereby Western existence." Lilla refers to critics who have seen in Being and Time a profound hostility to the modern world, and a program for national regeneration, which indirectly supported National Socialism. Elzbieta Ettinger portrayed Heidegger as a predator in her study Hannah Arendt/Martin Heidegger (1995), in which she used their correspondence. Hans-Georg Gadamer has defended Heidegger among others in his article 'Züruck von Syrakus' (1988, in Die Heidegger Kontroverse).
To avoid misleading implications, Heidegger invented in Being and Time a new, meticulous vocabulary, which has made his works somewhat cryptic for a number of his readers, such as Günter Grass, who parodied Heidegger's terminology in the novel Dog Years (1963). In The Jargon of Authenticity (1973) Theodor Adorno attacked Heidegger's jargon, which he labelled as pedantic and which according to Adorno "transforms a bad empirical reality into transcendence." However, Heidegger's language is not related to Orwell's "Newspeak" from Nineteen Eighty-four (1949), but is revolutionary compared to the familiar "Oldspeak" of the professorial philosophy.
The central term in Sein und Zeit is Dasein, the German word for "existence" or "being-there". The meaning of Dasein is temporality; thus the "Time" in the title of Being and Time. Dasein is not homo sapiens, but in German usage the term does tend to refer to human beings. Heidegger was constantly aware that in his task he is a being whose ways of being are the subject of his work. Dasein implies not only presence but involvement in the world. In the hermeneutic circle every interpretation is itself based on interpretation. After provisional conclusions, based on presuppositions, one returns to the starting point, to continue the inquiry into deeper understanding in the circular process of interpretation. The phenomenon of philosophical phenomenology is the being of beings or entities (das Sein des Seinden). The being of Dasein is such that Dasein understands its own being, and at the same time its pre-theoretical understanding makes it possible to understand the being of entities other than itself.
From Heidegger the French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre derived his notion of "authenticity". Heidegger himself denied that he was an existentialist. "My philosophical tendencies," he wrote in a letter, "cannot be classified as existentialist; the question which principally concerns me is not that of man's Existenz; it is Being in its totality and as such." Authenticity in Heidegger was grounded in the idea, that absolutely all Dasein is characterized by mimesis. Authentic existence begins from self-understanding and authentic life is possible if our being-toward-death is resolutely confronted: "Once one has grasped the finiteness of one's existence, it snatches one back from the endless multiplicity of possibilities which offer themselves as closest to one – those of comfortableness, shirking and taking things lightly – and brings Dasein in to the simplicity of its fate. This is how we designate Dasein's primordial historicism which lies in authentic resoluteness and in which Dasein hands itself down to itself, free for death, in a possibility which it has inherited and yet has chosen." Heidegger writes much about such Dasein moods as irritation, boredom, and fear; anxiety is at the center of Dasein's life, but it is noteworthy that he doesn't analyze love or sexuality as fundamental aspects of human existence.
For further reading: Martin Heidegger: eine politische Biographie by Thomas Rohkrämer (2020); Heidegger und der Antisemitismus, edited by Walter Homolka & Arnulf Heidegger (2016); Martin Heidegger by Timothy Clark (2011); Paul Celan and Martin Heidegger: An Unresolved Conversation, 1951-1970 by James K. Lyon (2006); The Reckless Mind by Mark Lilla (2001); Heidegger's Children by Richard Wolin (2001); Martin Heidegger by Rüdiger Safranski (1998); Martin Heidegger and European Nihilism by Karl Löwith, Richard Wolin and Gary Steiner (1998); Heidegger and Being and Time by Stephen Mulhall (1996); The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger, ed. by C. Guignon (1993); Prophets of Extremity: Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault, Derrida by Allan Megill (1987); Heideggers Wege by Hans-Georg Gadamer (1983); Heidegger by George Steiner (1978); The Jargon of Authenticity by Theodor Adorno (1973)