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Martin Heidegger

Martin Heidegger (1889–1971) was a student of Husserl. Before that, he was a theology student, interested in much more concrete matters of human existence than his teacher, and his questions concerned how to live and how to live "authentically"—that is, with integrity, in a complex and confusing world. His use of phenomenology was subservient to this quest, although the quest itself soon transcended the phenomenological method. Heidegger's phenomenology is most evident in his first (and greatest) book, Sein und Zeit (1927; English trans. Being and Time, 1962). Like his teacher Husserl, Heidegger insists that philosophical investigation begin without presuppositions. But Husserl, he says, still embraced Descartes's basic picture of the world, assuming that consciousness, or "the mind," was the arena in which phenomenological investigation took place. Such a philosophy could not possibly be presuppositionless. So Heidegger abandons the language of mind, consciousness, experience, and the like, but nevertheless pursues phenomenology with a new openness, a new receptivity, and a sense of oneness with the world.

Heidegger's early work is defined by two themes: first, Heidegger displays a profound anti-Cartesianism, an uncompromising holism that rejects any dualism regarding mind and body, any distinction between subject and object, and the linguistic separation of "consciousness," "experience," and "mind." This also demands a reconsideration of the Cartesian thesis that our primary relationship to the world is one of knowledge. Second, Heidegger's early philosophy is largely a search for authenticity, or what might better be described as "own-ness" (Eigentlichkeit), which we can understand, with some qualification, as personal integrity. This search for authenticity will carry us into the now familiar but ever-renewed questions about the nature of the self and the meaning of human existence.

To ensure that we do not fall into Cartesian language, Heidegger suggests a new term (the first of many). Dasein (literally, "being-there") is the name of this being from whose perspective the world is being described. Dasein is not a consciousness or a mind, nor is it a person. It is not distinguished from the world of which it is aware. It is inseparable from that world. Dasein is, simply, "Being-in-the-World," which Heidegger insists is a "unitary phenomenon" (not being the world). Thus, phenomenology becomes ontology (the nature of being) as well.

Being-in-the-World is not primarily a process of being conscious or knowing about the world. Science is not the primary concern of Dasein. Dasein's immediate relation to the world is better captured in the image of the craftsman, who "knows his stuff," to be sure, but might not be able to explain it to you nor even know how to show it to you. What he can do—what he does do—is engage in his craft. He shows you that he knows how to do this and that by simply doing it. This knowing how is prior, Heidegger tells us, to knowing that. In effect, our world is essentially one extended craft shop, a world of "equipment" in which we carry out various tasks and only sometimes—often when something goes wrong—stop to reflect on what we are doing and look at our tools as objects, as things. They are, first of all, just tools and material to be used, and in that sense we take them for granted, relying on them without noticing them. Our concept of "things" and our knowledge of them is secondary and derivative.

Thus the notion of Dasein does not allow for the dualism of mind and body or the distinction between subject and object. All such distinctions presuppose the language of "consciousness." But Heidegger defends an uncompromising holism in which the self cannot be, as it was for Descartes, "a thinking thing," distinct from any bodily existence. But, then, what is the self? It is, at first, merely the roles that other people cast for me, as their son, their daughter, their student, their sullen playmate, their clever friend. That self, the Das Man self, is a social construction. There is nothing authentic, nothing that is my own, about it. The authentic self, by contrast, is discovered in profound moments of unique self-recognition—notably, when one faces one's own death. And so Heidegger's phenomenology opens up the profoundly personal arena of existentialist phenomenology.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Pebi- to History of Philosophy - IndifferentismPhenomenology - Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Max Scheler And Emmanuel Lévinas, Jean-paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-ponty