Heidegger spent most of his career dealing with the concept of being, and his most famous work, Being and Time, is an exploration of the nature of being. Being, Heidegger thought, has been neglected since the birth of Western philosophy. The ancient Greek philosophers began a tradition, according to Heidegger, by describing being only by objects that are beings, rather than attempting to understand the nature of being — that is, what it means to be.
Heidegger explains that being, unlike other verbs which are, in language, treated equally, is something entirely different. He describes being as a phenomenological construct, highly dependant on human understanding, saying famously, "Only as phenomenology, is ontology possible."
Whereas more traditional accounts of being, and of existence, describe objects with properties as independant from conciousness, Heidegger argues that our understanding of being is fundamental to it.
A major part of Heidegger's account of being is Dasein. The German word Dasein means "existence", but in Heidegger's use it more specifically refers to the understanding of beings that understand being. Heidegger rejects the objects and subjects of previous philosophers, such as Kant and Descartes, and describes Dasein as being-in-the-world, (In-der-Welt-sein). Heidegger explains that previous philosophers have mistakenly viewed the concious thinker as a subject on its own. Instead, he says, people (or thinkers, or Dasein) are always in the world, interacting with it, influenced by their mood and generally concerned about being, whether actively or "dimly".
Heidegger's contributions were largely disregarded in the years during and after World War II due to his activity in the German Nazi party from 1933 to 1945. While his political actions may not be honorable or respected today, many of his philiophical works are valuable contributions when seperated from the man himeself. (Heidegger's support of the Nazi party even seems to contradict some of his existentialist views). Heidegger objected to being labeled as an existentialist because the title put him in the same category as Albert Camus and Heidegger's former student Jean-Paul Sartre, whom he did not want to be associated with due to their French political standings. Although Being and Time is dedicated to him, Heidegger eventually rejected the phenomenology developed by Husserl, mostly due to his Jewish lineage. Heidegger gave a series of lectures on Friedrich Nietzsche, although many saw this as a perversion of Nietzsche's work used to support Nazi doctrine.
Still, many of the concepts were shared between all of these writers. Heidegger particularly believed in freedom of choice, and the responsibility for one's actions that naturally followed. Even under pressure, man is still capable of choice, he explains, and outside influence cannot be blamed for the actions of an individual.
Name: Martin Heidegger
Born: September 26, 1889, Meßkirch, Germany.
Died: May 26, 1976