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Heidegger, Martin | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy


Martin Heidegger (26 September 1889 – 26 May 1976) was a German philosopher and a seminal thinker in the Continental tradition of philosophy who is “widely acknowledged to be one of the most original and important philosophers of the 20th century.”

Heidegger is best known for his contributions to phenomenology, hermeneutics, and existentialism, though as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy cautions, “his thinking should be identified as part of such philosophical movements only with extreme care and qualification”. Heidegger was a member and public supporter of the Nazi Party.

His first and best known book, Being and Time (1927) is one of the central philosophical works of the 20th century. In its first part, Heidegger attempted to turn away from “ontic” questions about beings to ontological questions about Being, and recover the most fundamental philosophical question: the question of Being, of what it means for something to be. In the second part of his book, Heidegger argues that human being is even more fundamentally structured by its temporality, or its concern with and relationship to time, existing as a structurally open “possibility-for-being”.

Heidegger approached the question of Being through an inquiry into the being that has an understanding of Being, and asks the question about it, namely, Human being, which he called Dasein (“being-there”). Heidegger argued that Dasein is defined by care, its practically engaged and concernful mode of being-in-the-world, in opposition to such Rationalist thinkers as René Descartes who located the essence of man in his thinking abilities.

Heidegger emphasized the importance of Authenticity in human existence, involving a truthful relationship to our thrownness into a world which we are “always already” concerned with, and to our being-towards-death, the Finitude of the time and being we are given, and the closing down of our various possibilities for being through time.

Heidegger also made critical contributions to philosophical conceptions of truth, arguing that its original meaning was unconcealment, to philosophical analyses of art as a site of the revelation of truth, and to philosophical understanding of language as the “house of being.” Heidegger’s later work includes criticisms of technology’s instrumentalist understanding in the Western tradition as “enframing”, treating all of Nature as a “standing reserve” on call for human purposes.

Heidegger’s ideas have exerted a seminal influence on the development of contemporary European philosophy. They have also had an impact far beyond philosophy, for example in architectural theory, literary criticism, theology, psychotherapy and cognitive science.



The Essential Dialectic of Heideggerian Philosophy is:

{Awaiting-Divinity ⇆ Saving-Earth ⇅ Receiving-Sky} ↻ Initiating-Mortality

The Essential Dialectic of Heideggerian Philosophy is the Awaiting-Divinity, Saving-Earth, Receiving-Sky, Initiating-Mortality Dialectic

In Being and Time, the most fundamental a priori transcendental condition for there to be Dasein’s distinctive mode of Being which is identified is temporality. In the later philosophy, the ontological focus ultimately shifts to the claim that human Being consists most fundamentally in dwelling. This shift of attention emerges out of a subtle reformulation of the question of Being itself, a reformulation performed in the Contributions. The question now becomes not ‘What is the meaning of Being?’ but rather ‘How does Being essentially unfold?’. This reformulation means (in a way that should become clearer in a moment) that we are now asking the question of Being not from the perspective of Dasein, but from the perspective of Being (see above on abandoning subjectivity). But it also suggests that Being needs to be understood as fundamentally a timebound, historical process. As Heidegger puts it: “A being is: Be-ing holds sway [unfolds]”. (Contributions 10: 22. Quotations from the Contributions will be given in the form ‘section: page number’ where ‘page number’ refers to the Emad and Maly English translation. The hyphenated term ‘be-ing’ is adopted by Emad and Maly, in order to respect the fact that, in the Contributions, Heidegger substitutes the archaic spelling ‘Seyn’ for the contemporary ‘Sein’ as a way of distancing himself further from the traditional language of metaphysics. This translational convention, which has not become standard practice in the secondary literature, will not be adopted here, except in quotations from the Emad and Maly translation.)

Further aspects of the essential unfolding of Being are revealed by what is perhaps the key move in the Contributions—a rethinking of Being in terms of the notion of Ereignis, a term translated variously as ‘event’ (most closely reflecting its ordinary German usage), ‘appropriation’, ‘appropriating event’, ‘event of appropriation’ or ‘enowning’. (For an analysis which tracks Heidegger’s use of the term Ereignis at various stages of his thought, see Vallega-Neu 2010). The history of Being is now conceived as a series of appropriating events in which the different dimensions of human sense-making—the religious, political, philosophical (and so on) dimensions that define the culturally conditioned epochs of human history—are transformed. Each such transformation is a revolution in human patterns of intelligibility, so what is appropriated in the event is Dasein and thus the human capacity for taking-as (see e.g., Contributions 271: 343). Once appropriated in this way, Dasein operates according to a specific set of established sense-making practices and structures. In a Kuhnian register, one might think of this as the normal sense-making that follows a paradigm-shift. But now what is it that does the appropriating? Heidegger’s answer to this question is Being. Thus Heidegger writes of the “En-ownment [appropriation] of Da-sein by be-ing” (Contributions 141: 184) and of “man as owned by be-ing” (Contributions 141: 185). Indeed, this appropriation of Dasein by Being is what enables Being to unfold: “Be-ing needs man in order to hold sway [unfold]” (Contributions 133: 177). The claim that Being appropriates Dasein might seem to invite the adoption of an ethereal voice and a far-off look in the eye, but any such temptation towards mysticism of this kind really ought to be resisted. The mystical reading seems to depend on a view according to which “be-ing holds sway ‘for itself’ ” and Dasein “takes up the relating to be-ing”, such that Being is “something over-against” Dasein (Contributions 135: 179). But Heidegger argues that this relational view would be ‘misleading’. That said, to make proper inroads into the mystical reading, we need to reacquaint ourselves with the notion of dwelling.

As we have seen, the term ‘dwelling’ appears in Being and Time, where it is used to capture the distinctive manner in which Dasein is in the world. The term continues to play this role in the later philosophy, but, in texts such as Building Dwelling, Thinking (1954), it is reinterpreted and made philosophically central to our understanding of Being. This reinterpretation of, and the new emphasis on, dwelling is bound up with the idea from the Contributions of Being as appropriation. To explain: Where one dwells is where one is at home, where one has a place. This sense of place is what grounds Heidegger’s existential notion of spatiality, as developed in the later philosophy (see Malpas 2006). In dwelling, then, Dasein is located within a set of sense-making practices and structures with which it is familiar. This way of unravelling the phenomenon of dwelling enables us to see more clearly—and more concretely—what is meant by the idea of Being as event/appropriation. Being is an event in that it takes (appropriates) place (where one is at home, one’s sense-making practices and structures) (cf. Polt 1999 148). In other words, Being appropriates Dasein in that, in its unfolding, it essentially happens in and to Dasein’s patterns of sense-making. This way of thinking about the process of appropriation does rather less to invite obscurantist mysticism.

The reinterpretation of dwelling in terms of Being as appropriation is ultimately intertwined with a closely related reinterpretation of what is meant by a world. One can see the latter development in a pregnant passage from Heidegger’s 1954 piece, Building Dwelling Thinking.

[H]uman being consists in dwelling and, indeed, dwelling in the sense of the stay of mortals on the earth.

But ‘on the earth’ already means ‘under the sky.’ Both of these also mean ‘remaining before the divinities’ and include a ‘belonging to men’s being with one another.’ By a primal oneness the four—earth and sky, divinities and mortals—belong together in one. (351)

So, human beings dwell in that they stay (are at home) on the earth, under the sky, before the divinities, and among the mortals (that is, with one another as mortals). It is important for Heidegger that these dimensions of dwelling are conceived not as independent structures but as (to use a piece of terminology from Being and Timeecstases—phenomena that stand out from an underlying unity. That underlying unity of earth, sky, divinities and mortals—the ‘simple oneness of the four’ as Heidegger puts it in Building Dwelling Thinking (351)—is what he calls the fourfold. The fourfold is the transformed notion of world that applies within the later work (see e.g., The Thing; for an analysis of the fourfold that concentrates on its role as a thinking of things, see Mitchell 2010). It is possible to glimpse the character of the world-as-fourfold by noting that whereas the world as understood through Being and Time is a culturally conditioned structure distinct from nature, the world-as-fourfold appears to be an integrated combination of nature (earth and sky) and culture (divinities and mortals). (Two remarks: First, it may not be obvious why the divinities count as part of culture. This will be explained in a moment. Secondly, the later Heidegger sometimes continues to employ the sense of world that he established in Being and Time, which is why it is useful to signal the new usage as the transformed notion of world, or as the world-as-fourfold.)

There is something useful, as a preliminary move, about interpreting the fourfold as a combination of nature and culture, but it is an idea that must be handled with care. For one thing, if what is meant by nature is the material world and its phenomena as understood by natural science, then Heidegger’s account of the fourfold tells against any straightforward identification of earth and sky with nature. Why this is becomes clear once one sees how Heidegger describes the earth and the sky in Building Dwelling Thinking. “Earth is the serving bearer, blossoming and fruiting, spreading out in rock and water, rising up into plant and animal… The sky is the vaulting path of the sun, the course of the changing moon, the wandering glitter of the stars, the year’s seasons and their changes, the light and dusk of day, the gloom and glow of night, the clemency and inclemency of the weather, the drifting clouds and blue depth of the ether” (351). What Heidegger’s language here indicates is that the earth-as-dwelt-on and the sky-as-dwelt-under are spaces for a mode of habitation by human beings that one might call poetic rather than scientific. So, the nature of dwelling is the nature of the poet. In dwelling we inhabit the poetic (for discussion, see e.g., Young 2002, 99–100).

How does this idea of dwelling as poetic habitation work for the cultural aspects of the fourfold—dwelling among the mortals and before the divinities? To dwell among the mortals is to be “capable of death as death” (Building Dwelling Thinking 352). In the language of Being and Time, this would be to enter into an authentic and thus non-evasive relationship with death (see above). However, as we shall see in a moment, the later Heidegger has a different account of the nothing and thus of the internal relation with the nothing that death involves. It is this reworking of the idea of the nothing that ultimately marks out a newly conceived non-evasive relationship with death as an aspect of dwelling, understood in terms of poetic habitation. The notion of dwelling before the divinities also turns on the development of a theme established in Being and Time, namely that intelligibility is itself cultural and historical in character. More specifically, according to Being and Time, the a priori transcendental conditions for intelligibility are to be interpreted in terms of the phenomenon of heritage, that is as culturally determined structures that form pre-existing fields of intelligibility into which individual human beings are thrown and onto which they project themselves. A key aspect of this idea is that there exist historically important individuals who constitute heroic cultural templates onto which I may now creatively project myself. In the later philosophy these heroic figures are reborn poetically as the divinities of the fourfold, as “the ones to come” (Contributions 248–52: 277–81), and as the “beckoning messengers of the godhead” (Building Dwelling Thinking 351). When Heidegger famously announces that only a god can save us (Only a God can Save Us), or that “the last god is not the end but the other beginning of immeasurable possibilities for our history” (Contributions 256: 289), he has in mind not a religious intervention in an ‘ordinary’ sense of the divine, but rather a transformational event in which a secularized sense of the sacred—a sensitivity to the fact that beings are granted to us in the essential unfolding of Being—is restored (more on this below).

The notion of dwelling as poetic habitation opens up a path to what Heidegger calls ‘the mystery’ (not to be confused with the kind of obscurantist mysticism discussed above). Even though the world always opens up as meaningful in a particular way to any individual human being as a result of the specific heritage into which he or she has been enculturated, there are of course a vast number of alternative fields of intelligibility ‘out there’ that would be available to each of us, if only we could gain access to them by becoming simultaneously embedded in different heritages. But Heidegger’s account of human existence means that any such parallel embedding is ruled out, so the plenitude of alternative fields of intelligibility must remain a mystery to us. In Heidegger’s later philosophy this mysterious region of Being emerges as a structure that, although not illuminated poetically in dwelling as a particular world-as-fourfold, nevertheless constitutes an essential aspect of dwelling in that it is ontologically co-present with any such world. Appropriation is necessarily a twofold event: as Dasein is thrown into an intelligible world, vast regions of Being are plunged into darkness. But that darkness is a necessary condition for there to be any intelligibility at all. As Heidegger puts it in The Question Concerning Technology (330), “[a]ll revealing belongs within a harboring and a concealing. But that which frees [entities for intelligibility]—the mystery—is concealed and always concealing itself…. Freedom [sense-making, the revealing of beings] is that which conceals in a way that opens to light, in whose clearing shimmers the veil that hides the essential occurrence of all truth and lets the veil appear as what veils”.

It is worth pausing here to comment on the fact that, in his 1935 essay The Origin of the Work of Art, Heidegger writes of a conflict between earth and world. This idea may seem to sit unhappily alongside the simple oneness of the four. The essay in question is notoriously difficult, but the notion of the mystery may help. Perhaps the pivotal thought is as follows: Natural materials (the earth), as used in artworks, enter into intelligibility by establishing certain culturally codified meanings—a world in the sense of Being and Time. Simultaneously, however, those natural materials suggest the existence of a vast range of other possible, but to us unintelligible, meanings, by virtue of the fact that they could have been used to realize those alternative meanings. The conflict, then, turns on the way in which, in the midst of a world, the earth suggests the presence of the mystery. This is one way to hear passages such as the following: “The world, in resting upon the earth, strives to surmount it. As self-opening it cannot endure anything closed. The earth, however, as sheltering and concealing, tends always to draw the world into itself and keep it there” (Origin of the Work of Art 174).

Because the mystery is unintelligible, it is the nothing (no-thing). It is nonetheless a positive ontological phenomenon—a necessary feature of the essential unfolding of Being. This vision of the nothing, as developed in Heidegger’s What is Metaphysics?, his 1929 inaugural lecture as Professor of Philosophy at Freiburg, famously attracts the philosophical disdain of the logical positivist Carnap. Carnap judged Heidegger’s lecture to turn on a series of unverifiable statements, and thus to be a paradigm case of metaphysical nonsense (Carnap 1932/1959; for a nice account and analysis of the disagreement between Heidegger and Carnap, see Critchley 2001). But placing Carnap’s positivist critique to one side, the idea of the nothing allows Heidegger to rethink our relationship with death in relation to poetic habitation. In Being and Time, Being-towards-death is conceived as a relation to the possibility of one’s own non-existence. This gives us a sense in which Dasein has an internal structural relation to the nothing. That internal structural relation remains crucial to the later philosophy, but now ‘the nothing’ is to be heard explicitly as ‘the mystery’, a kind of ‘dark matter’ of intelligibility that must remain concealed in the unfolding of Being through which beings are unconcealed. This necessary concealment is “the essential belongingness of the not to being as such” (Contributions 160: 199). In Being-towards-death, this “essential belongingness” is “sheltered” and “comes to light with a singular keenness” (Contributions 160: 199). This is because (echoing a point made earlier) the concealing-unconcealing structure of Being is ultimately to be traced to Dasein’s essential finitude. Sheehan (2001) puts it like this: “[o]ur finitude makes all ‘as’-taking… possible by requiring us to understand things not immediately and ontically… but indirectly and ontologically (= imperfectly), through their being”. In Being-towards-death, the human finitude that grounds the mystery, the plenitude of possible worlds in which I am not, is highlighted. As mortals, then, our internal relation to death links us to the mystery (see The Thing). So dwelling (as poetic habitation) involves not only embeddedness in the fourfold, but also, as part of a unitary ontological structure, a necessary relationship with the mystery. (As mentioned earlier (2.2.7), it is arguable that the sense of the nothing as unactualized possibilities of Being is already at work in Being and Time (see Vallega-Neu 2003, 21). Indeed, Heidegger’s explicit remarks on Being-towards-death in the Contributions (sections 160–2) suggest that it is. But even if that is so, the idea undoubtedly finds its fullest expression in the later work.)

If the essence of human Being is to dwell in the fourfold, then human beings are to the extent that they so dwell. And this will be achieved to the extent that human beings realize the “basic character of dwelling”, which Heidegger now argues is a matter of safeguarding “the fourfold in its essential unfolding” (Building Dwelling Thinking, 352). Such safeguarding is unpacked as a way of Being in which human beings save the earth, receive the sky as sky, await the divinities as divinities, and initiate their own essential being as mortals. Perhaps the best way to understand this four-way demand is to explore Heidegger’s claim that modern humans, especially modern Western humans, systematically fail to meet it. That is, we are marked out by our loss of dwelling—our failure to safeguard the fourfold in its essential unfolding. This existential malaise is what Heidegger refers to in the Letter on Humanism as the oblivion of Being. As we are about to see, the fact that this is the basic character of our modern human society is, according to Heidegger, explained by the predominance of a mode of sense-making that, in the Contributions, he calls machination, but which he later (and more famously) calls technology.


The Intermediary Dialectic of Heideggerian Philosophy is:

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The Intermediary Dialectic of Heideggerian Philosophy is:

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-Key Sentence: Freedom not the property of man,
but rather: man the property of freedom.
Martin Heidegger: “Will to power is a ‘presupposition’ for eternal return of the same, inasmuch as will to power alone allows us to recognize what eternal return of the same means. Because in terms of the matter itself eternal return of the same constitutes the ground and essence of will to power, the latter can be posited as the ground and point of departure for insight into the essence of the eternal return of the same.”
Martin Heidegger: “’Eternal return of the same’ is the name for the Being of beings. ‘Overhuman’ is the name for the human essence that corresponds to such Being.”
Martin Heidegger: “The supreme will to power, that is, what is most vital in all life, comes to pass when transiency is represented as perpetual Becoming in the eternal recurrence of the same, in this way being made stable and permanent. Such representing is a thinking which, as Nietzsche emphatically notes, stamps the character of Being on beings. Such thinking takes Becoming, to which perpetual collision and suffering belong, into its protection and custody.

Does such thinking overcome prior reflection, overcome the spirit of revenge? Or does there not lie concealed in this very stampingwhich takes all Becoming into the protection of eternal recurrence of the samea form of ill will against sheer transiency and thereby a highly spiritualized form of revenge?

Heidegger, Martin Identity and Difference
.81-5 pgs 61-64The matter of thinking has been handed down to Western thinking under the name “Being.” If we think of this matter just a bit more rigorously, if we take more heed of what is in contest in the matter, we see that Being means always and everywhere: the Being of beings. The genitive in this phrase is to be taken as a genitivus objectivus. Beings means always and everywhere the being of Being; here the genitive is to be taken as a genitivus subjectivus. It is, however, with certain reservations that we speak of a genitive in respect to object and subject, because these terms, subject and object, in their turn stem from a particular character of Being. Only this much is clear, that when we deal with the Being of beings and with the beings of Being, we deal in each case with a difference.

Thus we think of Being rigorously only when we think of it in its difference with beings, and of beings in their difference with Being. The difference thus comes specifically into view. If we try to form a representational idea of it, we will at once be misled into conceiving of difference as a relation which our representing has added to Being and to beings. Thus the difference is reduced to a distinction, something made up by our understanding.

But if we assume that the difference is a contribution made by our representational thinking, the question arises: a contribution to what? One answers: to beings. Good. But what does that mean: “beings”? What else could it mean than: something that is? Thus we give to the supposed contribution, the representational idea of difference, a place within Being. But “Being” itself says: Being which is beings. Whenever we come to the place to which we are supposedly first bringing difference along as an alleged contribution, we will always find that Being and beings in their difference are already there. It is as in Grimm’s fairytale The Hedgehog and the Hare: “I’m here already”. Now it would be possible to deal with this strange state of affairsthat Being and beings are always already found to be already there by virtue of and within the differencein a crude manner and explain it as follows: our representational thinking just happens to be so structured and constituted that it will always, so to speak over its own head and out of its own head, insert the difference ahead of time between beings and Being. Much might be said, and much more might be asked, about this seemingly convincing but also rashly given explanationand first of all, we might ask: where does the “between” come from, into which difference is, so to speak, to be inserted?

We shall discard all views and explanations, and instead note the following: this thing that is called difference, we encounter it so unquestioningly that we do not even notice this encounter itself. Nor does anything compel us to notice it. Our thinking is free either to pass over the difference without a thought or to think of it specifically as such. But this freedom does not apply in every case. Unexpectedly it may happen that thinking finds itself called upon to ask: what does it say, this Being that is mentioned so often? If Being here shows itself concurrently as the Being of…, thus in the genitive of the difference, then the preceding question is more properly: what do you make of the difference if Being as well as beings appear by virtue of the difference, each in its own way? To do justice to this question, we must first assume a proper position face to face with the difference. Such a confrontation becomes manifest to us once we accomplish the step back. Only as this step gains for us greater distance does what is near give itself as such, does nearness achieve its first radiance. By the step back, we wet the matter of thinking, Being as difference, free to enter a position face to face, which may well remain wholly without an object.

While we are facing the difference, though by the step back we are already releasing it into that which gives thought, we can say: the Being of beings means Being which is beings. The “is” here speaks transitively, in transition.

Martin Heidegger: “The smallest gap, the rainbow bridge of the phrase it is all alike, conceals two things that are quite distinct: ‘everything is indifferent’ and ‘nothing is indifferent’.

The overcoming of this smallest gap is the most difficult overcoming in the thought of the eternal return of the same as the essentially overcoming thought.”