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Martin Heidegger (September 26, 1889 – May 26, 1976) was a German philosopher. He studied at the University of Freiburg under Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology, and became a professor there in 1928. He influenced many other major philosophers, and his own students at various times included Hans-Georg Gadamer, Emmanuel Levinas, Hannah Arendt and Karl Löwith. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques Derrida, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe also studied his work more or less closely. Beyond his relation to phenomenology, Heidegger is regarded as a major, if not indispensable, influence on existentialism and deconstruction.
Early Life and Education
Heidegger began primarily as a Christian Aristotelian . He was born to a rural family in Meßkirch, Germany, and raised to be a clergyman. He was influenced as a teenager by Aristotle mediated through Christian theology. The concept of Being, in this traditional sense, dating back to Plato, was his first exposure to an idea he would plant at the core of his most famous work Being and Time. His family was not wealthy enough to send him to university and he required a scholarship, which itself required he study for the religious order. Mathematics was also his early major. During his time as a student he left theology for philosophy as he gradually found other academic funding. He wrote his doctorate thesis on Duns Scotus, a 14th century ethical and religious thinker.
Heidegger was originally a phenomenologist. To oversimplify, phenomenologists try to begin philosophy by clearing the mind and perceiving experience unmediated by prior knowledge or learning. Husserl was its greatest exponent. In fact, Heidegger studied under Husserl and it was this that persuaded him to become a phenomenologist. Heidegger became interested in the question of being (or what it means to be). His famous work "Being and Time" is characterized as phenomenological ontology. The idea of Being dates back to Parmenides and has traditionally served as one of the key thoughts of Western philosophy. Being, or the unseen permanence behind all becoming, was resurrected by Heidegger after its loss of focus in the Enlightenment. He tried to ground Being in history, or Time, and thus discover its real essence. Needless to say this is almost contrary to logic, since Being—if it exists at all—by definition is unaffected by time or history. Its very essence is against history, in contradistinction to the temporal.
Thus Heidegger began where Being began—in ancient Greek thought , resurrecting a lost, depreciated issue in contemporary philosophy. By doing so, he offended many philosophy professors who thought that the fundamental issues of science, society, art, religion and human psychology were answered. These men thought of progress, winning change or developing the world according to some rationality they felt spoke for all time, in every culture. Bertrand Russell was an example of this attitude.
Heidegger's great opening was to take Plato seriously again, and at the same time undermine the entire Platonic world by challenging the core of Platonism—treating Being as an object of Time and History. This is partially why Platonists, such as George Grant regard Heidegger as a great thinker, even if they disagree with his analysis of Being and conception of Platonic thought. Although Heidegger deserves credit for his creativity and originality, he also borrowed heavily from Friedrich Nietzsche. It is not a false analogy to compare Heidegger to Aristotle, who took Plato's dialogues and systematically presented them, breaking them down into treatises and concepts. Except, on this analogy, Nietzsche is Heidegger's Plato. He took the poetic kernels and extracted them, sanitized them and made them respectable in the university setting. Heidegger's published lectures during 1936 on Nietzsche’s Will to Power as Art rival any texts of Heidegger’s own thought for pure philosophical merit.
Martin Heidegger is regarded as one of the most significant philosophers of the 20th century. His prominence is rivaled only by Wittgenstein, and his ideas have seeped into an incredibly large number of research areas. It is because of Heidegger's discussion of ontology that he is often cited as one of the founders of existentialism and his ideas inspired some great philosophical works, such as by the philosopher Sartre who adopts many of his ideas from Heidegger (although Heidegger insists that Sartre misunderstood his works). His philosophical work was taken up throughout Germany, France, and Japan and has gained, since the 1970s at least, a strong following in North America as well; it was scorned as rubbish, however, by contemporaries such as the Vienna Circle, Theodor Adorno, and British philosophers such as Bertrand Russell and Alfred Ayer.
Heidegger’s refusal to adopt current concepts such as the Fact-Value Distinction, his criticism of modern science and technology, and his refusal to offer an ‘ethical’ component to his theory, claiming such a suggestion was a fundamental misunderstanding of his thought, often puzzled and confused philosophers who lacked the patience or intellectual rigor to absorb Heidegger’s reasoning. Attacking him seemed like the only thing to do, especially since his private behavior was morally and politically ambiguous.
Heidegger and Nazi Germany
Heidegger (among other German scientists and intellectuals, e.g., Carl Schmitt) joined the Nazi Party on May 1, 1933, before being appointed the rector of the university in Freiburg. He resigned from the rectorship in February 1934. During this time Heidegger's former teacher Husserl, who was Jewish, was denied the use of the university library at Freiburg because of the racial cleansing laws issued by the Nazi Party. Heidegger also removed the dedication to Husserl from Being and Time when it was reissued in 1941. Heidegger later claimed that this was due to pressure from his publisher, Max Niemeyer. Additionally, when Heidegger's Introduction to Metaphysics (originally published in 1935) was reissued after the war, he declined to remove a reference to the then current Nazi Party of Germany, choosing instead to add a parenthetical explanation about a confrontation between technology and man, stating the "inner truth and greatness of this movement [i.e., national socialism ] (namely, the contact/opposition of planetary technology and modern man) innere Wahrheit und Größe dieser Bewegung (nämlich [die] Begegnung der planetarisch bestimmten Technik und des neuzeitlichen Menschen)" still existed. Many readers came to interpret this ambiguous remark as evidence of his continued belief in extreme right-wing political movements; although Heidegger himself refused to associate the comment with the former failed Nazi regime.
Critics further cite Heidegger's affair with Hannah Arendt, when she was a doctoral student of his at the University of Marburg. This affair mostly went along in the 20s, some time before Heidegger's involvement in Nazism, but it did not even end when she "fled" from him and moved to Heidelberg to continue with Karl Jaspers, and she later spoke on his behalf at his denazification hearings. Jaspers spoke against him at these same hearings, suggesting he would have a detrimental influence on young German students because of his powerful teaching presence. Arendt, who was Jewish, resumed their friendship, if extremely cautiously, after the war, despite or even because of the widespread contempt that Heidegger was held in for his political sympathies, and despite his being forbidden from teaching for a number of years.
Der Spiegel Interview
Some years later, hoping to quiet controversy, Heidegger gave an interview to Der Spiegel magazine, in which he promised to discuss the issue provided it was published posthumously. It should also be mentioned that the published version was not a real interview, but the protocol had been largely "corrected" on Heidegger's demand. In this interview, Heidegger's defense of his Nazi involvement runs in two tracks: firstly, he argues that there would have been no alternative; he says he had tried to save the university (and science in general) from being politicized and had to make compromises with the Nazi administration. But secondly, he also saw an "awakening" ("Aufbruch"), something which might help to find a "new national and social approach". From 1934 on, he says, he would have been more critical towards the government. Heidegger is evasive on some questions in this interview. For example, when he talks about a "national and social approach" in national socialism he links this to Friedrich Naumann. But Naumann's "national-sozialer Verein" was not at all national socialist, but liberal. This confusion seems to be put up deliberately by Heidegger. Also, he changes between his two arguments quickly, not regarding they are in a way contradictory. And his statements often tend to take the form "others were much more Nazis than me" and "the Nazis did bad things to me, too" which is true, but misses the point in question. Also, the Spiegel interviewers did not bring to question Heidegger's quote from 1949 where he compares the Shoah to engineered food production ("essentially the same"); in fact, they were not in possession of much of the evidence for Heidegger's sympathies towards Nazism which is known today. To further evaluate this issue, read "Only a God can save us now" Der Spiegel interview with Heidegger (1966) and Jürgen Habermas, "Work and Weltanschauung: The Heidegger Controversy from a German Perspective." translated by John McCumber, Critical Inquiry 15 (Winter 1989): pp. 431-456.
Obligations & Unsplendid Silence: Celan at "Todtnauberg"
Shortly after giving the Spiegel interview and following Celan's lecture at Freiburg, Heidegger hosted Paul Celan at his chalet at Todtnauberg. The two walked in the woods. Celan impressed Heidegger with his knowledge of botany (also evident in his poetry), and Heidegger is thought to have spoken about elements of his press interview. Celan signed Heidegger's guest book.
In his Poetry as Experience, Lacoue-Labarthe advanced the argument that, although Celan's poetry was deeply informed by Heidegger's philosophy, Celan was long aware of Heidegger's association with the Nazi party and therefore fundamentally circumspect toward the man and transformative in his reception of his work. Celan was nonetheless willing to meet Heidegger (although he may not have been willing to be photographed with him or to contribute to Festschriften honoring Heidegger's work). Heidegger was a professed admirer of Celan's writing, although he did not attend to it as Hölderlin or Trakl. "Todtnauberg", however, seems to hold out the unrealized possibility of a profound rapprochement between their work, albeit on the condition that Heidegger break a silence that virtually blanketed his work to the end (Lacoue-Labarthe has commented on the insufficiency of Heidegger's one known remark about the gas chambers, made in 1949). In this respect Heidegger's work was perhaps redeemable for Celan, even if that redemption or what need was had for it was never transacted between the two men. Lest one implicitly take this as Celan simply demanding an apology of Heidegger (such a scenario seems simplistic, the more so given that neither was given to simplism), there are reasonable grounds to argue that it was (and still is) at least as important to specify how the Nazi period is das Unheil (disaster, calamity) (which is to say: specificity as to a great deal more than counting the dead). What compelled Heidegger to write about poetry, technology, and truth ought to have compelled him to write about the German disaster, all the more so because, on the basis of his thought, Heidegger attributed an "inner greatness" to the movement that brought about that disaster.
Lacoue-Labarthe and Jacques Derrida have both commented extensively on Heidegger's corpus, and both have remarked on his links to the Nazi Party that persisted until the end. It is perhaps of greater importance that Lacoue-Labarthe and Derrida, following Celan to a degree, believed Heidegger capable of profound criticism of Nazism and the horrors it brought forth. They hold that Heidegger's greatest failure not to be his involvement in the National Socialist movement but his "silence on the extermination" (Lacoue-Labarthe) and refusal to elaborate a thorough deconstruction of Nazism beyond laying out certain of his considerable objections to party orthodoxies and (particularly in the case of Lacoue-Labarthe) their passage through Nietzsche, Hölderlin, and Richard Wagner, taken to be susceptible to Nazi appropriation. It would be reasonable to say that both Lacoue-Labarthe and Derrida regarded Heidegger as capable of engaging Nazism in this other fashion and have undertaken such work on the basis of his (one ought to note in due course the questions raised by Derrida in "Desistance" in calling attention to Lacoue-Labarthe's parenthetical comment: "(in any case, Heidegger never avoids anything)").
Heidegger's involvements with the Nazis and the lack of a clear apology for them complicated many of his friendships, and continues to complicate the reception of his work. It is disputable whether Heidegger was antisemitic or if he was taken in by the charismatic projections of Nazi propaganda, but he had clear sympathies for certain elements of Nazism. Whether this is in any way a result of his philosophy is still contested. It has also been noted that many parts of "Sein und Zeit" can be read as anti-democratic, anti-modernist and anti-liberal, e.g. the condemnations against the "government of the they" (Herrschaft des Man), the "chatting" (Gerede) and the Dasein's Verfallenheit (roughly, being-fallen-to) the world. The possibility that Heidegger's affiliation with the Nazi party was the result of his philosophy would lead many to discredit Heidegger as a philosopher solely on this basis, as Jean-François Lyotard remarked, the formula becomes "if a Nazi, then not a great thinker" or, conversely, "if a great thinker, then not a Nazi").
Being and Time
Heidegger's most important work is the dense and challenging Being and Time (German Sein und Zeit, 1927). Although the book as published represents only a third of the total project outlined in its introduction, it marked a turning point in continental philosophy. It has been massively influential and remains one of the most discussed works of 20th century philosophy; many subsequent philosophical views and approaches, such as existentialism and deconstruction, have been strongly influenced by Being and Time.
In this work, Heidegger takes up the question of the meaning of being: what does it mean to say that an entity is? This is the fundamental question of ontology, defined by Aristotle as the study of being qua being. In his approach to this question, Heidegger departs from the tradition of Aristotle and of Kant, both of whom, despite the vast difference between their respective philosophical positions, approach the question of the meaning of being from the perspective of the logic of propositional statements. Implicit in this traditional approach is the thesis that theoretical knowledge represents the most fundamental relation between the human individual and the beings in his surrounding world (including himself).
Explicitly rejecting this thesis, Heidegger instead adopts a version of the phenomenological method, purged of what he regards as the residue of Aristotelian/Kantian cognitivism still present in Husserl's formulation of this method. Like Husserl, Heidegger takes as his starting point the phenomenon of intentionality. Human behavior is intentional insofar as it is directed at some being (all building is building of something, all talking is talking about something, etc). Theoretical knowledge represents only one kind of intentional behavior, and Heidegger asserts that it is founded on more fundamental modes of behavior, modes of practical engagement with the surrounding world, rather than being their ultimate foundation. An entity is what it is (i.e., it has being) insofar as it "shows up" within a context of practical engagement (Heidegger calls such a context a 'world') not because it has certain inherent properties ascertainable by disinterested contemplation. A hammer is a hammer not because it has certain hammer-like properties, but because it is used for hammering.
This also necessitated a rejection of the Cartesian, disembodied 'I': that is, an 'I' as a purely thinking object. Instead, Heidegger insisted that any analysis of human behaviour should begin with the fact that we are in the world (not viewing it in an 'abstract' fashion): therefore the fundamental fact about human existence is our 'being-in-the-world'. Human beings, Heidegger insisted, were embodied beings who acted in the world. He therefore rejected the 'subject-object' distinction assumed by most philosophers since Descartes. Things are meaningful to us in terms of their use in certain contexts, which are defined by social norms. However, all of these norms are radically contingent. Their contingency is revealed in the fundamental phenomenon of Angst, in which all norms fall away and beings show up as nothing in particular, in their essential meaninglessness. (Contrary to some existentialist interpretations of Heidegger, this does not mean that all existence is absurd; rather, it means that existence always has the potential for absurdity.) The experience of Angst reveals the essential finitude of human being.
The fact that beings can show up, either as meaningful in a context or as meaningless in the experience of Angst, depends on a prior phenomenon: that beings can show up at all. Heidegger calls the showing up of beings 'truth,' which he defines as unconcealment rather than correctness. This "truth of beings", their self-revelation, involves a more fundamental kind of truth, the "disclosure of being in which the being of beings is unconcealed." It is this unconcealment of being that defines human existence for Heidegger: the human being is that being for whom being is an issue, that is, for whom being shows up as such (Heidegger's word for such an entity, which could conceivably have non-human instantiations, is Da-sein). This is why Heidegger begins his inquiry into the meaning of being with an inquiry into the essence of human being; the ontology of Da-sein is fundamental ontology. The unconcealment of being is an essentially temporal and historical phenomenon (hence the "time" in Being and Time); what we call past, present, and future correspond originarily to aspects of this unconcealment and not to three mutually exclusive regions of the homogeneous time that clocks measure (although clock-time is derivative from the originary time of unconcealment, as Heidegger attempts to show in the book's difficult final chapters).
The total understanding of being results from an explication of the implicit knowledge of being that inheres in all human behavior. Philosophy thus becomes a form of interpretation; this is why Heidegger's technique in Being and Time is often referred to as hermeneutical phenomenology. Being and Time, being incomplete, contains Heidegger's statement of this project and his interpretation of human existence and its temporal horizon, but does not contain the working out of the meaning of being as such on the basis of this interpretation. This ambitious task is taken up in a different way in his later works (see below).
As part of his ontological project, Heidegger undertakes a reinterpretation of previous Western philosophy. He wants to explain why and how theoretical knowledge came to seem like the most fundamental relation to being. This explanation takes the form of a destructuring (Destruktion) of the philosophical tradition, an interpretive strategy that reveals the fundamental experience of being at the base of previous philosophies. In Being and Time he briefly destructures the philosophy of Descartes; in later works he uses this approach to interpret the philosophies of Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, and Plato, among others. This technique exerted a profound influence on Derrida's deconstructive approach, although there are very important differences between the two methods.
Being and Time is the towering achievement of Heidegger's early career, but there are other important works from this period, including Die Grundprobleme der Phänomenologie (The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, 1927), Kant und das Problem der Metaphysik (Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, 1929), and "Was ist Metaphysik?" ("What is Metaphysics?", 1929).
Although Heidegger claimed that all of his writings concerned a single question, the question of being, in the years after the publication of Being and Time the focus of his work gradually changed. This change is often referred to as Heidegger's Kehre (turn). In his later works, Heidegger turns from "doing" to "dwelling." He focuses less on the way in which the structures of being are revealed in everyday behavior and in the experience of Angst, and more on the way in which behavior itself depends on a prior "openness to being." The essence of being human is the maintenance of this openness. (The difference between Heidegger's early and late works is more a difference of emphasis than a radical break like that between the early and late works of Wittgenstein, but it is important enough to justify a division of the Heideggerian corpus into "early" (roughly, pre-1930) and "late" writings.)
Heidegger opposes this openness to the "will to power" of the modern human subject, who subordinates beings to his own ends rather than letting them "be what they are." Heidegger interprets the history of western philosophy as a brief period of authentic openness to being in the time of the pre-Socratics, especially Parmenides, Heraclitus, and Anaximander, followed by a long period increasingly dominated by nihilistic subjectivity, initiated by Plato and culminating in Nietzsche.
In the later writings, two recurring themes are poetry and technology. Heidegger sees poetry as a preeminent way in which beings are revealed "in their being." The play of poetic language (which is, for Heidegger, the essence of language itself) reveals the play of presence and absence that is being itself. Heidegger focuses especially on the poetry of Hölderlin.
Against the revealing power of poetry, Heidegger sets the force of technology. The essence of technology is the conversion of the whole universe of beings into an undifferentiated "standing reserve" (Bestand) of energy available for any use to which humans choose to put it. The standing reserve represents the most extreme nihilism, since the being of beings is totally subordinated to the will of the human subject. Heidegger does not unequivocally condemn technology; he believes that its increasing dominance might make it possible for humanity to return to its authentic task of the stewardship of being. Nevertheless, many of Heidegger's later works are characterized by an unmistakable agrarian nostalgia.
Heidegger's important later works include Vom Wesen der Wahrheit ("On the Essence of Truth," 1930), Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes ("The Origin of the Work of Art," 1935), Bauen Wohnen Denken ("Building Dwelling Thinking," 1951), and Die Frage nach der Technik ("The Question Concerning Technology," 1953) and Was heisst Denken? ("What is called Thinking?" 1954).
Influences and Difficulties of French Reception
Many regard Heidegger, like Husserl, as greatly influencing--22.214.171.124 16:22, 21 Apr 2005 (UTC) existentialism, despite his explicit disavowal and objection, in texts such as the "Letter on Humanism," of the importation of key elements of his work into existentialist contexts. Deconstruction as it is generally understood (i.e., as French and Anglo-American phenomena with limited exposure in a German context until the 1980s) is not known to have come to Heidegger's attention, but one feature that garnered initial interest in a French context (which propagated rather quickly to scholars of French literature and philosophy working in American universities) was the efforts of Jacques Derrida to displace the understanding of Heidegger's work prevalent in France from the period of the ban against Heidegger teaching in German universities, which amounts in part to rejecting almost wholesale the influence of Jean-Paul Sartre and existentialist terms. On Derrida's view, deconstruction is a tradition inherited via Heidegger, and Sartre's interpretation of Dasein and other key Heideggerian terms is overly psychologistic and ironically anthropocentric, consisting of a radical misconception of the limited number of Heidegger's texts commonly studied in France up to that point (namely Being and Time, What is Metaphysics?, and Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics). Derrida, on the other hand, is at times presented as an ultra-orthodox "French Heidegger," so much so that he, his colleagues, and his former students are made to go proxy for Heidegger's worst mistakes, despite ample evidence that the reception of Heidegger's work by later practitioners of deconstruction is anything but doctrinaire "Heideggerianism" (the work of Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe may be taken as exemplary in this regard and was often commended as such by Derrida).
Everyone is the other, and no one is himself. The they, which supplies the answer to the who of everyday Da-sein, is the nobody to whom every Da-sein has always already surrendered itself, in its being-among-one-another. (from Being and Time, Stambaugh translation)
The domination of the public way in which things have been interpreted has already decided upon even the possibilities of being attuned, that is, about the basic way in which Da-sein lets itself be affected by the world. The they prescribes that attunement, it determines what and how one "sees." (from Being and Time, Stambaugh translation)
Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology, whether we passionately affirm or deny it. But we are delivered over to it in the worst possible way when we regard it as something neutral; for this conception of it, to which today we particularly like to do homage, makes us utterly blind to the essence of technology. (from The Question Concerning Technology)
"...philosophy will not be able to effect an immediate transformation of the present condition of the world. This is not only true of philosophy, but of all merely human thought and endeavor. Only a god can save us. The sole possibility that is left for us is to prepare a sort of readiness, through thinking and poeticizing, for the appearance of the god or for the absence of the god in the time of foundering [Untergang] for in the face of the god who is absent, we founder."
--"Only a God Can Save Us", Der Spiegel's 23 September 1966 interview with Heidegger, published posthumously, on 31 May 1976, translated by Maria P. Alter and John D. Caputo in The Heidegger Controversy, edited by Richard Wolin .
There is a large secondary literature on Heidegger's philosophy. Accessible commentaries on Being and Time include
- Being-in-the-World by Hubert Dreyfus and
- Heidegger and Being and Time by Stephen Mulhall.
By far the best and most even-handed biography of Heidegger, which also is perhaps the best introduction to his thought, is
- Rüdiger Safranski 's Heidegger. Between Good and Evil
which is the English translation of his Ein Meister aus Deutschland (the title is an allusion to Paul Celan's "Todesfugue").
More information on the subject of Heidegger's political history can be found in
- Victor Farias 's 1987 book, Heidegger and Nazism .
It should be noted that in many philosophical circles, Farias' arguments are controversial, and many of his conclusions are contested.
- Emmanuel Faye, Heidegger, l'introduction du nazisme en philosophie (avril 2005).
Emmanuel Faye uses texts not-published where we find for example this ontological proposal : the racial selection is a metaphysical need.
There is a danger in taking Heidegger's Nazi enthusiasm, membership, support and subsequent silence on the Holocaust too plainly. More specifically, the facts of 'Heidegger the Nazi’ may obscure the relation his thinking has on a deeper theoretical level to fascism and extreme political movements.
Another relatively accessible account that attempts to work with the philosophical meaning of Heidegger's political involvement is
- Dominique Janicaud 's The Shadow of That Thought.
- Hans Sluga's book Heidegger's Crisis: Philosophy & Politics in Nazi Germany
gives a fair examination of the relations between philosophy and politics. Similar questions have been taken up from a philosophical perspective by (among others)
- Derrida in Of Spirit,
- Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe in Typography and
- Heidegger, Art, and Politics, and to a lesser extent, but still significant in offering key insights,
- Poetry as Experience,
- Bourdieu in The Political Ontology of Martin Heidegger, and
- Lyotard in Heidegger and "the Jews".
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