Martin Heidegger (1889–1976) was a German philosopher whose work is perhaps most readily associated with phenomenology and existentialism, although his thinking should be identified as part of such philosophical movements only with extreme care and qualification. His ideas have exerted a seminal influence on the development of contemporary European philosophy. Heidegger believed that a person's sense of self was dependent on a sense of time and his impending death.
Born in the rural, religious town of Messkirch, Germany, Heidegger was greatly influenced by his upbringing and would hate technology, cities, and pop music for the rest of his life. He went on to study theology at the University of Freiburg, but after two years in 1911, he swapped majors to philosophy. He started teaching philosophy in 1915, married in 1917 (to Elfride Petri). Two inverse stopped clock moments happened in his life: his affair with Hannah Arendt in the 1920s and his joining of the Nazi Party in 1933. He would leave the party in 1934 and would continue to distance himself from the party there afterward. He died in 1976 and is buried in Messkirch.
According to a supporter:
|“||Throughout his career, he sought to help us live more wisely. He wanted us to be braver about facing up to certain truths, and to lead richer, more thoughtful, happier lives. Philosophy was no academic exercise. It was – as it had been for the Ancient Greeks – a spiritual vocation and a form of therapy. He diagnosed modern humanity as suffering from a number of new diseases of the soul..||”|
—Alain de Botton
Sein und Zeit
|“||Published in 1927, Being and Time is standardly hailed as one of the most significant texts in the canon of (what has come to be called) contemporary European (or Continental) Philosophy. It catapulted Heidegger to a position of international intellectual visibility and provided the philosophical impetus for a number of later programmes and ideas in the contemporary European tradition, including Sartre's existentialism, Gadamer's philosophical hermeneutics, and Derrida's notion of ‘deconstruction’.||”|
—The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Heidegger's magnum opus Sein und Zeit is a long, tedious book because of its various neologisms and impossible prose. It was written in 1927 and is largely considered influential. Sein und Zeit was fundamental in the development of existentialism and many other strands of twentieth century thought.
|“||Nothing quite rivals the prose of his masterpiece Being and Time (1927) in terms of contortions and the sheer number of complex compound German words which the author coined, among them ‘Seinsvergessenheit’ (Forgetfulness of Being), ‘Bodenständigkeit’ (Rootedness-in-soil) and ‘Wesensverfassung’ (Essential Constitution).||”|
—Alain de Botton
His work has four main points, to be covered very briefly.
One: we have forgotten to notice that we're alive
Heidegger asserts that one is not properly in touch with the 'Mystery of Being', the mystery of what Heidegger would term das Sein, or Being with a capital B. Much of his time is devoted to trying to wake us up to the strangeness of living on a tiny planet in an uninhabited and silent universe.
|“||Many of Heidegger's translators capitalise the word ‘Being’ (Sein) to mark what, in the Basic Problems of Phenomenology, Heidegger will later call the ontological difference, the crucial distinction between Being and beings (entities). The question of the meaning of Being is concerned with what it is that makes beings intelligible as beings, and whatever that factor (Being) is, it is seemingly not itself simply another being among beings. Unfortunately the capitalisation of ‘Being’ also has the disadvantage of suggesting that Being is, as Sheehan (2001) puts it, an ethereal metaphysical something that lies beyond entities, what he calls ‘Big Being’. But to think of Being in this way would be to commit the very mistake that the capitalisation is supposed to help us avoid. For while Being is always the Being of some entity, Being is not itself some kind of higher-order being waiting to be discovered. As long as we remain alert to this worry, we can follow the otherwise helpful path of capitalisation.||”|
|“||The question of Being aims… at ascertaining the a priori conditions not only for the possibility of the sciences which examine beings as beings of such and such a type, and, in doing so, already operate with an understanding of Being, but also for the possibility of those ontologies themselves which are prior to the ontical sciences and which provide their foundations. Basically, all ontology, no matter how rich and firmly compacted a system of categories it has at its disposal, remains blind and perverted from its ownmost aim, if it has not first adequately clarified the meaning of Being, and conceived this clarification as its fundamental task.||”|
For Heidegger, the modern world is an infernal machine dedicated to distracting us from the basic wondrous nature of Being. It constantly pulls towards practical tasks, it overwhelms us with information, it kills silence, it doesn’t want to leave us alone – partly because realizing the mystery of Being has its frightening dimensions. Doing so, we may be seized by fear (‘Angst’) as we become conscious that everything that had seemed rooted, necessary and oh-so-important may be contingent, senseless and without true purpose. We may ask why we have this job rather than that one, are in a relationship with one person rather than another, are alive when we might so easily be dead… Much of daily life is designed to keep these odd, unnerving but crucial questions at bay. What we’re really running away from is a confrontation with – and even non-German speakers might respond to the sonorous depth of this key Heideggerian term – ‘das Nichts’ (The Nothing), which lies on the other side of Being. The Nothing is everywhere, it stalks us, it will swallow us up eventually, but – Heidegger insists – a life is only well lived when one has taken Nothingness and the brief nature of Being on board – as we might do when, for example, a gentle evening light gives way to darkness at the end of a warm summer’s day in the foothills of the Bavarian alps.
Two: we have forgotten that all being is connected
In essence, Heidegger says that all being is connected by the fact that everything is existing. We are 'connected' with the clouds in the sky and the rocks five meters away because we all are in the state of existing.
Three: we forget to be free and live for ourselves
Basically, Heidegger realized that we spend a great deal of our time trying to please the world that, if we're being honestly, probably doesn't really like us that much in the first place, or at least doesn't notice us. Heidegger, therefore, wants us to start living for ourselves and to stop living for the world.
Much about us is not, of course, very free. We are – in Heidegger’s unusual formulation – ‘thrown into the world’ at the start of our lives: thrown into a particular and narrow social milieu, surrounded by rigid attitudes, archaic prejudices and practical necessities not of our own making. Heidegger begs us to break away from das Gerede (the Chatter) in the world (things like news and social media and constant inflows of information) that fills our minds and distracts us, and begs us to break away from the masses (what he termed the they-self as opposed to our-self).
|“||The philosopher wants to help us to overcome this ‘Thrownness’ (this ‘Geworfenheit’) by understanding its multiple features. We should aim to grasp our psychological, social and professional provincialism – and then rise above it to a more universal perspective. In so doing, we’ll make the classic Heideggerian journey away from ‘Uneigentlichkeit’ to ‘Eigentlichkeit’ (from Inauthenticity to Authenticity). We will, in essence, start to live for ourselves.||”|
—The Book of Life
Four: we treat others as objects
In essence, Heidegger asks us to treat other people as the ends, not the means. Heidegger notes that most of the time we treat others as equipment to help us meet certain ends, and asks that we think about the fact that the person over there is another person, who feels and loves and thinks and has goals like we do. They are not just a tool, they are another being.
- The New American Desk Encyclopedia, Penguin Group, 1989
- Martin Heidegger, The School of Life
- Heidegger, The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy