MARTIN HEIDEGGER (1889-1976)
“Man is not the lord of beings. Man is the shepherd of Being. Man loses nothing in this “less”; rather, he gains in that he attains the truth of Being. He gains the essential poverty of the shepherd, whose dignity consists in being called by Being itself into the preservation of Being’s truth.” (Letter on Humanism, 1964)
“Philosophy gets under way only by a peculiar insertion of our own existence into the fundamental possibilities of Dasein as a whole. For this insertion it is of decisive importance, first, that we allow space for beings as a whole; second, that we release ourselves into the nothing, which is to say, that we liberate ourselves from those idols everyone has and to which they are wont to go cringing; and, finally, that we let the sweep of suspense take its full course, so that it swings back into the basic question of metaphysics which the nothing itself compels: Why are there beings at all, and why not rather nothing?” (What is Metaphysics?, 1977)
Martin Heidegger, the German philosopher, was born September 26th, 1889, to Friedrich and Johanna Heiddeger, in the Black Forest region of Messkirch. He began gymnasium at Constance in 1903, but was later transferred, in 1906, to Bertholds gymnasium in Freiberg. Here, he boarded at the archiepiscopal seminary of St. Georg. Heidegger was impressed early on with Franz Brentano. A mentor, Dr. Conrad Grober, had given him a copy of Brentano’s “On the Manifold Meaning of Being According to Aristotle.” This early exposure to Brentano, who influenced Husserl’s phenomenology, and the Greeks, most likely set Heidegger on his path toward greatness as a 20th century philosopher.
In 1909, Heidegger entered the Society of Jesus at Tisis in Austria to study as a Jesuit. However, most likely for health reasons, his canditature was rejected. Instead, Heidegger entered into study for the priesthood at the Albert-Ludwig University in Freiberg. At this time, Heidegger first began lecturing and publishing papers, and he was first exposed to Husserl’s writings. For reasons that are unknown, Heidegger was directed by his superiors to change his path of study from theology to mathematics and philosophy. Heidegger took their advice, and, before long, had diligently read the works of Husserl and went on to complete his doctorate. Heidegger married his wife, Elfride Petri, in March, 1917. Shortly thereafter, Heidegger entered into the German army. He was promoted from private to corporal ten months later, but was soon discharged for health reasons. Shortly after the birth of his son, Jorg, in 1919, Heidegger, in a letter to a colleague, wrote that he had decided to break with “the dogmatic system of Catholicism.”
In 1919, Heidegger became Edmund Husserl’s assistant at Freiburg. There, he lectured and first met Karl Jaspers; from thereon, they would form a correspondence relationship for many years. During this time, Heidegger’s second son, Hermann, was born. By 1924, Heidegger moved on to become an associate at the University of Marburg, where he would write his magnum opus, Being and Time (Sein und Zeit). At Marburg, Heidegger also met Hannah Arendt, who would become his lover. Through his brilliant lectures at Marbug, Heidegger influenced many thinkers, including Herbert Marcuse, who would become a primary figure in Critical Theory. Through Count Kuki Shuzo, Jean-Paul Sarte was first introduced to the work of Heidegger. Shuzo would also become the first to offer a book-length study of Heidegger, “The Philosophy of Heidegger,” published in Japan.
In 1933, Heidegger became the rector of the University of Freiburg. At this time, he also joined the National Socialist Party. One year later, Heidegger would resign as rector due to disputes with faculty and local Nazi officials. Up until 1945, Heidegger continued his involvement with the National Socialist Party, although the degree of his involvement is still under debate. Nevertheless, Heidegger officially broke with the National Socialist Party in 1945 however, despite the urgings of Marcuse and others, Heidegger never publically apologized for his involvement with National Socialism. This shadow which hangs over the work of Heidegger is not something to be taken lightly, and any reader of Heidegger is urged to be mindful that Heidegger’s philosophy does contain the possibility for a National Socialist perspective though it remains heatedly debated whether this is any reason to dispense with Heidegger’s work altogether. In my opinion, Heidegger has too much to offer the world in his philosophy to cast him away, despite the dark-side of his politics. I believe it is possible to read and learn from Heidegger without either condoning or making light of his National Socialist affiliation. It is clear that Heidegger did suffer consequences for his National Socialist affiliation. With the denazification hearing in 1945, Heidegger was banned from teaching. Heidegger suffered a nervous breakdown. One would like to think that Heidegger’s breakdown involved a recognition of his guilt due to his, most likely passive, complicity with the evil deeds of the Nazi party. This may hold some truth; yet, Heidegger was also threatened with the dissolution of all that he had worked toward his entire life. Following his nervous breakdown, Heidegger applied for Emeritus status, declaring that he would refrain from teaching. He was granted Emeritus status, provided he refrain from teaching. By 1950, Heidegger was reinstated to his teaching position, and, one year later, he was made professor Emeritus.
During Heidegger’s hiatus from teaching, he met Medard Boss. With the help of Heidegger, Boss drafted “Existential Foundations of Medicine and Psychology,” which would become a seminal work in existential psychology. Heidegger hoped that Boss’ application of his philosophy to psychology would help those in need of aid, as well as take his thought from the academic world to a larger audience. Throughout his career, Boss would continue to promote a Daseinanalytic approach to psychotherapy and medicine.
After writing Being and Time in 1927, Heidegger later had a “turn” (kehre) in his thought. At what point this “turning” took place is still debateable, but it offered a radical transformation in his thought (see “thought” below). Heidegger’s later work, following his “turn,” would pave the way to hermeneutics (i.e., Gadamer) and poststructuralism (i.e., Foucault, Derrida, Levinas).
Heidegger died in Frieburg on May 26th, 1976. In the United States, the news of his death went largely unheeded. Interestingly, the news of Heidegger’s death was received with widespread coverage in Japan. The connection of Heidegger’ s thought to the East has not received much attention over the years. But it is clear that he first had his greatest impact in Japan with the writings of Count Kuki Shuzo. Further, Heidegger carried on a relationship with D.T. Suzuki, whom he met with on several occassions. Further, Heidegger at one time attempted to translate Lao Tzu into German, but never finished the project.
Heidegger’s lifelong project was to answer the “question of Being” (Seinsfrage) (See the Why page). In Being and Time, Heidegger argued that, to understand Being, one must first understand the human kind of being, Dasein (“Being-there”), the kind of Being who asks the question of Being. To even ask the question, remarks Heidegger, implies that at some level the answer is already understood. As a student of Husserl, Heidegger felt that phemenology, which lets the phenomena “show itself from itself in the very way in which it shows itself from itself,” was the only method by which to do ontology, the study of Being. On the other hand, for Heidegger, modern philosophy had forgotten the question of Being; that is, modern philsophy has become concerned with the ontic (beings), and, thus, covers over that which makes such an understanding of beings possible: the “isness” (Being) of beings such that beings can presence. And the concealing-revealing presencing of Being is Dasein. However, contrary to Husserl’s Transcendental Phenomenology, Heidegger argues that ontology as phenomenology must necessarily be hermeneutic, or interpretive. For Heidegger, truth or aletheia is always both concealing and revealing. When one interpretation is opened up, other interpretations are necessarily closed off. In this sense, ontology is always provisional.
In Being and Time, Heidegger’s existential analysis of Dasein, the human kind of Being, reveals that Dasein is uncanny that is, “not-at-home” as Being-in-the-world. Dasein, Heidegger will conclude, is, proximally and for the part, not as itself as it is lost in the “they.” Therefore, as “fallen” into the “they-self,” in which Dasein exists in its “average everydayness,” Dasein’s authentic self as “uncanny” has been “covered up.” Dasein’s authentic, “ownmost” self as uncanny “pursues” Dasein via the call of conscience through the attunement of anxiety in which Dasein’s ‘world’ is revealed as that which it is unable to fall into.
Heidegger’s existential analytic follows the progression from an analysis of Dasein in terms of that which is “closest” to it: its “average everyday,” existentiell, pre-ontological, pre- thematic, “lived” understanding of itself, towards the hidden meaning and ground of Dasein’s primordial existential structure which lies concealed in its “everyday” understanding. The “who” of “everyday” Dasein is that which is closest to Dasein. Yet, proximally and for the most part, one’s own Dasein is not itself. This “who” of “everyday” Dasein is the “they” [das Man], which is characterized by distantiality, averageness and levelling down and constitutes “publicness.” The “they” is both everybody and nobody “to whom every Dasein has already surrendered itself in Being-among-one-another.” The “they-self” is the “not itself” of Dasein to be distinguished from authentic Dasein. Authentic Being-one’s-Self, therefore, is an existentiell modification of the “they” as an essential existentiale, and, therefore, the former is the more primordial disclosure of Dasein.
Heidegger uncovers the Being of Dasein as “care” [Sorge]: “Ahead-of-itself-Being- already-in-(the world) as Being-alongside (entities encountered within the world).” Through his analysis of anxiety, as a state-of-mind which provides the phenomenal basis for explicitly grasping Dasein’s primordial totality of Being, Heidegger reveals Dasein’s Being to itself as care.
Falling, explains Heidegger, is a turning-away or fleeing of Dasein into its “they-self.” This turning-away is grounded in anxiety. Anxiety is what makes fear possible. Yet, unlike fear, in which that which threatens is other than Dasein, anxiety is characterized by the fact that what threatens is nowhere and nothing. In anxiety, Dasein is not threatened by a particular thing or a collection of objects present-at-hand. Being-in-the-world itself is that in the face of which anxiety is anxious. In anxiety, first and foremost, the world as world is disclosed as that which one cannot fall into.
Heidegger defined Being-in as “residing alongside” and “Being-familiar with.” This Being-in is understood in the everyday publicness of the “they” as a ‘Being-at-home,” a tranquillized self-assurance. However, as Dasein falls, anxiety brings it back from its absorption in the ‘world’ and “everyday familiarity collapses.” Thus, Dasein is individualized as Being-in-the-world. Being-in enters into the existential mode of the “not-at-home” of uncanniness. Thus, “Being-not-at-home” is the basic kind of Being of Dasein, even though in an everyday way Dasein flees from this understanding in the tranquillized “at-homeness” of das Man. Yet, what is the nature of this uncanniness which pursues Dasein as the “they”? Dasein, writes Heidegger, is uncanny in that uncanniness “lies in Dasein as thrown Being-in-the-world, which has been delivered over to itself in its Being.”
From an existential-ontological viewpoint, uncanniness (“not-at-home”) is the more primordial phenomenon, the hidden meaning and ground of Dasein as fleeing into the “they” in its everyday concern and solicitude. In the state-of-mind of anxiety, Dasein’s care structure is uncovered from its concealment in which Dasein, as lost in the “they” in its everyday engagement with things, understands itself in terms of the world as a thing present-to-hand. For, anxiousness is a way of Being-in-the-world in which Dasein flees in the face of its thrownness (facticity), has anxiety about its potentiality-for-Being-in-the-world (existentiality), and flees into the “they-self” in its fallenness. Thus, Dasein’s care structure is revealed as existentiality, facticity and fallenness. State-of-mind reveals Dasein as it is in its factical thrownness, understanding reveals that Dasein is its possibilities as “Being-ahead-of-itself,” and, finally, Dasein’s fallenness is its “Being-alongside” as, proximally and for the most part, it is occupied by its average everyday engagement with the world as the “they.”
What compels Dasein’s flight into the “they” as fallenness? Dasein is tempted into the lostness of das Man by the tranquility which disburdens Dasein from having to face its ownmost potentiality-for-Being. In its inauthentic tranquility, Dasein compares itself with everything and thereby drifts along towards an alienation in which its ownmost potentiality-for-Being is hidden from it. Dasein engages in a downward plunge in which it becomes closed off from its authenticity and possibility. Dasein, as fallen, is characterized by idle talk, curiosity, and ambiguity which involves a levelling down of all possibilities of Being. In idle talk, the “they” closes off the hidden meaning and ground of what is talked about. In curiosity, Dasein is constantly uprooting itself and concerned with the constant possibility of distraction. As ambiguous, the “they” acts as though it “knows everything,” yet, at bottom, this understanding is superficial in that nothing is genuinely understood. The “they” is essentially death-evasive in that it conceals Dasein as Being-towards-death.
Death is a way of Being which Dasein takes over as soon as it is. “Dying,” therefore, stands for the way of Being in which Dasein is towards its death. Death, as “Being-towards-the- end,” is defined by Heidegger in terms of the basic state of Dasein as care. Death is “the possibility of the absolute impossibility of Dasein.” Death reveals itself as that “possibility which is one’s ownmost, which is non-relational, and which is not to be outstripped.” Dasein stands fully before itself as assigned to its ownmost potentiality-for-Being as death, the possibility of no-longer-being-able-to-be-there. Moreover, Dasein will die alone in that death cannot be shared, and, finally, death cannot be avoided. Anxiety, as state-of-mind, discloses Dasein as it exists as thrown Being towards its end. Yet, proximally and for the most part, Dasein covers up its Being-towards-death by falling.
How does Dasein, as its “they-self”, “cover up” its Being-towards-death? The ‘they” does not deny death, but, instead, understands death in the “indifferent tranquility” in which death is seen as an actuality rather than as possibility. The “they” covers up what is peculiar in death’s certainty: that it is possible at any moment. By assigning definiteness upon death (i.e., “I will die someday”), everyday Being-towards-death evades the indefiniteness of the “when” of the certainty of death. When death is understood authentically, it is understood as the possibility of not having anymore possibilities. In anticipation, Dasein is as an authentic Being-towards-death as letting death be as possibility. When we are closest to our death, it is as far as it will ever be as an actuality. If Dasein makes death an actuality, then it is no longer death. Dasein cannot understand death in terms of the world as the “they” for death is the possibility which radically individualized Dasein in that it can only be taken up as its own possibility. Death discloses what Dasein cannot have: All the possibilities.
Being-towards-death is essentially anxious. Anxiety is the attunement of anticipation, and, being so, becomes a way for Dasein to understand itself in an authentic disclosure of itself. Anxiety reveals to Dasein its lostness in the they-self in that Dasein is unable to understand itself in terms of the world as concernful solicitude. As lost, Dasein can be brought back to itself since, as fallen, Dasein has neglected to choose itself. Authenticity is an existential modification of the existentiell manner of existing. In terms of its possibility, Dasein is already a potentiality- for-Being-its-self, but it needs to have this attested. This attestation is disclosed as the call of conscience.
Conscience is the call from Dasein’s ownmost self to its “they-self” which recalls Dasein from its lostness back to its ownmost, authentic self. In the state-of-mind of anxiety, Dasein is wanting-to-have-a-conscience. The call discourses in the mode of silence. As reticent, Dasein is disinclined from engaging in the idle talk in which Dasein fails to hear itself. The call tells us nothing. It is the voice which Dasein, as “lost in the manifold ‘world’ of its concern,” finds as the “alien” voice of the self which has been individualized down to itself in its uncanniness. The call of conscience calls out “Guilty!” in recognition of itself as a null basis; that Dasein is in the process of not being any more possibilities and must, therefore, eliminate choices whenever it makes a choice. Dasein is revealed as thrown, as delivered over to Being without Being the author of itself. Yet, as this null basis, Dasein is its basis. Conscience calls us to appropriate ourselves as the kind of Being that we are.
Dasein is authentic in its resoluteness: a “reticent self-projection upon one’s ownmost Being- guilty, in which one is ready for anxiety.” In resoluteness, Dasein is most fully disclosed to the kind of Being that it is.
Resoluteness brings Dasein into solicitous Being with others alongside things as one’s ownmost self, not as the “they.” Dasein’s authentic self as uncanny, therefore, pursues Dasein and threatens the “they-self” in which it has become lost. Dasein, at first, understands itself in terms of its concernful solicitude as the “they” in which it understands itself as a thing. This existentiell familiarly, however, covers up Dasein’s existential, primordial understanding of itself as uncanny. Heidegger’s hermeneutical phenomenological approach to his existential analytic of Dasein uncovers the phenomenal structure of existing in such a way that it uncovers what would have been missed had the analysis followed the “order of the sequence in which experiences run their course.”
Through this existential analysis of Dasein, Heidegger then pursues an understanding of time, including his understanding of history. For a thorough examination of Heidegger’s understanding of history, I recommend my paper, Kuhn in Light of Heidegger as a Response to Hoeller’s Critique of Giorgi. In this paper, I also introduce the reader to “later” Heidegger after his “turning.” Heidegger had intended to complete a third part of Being and Time (there are two parts), but he never completed the project.
In Heidegger’s later writings, he moved away from the kind of humanism that characterized Being and Time. That is, Heidegger no longer placed Dasein at such a central place in the presencing of Being. Rather, the human being is understood as the “shepherd of Being.” Though Being is needful of human beings, so that beings can presence, the human being is, consistent with Being and Time, finite. More importantly, Heidegger’s understanding of “resoluteness” is replaced by the idea of releasement or Gelassenheit. With releasement, the human being engages in a meditative thinking which is characterized by a profound humility, which understands the “gift” of Being and holds itself open to the “call” of language. With Gelassenheit, Heidegger turned toward the subject of language, the logos, by which beings are gathered and named. Yet, in naming, Being remains concealed. In my opinion, Heidegger’s conception of Galessenheit truly reveals his indebtedness to Lao Tzu, whose writings on “wu wei” (non-action) hold greater similarities to Heidegger’s releasement-toward-things.