Heidegger, Martin
(1889–1976)
German existentialist and social critic. Heidegger is probably the most divisive philosopher of the 20th century, being an acknowledged leader and central figure to many (‘continental’) philosophers, and either a convenient example of meaningless metaphysics, or else an apologist for Nazism, to other (‘analytical’) thinkers. Heidegger was born in Baden, and educated at Freiburg in the phenomenological tradition of Husserl . He became Privatdozent at Freiburg in 1915, professor at Marburg in 1923, and professor at Freiburg in 1928. His most important work, Sein und Zeit (1927, trs. as Being and Time, 1962), clears the space for the quest for Being that informs Heidegger's works. Modern humanity has lost the ‘nearness and shelter’ of Being; we are no longer at home in the world as primitive man was; truth is no longer revealed; thought is separated from Being and only a favoured few have any hope of recapturing oneness with Being. Many of these themes, and especially belief in the possibility of escaping from metaphysics and returning into an authentic communion with independent nature, were commonplaces of German Romanticism, but Heidegger reworked them in a way that caught the 20th-century imagination. Although Aristotle makes the science of Being the apex of enquiry and the proper subject of metaphysics, it is somewhat difficult to say anything about Being as such, so what in effect replaces it is peoples' own consciousness of their place in the world, or of what the world is for them (their Dasein ), which then becomes the topic. Freedom, existence in the world, inauthenticity, dread, guilt, and destiny therefore become the major themes. However, before they became the staple topics of existentialism, they had a more sinister political embodiment: in 1933 Heidegger became Rector of Freiburg, and his notorious Rektorsrede or inaugural speech, ‘The Role of the University in the New Reich’, was a call for Germany to move itself into the primordial realm of the powers of Being, with the Nazi party in the vanguard.
In his later work Heidegger became more inclined to a kind of historical fatalism, and is sometimes seen as an heir to the tradition of Dilthey . Heidegger's continuing influence is due at least in part to his criticism of modernity and democracy, which he associates with a lack of respect for nature independent of the uses to which human beings put it. However, he has also been hailed (notably by Rorty ) as a proponent of pragmatism, and even more remarkably many French intellectuals have taken him as a prophet of the political left. When he writes that ‘from a metaphysical point of view, Russia and America are the same; the same dreary technological frenzy, the same unrestricted organization of the average man’ (An Introduction to Metaphysics, 1953), it is easy to forget that his contempt for the mass culture of the industrial age springs from a nationalistic and conservative élitism, rather than from any left-wing or egalitarian illusions.

Philosophy dictionary. . 2011.

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  • Heidegger, Martin — (1889 1976)    philosopher; widely judged the cen tral figure in twentieth century existentialist thought. Born to a Catholic* sexton in the Baden town of Messkirch, he was a Jesuit novice before studying theology at Freiburg. Attracted by the… …   Historical dictionary of Weimar Republik

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  • Heidegger,Martin — Hei·deg·ger (hīʹdĕg ər, dĭ gər), Martin. 1889 1976. German existentialist philosopher. His masterpiece, Being and Time (1927), argued that confronting the question of the meaning of being, encompassing one s own death, was central for an… …   Universalium

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