chapter  19
12 Pages

Martin Heidegger


Martin Heidegger was born in Meßkirch in 1889. Under the advice of Dr. Conrad Gröber, during his years at gymnasium in Freiburg, Heidegger became interested in the Greeks but also in the thought of Franz Brentano and in particular hisOn the Manifold Meaning of Being According to Aristotle (1862). Both were to prove a great influence on him and were to lead him to engage with and eventually move beyond Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology. When Heidegger turned twenty years of age he joined the Society of Jesus

at Tisis in Austria to train as a Jesuit but he was not allowed to remain there, possibly due to poor health. Entering the Albert-Ludwig University in Freiburg to study theology and prepare for the priesthood, Heidegger became exposed to Husserl’s writings and began to publish his own papers and to lecture. Changing his studies to Catholic philosophy and mathematics, he devoted himself to a close and critical engagement with the work of Husserl and Wilhelm Dilthey, receiving his doctorate in 1913 for his thesis on The Doctrine of Judgment in Psychologism and submitting a qualifying dissertation [Habilitationsschrift] in 1915 under the title of The Theory of Categories and Meaning of Duns Scotus. Following his 1917 marriage to Elfride Petri, Heidegger entered the military but again was discharged due to poor health less than a year later. In 1919, Heidegger broke with Catholicism altogether, describing it as dogmatic. It was at this same time that Heidegger became Husserl’s assistant at the University of Freiburg, where the latter had been professor of Philosophy since 1916, helping to edit his writings for The Phenomenology of Internal Time-consciousness. At Freiburg, Heidegger also began a longstanding association with Karl Jaspers that would be broken only with Heidegger’s involvement with the Nazis in the 1930s. In 1923, with the help of neo-Kantian philosopher Paul Natorp who had been greatly impressed by the possibilities in Heidegger’s 1922 essay ‘Phenomenological Interpretations with Respect to Aristotle: Indication of the Hermeneutical Situation’ (1992), Heidegger took up a junior position at the University of Marburg. It was during his time at Marburg that he would write his seminal Being and Time [Sein und Zeit] (1962). Rumours of his daring and brilliant lectures at Marburg, deriving from his work on the question of Being and the analysis of human existence [Daseinanalytik] that would form the basis of

Being and Time, spread like wildfire: Germany’s philosophical circles reverberated with excitement at the prospect of a new ‘hidden king of philosophy’ (van Buren 1994). It was these lectures at Marburg that drew to him as students some of the most prominent thinkers of the twentieth century such as Hannah Arendt, who also became his lover, Herbert Marcuse, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Karl Löwith, Hans Jonas, and others (Wolin 2003). Following the critical acclaim that accompanied the 1927 publication of

Being and Time, Heidegger returned in 1928 to Freiburg to take over Husserl’s chair of philosophy. Husserl himself regarded Heidegger as the only suitable successor to his professorship and the person to lead the emerging phenomenological movement, despite awareness that Heidegger’s overriding concern with the question of Being increasingly differed substantially from Husserl’s own focus on transcendental subjectivity and would eventually require the radicalization of phenomenology itself towards ontology and deconstruction, as is discussed below. This would be evident not only with the publication of Being and Time but also with the so-called ‘Turn’ [Kehre] which Heidegger’s thinking underwent in the late 1920s, forming a major influence in the development of hermeneutics (most prominently associated with Gadamer, his one-time student), French phenomenology (Emmanuel Levinas) and, later, poststructuralism (Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Jean-Luc Nancy, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, among others). Even this brief account of Heidegger’s life would not be complete without

mention of his involvement with the National Socialists soon after Adolf Hitler’s rise to power (Wolin 1991). He was elected to the rectorship of the University of Freiburg in April 1933, joining the Nazi Party a few weeks later and delivering a number of lectures offering support for Hitler and his policies, but at the same time supporting some of his Jewish students like Karl Löwith and friends like Elisabeth Blochmann. His membership of the Party would last for the entirety of the Nazi years and the Second World War, despite his resignation as rector in 1934. Following his resignation from the position of rector, Heidegger worked on

some of the major philosophical themes of his career. In 1935 he gave his famous lecture on ‘The Origin of the Work of Art’ and by 1938 he completed his second major book Contributions to Philosophy (1999b). His courses on Nietzsche contained a critical examination of power, seen to apply to National Socialist thought, and this brought Heidegger to the attention of the Gestapo, which monitored his lectures. Following Allied victory in 1945, Heidegger underwent de-nazification, being barred from teaching on the advice of his one-time associate Karl Jaspers, which lasted until 1949. His many students, most notably Marcuse who had migrated to the United States, called on Heidegger to apologize and explain his Nazi involvement but Heidegger did not, remaining perhaps committed to an ideal or philosophical national socialism (Derrida 1995c). In post-war years, Heidegger began a friendship with Jean Beaufret who

would be instrumental in making Heidegger’s thought known in France and whose questions would prompt Heidegger to write his influential ‘Letter on

Humanism’ (1998). His work took up the question of Being again under the heading of the ‘history of Being’ and resulted in a series of prominent lectures, such as, inter alia, ‘What is Called Thinking?’ (1968) and ‘The Question Concerning Technology’ (1977b) in the late 1940s and 1950s. At this time, Heidegger resumed his friendship with Hannah Arendt, who had migrated to the US and become a prominent political thinker in her own right. Now a professor emeritus, he continued to give lectures in Germany and throughout Europe and published his multi-volume work on Nietzsche in 1961 (1991a, 1991b). In 1966 Heidegger gave an interview to Der Spiegel, a prominent German magazine, about his involvement with the Nazis, philosophical outlook and views of the future, which would be published only posthumously at his own request (1977c). Heidegger died on 26 May 1976 and was buried in Meßkirch.