Martin Heidegger

Heidegger, Martin (1889-1976), German philosopher, who developed existential phenomenology and has been widely regarded as the most original 20th-century philosopher. Heidegger was born in Messkirch, Baden, on September 22, 1889. He studied Roman Catholic theology and then philosophy at the University of Freiburg, where he was a student of Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology. Heidegger began teaching at Freiburg in 1915. After teaching (1923-28) at Marburg, he became a professor of philosophy at Freiburg in 1928. He died in Messkirch on May 26, 1976.

Being and Time

Besides Husserl, Heidegger was especially influenced by pre-Socratics, by the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, and by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. In his most important and influential work, Being and Time (1927; trans. 1962), Heidegger was concerned with what he considered the essential philosophical (and human) question: What is it, to be? This led to the question of what kind of “being” human beings have. They are, he said, thrown into a world that they have not made but that consists of potentially useful things, including cultural as well as natural objects. Because these objects and artifacts come to humanity from the past and are used in the present for the sake of future goals, Heidegger posited a fundamental relation between the mode of being of objects and of humanity and the structure of time. The individual is, however, always in danger of being submerged in the world of objects, everyday routine, and the conventional, shallow behavior of the crowd. The feeling of dread (Angst) brings the individual to a confrontation with death and the ultimate meaninglessness of life, but only in this confrontation can an authentic sense of Being and of freedom be attained.

Later Work

After 1930, Heidegger turned, in such works as An Introduction to Metaphysics (1953; trans. 1959), to the interpretation of particular Western conceptions of Being. He felt that in contrast to the reverent ancient Greek conception of Being, modern technological society has fostered a purely manipulative attitude that has deprived Being and human life of meaning, a condition he called nihilism. Humanity has forgotten its true vocation, which is to recover the deeper understanding of Being that was achieved by the early Greeks and lost by subsequent philosophers.


Heidegger's original treatment of such themes as human finitude, death, nothingness, and authenticity led many observers to associate him with existentialism, and his work had a crucial influence on the French existentialist Jean Paul Sartre. Heidegger, however, eventually repudiated existentialist interpretations of his work. Since the 1960s his influence has spread beyond continental Europe and has had an increasing impact on philosophy in English-speaking countries.

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