Philosophers: Martin Heidegger
(1919-2002 CE)

[Life & Work] | [Links]

Heidegger was born into a Catholic family in Messkirch, Baden, in South-West Germany in 1889, and was originally destined for the priesthood, his education being supported by the Church — first in Konstanz, then at high school in Freiburg, where he was introduced to philosophy. After high school he did attend a Jesuit seminary, but he remained a novice for only a few weeks, because of his poor health. He went instead to the University of Freiburg to study theology, but his health finally forced him to give up all thoughts of the priesthood, and he switched to courses in philosophy, maths, and natural science.

At Freiburg he received his doctorate in philosophy in 1913, but the first World War intervened. He enlisted in the army, but poor health again meant that he lasted no more than a couple of months, and he returned to his studies, becoming a lecturer at Freiburg in 1915; at this time he was still very much within the tradition of Catholic philosophy. In the following year Edmund Husserl, whose work he had studied, arrived at Freiburg; after a brief interruption in 1918, when Heidegger was called up to serve on the Western Front, he became Husserl's assistant — an appointment coinciding with his declared break from Catholic philosophy.

There followed a five-year period of teaching, during which his lectures gained him a considerable reputation as an interpreter of Aristotle. In 1923 he moved to Marburg as an assistant professor. Although his teaching was highly regarded, his failure to publish held back his career, and finally, in 1927, he was pressured into publishing an unfinished version of his book Sein und Zeit (Being and Time), dedicated to Husserl. The book was hailed as an important work of metaphysics, and it earned him a full professorship at Marburg, though he filled that post for only a year; in 1928 Husserl retired, and Heidegger returned to Freiburg to take his place.

"I saw in [the Nazis] the possibility of an inner recollection and renewal of the people and a path that would allow it to discover its historical vocation in the Western world." ("The Rectorate 1933-34" The Review of Metaphysics (1985), p.483)

With the rise of Hitler in the early 1930s, he began to get involved in National Socialist politics, and in 1933, a month after his election as rector of Freiburg university, he joined the Nazi party. He distanced himself from his former mentor, the Jewish Husserl, who was publicly humiliated by the University, and instituted Nazi reforms; when a new edition of Sein und Zeit was published in 1941, he removed the dedication to Husserl. After the war, despite his protestations of innocence, he was removed from his post and banned from teaching, though the ban was lifted in 1949. He spent the rest of his life travelling, lecturing, and writing, and died in the town of his birth in 1976.

Heidegger is perhaps the best symbol of the divide between the Anglo-American and Continental traditions: in the latter he is said to have had enormous influence (and certainly one can see aspects of his style in more recent Continental philosophy), while in the former he's widely seen as a pompous spinner of ponderous pseudo-profundities.

+ One Hundred Philosophers (2004)
U.S.A.:     Barron's Educational Books
U.K.:        Apple Press
Australia: A.B.C. Books
The book covers the history of philosophy chronologically from Thales of Miletus (6th century BCE) to Peter Singer (b.1946 CE), with philosophers from Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Australasia, and the U.S.A., about 60% getting a page, 40% two pages. Scattered through the book are brief introductions to such topics as African, Chinese, and Indian philosophy, scepticism, women in philosophy, mind and body, the philosophy of science, and moral philosophy. The book's divided into periods, each with its own introduction and timeline of other important events. There's also a glossary, suggested further reading, and an index.
+ Martin Heidegger
Article by W. J. Korab-Karpowicz from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
+ Martin Heidegger
Wikipedia article.
+ Martin Heidegger
Short introduction, with bibliography and links, by Garth Kemerling.

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