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Martin Heidegger was one of the most prolific philosophers of the twentieth century, making contributions to metaphysics, phenomenology, the philosophy of language, and aesthetics. Although he never considered himself an existentialist, he embraced many of its key themes--Being, Angst, Death, Freedom, and Authenticity. His indebtedness to Kierkegaard and his influence on Sartre were substantial, Sartre going so far as to name his magnum opus, Being and Nothingness, after Heidegger’s Being and Time.

Heidegger’s discussion of Being has many parallels with Eastern philosophy. While Schopenhauer was drawn to its theme of suffering, Heidegger was more interested in the ontology, particularly in the attempt to describe something whose essence is ineffable. He thought such a task required new language, leading to neologisms or redefinitions of common terms. His most important neologism was “Dasein”, an approximate synonym for Man, the being for whom being matters. Heidegger recognized that his language was challenging but famously quipped, “making itself intelligible is suicide for philosophy.” Because the understanding of Being was of central concern to Heidegger, he reserved some of his most incisive criticism for the role of technology in obfuscating Being. Speaking somewhat nostalgically, he offered the example of a Rhine River hydroelectric plant: its function was purely instrumental, to provide water to the populace; however, in the process, it became almost a golden calf, worshiped for its power and utility while the rustic landscape and the simple life of the peasants became a forgotten backdrop. Just as Art was for Schopenhauer an escape from the dominance of Will, so Art for Heidegger was a bridge back to Being, a means of experiencing it at the highest levels of consciousness.

Even though he was one of Germany’s most esteemed philosophers, Heidegger became a controversial figure during the Third Reich. He joined the Nazi party, praised its nationalistic programs, and was rewarded by being appointed rector of his university. Soon after, he resigned from that position but not from the party. Ironically some of his closest relationships were with Jewish intellectuals, such as Edmund Husserl, his mentor and the father of phenomenology, and with his onetime lover and student, the philosopher Anna Arendt. Heidegger did not promote anti-semitism, but neither did he protest it nor the firing of Jewish professors. After the war, as punishment for his Nazi support, he was barred from teaching for a period of three years.

For our meeting I have chosen an anthology: Martin Heidegger: Basic Writings, ed. David Farrell Krell (Harper Perennial, 2008), available from for $10.65 (new) and from $3.31 (used). It includes excerpts from Being and Time as well as the full text of his most notable essays. Those I have singled out for discussion are: the editor’s “General Introduction: The Question of Being”, “Being and Time: Introduction”, “What is Metaphysics?”, “Letter on Humanism”, “The Question Concerning Technology,” “The Way to Language”, and “The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking.” Public domain copies of some of these can be found here. Purely optional but recommended, given the opaqueness of Heidegger's prose, is Michael Inwood’s Heidegger: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 1977). It is available from for $8.00.

The following resources provide commentary, bibliographies, lecture notes, and videos. To have a deeper understanding of phenomenology, so essential in any reading of Heidegger (and Sartre for that matter), I also recommend consulting at least one of the relevant articles in the first three entries.

Wikipedia: “Martin Heidegger”, “Being and Time”, “Heideggerian Terminology”, “Heidegger and Nazism”, “Phenomenology”

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “Martin Heidegger” (includes a detailed chapter analysis of Being and Time), “Phenomenology”

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "Martin Heidegger", "Phenomenology"

Thomas Sheehan, “Martin Heidegger” in Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward Craig. Routledge, 1998; Thomas Sheehan, "Martin Heidegger" in A Companion to the Philosophers, ed. Robert L. Arrington. Blackwell, 1999: 288-297.

Michael Inwood, A Heidegger Dictionary (Wiley-Blackwell, 1999). (the complete 283 page text; exhaustive and scholarly)

Biemel, Walter. “Heidegger and Metaphysics” (translation of “Heidegger und die Metaphysik“ by Thomas Sheehan in his Heidegger The Man and the Thinker. Precedent Publishing, 1981)

On Being and Time: Craig M. Nichols. “Primordial Freedom: The Authentic Truth of Dasein in Heidegger’s Being and Time" In: Thinking Fundamentals, IWM Junior Visiting Fellows Conferences 9: Vienna 2000, pp. 1-14; William Blattner, "Temporarily" in A Companion to Heidegger (Wiley-Blackwell, 2007):[masked]; Donovan Miyasaki, "A Ground for Ethics in Heidegger's Being and Time" Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 38 no. 3 (October 2007):[masked]; “Being and Time, Part 1: Why Heidegger Matters” (lecture notes by Professor Simon Critchley, Dept. Of Philosophy, the New School for Social Research); Youtube videos by Professor Larence Cahoone, Dept. of Philosophy at the College of the Holy Cross: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

On "Letter on Humanism": Paul Nadal, “Thinking Being Human: Notes on Heidegger’s ‘Letter on Humanism'”, "James Luchte, “Heidegger’s ‘Letter on Humanism’–A Reading”, “Martin Heidegger: ‘The Letter on Humanism”, lecture notes by Professor Paul Livingston, Dept. Of Philosophy, Villanova University

On "The Question Concerning Technology": Paul Nadal, “Heidegger’s Critique of Modern Technology: On ‘The Question Concerning Technology”; "Heidegger: The Question Concerning Technology" (lectures notes by Professor Dennis M. Weiss, Dept. of Philosophy, York College of Pennsylvania); "David Waddington, “A Field Guide to Heidegger: Understanding 'The Question concerning Technology'” Educational Philosophy and Theory, 37 no. 4 (2005):[masked]; “Heidegger: The Question Concerning Technology” (a critical guide prepared by the Dept. Of English at the University of Hawaii; click on the bottom for continuation of multipage article)

On Heidegger and Eastern Philosophy: Elisabeth Feist Hirsch, “Martin Heidegger and the East” Philosophy East and West 20 no. 3 (July 1970):[masked]; Rolf von Eckartsberg and Ronald S. Valle, "Heideggerian Thinking and the Eastern Mind" In Metaphors of Consciousness, ed. Ronald S. Valle and Rolf von Eckartsberg (New York and London: Plenum Press, 1981): [masked]; John Steffney, “Transmetaphysical Thinking in Heidegger and Zen Buddhism” Philosophy East & West 27 no. 3 (July 1977):[masked]; Zhihua Yao, "Typology of Nothing: Heidegger, Daoism and Buddhism" Comparative Philosophy Volume 1, No. 1 (2010): 78-89.

On Heidegger and National Socialism:

Heidegger Primary Texts: "The Self-Assertion of the German University" (Inaugural address as Rector, 1933) and "The Rectorate 1933/34: Facts and Thoughts" (1976); reprinted in Review of Metaphysics 38 no. 3 (March 1985):[masked]; interview in Der Spiegel (1976) (scroll down past the gray block)

Commentary: Roger Kimball, "Heidegger at Freiburg, 1933" The New Criterion 3 (June 1985): 9; Tom Rockmore, On Heidegger’s Nazism and Philosophy. University of California Press, 1991 (this appears to be the complete 400 page text); Thomas Sheehan, "'Everyone has to Tell the Truth': Heidegger and the Jews," Continuum I, no. 1 (Autumn, 1990): 30-44; Thomas Sheehan, “A Normal Nazi” New York Review of Books nos. 1-2 (January 14, 1993): 30-35 (review of books assessing Heidegger’s involvement with National Socialism); Jürgen Habermas, "Work and Weltanschauung: The Heidegger Controversy from a German Perspective" Critical Inquiry 15 no. 2 (Winter 1989):[masked] (tempered condemnation by Germany's leading philosopher)

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  • Roger

    I can't believe I missed this discussion! Food poisoning prevented me from "Being-there"...

    November 19, 2012

    • Scott

      Sorry to hear about it. Hope you are feeling better, at least in time for Thanksgiving.

      November 19, 2012

    • Roger

      I am, thank you. Catastrophes aside, I will definitely be at the Popper discussion.

      November 19, 2012

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