Heidegger Publishes

Martin Heidegger established himself as a major philosophical figure with the publication of Being and Time, his most important and influential work, in which he applied Edmund Husserl’s principles of phenomenology to the field of ontology.

Summary of Event

In 1927, Martin Heidegger, an associate professor of philosophy at the German University of Marburg, published a long, difficult book titled Sein und Zeit (1927; Being and Time, 1962). In it he proposed to ask and answer a question that he argued had been forgotten or obscured in the Western philosophical tradition since the time of the ancient Greeks: the question of the meaning of Being. Being and Time is Heidegger’s most important work, and its publication established him as one of the twentieth century’s major philosophers. [kw]Heidegger Publishes Being and Time (1927)
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[kw]Being and Time, Heidegger Publishes (1927)
Being and Time (Heidegger)
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Heidegger, Martin
Husserl, Edmund
Dilthey, Wilhelm
Bergson, Henri
Nietzsche, Friedrich
Kierkegaard, Søren

The approach that Heidegger took to his great question was strongly influenced by the thinking of philosophers Edmund Husserl, with whom Heidegger had worked closely at Marburg, and Wilhelm Dilthey. Husserl’s phenomenology focused on examination of the nature of pure human consciousness. To pursue his inquiry, Husserl found it necessary to abstract from or to bracket off the real world. It was precisely this real world, however, that Dilthey emphasized in his philosophy, stressing the historical character of human life and the lived experience that all individuals have in their social and cultural worlds. Dilthey’s work embodied a critique of Husserlian phenomenology. The inquiry that Heidegger pursued was in a way a synthesis of the positions of these two thinkers.

While Husserl and Dilthey were two of the primary influences on Heidegger’s thinking, Heidegger himself situated his work in the long tradition of Western philosophy stretching back to Plato and Aristotle. From the time of the great Greek thinkers, Heidegger argued, philosopher after philosopher had asked about the nature of Being, but over time the importance of the question of the meaning of Being had been obscured. Heidegger promised to restore the original power and mystery of that question. That was an extraordinary undertaking: to rethink and subvert the whole tradition of Western philosophical thinking, an audacious aim perhaps comparable only to that of the late-nineteenth century German thinker Friedrich Nietzsche.

In Being and Time, when Heidegger confronts the question of the meaning of Being, he argues that answering it must begin with the consideration of some particular being, since Being is always the being of something. He chooses to focus on human being, what he calls Dasein (being there). Heidegger devotes the whole of his great work to the phenomenological analysis of Dasein in all its human complexity. It is this philosophical analysis of human being that he pursues en route to the question of the meaning of Being itself.

Heidegger pursues a particular type of philosophical inquiry in Being and Time, which he calls ontological inquiry, as opposed to ontical inquiry. The latter would produce external descriptions of the distinctive characteristics of Dasein, whereas the former, Heidegger’s way, seeks to enter into Dasein’s understanding of being to interpret it rather than to describe it. Heidegger calls this interpretive ontological inquiry “existential.”

What, then, does Heidegger’s inquiry reveal about Dasein? It reveals that Dasein is always involved in relations with other entities, what Heidegger characterizes as “being-in-the-world.” Further, it reveals that Dasein is never alone in the world; rather, it is always with others, what he calls “being-with-others.” The everyday world of Dasein is constituted within these complexes of relationships, and it is unavoidable, for Dasein is always embedded within them, is thrown there, to use Heidegger’s evocative term.

Heidegger makes a distinction between two possible ways of being-in-the-world: ready-to-hand and present-to-hand. In the former, things are available for practical use; in the latter, they are encountered in a detached, observational way. (An example of this detached mode would be the modern scientific viewpoint, which for Heidegger was classically embodied in the thinking of the seventeenth century French philosopher René Descartes.) Both are ways in which Dasein encounters entities in the world, but Heidegger valorizes the ready-to-hand mode.

Like being-in-the-world, being-with-others is fraught with difficulties. Dasein is unique, but each is immersed in relationships with that larger complex of human social and cultural relations that Heidegger called das Man (“the One” or “They”), his term for mass society. Thus, for Heidegger, Dasein’s everyday life is necessarily characterized by its absorption in the world and with das Man; this condition he calls Fallenness. Dasein, however, does not choose to be in the world, to be born. It is thrown into the world at some point in the past. Thrownness is Dasein’s inheritance from the past; Fallenness is Dasein’s absorption in the present.

Dasein can and must, however, project different possibilities into the future. Every Dasein is thrown into the world at some past time, is fallen into the world of the present, but is oriented toward the future. In short, Dasein is historical, temporal. Dasein always lives in three modes of experiencing time, past, present, and future; for Heidegger, Dasein is always in time. (Husserl’s ideas on the meaning and experience of time, as well as those of the French philosopher Henri Bergson, guided Heidegger’s thinking about the human experience of time-embeddedness.) Since there is always a future, Dasein is incomplete until the final moment of existence, which is death. Dasein is therefore always a being-toward-death.

Dasein’s Thrownness produces a deep disquiet that Heidegger, taking inspiration from the nineteenth century Danish religious thinker Søren Kierkegaard, calls angst (anxiety), a mood that can easily precipitate Dasein into absorption in the Fallenness of the present. To remain fixed in the present and to ignore being-toward-death is all too easy, but such an existence Heidegger calls inauthentic. For Heidegger, only living in all three temporalities—Thrownness, Fallenness, and Projection—with the recognition that Dasein is being-toward-death would constitute an authentic existence.

Heidegger intended a further section of Being and Time to move from the analysis of the being of Dasein to the question of Being itself and its meaning (his original question), but he did not produce that section. Nor did he ever write an intended second part, in which he had said he would critique the philosophies of Immanuel Kant, René Descartes, and Aristotle. Heidegger continued to lecture and write extensively until his death in 1976, turning increasingly to the study of art and poetry, but Being and Time was his greatest work.


For many, Being and Time became a twentieth century classic of philosophy, one that placed its author in the pantheon of Western philosophical greats from Plato to Nietzsche. For others, the book’s forbidding language was impenetrable, not philosophy but obscurantism. Heidegger’s reputation was tarnished by his close association with (and brief membership in) the Nazi Party in the 1930’s, an association he never repudiated after World War II. However, his influence on twentieth century intellectual history was enormous. The critique of mass society by thinkers such as Karl Jaspers, the political philosophy of Heidegger’s student Hannah Arendt, the existentialist philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre, the deconstructionist program of Jacques Derrida, the structuralist psychoanalyis of Jacques Lacan, and many other of the century’s most important intellectual developments bear the imprint of Heidegger’s thinking in Being and Time. Being and Time (Heidegger)

Further Reading

  • Guignon, Charles, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Contains a wide-ranging selection of essays on all aspects of Heidegger’s thought.
  • Inwood, Michael. Heidegger: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2000. Excellent short introduction to Heidegger that focuses on Being and Time.
  • Ree, Jonathan. Heidegger. New York: Routledge, 1999. Very brief but stimulating analysis of the argument of Being and Time.
  • Safranski, Rudiger. Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998. Very probing intellectual biography of Heidegger; especially helpful in situating his thinking among that of his contemporaries.
  • Sluga, Hans. Heidegger’s Crisis: Philosophy and Politics in Nazi Germany. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1933. Provocative analysis of Heidegger’s relationship with both Nazism and with broader contemporary currents of cultural critique in his era.
  • Steiner, George. Heidegger. Rev. ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987. Stylish introduction to the breadth of Heidegger’s thought by a major contemporary literary critic. Good place to begin reading about Heidegger.

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