Who Was Martin Heidegger?

Martin Heidegger: An Introduction to His Thought, Work, and Life

Hubert Dreyfus and Mark Wrathall (from A Companion to Heidegger; buy here)

Martin Heidegger is one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century. His work has been appropriated by scholars in fields as diverse as philosophy, classics, psychology, literature, history, sociology, anthropology, political science, religious studies, and cultural studies,

At the same time, he is a notoriously difficult philosopher to understand. The way he wrote was, in part, a result of the fact that he is deliberately trying to break with the philosophical tradition. One way of breaking with the tradition is to coin neologisms, that is, to invent words which will, in virtue of their originality, be free of any philo­sophical baggage, This is a method that Heidegger frequently employed, but at the cost of considerable intelligibility. In addition, Heidegger believed his task was to provoke his readers to thoughtfulness rather than provide them with a facile answer to a well defined problem. He thus wrote in ways that would challenge the reader to reflection.

Heidegger's Early Life and Work

For all Heidegger's emphasis on the history of philosophy, he had little interest in the historiographical details about the lives of the philosophers he studied. In his intro­duction to a lecture course on Schelling, for example, he claimed that " `the life' of a philosopher remains unimportant," at least where we have access to his work, or even "pieces and traces of his work." This is because, he explained, "we never come to know the actuality of a philosophical existence through a biography" (GA 42: 7). For him, philosophers were of interest because of what they could contribute to our own efforts to grapple with philosophical problems. He thus refused "to fill the hours with stories of the lives and fortunes of the old thinkers," because that "does not add anything to the understanding of the problem" (GA 22: 12).

He did, however, occasionally offer "some rough indications of the external course of life" of the thinker (in the Schelling lecture course, for example), in order to "place this course of life more clearly into the known history of the time" (GA 42: 7). In a similar way, we think that Heidegger's notorious involvement in his historical time jus­tifies some such indication of the "external course of his life,"

Heidegger was born on September 26, 1889, in Meßkirch in Baden, a staunchly Catholic region of Germany, He always felt rooted in this region, and its native prac­tices and modes of speech (see, for example, "Dank an die Heimatstadt Messkirch," in GA 16, and "Vora Geheimnis des Glockenturms," "Der Feldweg," "Schopferische Landschaft: Warum bleiben wir in der Provinz?" and "Sprache and Heimat" in GA 13), He spent most of his career living and teaching in Freiburg, with as much time as pos­sible in his ski hut in a rural mountain valley in Todtnauberg. Indeed, he went so far as to claim that his "whole work is supported and guided by the world of these mountains and their farmers" (GA 13: 11). Heidegger died on May 26, 1976 and was, according to his wishes, buried in Meßkirch on May 28.

His father, Friedrich Heidegger, was a craftsman - a master cooper - and a sexton, Religious and theological studies played a central role in his early education. He studied at Gymnasia in Constance (1903-6) and Freiburg (1906-9), and he entered the Jesuit Novitiate of Tisis, Austria, in the fall of 1909, before being dismissed on health grounds: He commenced theological studies at the University of Freiburg in 1909, but eventu­ally left his theological studies, briefly pursuing the study of mathematics and then phi­losophy. By 1919, Heidegger broke with "the system of Catholicism," which he now found "problematic and unacceptable." The rejection of the system did not, however,include a rejection of "Christianity and metaphysics" ("Letter to Father Engelbert Krebs," Supplements; 69), and Heidegger lectured often on the phenomenology of religion and metaphysics in the ensuing years (see, for example, "Einleitung in die Phanomenologie der Religion" (1920/1) and "Augustinus and der Neuplatonismus" (1921), both found in GA 60, as well as "Phanomenologie and Theologie" (1927) in GA 9). In later years, he returned often to the importance of fostering a sense for thesacred (see, for example, Holderlins Hyninen "Germanien"und "Del' Rhein," GA 39; GA 4; H6lderlins Hynme "Andenken," GA 52; "Wozu Dichter?," in GA 5; "Der Fehl heiligerNamen," in GA 13),

In the meantime, Heidegger had received his doctoral degree in philosophy (1913),from the University of Freiburg, with a dissertation on the "Theory of Judgment in Psychologism" (GA 1), He completed a habilitation dissertation on "The Theory of Categories and Meaning in Duns Scotus" (GA 1) in 1915, and began lecturing in Freiburg in Winter Semester 1915-16. His early interest in both logic and medieval thought continued in later years, and Heidegger lectured frequently on philosophicallogic (for example, Logik, Die Frage each der Wahrheit, GA 21; Logik. Metaphysische Anfangsgrunde der Logik im Ausgang von Leibnz, GA 26; Ube º Logik als Frage Hach der Sprache, GA 38; see Kaufer, this volume, chapter 9) and medieval philosophy (GA 60).

Edmund Husserl's arrival at the University of Freiburg in 1916. allowed Heidegger, as he expressed it himself, "the occasion, which I had desired since my first semesters, to systematically work my way into phenomenological research" (GA 17: 42; see Crowell, this volume, chapter 9:), Heidegger worked for a time as Husserl's assistant, but gradually made a break with Husserlian phenomenology as he began teaching his own courses on phenomenology at Freiburg and then at Marburg University following his appointment to a professorship in 1923, The break became public with the publication of Being and Time in 1927, although it was only recognized by Husserl himself follow­ing Heidegger's appointment to Husserl's chair at the University of Freiburg in 1928. For a more thorough account of Heidegger's thought leading up to the publication of Being and Time, see Van Buren (this volume, chapter 2).

Being and Time

In his magnum opus, Being and Time, Heidegger undertakes an ambitious ontological project the central task of the book is to discover the meaning of being, i.e. that on the basis of which beings are understood (see SZ: 150). Although Heidegger never completed the project he had outlined for elucidating the meaning of being, he did manage to articulate a revolutionary approach to thinking about the problem in terms of time as the "horizon" of all understanding of being" (see Blattner, this volume, chapter 19). Most of Being and Time itself is concerned with "preparing the ground" for understanding the meaning of being by carrying out a subtle and revolutionary phenomenology of the human mode of existence (see Sheehan, this volume, chapter 12).

When it comes to thinking about ontology, Heidegger argues that traditional treat­ments of being have failed to distinguish two different kinds of questions we can ask: the ontic question that asks about the properties of beings, and the ontological ques­tion that asks about ways or modes of being. Being and Time focuses on three ontolog­ical modes and three kinds of beings - Dasein, the available (or ready to hand), and the occurrent (or present at hand). If one investigates an item of equipment, say a pen, ontologically, then one asks about the structures in virtue of which it is available or ready to hand. These include, for example, its belonging to a context of equipment and referring or pointing to other items of equipment. In an ontic inquiry, on the other hand, one asks about the properties or the physical relations and structures peculiar to some entity - in the pen's case, for example, we might make the following ontic obser­vations about it: it is black, full of blue ink, and sitting on top of my desk. Heidegger's critique of the tradition comes from the simple observation that the ontological mode of being cannot be reduced to what we discover in an ontic inquiry, no matter how exhaustively we describe the entity with its properties. This is because no listing of, for example, a pen's properties can tell me what it is to be available rather than occurrent.

An ontological inquiry into human being, then, will not look at the properties pos­sessed by humans, but rather at the structures which make it possible to be human. One of Heidegger's most innovative and important insights is that the essence of the human mode of existence is found in our always already existing in a world. Be thus named the human mode of existence "Dasein," literally, being-there. Dasein means existence in colloquial German, but Heidegger uses it as a term of art to refer to the peculiarly human way of existing (without, of course, deciding in advance whether only humans exist in this way), Translators of Heidegger have elected to leave the term untranslated, and so it has now passed into common parlance among Heidegger scholars.

Using his account of what is involved in human existence so understood, Heidegger argues that the philosophical tradition has overlooked the character of the world, and the nature of our human existence in a world. Dasein, for instance, is not a subject, for a subject in the traditional sense has mental states and experiences which can be what they are independently of the state of the surrounding world. For Heidegger, our way of being is found not in our thinking nature, but in our existing in a world. And our being is intimately and inextricably bound up with the world that we find ourselves in, In the same way that the tradition has misunderstood human being by focusing on subjectivity, it also failed to understand the nature of the world, because it tended to focus exclusively on entities within the world, and understood the world as merely being a collection of inherently meaningless entities. But attention to the way entities actually show up for us in our everyday dealings teaches us that worldly things cannot be reduced to merely physical entities with causal properties. Worldly things, in other words, have a different mode of being than the causally delin­eated entities that make up the universe and which are the concern of the natural sci­ences. To understand worldly entities - entities, in other words, that are inherently meaningfully constituted - requires a hermeneutic approach (see Lafont, this volume, chapter 16).

We first encounter worldly things, Heidegger argued, as available rather than as causally delineated, Equipment is paradigmatic of the available. Something is available when (1) it is defined in terms of its place in a context of equipment, typical activities in which it is. used, and typical purposes or goals for which it is used, and (2) it lends itself to such use readily and easily, without need for reflection. The core case of avail­ableness is an item of equipment that we know how to use and that transparently lends itself to use,

The other primary mode of being is "occurrentness"or "presence-at-hand." This is the mode of being of things which are not given a worldly determination - that is, things constituted by properties they possess in themselves, rather than through their relations to uses and objects of use, Most available things can also be viewed as occur-rent, and in breakdown situations (i.e. situations in which our easy fluid dealings with the environment encounter some sort of difficulty - a tool breaks, a new or unantici­pated situation presents itself, etc.), the occurrentness of an available object will obtrude.

Once we free ourselves of the idea that everything is "really" occurrent, we are open to the phenomenon of the world as something other than a mere collection of entities. The world, properly understood, is that on the basis of which entities can be involved with one another, And it is our familiarity with the world so understood which makes it possible for us to act on, think about, experience, etc. things in the world. This idea, in turn, allows Heidegger to address skeptical worries about truth and the reality of the"external" world, Since we always already find ourselves involved with entities in a world, worries that there is no world are ungrounded and unmotivated.

Once we see that human beings are inherently and inextricably in a world within which entities and activities are disclosed as available to us, we are in a position to ask about what is involved in the structure of this world and its disclosure to us. In philosophical accounts of human beings, moods are often dismissed as merely subjec­tive colorings of our experience of the world. But, Heidegger argues, moods actually reveal something important about the fundamental structure of the world and our way of being in it. First of all, Heidegger notes that "moods assail us." In other words, it is not wholly up to us how we will be affected by the situations we find ourselves in, This shows that we are delivered over to, or "thrown"into, a world not of our own making. Second, while it is clear that moods are not objective properties of entities within the world, it is also clear that moods in fact are not merely subjective either. A boring lecture really is boring, a violent person really is frightening. This shows that the subjec­tive-objective distinction fails to capture the interdependence of our being with the world and the entities around us, In addition, moods in fact make it possible for us to encounter entities within the world by determining how those entities will matter to us. Finally, Heidegger argues that moods are not private, inner phenomena, but can be shared. We often speak, for example, of the mood of the party, or the mood of the public.

So, being-in-the-world means that we always find ourselves in the world in a par­ticular way - we have a "there," that is, a meaningfully structured situation in which to act and exist - and we are always disposed to things in a particular way, they always matter to us somehow or other. Our disposedness is revealed to us in the way our moods govern and structure our comportment by disposing us differentially to things in the world, So disposedness is an "attunement," a way of being tuned in to things in the world.

But this attunement necessarily goes with an understanding of what things are. Heidegger describes Dasein's understanding of the world as a kind of "projecting onto possibilities," rather than the cognitive and conceptual grasp of things that one normally thinks of as understanding, He argues, however, that a projective existential understanding of the world grounds our cognitive grasp of and explicit experiences of things. To see what Heidegger has in mind with the term "understand­ing," one needs to focus primarily on practical contexts and practical involvements with things in an organized and meaningful world, I am in the world understandingly when I am doing something purposively, for example, making an omelet in my kitchen. In doing so, I "let" the things in my kitchen be "involved with" each other - the, eggs are involved with the mixing bowl, which is involved with the wire whisk and the frying pan and the spatula. As I heat the frying pan in order to melt the butter in order to fry up the omelet in order to feed my children, I am ultimately acting for the sake of some way of being a human being - for the sake of being a father, for example. All of these connections between activities and entities and ways of being are constitutive of the understanding of the world I possess. In the process of acting on that under-standing, in turn, I allow things and activities to show up as the things and activities that they are (frying pans as frying pans, spatulas as spatulas, etc.) (see, for example, SZ: 86).

In acting in the world, then, I understand how things relate to each other - that is to say, I understand in the sense of "knowing how" everything in the world hangs together. Heidegger is clear that this understanding is not normally & cognitive mastery of roles and concepts - "grasping it in such a manner would take away from what is projected in its very character as a possibility, and would reduce it to the given contents which we have in mind" (2;145), In other words, "understanding" as a cognitive state would prevent the understanding from doing its job. Why is this? Because the under-standing, as Heidegger shows, works not simply by having an abstract idea of how things hang together, but rather in so far as we are "projecting" or "pressing" into the possibilities for action opened up by how they hang together.

Heidegger is using the term "possibility" here in a specific sense. Sometimes we use"possible" to mean "empty logical possibility" - that is, there is no contradiction in things being thus and so, But the possibilities for the world, in this sense, are much broader than what we ever know how to deal with. Sometimes we use "possible" to mean "the contingency of something occurrent" - that is, this is just one way it could be, but there are other ways too. But this also doesn't capture our understanding of the world - we understand our world not simply as one way the world can be, but as that way in which everything makes sense, A possibility in Heidegger's sense is a way of dealing with things that shows them as the things they are, For example, because I am able to deal with wire whisks and frying pans in an omelet-making way, they show up as wire whisks and frying pans. Being used in the making of omelets is a possibility forsuch things.

When Heidegger describes understanding as showing us the possible, then, what he means is that it shows us the available range of ways to be, it shows us our can-be or ability-to-be (Seinkönnen) (see, for example, SZ: 143-4), These possibilities are con-strained, and not indifferent, It is not the case that anything goes, as we do indeed careabout the fact that things are going or not going in a particular direction, So, for example, there are lots of possible ways for me to pursue being a professor. But I can't do just anything in the name of being a professor; I am constrained by the possible ways of professorial being available in my world, In being a professor, in other words, I project or press into the possibilities opened up by my world. Together, understanding and dis­posedness show us the possibilities available to us, and give them a way of mattering to us.

In summary, then, one of the distinguishing features of Heidegger's analysis of Dasein is the priority he accords to non-cognitive modes of being-in-the-world. The propositional intentional states that the philosophical tradition has seen as constitutive of Dasein are, on Heidegger's analysis, derivative phenomena. 'In understanding human comportment in the world, Heidegger argues that we need to focus first on skill­ful, practical coping.

But, as we have just noted, this understanding of the world accords a constitutive role to others as somehow determining what possibilities are available for me to pursue, Heidegger offers a trenchant analysis of the role that social relations play in constitut­ing who we are (see Schatzki, this volume, chapter 14). It is a constitutive feature of our way of being that we take over our understanding of ourselves and the world around us from those others with whom we exist, This means that who I am cannot be understood in terms of a subject who could be constituted as she is, independently of any relationship to other human beings. Even seemingly contrary examples - human beings who are alone, or indifferent to their fellows, or misfits and outcasts - confirm this since they are human beings who are alone or indifferent or rejected by society. A chair can't be alone, or indifferent to other chairs, or a social outcast from the fellowship of chairs, In a similar way, the care we take for people is even manifest in deficient modes - when I am indifferent to another person, my indifference as an attitude is con­stituted in part by the fact that it is another person to whom I am indifferent, If I stand by and indifferently watch as you die, this has a very different character as an act than if I stand by, unconcerned that a pen has ceased functioning.

It is thus clear that we are (to a significant degree) constituted as the beings that we are by the fact that we always inhabit a shared world, and the way we exist in this world is always essentially structured by others. This has important consequences when we turn to the question "who am I," for it turns out that, at least in the everyday existence which immediately structures my world, my essence is not dictated by me, but by others.

Heidegger calls the fact that we are constantly concerned about and taking measure of how we differ from others or relate to them "distantiality," In our everyday existence, our distantiality takes the form of "standing in subjection to others" (SZ: 126). That is, we simply accept unthinkingly the ways in which one does things. But the "one" who decides how things ought to be done is no definite person or group: "the 'who' is not this one, not that one, not oneself, not some people, and not the sum of them all. The 'who' is the neuter, the 'one'" (SZ: 126).

A few tendencies result. First, there is a tendency toward levelling down to the lowestcommon denominator, or toward the average. The norms that govern things are the norms available to anyone - thus there is an inescapable public character to the intel­ligibility of the world. I understand what everybody else also understands, Next, there Is a tendency toward "disburdening" - that is, by doing what one does, we free ourselves from the burden of responsibility for the decisions we make, This disburdening, and even the publicness and levelling, are not necessarily a bad thing. It would be a disas­ter if one constantly had to decide on every little thing to do (what to wear, what to eat, which side of the road to drive on, etc.). Conformity thus provides the ground - the organization of our common world - against which we are freed to make important decisions. But Heidegger does see these features of the one as tending to consequences that we might not wish to accept namely, a conformism in which it is all too easy never to take a stand for oneself, Heidegger calls this sort of conformism "inauthen­ticity." In my ordinary, everyday being, I am not myself at all, I am the "one." It takes a great effort of "clearing-away concealments and obscurities" if I am to "discover the world in my own way" (SZ: 129).

This leaves open the question exactly how to be. my own self in inhabiting the world. This is the problem of authenticity, The possibility of authentic self-determination arises from the fact that, unlike occurrent entities, the way that Dasein takes up its residence in the world is not fixed or necessitated. That is to say, the relationships that Dasein enjoys with other things, and the significance that other things hold for Dasein, are contingent, and it is always possible for us to change them. Heidegger makes this point by saying that for Dasein, "in its very being, that being is an issue for it" (SZ: 12).

A consequence of this is that any particular way of existing in the world is neces­sarily ungrounded - "Dasein is the null basis of its own nullity" (SZ: 306), This is a dis­quieting fact, and one that Dasein disguises from itself - primarily by taking up societal norms as if they somehow revealed the ultimate truth about how one should live. But anxiety in the face of death, Heidegger argues, if faced up to, can open the door to an authentic existence: "Anxiety," Heidegger explains, "liberates one from possibilities which 'count for nothing', and lets one become free-for those which are authentic" (SZ:344).

In being toward death, we acknowledge that our way of being must inevitably come to an end, meaning that it will become impossible at some point to continue in our familiar kind of worldly existence, Death is the "the possibility of the impossibility of every way of comporting oneself towards anything, of every way of existing"(SZ: 262). To say it is a possibility, however, doesn't mean that it is not necessary, that is, that we might not die, Death is impending, and it can't be gotten around, It is rather a possi­bility in the sense that we have already discussed - the way we relate to death is a fun­damental kind of dealing in the world, one that affects the character of the way things show up at a very basic level. Thus, it is not an empirical certainty, but instead certain because it is the basis for disclosing ourselves to us, That is, our experience of every-thing is an experience in the light of the fact that we are mortal and temporal beings (see Hoffman, this volume, chapter 20), and thus at some point we will no longer be able to be in the world,'

There are, of course, different ways of trying to deal with death, We can flee from it, distract ourselves by absorbing ourselves in the world of concern, submit ourselves to what are publicly taken as urgent, possible, necessary, and so on, Such are, of course, the responses of everydayness, and they tranquilize us to our death by giving us prac­tices for dealing with it, thus offering us some reassurance that we can cope with death after all, By contrast, an authentic being towards death means taking death as a pos­sibility - that means, not thinking about it or dwelling on it, but rather taking it up in the way it shapes all our particular actions and relations. In fact, it requires anticipat­ing it as a possibility. That is, we are ready for the world in light of the fact that each decision has consequences, and will someday culminate in our not being able to get by any longer. This, in turn, makes it possible for me to live my life as my own. Death shows me that all forms of concern and solicitude "will fail me" - common norms of intelli­gibility won't relieve me from the fact that my being will become impossible. That means that I must henceforth shoulder the responsibility for my decisions. This taking of responsibility is supported by my living anxiously, for in such a way of being disposed for the world, it is revealed as lacking any inherent, unchanging meaning or purpose' (for more on death, see Mulhall, this volume, chapter 18).

Because authenticity is a way of relating to our existence, there is no specific content to authenticity, nothing that every authentic Dasein does. But we can say some general. things about it. First, it does not surrender itself to the interpretation of the "one," although it is dependent on it. Second, it discloses the specific situation rather than the general situation. Within the general situation, one sees the meaning things seem to have thanks to the public's banalized, levelled off understanding. Authentic Dasein, by contrast, is open to the particular needs of the situation. Having recognized the fact that its being is at issue, it responds appropriately to the particular situation before it. So, in authenticity, I take up the public understanding of my world, and I make it my own by projecting on my own possibilities. I do this through anxiously seeing the uncanniness of myself in my world (including the ungroundedness of this world) (for more on authenticity, see Carman, this volume, chapter 17).

Being and Time advanced no further than the preparatory temporal analysis of Dasein. In returning in the final section of the book to the question of the meaning of being, Heidegger could do no more than ask: "is there a way which leads from primordial time to the meaning of Being? Does time itself manifest itself as the horizon of Being?" (S2: 488), In fact, in the years that followed its publication, Heidegger became convinced that there was no way to go on to answer these questions on the basis of the foundation he had laid through an analysis of Dasein. This conviction, in turn, produced fundamental changes in the aim, method, and style of his thought. As a consequence, his later works are in many respects different than Being and Time.

After Being and Time

In the past, it has been commonplace to subdivide Heidegger's work into two (early and late) or even three (early, middle, and late) periods. While there is something to be said for such divisions - there is an obvious sense in which Being and Time is thematically and stylistically unlike Heidegger's publications following the Second World War - it is also misleading to speak as if there were two or three different Heideggers. The bifur­cation, as is well known, is something that Heidegger himself was uneasy about,' and scholars today are increasingly hesitant to draw too sharp a divide between the early and late.

Heidegger's phenomenological method provides an example of the complications involved in dividing his work into periods. Heidegger's early philosophy was profoundly shaped by his study of the phenomenological works of Husserl and, to a lesser degree, Scheler. But he broke very early on with any formal "phenomenological method" as such, and eventually largely dropped the term "phenomenology" as a self-description, worried that representing his thought as phenomenology would cause him to be asso­ciated with Husserl's substantive philosophical views. But despite his break with the phenomenological movement, Heidegger considered his work throughout his life to be "a more faithful adherence to the principle of phenomenology"' (in his own loose sense of the term; for more on Heidegger and phenomenology, see Boedeker, this volume, chapter 10), For Heidegger, phenomenology is an "attitude"or practice in "seeing"that takes its departure from lived experience. It aims at grasping the phenomena of lived involvement in the world, before our understanding of the world becomes determined and altered in "thematic" or reflective thought. In this respect, Heidegger's work is in marked contrast to the method of conceptual analysis that has come to dominate phi­losophy in the English-speaking world following the "linguistic turn" of the early twen­tieth century. For Heidegger, our concepts and language presuppose our unreflective involvement, and have a different structure than our pre-propositional way of corn-porting in the world. It is thus not possible to discover the most fundamental features of human existence through an analysis of language and concepts. Instead, a constant feature of his work is the effort to bring thought before the phenomena of existence -in this sense, his "method" is always that of phenomenology.

Another constant in Heidegger's thought is his notion of unconceahnent. Heideggerfirst discusses unconcealment in his 1924 lectures on Plato (GA 19), and for the next two decades nearly every book or essay Heidegger published, and nearly every lecture course he taught, includes a significant discussion of the essence of truth under the headings of "unconcealment" or "aletheia" (the Greek word for truth). The later Heidegger continued his research into unconcealment through his writings on the clearing or opening of being -- a topic that preoccupied Heidegger for the last three decades of his life, Thus, one could safely say that the problem of unconcealment was one of the central topics of Heidegger's life work. Throughout, Heidegger consistently insisted that many traditional philosophical problems need to be understood against the background of a more fundamental account of the way we are open to the world, the way in which the world opens itself and makes itself available for thought, and how we thoughtfully respond.

A prime case in point is the problem of truth. Heidegger recognized that any inquiry into propositional truth quickly leads to some of the most fundamental issues addressed in contemporary philosophy - issues such as the nature of language, and the reality or mind-independence of the world. He held that the philosophical discussion of truth can only be pursued against the background of assumptions about the nature of mind (in particular, how mental states and their derivatives like linguistic meaning can be so constituted as to be capable of being true or false), and the nature of the world (in par­ticular, how the world can be so constituted as to make mental states and their deriv­atives true), Heidegger's focus on unconcealment in his discussions of the essence of truth is intended to bring such background assumptions to the foreground, The claim that unconcealment is the essence of truth, then, is motivated by the recognition that we have to see truth in the context of a more general opening up of the world, i.e. in the context of an involvement with and comportment toward things in the world that is more fundamental than thinking and speaking about them (see Wrathall, this volume, chapter 21),

In Being and Time, Heidegger analyzed the unconcealment that grounds truth in terms of the disclosedness of Dasein, that is, the fact that Dasein is always in a mean­ingful world, Heidegger did not shy away from the consequences of this: ""Before there was any Dasein," he argued, "there was no truth; nor will there be any after Dasein is no more" (SZ: 226). He illustrated this claim with an example drawn from physics - the best candidate for discovering independent truths about the universe: ""Before Newton's laws were discovered, they were not `true' " (SZ: 226), The controversial nature of such a claim is little diminished by the qualifications Heidegger immediately adds. To make it clear that he is not claiming that Newton's laws are somehow completely dependent for their truth merely on their being believed, he notes: "it does not follow that they were false, or even that they would become false if ontically no discoveredness were any longer possible" (SZ: 226). And he further explains, "to say that before Newton his laws were neither true nor false, cannot signify that before him there were no such entities as have been uncovered and pointed out by those laws, Through Newton the laws became true and with them, entities became accessible in themselves to Dasein. Once entities have been uncovered, they show themselves precisely as entities which before-hand already were" (SZ: 226),

In such passages, Heidegger is clearly trying to walk a fine line between realism and constructivism about truths, and the status of scientific entities, But where exactly that line falls has been subject to considerable debate (see Rouse, chapter 11, and Han, chapter 6, in this volume; for less constructivist readings of Heidegger, see Carman, chapter 17, Cerbone, chapter 15, and Dreyfus, chapter 25).

The historicism implicit in Heidegger's discussion of science was extended in Heidegger's subsequent work on the unconcealment of being. In later works, Heidegger came to argue that the philosophical history of the West consists of a series of "epochs,"of different total understandings of being, and the unconcealment of beings varies according to the background understanding of being. Heidegger's account of the history of philosophy was already prefigured in Being and Time, which, as we have men­tioned already, is only a fragment of the volume as Heidegger originally conceived it. In the second part of the volume, Heidegger intended to provide "a phenomenological destruction of the history of ontology, with the problematic of Temporality as our clue" (S2; 39). Before abandoning the project of Being and Time, Heidegger conducted a sus­tained critique of the history of philosophy in the years following its publication. Heidegger's historical engagements during this period included readings of Kant (see GA 3, 25, 41, and Han-Pile, this volume, chapter 6), the German idealists (see GA 28 and Dahlstrom, this volume, chapter 5), and the Greeks (see GA 33, 34, 35, and White, this volume, chapter 8),

Momentous changes were occurring in Germany during this same period. In 1933, the year that saw Hitler rise to the chancellorship and the passage of the Enabling Act that allowed Hitler to seize absolute power in Germany, Heidegger was appointed rector of Freiburg University and joined the National Socialist Party. He resigned the rector-ship one year later, but not before becoming intensely involved with the Nazi Party's program of university reform, and with trying to offer some philosophical guidance tothe movement (see Thompson, this volume, chapter 3).

Philosophically, the 1930s were decisive years for Heidegger. In private notebooks (see Ruin, this volume, chapter 22), and in a series of lecture courses and public essays, he developed the themes that were to occupy his attention for decades to come. One of these themes was a radicalization of the project announced in Being and Time, and con­tinued through the late 1920s and early 1930s, of uncovering the meaning of being (see, for example, "What is metaphysics?" in GA 9, and Introduction to Metaphysics, GA 40). As he came to realize the historical nature of understandings of being, Heidegger's attention turned to the problem of understanding how it is that a history of being can happen - that is, how it is that understandings of being are given to us, The rubric under which he now pursued this problem was Ereignis, the event by which entities and the world are brought into their own (see Polt, this volume, chapter 23, who explores the way this concept was used and developed over Heidegger's career, and Spinosa, this volume, chapter 30, who argues that Breignis should be understood as the tendency inthe practices of gathering),

Another focal point of Heidegger's work during this period was poetry and art. During winter semester 1934 to 1935, Heidegger offered his first lecture course devoted to the work of the poet Hblderlin (Holderlin Hymnen "Germanien" and "Der Rhein," GA 39). Over the next three decades, Heidegger taught several more courses devoted to Holderlin and poetry, and presented a number of lectures on poetry and art. These lectures include "The Origin of the Work of Art" (GA 5), ". , , Poetically Man Dwells . . ." (GA 7), and "The Nature of Language"(GA 12), among many others.

Heidegger's interest in art and poetry is driven by the belief that they can play a privi­leged role in instituting and focusing changes in the prevailing unconcealment of being. As he noted in a 1935 lecture course, "Unconcealment occurs only when it is achieved by work: the work of the word in poetry, the work of stone in temple and statue, the work of the word in thought, the work of the polls as the historical place in which all this is grounded and preserved."' This view was later explained and explanded in "The Origin of the Work of Art": "The essence of art, on which both the artwork and the artist depend, is the setting-itself-into-work of truth, It is due to art's poetic essence that, in the midst of beings, art breaks open an open place, in whose openness everything is other than usual."' Works of art can show us a new way of understand­ing what is important and trivial, central and marginal, to be ignored or demanding of our attention and concern, They do this by giving us a work which can serve as a cul­tural paradigm. As such, the work shapes a culture's sensibilities by collecting the scat­tered practices of a people, unifying them into coherent and meaningful possibilities for action, and epitomizing this unified and coherent meaning in a visible fashion. The people, in turn, by getting in tune with the artwork, can then relate to each other in the shared light of the work. As we become attuned to the sense for the world embod­ied by a work of art, our ways of being disposed for everything else in the world can change also (see Dreyfus, this volume, chapter 25).

After his resignation from the rectorship, Heidegger also began an intensive engage­ment with Nietzsche's thought (see Sluga, this volume, chapter 7), offering lecture courses on Nietzsche in each year between 1936 and 1940 (see GA 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48; see also GA 6.1 and 6,2, and the essay "Nietzsches Wort: `Gott ist Tot'" in GA 5). He later claimed of these courses that "anyone with ears to hear heard in these lectures a confrontation with National Socialism" (Der Spiegel inteview). Whatever political rel­evance these lectures had, they were philosophically decisive, as Heidegger further developed in them his account of the history of being, and the dangers of our con-temporary understanding of being.

Following the war, Heidegger was banned from teaching by the Denazification Commission, The ban was lifted in 1949, but Heidegger immediately took emeritus status at Freiburg University. He offered, after 1949, only occasional university or pro­fessional seminars (for example, What is Called Thinking? (1951/2) in GA 8, or the Heraclitus Seminar (1966/7) and the other seminars in GA 15). For the most part, Heidegger developed his later views on the history of being, the event of appropriation, unconcealment, language, the work of art, technology, and the need to foster poetical dwelling, etc„ in the form of public lectures and essays,

For example, in his first publication after the war, "The Letter on Humanism," Heidegger argued that the history of being is not to be abstracted from historical events,but rather historical events need to be understood on the basis ,of history. "History comes to language in the words of essential thinkers" (LH: 238), and this history of being "sustains and defines every condition et situation humaine" (LH: 218). Thus, for Heidegger, the most fundamental historical events are changes in the basic ways that we understand things, changes brought about by a new unconcealment of being (see Guignon, chapter 24, and Okrent, chapter 29, in this volume),

"The Letter on Humanism" also launched a string of published essays and public lectures devoted to warning against the dangers of technology (see, for example, the lectures collected in GA 79). Heidegger had commented as early as 1934 on the rise of a technology which "is more than the domination of tools and machine," but "rather has its fundamental significance in man's changed position in the world" (GA 38:143). In the years following the war, Heidegger came to see more clearly that the real meaning of technological devices is found in the way that they, like works of art, have come to embody a distinct way of making sense of the world (see Borgmann, this volume, chapter 26), As we become addicted to the ease and flexibility of technological devices, Heidegger argues, we start to experience everything in terms of its ease and flexibility (or lack thereof), The result is that everything is seen, ultimately and ideally, as lacking any fixed character, or determinate "nature." Thus, Heidegger claims, the nature of technology consists in its being a mode of revealing. To say that technology is a mode of revealing amounts to the claim that within the technological world, everything appears as what it is in a certain uniform way. In the Christian age, everything showed up as God's creation, and showed up in terms of its nearness or distance from God's own nature. In the modern age, everything showed up as either a subject with a deep essence, or an object with fixed properties. In the technological age, by contrast, every-thing shows up in light of what will allow us to put it to "the greatest possible use at the lowest expenditure" (GA 7: 19). That is, we want it to be as maximally usable as possible, As technology expands into new domains, the world is gradually becoming a place in which everything shows up more and more as lacking in any inherent signifi­cance, use, or purpose.

Heidegger's name for the way in which objects will come to appear and be experi­enced in a purely technological world is "resource" - by which he means entities that are removed from their natural conditions and contexts, and reorganized in such a way as to be completely available, flexible, interchangeable, and ready to be employed in an indefinite variety of manners, If all we encounter are resources, Heidegger worries, our lives and all the things with which we deal, that will lose a weightiness or importance. All becomes equally trivial, equally lacking in goodness and rightness and worth. Thus, in the technological age, even people are reduced from modern subjects with fixed desires and a deep immanent truth, to "functionaries of enframing" (GA 79: 30). In such a world, nothing is encountered as really mattering, that is, as having a worth that exceeds its purely instrumental value for satisfying transitory urges, In such a world, we lose a sense that our understanding of that in virtue of which things used to matter- a shared vision of the good, or the correct way to live a life, or justice, etc. - is grounded in something more than our willing it to be so.

Heidegger initially hoped that art and poetry could play a role in resisting the tran­sition to a technological world. But they can only do this if we have non-technological practices for experiencing art and language. This is because even art and poetry, in a technological age, are understood as resources for the production of mere aesthetic experiences. The result is that "the world age of technological-industrial civilization conceals within itself an increasing danger that is all-too-rarely considered in its foun­dations: the supporting enlivening of poetry, of the arts, of reflective thinking cannot be experienced any more in their self-speaking truth."'

Thus, a central theme of Heidegger's post-war lectures is the need to reconceive lan­guage in terms of world disclosure (see, for example, the essays collected in Unterwegs zur Sprache, GA 12; see also Taylor, this volume, chapter 27). Traditional accounts of language as a conventional means of designation assume that a world has already been disclosed, for it is on the background of shared way of being in the world that language can designate, But how is it that the world is opened up in the first place, and opened up in such a way that language can serve to designate or refer to objects in the world? Heidegger argues that human speech originates from something that is prior to human communicative activity, Heidegger names this something "originary language," This originary language is the "saying"that shows things - it is the articulation prior to any human speech which brings things into a certain structure, and makes salient particu­lar features of the world, It is a kind of pointing out - a highlighting of some features of the world and not others. "We speak from out of" a language, and this language speaks to us "in everything that addresses us; in everything that awaits us as unspo­ken; but also in every speaking of ours"(GA 12: 246/"Way to Language": 413), Human speaking is always, a "hearing" - a responding to the articulation of the world worked by the originary language,

We can thus think of overcoming technology in terms of learning to hear a differ­ent language than that spoken by the technological world. We learn to hear and respond differently, Heidegger thought, by practicing dwelling with the fourfold of earth, sky, mortals, and divinities (see Edwards, this volume, chapter 28), The fourfold names the different regions of our existence which can contribute to giving us a par­ticular, localized way of dwelling. As we learn to live in harmony with our particular world - our earth, our sky, our mortality, and our divinities -- we can be pulled out of a technologically frenzied existence. This is because, in such being at home, we allow our-selves to be conditioned by things, understood as a special class of entities - namely, entities that are uniquely suited to our way of being in the world, As Heidegger noted in one of the very last things he wrote, "reflection is required on whether and how, in the age of the technologized uniform world civilization, there can still be a home" (GA13: 243).


  1. Of course, in this respect, an immortal would experience herself and the world differently than we do, For example, our decisions are inherently marked by the fact that we don't have endless opportunities to revisit them. Pursuing one way of being restricts the possibility of pursuing others, because every passing day brings us nearer to our death.
  2. Of course, it doesn't follow that the world is revealed as lacking meaning. We always already encounter ourselves in a meaningful world. Anxiety shows us, however, that the world need not have the meaning that it does (even if we can't help but see it as having the meaning that it does).
  3. Writing to Richardson, Heidegger noted: "The distinction you make between Heidegger I and II is justified only on the condition that this is kept constantly in mind: only by way of what [Heidegger] I has thought does one gain access to what is to-be-thought by [Heidegger] II. But the thought of [Heidegger] I becomes possible only if it is contained in [Heidegger] II." "Letter to Richardson," in William J. Richardson, Heidegger: Through Phenomenology to Thought, New York: Fordham University Press, 2003, p, 8.
  4. "Letter to Richardson," in William J. Richardson, Heidegger Through Phenomenology to Thought, p, 4. See also "My way to phenomenology," in Martin Heidegger, Time and Being.
  5. Introduction to Metaphysics, p. 191.
  6. "The origin of the work of art," p, 197.
  7. "Bin Grusswort fur das Symposion in Beirut, November 1974," in GA 16 (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann), p, 741, and "Grusswort anlasslich des Brseheinens von Nr. 500 der ZeitschriftRiso" (November 19, 1974), GA 16, p. 743.