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Martin Heidegger

(1889—1976) German philosopher

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German existential philosopher, author of Sein und Zeit (1927).

Born a Catholic, the son of a sexton in Baden-Wurttemberg, Heidegger originally intended to become a Jesuit priest. He was educated at the University of Freiburg, where he studied under Husserl. After several years of teaching at the University of Marburg, Heidegger returned to Freiburg in 1928 as professor of philosophy. In 1945 he was sacked from his post by the Allied rulers of Germany for his support of the Nazis. He was also refused permission to teach elsewhere. When the ban was lifted in 1951 Heidegger chose to continue living on his own and working in isolation for the rest of his life.

In his major work, Sein und Zeit (1927; translated as Being and Time, 1962), Heidegger sought to offer a comprehensive account of being. He distinguished between Dasein, the being of humans; Vorhanden, the being of objects; and Zuhanden, the being of tools. Objects in the world are merely in the world. They can, of course, be given a use by human beings. The being (Dasein) of human beings is more complex. It involves, among other features, an awareness of the future, the necessity of choice, and the ultimate reality of death. In another work, Was ist Metaphysik? (1929; translated in Existence and Being, 1949), Heidegger attacked logic for its inability to cope with nothingness and the totality of existence.

Much of this later work was often held up to ridicule by positivistically minded philosophers, such as A. J. Ayer. How, they asked, can ‘Nothing’ annihilate itself? Heidegger, however, did not respond to such criticism and consequently his work has been largely ignored by analytical philosophers.

Subjects: Philosophy

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