Reader's Encyclopedia

Martin Heidegger (1889 - 1976)

German philosopher, considered a leading figure in modern existentialism. Heidegger has had great influence in German - speaking countries and in France, where Sartre, in particular, esteemed him, and thereafter in England and America. Heidegger himself was influenced by Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, and by Edmund Husserl, founder of phenomenology.

His complex philosophy is made more difficult by the fact that he spurned some of the conventions of philosophical discourse. He developed a dense, quasipoetic diction by using words according to his interpretation of root meanings reaching back to the pre - Socratic philosophers.

All of Heidegger's work revolves around the essential inquiry: what is the nature of being? In his most important book, Sein und Zeit (1927; translated as Being and Time, 1962), he distinguishes between two types of being: human existence (Dasein) and nonhuman presence (Vorhandensein). Man, at birth, is "thrown" into existence, not apart from things, but "standing out" from them, as represented in the etymology of exist. When the human being becomes absorbed by things, his existence becomes "inauthentic. "Man is the only being capable of trying to understand his existence, but he "forfeits" this by allowing himself to be distracted. Authentic existences are lived by those who experience Angst ( " anxiety; dread") in the face of "nothingness and nowhere." As man confronts nothingness, all the "everydayness" that robs him of his dignity disappears.

In later writings, such as Gelassenheit (1959; translated as Discourse on Thinking, 1966) and Unterwegs zur Sprache (1959; translated as On the Way to Language, 1971), Heidegger became increasingly convinced of the primacy of language in the origin and manifestations of being, and he held poetry to be the privileged form of language. "Language is the house of Being " is one of his characteristic expressions. He urged a meditative "listening" to the world in place of the oppositional posture, as he saw it, of rationalistic thought since Socrates.

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