Martin Heidegger is known as one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century. Born in Germany in 1889, he is best known for his work in existentialism and phenomenology. Heidegger was influenced at an early age by the Greeks. Aristotle’s Metaphysics which talks about what it is that unites all possible modes of Being, is in many ways, the question that ignites and drives Heidegger’s philosophy.
The most fundamental philosophical question is: “Why does anything exist at all?” Or as Heidegger puts it, “what does it mean to be?”
He was fascinated by the Greeks and spend considerable time reflecting on ancient Greek thought. Heidegger’s thought is a sort of authentic retrieval of the past. He revived the question of Being, which had been largely forgotten by the metaphysical tradition existing from Plato to Descartes. This is why he is also considered as a hermeneut, as he played around with language whilst reinterpreting various philosophical texts.
William Dilthey who stressed the role of interpretation and history in the study of human activity profoundly influenced Heidegger.
Heidegger also studied the giants of existentialism Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, and most importantly had been a student of Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology.
Phenomenology is the philosophical study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. In other words, phenomenologists try to understand the phenomena that surrounds our lives, knowing that we live in a self-defined perceptual world.
Husserlian phenomenology proposes intentionality, which is the characteristic of consciousness whereby it is conscious of something. In other words, it’s directedness toward an object. Seeing man’s situation as that of a subject confronted by objects.
Heidegger began his existentialist philosophy with a profound rejection of this Cartesian dualism regarding object and subject and the distinction between mind and body, which can be traced back to rationalist thinker Descartes, who arrives at one single first principle of human existence: I think. Thought cannot be separated from me; therefore, I exist.
This makes up his famous philosophical statement: “I think, therefore I am”, separating subject from object, mind from body.
However, this self-conscious reflection does not exhaust our being. Heidegger says that before you think, you have to be.
In fact, most of the time we’re just busy getting “stuff” done. It’s this feature of us that Heidegger pays special attention to, the “everydayness” of human existence.
Prior to being a rational animal or a brain, we are firstly just Being. Heidegger tries to capture this Being before it is humanly defined.
Being and Time
His early work as a phenomenologist and university professor culminated in his masterpiece and one of the most significant works of contemporary European philosophy: Sein und Zeit (Being and Time).
It is a long and complex book. Many readers initially encounter its strange and peculiar vocabulary. However, he does use it rigorously and economically, so one gets used to his language. Heidegger’s intention is to reveal the hidden meanings of ordinary talk.
The depth of this work intended a profound change of direction for philosophy. Such was the depth of change that Heidegger found it necessary to introduce a large number of neologisms, often connected to idiomatic words and phrases in the German language.
In subsequent posts, we will be exploring the main ideas of his fascinating philosophy:
- Dasein and Being-in-the-world
- Ready-to-hand and present-at-hand
- Care structure (facticity and “thrownness”, existentiality and fallenness)
- Authenticity and inauthenticity and Being-toward-death
- The Turn, Technology and The Last God
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Greatest Philosophers in History | Martin Heidegger
This video explores Heidegger’s key terms as an introduction to his philosophy. Most importantly: Being-in-the-world, ready to hand and present-at hand, facticity, thrownness, existentiality, fallenness, Das Man, temporality, being-toward-death and the fourfold.