Martin Heidegger (1889–1976)

Martin Heidegger was an important German philosopher in the 20th century, who is famous for his theories on existentialism and phenomenology. He was associated with existentialism, despite his efforts to distance himself from it. He had a strong influence on the French existentialist Jean Paul Sartre, for instance. He developed a phenomenological critique of Kant and wrote widely on Nietzsche and Hölderlin. His thinking influenced many other fields, such as theology, art, architecture, artificial intelligence, cultural anthropology, design, literary theory, social theory, political theory, psychiatry, and psychotherapy. His main work, a 20th century classic in philosophy, is ‘Sein und Zeit (Being and Time)’. He published the book under pressure to meet the criteria for Husserl’s chair at the University of Freiburg and he succeeded. His association with the Nazi Party during World War II, for which he never showed self-critique and never apologized, casts a permanent shadow over his life and his work.


  • Martin Heidegger was born in 1889 in Messkirch, Germany, to Friedrich Heidegger and Johanna Kempf. His father was the custodian (sexton) of the village church, so Heidegger was brought up in a household of strict Catholic belief.
  • Initially, his parents could not afford university education, so he was enrolled at a Jesuit seminary. However, due to a heart condition, he was asked to leave the program.
  • From 1909 to 1911, Heidegger studied theology at the University of Freiburg and later changed his subject to philosophy. He also left the Catholic Church, because for him, Catholicism was incompatible with his newly attained philosophical views.
  • In 1913, he attained his doctoral degree after finishing his thesis on the critique of psychologism. 1 At that, he was inspired by Neo-Thomism and Neo-Kantianism.
  • He began teaching at Freiburg in 1915. Also in 1915, Husserl began teaching at Freiburg, and in 1919 Heidegger became his assistant.
  • In 1916 he completed his habilitation thesis (a requirement for teaching at the university level in Germany) on the Scholastic theologian John Duns Scotus.  He started working as Privatdozent and then as a German soldier during World War I.
  • In 1917 he married Elfride Petri, with whom he had two sons (Jörg and Hermann). He stayed in the marriage but had several affairs, the most well-known of them was Hannah Arendt,  his student at Marburg in the 1920s.
  • Heidegger spent five years teaching at the University of Marburg (1923–1928). His colleagues there included Rudolf Bultmann, Nicolai Hartmann, and Paul Natorp. Among his students at Marburg were Hans-Georg Gadamer, Hannah Arendt, Karl Löwith, Gerhard Krüger, Leo Strauss, Jacob Klein, Gunther (Stern) Anders, and Hans Jonas.
  • In 1927, Heidegger published his main work ‘Sein und Zeit (Being and Time).’ He returned to Freiburg to take up the chair vacated by Husserl on his retirement, and became the Professor of Philosophy at the University of Freiburg in the following year, after Husserl retired.
  • In 1933, he became the rector of the University of Freiburg, and later joined the National Socialist German Workers’ (Nazi) Party. In his speeches and addresses, he started to openly support the German revolution and praise Adolf Hitler.
  • He quit his position as rector in 1934, and became increasingly distanced from Nazi politics. He didn’t leave the Nazi party, but he attracted some criticism from Nazi followers and students.
  • In 1946. after the World War II ended, French authorities removed Heidegger from teaching because of his association with the Nazi Party. He was later judged to be a “Mitlaufer” (collaborator), but he was not prosecuted.
  • In 1951, the University of Freiburg could finally hire him back with emeritus status  and he continued teaching there until 1967.
  • In 1966, Heidegger was interviewed by Rudolf Augstein and Georg Wolff for ‘Der Spiegel magazine’, in which he agreed to talk about his political past provided that the interview is published posthumously. In the interview, he defended his association with National Socialism in two ways – first, he said there was no other option and it was his goal to save the university from being politicized. Secondly, he confessed that he saw an ‘awakening’ which he thought may help to find a ‘new national and social approach,’ but said that he changed his mind about this in 1934, mainly after being provoked by the brutality of the Night of the Long Knives.
  • Heidegger visited Paris in 1955 and delivered the lecture ‘What is Philosophy?’ at Cerisy-la-sale. during this occasion, he also visited Lacan at his home at Guitrancourt.
  • Heidegger wanted to meet French writer Derrida in person after the Derrida sent him some of his writings. There was discussion of a meeting in 1972, but it did not happen.
  • He died in 1976 and was buried in the Messkirch cemetery beside his parents and brother.

Major Works

  • 1927: ‘Sein und Zeit (Being and Time)’. It is considered to be his most important work. The book investigates the question of ‘being’ through themes such as mortality, care, anxiety, temporality, and historicity.
  • 1930: ‘Vom Wesen der Wahrheit (‘On the Essence of Truth’)
  • 1935: ‘Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes (The Origin of the Work of Art),
  • 1935: ‘Einfuhrung in die Metaphysik’ (Introduction to Metaphysics),
  • 1951: Bauen Wohnen Denken (Building Dwelling Thinking).
  • 1954: Die Frage nach der Technik (“The Question Concerning Technology”,
  • 1954: Was heisst Denken? (What Is Called Thinking?).

External Links

  1. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Heidegger.
  2. Stanford Encyclopedia: Heidegger


  • In the Letter on Humanism (LH), Heidegger redefines the metaphysical framework for subject and object. He writes: “In this regard “subject” and “object” are inappropriate terms of metaphysics, which very early on in the form of Occidental “logic” and “grammar” seized control of the interpretation of language.  We today can only descry what is concealed in that occurrence.  The liberation of language from grammar into a more original essential framework is reserved for thought and poetic creation.  Thinking is not merely l’engagement dans l’action [engagement in the action] for and by beings, in the sense of the actuality of the present situation.  Thinking is l’engagement by and for the truth of Being.  The history of Being is never past but stands ever before; it sustains and defines every condition et situation humaine.  (LH, p. 218)
  • Language is the house of Being. In its home man dwells. Those who think and those who create with words are the guardians of this home. Their guardianship accomplishes the manifestation of Being insofar as they bring the manifestation to language and maintain it in language through their speech. Thinking does not become action only because some effect issues from it or because it is applied. Thinking acts insofar as it thinks. Such action is presumably the simplest and at the same time the highest, because it concerns the relation of Being to man. But all working or effecting lies in Being and is directed towards beings. Thinking, in contrast, lets itself be claimed by Being so that it can say the truth of Being. Thinking accomplishes this letting. Thinking is the ‘engagement par l’Etre pour l’Etre [engagement by Being for Being]. (Letter on Humanism, p. 217-218, 145)
  • The adequate execution and completion of this other thinking that abandons subjectivity is surely made more difficult by the fact that in the publication of Being and Time the third division of the first part, “Time and Being,” was held back… Here everything is reversed. The division in question was held back because everything failed in the adequate saying of this turning and did not succeed with the help of the language of metaphysics… This turning is not a change of standpoint from Being and Time, but in it the thinking that was sought first arrives at the location of that dimension out of which Being and Time is experienced, that is to say, experienced from the fundamental experience of the oblivion of Being. (Letter on Humanism, pp. 231–2)
  • Being shows itself in its clearing, in its manifestation, as truth (Alethea, truth as the unconcealment amid concealment, who signifies the struggle to disclose the truth, to bring it to light, out from under the weight of beings and of metaphysical, subjectivist representation.) Heidegger writes, concerning the relation that subsists between the essence of man and Being: “Being itself is the relation to the extent that It, as the location of the truth of Being amid beings, gathers to itself and embraces ek-sistence in its existential, that is, ecstatic essence. Because man as the one who ek-sists comes to stand in this relation that Being destinies for itself, in that he ecstatically sustains it, that is, in care takes it upon himself, he at first fails to recognize the nearest and attaches himself to the next nearest. He even thinks that this is the nearest. But nearer than the nearest and at the same time for ordinary thinking farther than the farthest is nearness itself: the truth of Being.” (LH, p. 235, 163)
  • “Why is love beyond all measure of other human possibilities so rich and such a sweet burden for the one who has been struck by it? Because we change ourselves into that which we love, and yet remain ourselves. Then we would like to thank the beloved, but find nothing that would do it adequately. We can only be thankful to ourselves. Love transforms gratitude into faithfulness to ourselves and into an unconditional faith in the Other. Thus love steadily expands its most intimate secret. Closeness here is existence in the greatest distance from the other- the distance that allows nothing to dissolve – but rather presents the “thou” in the transparent, but “incomprehensible” revelation of the “just there”. That the presence of the other breaks into our own life – this is what no feeling can fully encompass. Human fate gives itself to human fate, and it is the task of pure love to keep this self-surrender as vital as on the first day.”
  • “Why are there beings at all instead of nothing? That is the question. Presumably it is not arbitrary question, “Why are there beings at all instead of nothing”- this is obviously the first of all questions. Of course it is not the first question in the chronological sense […] And yet, we are each touched once, maybe even every now and then, by the concealed power of this question, without properly grasping what is happening to us. In great despair, for example, when all weight tends to dwindle away from things and the sense of things grows dark, the question looms.” ― Being and Time
  • “Freedom is only to be found where there is burden to be shouldered. In creative achievements this burden always represents an imperative and a need that weighs heavily upon man’s mood, so that he comes to be in a mood of melancholy. All creative action resides in a mood of melancholy, whether we are clearly aware of the fact or not, whether we speak at length about it or not. All creative action resides in a mood of melancholy, but this is not to say that everyone in a melancholy mood is creative.”
  • “Philosophy, then, is not a doctrine, not some simplistic scheme for orienting oneself in the world, certainly not an instrument or achievement of human Dasein. Rather, it is this Dasein itself insofar as it comes to be, in freedom, from out of its own ground. Whoever, by stint of research, arrives at this self-understanding of philosophy is granted the basic experience of all philosophizing, namely that the more fully and originally research comes into its own, the more surely is it “nothing but” the transformation of the same few simple questions. But those who wish to transform must bear within themselves the power of a fidelity that knows how to preserve. And one cannot feel this power growing within unless one is up in wonder. And no one can be caught up in wonder without travelling to the outermost limits of the possible. But no one will ever become the friend of the possible without remaining open to dialogue with the powers that operate in the whole of human existence. But that is the comportment of the philosopher: to listen attentively to what is already sung forth, which can still be perceived in each essential happening of world. And in such comportment the philosopher enters the core of what is truly at stake in the task he has been given to do. Plato knew of that and spoke of it in his Seventh Letter: ‘In no way can it be uttered, as can other things, which one can learn. Rather, from out of a full, co-existential dwelling with the thing itself – as when a spark, leaping from the fire, flares into light – so it happens, suddenly, in the soul, there to grow, alone with itself.
  • “When the farthest corner of the globe has been conquered technologically and can be exploited economically; when any incident you like, in any place you like, at any time you like, becomes accessible as fast as you like; when you can simultaneously “experience” an assassination attempt against a king in France and a symphony concert in Tokyo; when time is nothing but speed, instantaneity, and simultaneity, and time as history has vanished from all Being of all peoples; when a boxer counts as the great man of a people; when the tallies of millions at mass meetings are a triumph; then, yes then, there still looms like a specter over all this uproar the question: what for? — where to? — and what then?” — Introduction to Metaphysics
  • “Body’, ‘soul’, and ‘spirit’ may designate phenomenal domains which can be detached as themes for definite investigations; within certain limits their ontological indefiniteness may not be important. When, however, we come to the question of man’s Being, this is not something we can simply compute by adding together those kinds of Being which body, soul, and spirit respectively possess–kinds of being whose nature has not as yet been determined. And even if we should attempt such an ontological procedure, some idea of the Being of the whole must be presupposed.” ― Being and Time
  • “When tradition thus becomes master, it does so in such a way that what it transmits is made so inaccessible, proximally and for the most part, that it rather becomes concealed. Tradition takes what has come down to us and delivers it over to self-evidence; it blocks our access to those primordial “sources” from which the categories and concepts handed down to us have been in part quite genuinely drawn. Indeed it makes us forget that they have had such an origin, and makes us suppose that the necessity of going back to these sources is something which we need not even understand.” ― Being and Time
  • “…then he comes to the brink of a precipitous fall; that is, he comes to the point where he himself will have to be taken as standing-reserve. Meanwhile man, precisely as the one so threatened, exalts himself to the posture of lord of the earth. In this way the impression comes to prevail that everything man encounters exists only insofar as it is his construct. This illusion gives rise in turn to one final delusion: It seems as though man everywhere and always encounters only himself… In truth, however, precisely nowhere does man today any longer encounter himself, i.e. his essence. Man stands so decisively in attendance on the challenging-forth of Enframing that he does not apprehend Enframing as a claim, that he fails to see himself as the one spoken to, and hence also fails in every way to hear in what respect he ek-sists, from out of his essence, in the realm of an exhortation or address, and thus can never encounter only himself.” ― The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays
  • “If knowing is to be possible as a way of determining the nature of the present-at-hand by observing it, then there must first be a deficiency in our having-to-do with the world concernfully. When concern holds back from any kind of producing, manipulating and the like, it puts itself into what is now the sole remaining mode of Being-in, the mode of just tarrying-alongside. In this kind of ‘dwelling’ as a holding-oneself-back from any manipulation or utilization, the perception of the present-at-hand is consummated.”
  • “Questions are not happenstance thoughts nor are questions common problems of today which one picks up from hearsay and book-learning and decks out with a gesture of profundity questions grow out of confrontation with the subject matter and the subject matter is there only where eyes are, it is in this manner that questions will be posed and all the more considering that questions that have today fallen out of fashion in the great industry of problems. One stands up for nothing more than the normal running of the industry. Philosophy interprets its corruption as the resurrection of metaphysics.” ― Martin Heidegger, Ontology–The Hermeneutics of Facticity
  • “…”Nature” is not to be understood as that which is just present-at-hand, nor as the power of Nature. The wood is a forest of timber, the mountain a quarry of rock; the river is water-power, the wind is wind ‘in the sails’. As the ‘environment’ is discovered, the ‘Nature’ thus discovered is encountered too. If its kind of Being as ready-to-hand is disregarded, this ‘Nature’ itself can be discovered and defined simply in its pure presence-at-hand. But when this happens, the Nature which ‘stirs and strives’, which assails us and enthralls us as landscape, remains hidden. The botanist’s plants are not the flowers of the hedgerow; the ‘source’ which the geographer establishes for a river is not the ‘springhead in the dale’.” –Being and Time


  1. Die Lehre vom Urteil im Psychologismus: Ein kritisch-positiver Beitrag zur Logik (“The Doctrine of Judgment in Psychologism: A Critical-Positive Contribution to Logic”).
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