Biography 1889 – 1915

Chapter 1

“We Shall Wait”: 1889-1915



Martin Heidegger was born on Thursday, 26 September 1889, in the town of Meßkirch in south-east Baden (“Oberschwaben”), as the first child of Friedrich Heidegger and Johanna Heidegger (née Kempf). Heidegger’s father was the sexton of the main church in the town, St. Martin’s, as well as the town’s master cooper. Both Heidegger’s parents came from this area. Friedrich was the son of a cobbler, also called Martin (1803–1881), who had been born in the municipality of Leibertingen, midway between Meßkirch and Beuron, twelve kilometres away. In 1830, he married a widow, Theresia (née Merk), who bore nine children, although only one, Karl, survived infancy, and she herself died in childbirth. Martin took a second wife, Walburga Rieger, who gave birth to Friedrich Heidegger four years before her death. He then married for a third time, to Katharina Moehrle, but their union produced no children.[1]

One of Heidegger’s ancestors was Andreas Heidegger, who was born on 28 November 1700 in a house on a bank of the river Danube in Hausen im Tal near Beuron in the district of Sigmaringen. Both places, Beuron and the river Danube, would come to acquire an increasing significance in Martin Heidegger’s life and thinking, representing a spiritual contact with the past and with his Heimat, with his origins and those of his forefathers. Beuron Abbey (in Latin Archiabbatia Sancti Martini Beuronensis) was a monastery of the Benedictine Order, and had been founded in 1863 by the brothers Maurus and Placidus Wolter. It housed the largest monastic library in Germany, and the young Heidegger had studied there in the years just preceding and into his university days. Later in his life, Heidegger returned often to Beuron (even when he had lost his faith), continuing to regard it as a place of spiritual depth. Beuron provided him with the “seed for something essential”.[2] The Danube, or Ister, as it had been known in the medieval period, possessed an even greater significance for Heidegger, and in his writings on Hölderlin he devoted an entire book to the poet’s hymn to the river. The Ister represented “the locality of the locale”: it was the source and the defining presence of “Heimat”.[3] For “the river is the locality that pervades the abode of human beings upon the earth, determines where they belong and where they are at home [heimisch]. The river thus brings human beings into their own and maintains them in what is their own”.[4]

The family of Heidegger’s mother came from Göggingen, a small town in the valley of Ablach, seven kilometres east of Meßkirch and ten kilometres north-east of the largest town in the area, Schwäbisch Gmünd, which had for a period in the nineteenth century been the seat of the provincial government of Southern Baden. Unlike the artisan stock of Heidegger’s paternal lineage, the family of Heidegger’s mother had a longstanding lineage in the farming community. Some of its members, however, such as Heidegger’s maternal grandfather, Anton Kempf (1811–1863), had harboured aspirations that extended well beyond the agrarian.[5] Known as the “Lochbauer” (because of the substantial “Hof”, farmstead, that he had built into a section, “Loch”, of a local forest), Kempf found himself frequently distracted from his farming duties by the political developments of the day, and had participated in the “March uprising” of 1848, which had sought to install a Republican government in Baden and elsewhere. These radical politics had been pursued in spite of the fact that Kempf was serving in the army as a courier at the time. After the suppression of the revolt, Kempf was given a short prison sentence, before being allowed to return to the farm. Anton Kempf and his wife, Justina, had nine children, including Heidegger’s mother, Johanna. [6]

Heidegger’s father, Friedrich, was born on 7 August 1851, the first child of the union of Martin Heidegger the elder with Walburga (née Rieger), who were married in Meßkirch on 10 April 1845. At that time, Meßkirch was a small but commercially important town lying in the Upper Danube west of the Bodensee, in the juncture between the Swabian Alps and moraine countryside, forty kilometres north of Constance. The area is not promising farming country although some crops are grown. Heidegger described it as an “almost characterless region”, with its “ dark pine forests draped in mist, where flashes striking shards of limestone shone forth, creating a strangely atmospheric picture”.[7] Meßkirch, which in Heidegger’s youth had a population of just over two thousand people, was a market town, providing legal, educational and banking faciltiies for the surrounding area, and for many years was the centre for cattle trade in south Baden.[8] “Meßkirch” was first mentioned in a chronicle in 965, where it was called “Messankirche”, suggesting that the town was a destination for Christian missionaries. [9] Its main church, the “St. Martinskirche”, dating from 1526, was substantially rebuilt in the eighteenth century, and still stands as the one of the most impressive examples of Rococo church architecture in southern Germany. Its steeple of white plastered brick dominates the skyline of Meßkirch, making the church seem (in a symbolism noted by one commentator) “like a bulwark towards the north, the area of darkness and cold”.[10]

Through most of the medieval period, Meßkirch was under the sovereignty of a Swabian noble family, the von Zimmerns.[11] The family left two permanent legacies: the Zimmern chronicle, written by one of the last members of the line, Count Froben Christoph of Zimmern (1519–1566), a major source of historical information about the sixteenth-century nobility in the south-west of Germany, and, perhaps of greater importance, at least for the local population, a second legacy, the von Zimmern castle, the “Schloß”, built just beyond the town centre. Its foundations were laid by Gottfried Werner von Zimmern in 1557, and the building itself, a rectangular Renaissance structure designed along geometrical lines with an inner courtyard set amidst a park of linden trees, was completed by his nephew Froben Christoph shortly afterwards. The family line came to an end in 1744 and, after a period of disuse, the “Schloß” was turned into an administrative centre for the local government of southern Baden, a function that it retained until 1938.[12] The “Schloß” remains the most architecturally imposing building in Meßkirch. Its garden features prominently as a backdrop in at least one notable photograph of a self-confident young Heidegger, who sits bedecked in his “Abiturient” (school leaving) regalia, coyly smiling against the imposing background of the castle and its garden. It is a smile that seems to be saying: Meßkirch is no ordinary small town: it has a regal past, and may well have a regal future.[13]

Meßkirch, like all southern German towns, was staunchly Catholic, but in the late nineteenth century it was rent by a division between the “New Catholics”, who followed the policy of the infallibility of papal authority as laid down by Pope Pius IX at the First Vatican Council of 1868, and the “Old Catholics”, who did not accept the Papal dictate but sought to retain the traditional episcopal-synodical structure for their faith.[14] To resist these changes, the Old Catholics formed a communion in 1870 at a public meeting in Nuremberg under the leadership of the progressive theologian, Ignaz von Döllinger, who rejected the Pope’s claim to infallibility and divine revelation. The tensions between the Roman Catholics and the Old Catholics were felt even in Meßkirch. In 1875, the Old Catholics were allowed to use the town church, St. Martin, a situation unacceptable to the Roman Catholic majority, who moved into the neighbouring “Herz-Jesu-Kirche” to conduct their worship, and it was here that Martin Heidegger was christened. St. Martin was returned to the sole use of the Roman Catholic congregation in 1895.[15] The Roman Catholic Church made possible an education for the young Heidegger; but it was a possibility that imposed restrictions that he would eventually have to confront.

Heidegger spoke frequently about the importance of Meßkirch and its surroundings. It represented the “giving and healing and preserves power of the local”.[16] It was his homeland, his Heimat, a place that had nurtured him and to which he belonged, and which continued to exist, as he expressed it in a talk that he gave in Meßkirch in 1959, as the “open area of the spirit”.[17] It was a living reality, a manifestation of the past as it had continued into the present, and as it continued to exist as a source of values for the future. The young Heidegger drew much of his love of nature from the walks that he undertook in the country lanes that surrounded Meßkirch. In a short biographical piece, “The Country Path”, he described one such walk, which led away from the town towards a wetland area known as Ehnried, just over a mile away.[18]


It ran from the park gate towards Ehnried. The old Linden trees of the Schloß garden gazed after it behind the wall – whether at Easter when the path shone brightly between emerging crops and waking meadows, or at Christmas when it disappeared in snow drifts behind the next hill. At the wayside crucifix it turned off to the woods. Along its edge, the pathway was greeted by a tall oak under which stood a roughly hewn bench. [19]


The path led into a forest where Heidegger’s father collected freshly fallen timber to use in his work as a cooper. The young Heidegger would sometimes accompany him:


When every now and then, deep in the forest, an oak might fall under the axe’s blow, father would look through the woods and sunny clearing for the cord [allocation of timber] allotted to him for his workshop. There he laboured, pausing at times thoughtfully from his efforts at the sound of tower clock and bells – both maintaining their own relationship to time and temporality.


Heidegger lived with his parents and his siblings, a brother, Fritz (1894-1980), and a sister, Marie (1891-1956), in a house on the “Kirchplatz”, in the centre of town near the church. Their standard of living was modest but sufficient. As Fritz later wrote, “in material terms our parents were neither poor nor rich; they were comfortably off in a lower-middle-class way; we knew neither want nor plenty; saving came high on the list of priorities in our household”.[20] Occupancy of the house came with the father’s appointment as sexton in 1887, the same year that he married Johanna. Heidegger’s father appears to have been a withdrawn and taciturn character, diligent and pious. He carried out his duties as a sexton and a cooper conscientiously, producing barrels, casks and churns for the village, and demonstrated a strong work ethic for his children. When Heidegger followed his father into the woods to help him collect fallen timber for his barrels, he would, when necessary, assist in the sawing of the timber, using the off-cuts to make playthings for himself and his friends. Woodcutting, indeed, was an activity that in later years Heidegger practised, to provide timber to heat his mountain hut in Todtnauberg. Woodcutting also provided contact with the physical, tactile world as opposed to abstraction or theory. In his thinking, Heidegger would return time and again to the precinct of the forest, with its paths, sights and sounds, harvesting his experiences there as an iconic source for his writing.[21] Heidegger’s mother seems to have been a rather more extrovert, outgoing personality, “a fun loving woman”, as Heidegger’s brother, Fritz, called her. “Happy being with people, she enjoyed lively conversations and social intercourse; she also didn’t mind a little bit of gossiping with close friends, but it was never malicious”.[22]

Looking back on his childhood, Heidegger described his home as a “simple enclosed family circle”.[23] But it was a simple world that contained mystery and wonder for the young Heidegger. As he later explained to his future wife, Elfride, he grew up

living with modest, pious people, in the country, as a boy who could still see the glass globe by the light of which his grandfather sat on a three-legged stool and hammered nails into shoes; a boy who helped his father with cooperage and forced the hoops into place around the barrels, the hammer blows resounding through the small, winding alleys; who savoured all the wonderful poetry open to a sexton’s son, lay for hours in the church tower and gazed after the swifts and dreamt his way over the dark pine forests; who rummaged about in the dusty old books in the church loft and felt like a king among the piles of books, which he did not understand but every one of which he knew and reverentially loved.[24]

Heidegger helped his father in his care of the church artefacts, observing the services, the rituals and religious ceremonies, and even fabricated his own vestments when he performed with his friends his childhood version of the Mass.[25] One of his father’s duties included being a bell ringer, which was an important service not only for church goers but for the citizens of Meßkirch as a whole, providing for many their only form of time keeping. It was also a liberating experience for Heidegger and his friends who helped with the bell ringing. It formed “the centre of our boyhood lives: the bells and the old church clock. What drew us to them and kept us there was half duty, half game playing”.[26] But also something deeper: a sense of a world transformed through a community of sound, through

the mysterious fugue, in which the religious feasts, the days of vigil, the progress of the seasons, and the morning, afternoon and evening hours of the days joined together, so that it was a single sound that constantly went through young hearts, and their dreams, prayers and games. This was certainly one of the most magic, most holy and most lasting mysteries that the tower contained, sending it forth in ever more unrepeatable variations until the final sound sank into the monumentality of Being. [27]

Heidegger attended primary school (the “Volksschule”) in Meßkirch between 1895 and 1899, and then the state school (“Bürgerschule”, housed in the same building near the “Schloßstrasse”), between 1899 and 1903. We know little of his activities there, other than that he received a prize in 1903, his final year of study.[28] Heidegger was a precocious student and his talent was recognised by the local priest, Camillo Brandhuber, who gave him free tuition in Latin so that he could qualify for a place in the grammar school (“Gymnasium”) in nearby Constance. Brandhuber (1860–1931) was by all accounts a charismatic personality, a “highly talented man of the people and popular speaker”, who went on to enjoy a political career as a member of the newly created Catholic Centre Party.[29] Between 1908 and 1918, he was a member of the Prussian Assembly for Hohenzollern, before becoming a representative and then President of the Hohenzollern Communal Assembly (“Landeskommunalverbandes”) in Sigmaringen. Soon after the arrival of the Social-democratic based Weimar Republic, Brandhuber left politics, and returned to being a parish priest in rural Baden. He died in the small town of Benzingen in 1931. [30]

It was Brandhuber who arranged for Heidegger to receive an annual grant of 100 marks from a local Meßkirch endowment to allow him to go to school in Constance. Heidegger nowhere mentions Brandhuber in his retrospective accounts, but we might surmise that the energetic and educated priest provided the young Heidegger with something more than purely financial or academic assistance: a belief in himself and in his burgeoning talents as a thinker and scholar, and perhaps something more yet: an alternative role model to Heidegger’s father, the simple and unambitious Friedrich. Heidegger would retain and continue to respect the solid values of his father, his quiet steadfastness and focus on the practical world: but the future, his intellectual future, lay, as Heidegger perhaps had come to realise, in a world that was represented by Camillo Brandhuber.

Because there was no Gymnasium in Meßkirch, Heidegger moved in October 1903 to Constance, boarding at the “Erzbischöflichen Studienheim St. Konrad”, known locally as the “Konradihaus”, an institution founded in 1864 by the Archbishop of Freiburg specifically for Catholic students. Between 1901 and 1905, its rector was Father Conrad Gröber (1872–1948), who like Heidegger was a native of Meßkirch. Gröber had studied philosophy and theology in Freiburg, transferring in 1893 to the prestigious Gregoriana College in Rome. He had been ordained a priest in 1897, and completed a doctorate the following year, possibly on the role of the Jesuits in the Baden area, a subject on which he published a book soon afterwards.[31] Gröber seems to have been destined for a noteworthy career: in 1905 he secured the pastorate of Holy Trinity Church in Constance, and in 1922 he assumed the proctorship of the Münster, the former cathedral church in that city, before finally becoming Archbishop of Freiburg in 1932. According to some accounts, Gröber was active in Catholic Resistance circles during the Nazi period.[32]

Gröber made it possible for Heidegger to study in Constance, securing for him a stipend from the archiepiscopal authorities in Freiburg, in whose governance the “Konradihaus” lay. Gröber could well have been an influence on Heidegger’s decision to become a priest (although that decision may have been taken before Heidegger’s period in Constance). Heidegger tells us that his time at the Gymnasium was a “fruitful period of learning, with excellent teachers in Greek, Latin and German”.[33] It was also while he was in Constance that Heidegger discovered a love of literature, with one particular author making a lasting impression: Adalbert Stifter, whose collection of stories, Coloured Stones (1853), provided for Heidegger an insight into the wonder and mystery of nature that he had first experienced as a boy in Meßkirch. Later in his life, Heidegger would return to these stories, seeing in them a celebration of those “powers and laws” that point to a higher realm, “which is entirely invisible, and yet is an all-determining presence to which man, in the depths of his being, must conform if he wishes to dwell on this earth”.[34]

In Heidegger’s final year in Constance, Gröber, recognising the intellectual talents of the seventeen-year-old Heidegger, gave him a copy of Franz Brentano’s On the Manifold Meaning of Being according to Aristotle (1862), a book that was “the rod and staff of my first ungainly attempts to penetrate the mysteries of philosophy”.[35] Brentano’s book raised a compelling question, “a question that stirred but dimly, hesitantly and helplessly in my mind – the problem of the singleness of the multiplicity in Being – which remained throughout many vicissitudes, labyrinthine wanderings and perplexities the enduring inspiration for my treatise Being and Time that appeared two decades later”.[36]

At the age of seventeen, in October 1906, Heidegger moved to the Berthold Gymnasium in Freiburg, boarding at the seminary of “St Georg”. The move made him eligible for a scholarship known as the “Eliner” stipend (after its initial benefactor, the sixteenth-century cleric, Father Christoph Eliner), which was an annual grant of 400 marks that was available only to students intending to study theology at Freiburg University. Looking back from 1915, Heidegger described the broad curriculum that he enjoyed at the Gymnasium:


When in my fourth form the teaching of maths developed from being a mere solving of tasks into a genuine theoretical enquiry, my general liking for the discipline changed to a real interest in its subject matter, an interest which also extended to physics. In addition, I found the classes in religion stimulating, because they now offered me the opportunity for extended reading in the tenets of biological development.  In my upper sixth form, it was, above all, the classes on Plato given by the now deceased professor at the gymnasium, [Friedrich] Widder, which led me into and made me more aware, albeit without any theoretical rigour, of philosophical issues.[37]


Heidegger’s studies included mathematics, history and religion. Religion (taught by Father Leonhard Schanzenbach) was necessarily the central focus of his study because it was intended to form the basis of his future career as a priest. The course followed the guidelines laid down in the manual written by Father Theodor Dreher, then a canon at the cathedral in Freiburg: in the first year, it consisted of Catholic Apologetics (the explanation and defence of the teachings of the Church), in his second, Catholic doctrine of Faith and Church History, and in the final year Catholic Moral Doctrine. [38] Among Heidegger’s teachers were Friedrich Widder, who taught German and the history teacher, Wilhelm Martens; both were committed humanists and the exponents of liberal ideas. It is perhaps important to note, in the context of Heidegger’s later development, that both were also Protestants.[39] Looking back on these days, in a letter to his fiancée, Elfride Petri, Heidegger (the “little brooder”), described his school days thus:


The little brooder had to study and was allowed to go to the Gymnasium near Lake Constance. In the fifth form, when he brought home nothing less than a “Schiller” [the complete works of that author] as a first prize, he was even mentioned in the local newspaper and from then on, as people still say today, he was never seen in the holidays without a book. And he delved and he sought and became quieter and quieter, and already he had a vague ideal of the scholar in his mind, although his pious, simple mother was hoping for a priest. It was a struggle for him to win the right to live purely on knowledge, to make his mother believe that a philosopher too can achieve great things for men and their eternal happiness. How often did she ask her son: “what is philosophy, do tell me?”, but he couldn’t give her an answer.[40]


Perhaps as decisive for Heidegger’s later development was his eclectic reading beyond his academic courses, which included not only German literature but also philosophy, works such as “the second expanded edition of Nietzsche’s Will to Power, translations of Kierkegaard and Dostoyevsky, the works of Hegel and Schelling, Rilke’s poems, the poetry of Trakl, and Dilthey’s Complete Works”.[41] Heidegger had, in fact, become an autodidact. In reading these works, which met his intellectual needs rather than merely those of the curriculum, Heidegger acquired an independence of spirit and a steadfastness of vision that would sustain him in his lifelong education.

Heidegger graduated from the Berthold Gymnasium in July 1909 and on the thirteenth of that month the chairperson of the examination committee, a certain Dr Weber, awarded him a school leaving certificate with the overall grade of “First Class”.[42] Heidegger’s highest marks were in Religion, German, History and Gymnastics. One of his teachers, Father Schanzenbach, provided the following final report card:


Martin Heidegger, born in Meßkirch on 26 September ’89, as the son of the sexton there, entered the “Obersekunda” in this city [Freiburg] from the Gymnasium and seminary in Constance, because his receipt of an Eliner grant required that he change institutions.

His natural talent as well as his diligence and moral comportment are good. His character already has a certain maturity, and even in his studies he was independent, in fact, at times, pursuing German literature – in which he is very well read – a bit too much, to the detriment of other disciplines.

Definite in his choice of a theological vocation and inclined to life in a religious order, he will probably apply for acceptance into the Society of Jesus.[43]


On 30 September, at the age of twenty, Heidegger (possibly under the guidance of Conrad Gröber) entered the Jesuit Order, the “Novitiate of the Society of Jesus” in Tisis bei Feldkirch, in the region of Vorarlberg in Austria. He stayed barely two weeks, leaving on the thirteenth of the same month, ostensibly on medical grounds, adjudged as having a weak heart (although Heidegger was a keen skier and remained a fit and energetic person through his entire life).[44] An alternative explanation may be that the Jesuits had been banned in Germany, and consequently Heidegger would have been committing himself to a life beyond the borders of Germany, unable to teach in his home country. After leaving Feldkirch in October, Heidegger enrolled at the University of Freiburg to study Catholic Theology, becoming a boarder at the Collegium Borromaeum, the seminary of the Archdiocese in Freiburg, still apparently intent on the priesthood.[45] The Eliner stipend had been granted on the condition that Heidegger study theology and, in fulfilment of this condition, he enrolled in his first semester in a number of courses in Catholic philosophy, including “An Introduction to the Sacred Scriptures of the Old Testament” (offered by a Reverend Gottfried Hoberg), “A General History of the Church” (Reverend Georg Pfeilschrifter) and “Theory of Religion” (Reverend Heinrich Straubinger). Such courses may have satisfied the conditions of the Eliner stipend, but they did little to satisfy Heidegger’s growing need for intellectual stimulation.  In a curriculum vitae that he wrote in 1915, he explained his predicament:


After completing my schooling at the Gymnasium, I enrolled in the University of Freiburg in Breisgau in the winter semester of 1909, and I remained there without interruption until 1913. At first I studied theology. The lecture courses on philosophy that were prescribed at the time did not really satisfy me, so I began studying scholastic text books on my own. They provided me with a certain formal logical schooling, but as regards philosophy they did not give me what I was looking for and had already found in the areas of Apologetics through the works of Herman Schell.

Besides the Small Summa of Thomas Aquinas and the individual works of Bonaventura, it was the Logical Investigations of Edmund Husserl [published in two volumes in 1900 and 1901] that were decisive for my intellectual development.[46]


Although Husserl would indeed provide the way forward for Heidegger, initially he was able to make little headway with the Logical Investigations. He remained, nevertheless, “held in awe” by a work that, as he later confessed, he did not really understand:


I expected to find in Husserl’s Logical Investigations a further development of the questions that had had been raised in Brentano’s dissertation [On the Manifold Meaning of Being according to Aristotle, 1862]. But my attempts to come to terms with it were in vain because, as I only later realised, I had not been pursuing them in the right direction.  Nevertheless, I was so taken with Husserl’s work that in the following years I continued to read the book without really understanding what drew me to it.[47]


Heidegger read Husserl critically, and found that the philosopher had raised in his work as many problems as he had solved, and yet these were problems that would soon prove an impetus for Heidegger’s own work:


What then is the phenomenological description of acts of consciousness? What is unique about phenomenology if it is neither logic nor psychology? Is a completely new discipline emerging here, and indeed one that has its own value and authority? [48]


Through all of this reading, Heidegger had remained a devout Catholic, as is clear from the first prose piece that he penned beyond his academic work: the fictional vignette “Reflections on All Soul’s Day” (“Allerseelenstimmungen”), published in November 1909 in the Heuberger Volksblatt, a conservative Catholic journal based in Meßkirch). The text depicts the inner turmoils of a young man (a victim of modern thought), who flees into a church attempting to still the confusions of his mind. A Requiem Mass is being performed, and Heidegger contrasts the certainty and spiritual depth reflected in its words and music with the lack of surety that plagues the young man.[49] The Mass is invoked as a synecdoche of the Scriptures and of faith which, the text makes clear, alone has the power to redeem this tortured soul (who is addressed throughout the story as an anonymous ‘du’, ‘you’) from the intellectual travails of modernity. His face pale with anxiety, he can only listen in despair and confusion, knowing that he has sinned (an amorous encounter is indicated), but unable to expiate that sin. He is trapped within a personality that is enslaved to the craven idols of an undisciplined mind and body. The vignette concludes with the words from the “Dies irae” section of the Mass, “Huis ergo parce Deus” (“Therefore, Oh God, spare him”). The music, triumphantly confirming the faith that has inspired it, reaches a climax, and the non-believer, seeking redemption, now too wishes to belong. The final words of the Mass come “gently and imploring like the pleas of a child. The sublimity of the Revelation. ‘Mercy’, whispers the pale lips of the youth. It brings him to his knees … All Souls’ Day … in the dying month of the year”.[50]

Heidegger himself had found a model for such spiritual surety in the seventeenth-century Augustan monk, Abraham a Santa Clara. On 15 August 1910, he attended the unveiling of a monument to Santa Clara in his birthplace Kreenheinstetten (a village between Meßkirch and Beuron) and had written a short piece describing the events for the Catholic journal, the Allgemeine Rundschau, the same month. Heidegger may well have identified with Santa Clara on account of their shared modest background, which did not, however, prevent Santa Clara from becoming a noted pulpit speaker and doctor of theology. In his homily, Heidegger praises the inexhaustible spirit of the monk, who possessed an “indefatigable, weather-beaten energy, forever pulsating driving force”. “This truly apostolic pulpit orator was forever seeking to promote the health of the people in body and soul. That was reason for his fearless condemnation of all over-valued earthly conceptions of life”.[51]

In October, Heidegger began his second year at Freiburg, enrolling in “The Exegesis of the Holy Gospel According to John” (offered by Professor Simon Weber), “A General History of the Church: Part III: Age of the Enlightenment” (Professor Georg Pfeilschrifter) and “Introduction to Catholic Dogmatics: Doctrine of God” (taught by Carl Braig, Professor for philosophical-theological disciplines in Theology). Braig was not only an enthusiastic teacher but also a prolific theoretician. His On Being: An Outline of Ontology (1896) ranks along with Brentano’s study of Aristotelian ontology as the work that most influenced Heidegger’s philosophical development. What Heidegger found in Braig‘s book was not only a disquistion on ontology but also an avenue into some of the great texts of the classical philosphers (whom Braig quoted extensively in their original language). Heidegger had encountered the book well before undertaking his university studies:


In my last year at the Gymnasium, I came across the book of Carl Braig, then Professor of Dogmatics at Freiburg University, On Being: An Outline of Ontology. It had been published in 1896, at the time when the author had been an associate professor of philosophy in the Freiburg theology department. At the end of the larger sections of the work, there were always extensive passages from Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and Suarez, where the etymology of the words for basic ontological concepts was given. [52]


It was, however, not ontology that initially attracted Heidegger to Braig but his linking of theology to philosophy. In 1907, the Holy Office had published its decree “Lamentabili”, which was followed with the papal encyclical “Pascendi”. Both documents railed against all forms of Modernism, theological, philosophical and artistic.[53] In writings such as “The Freedom of philosophical Research in its Analytical and Christian Mode” (his inaugural professorial speech given in 1894), and in his book, Modernism and the Freedom of Science (1911), Braig aligns himself with this decree, arguing that religious thought can only successfully resist the encroachments of relativism and “subjectivism” (by which he meant the recourse to psychological explanations of the mind and purely individualistic notions of truth), by adopting the absolute verities of philosophical thinking, most notably those that manifest themselves in logic. As he made clear in the essay, “What the educated person should know about Modernism” (1908), theology can only assure itself a firm philosophical legitimacy by following the methodology of “mathematical truth, the strictest form of eternal truth”. Only by doing so can the individual find a way out of the turmoil of modernity.[54]

Braig’s efforts to underpin Catholic philosophy through a promotion of the purity of logic could not, however, prevent Heidegger from moving further away from any wish to study theology. In February 1911, in the final days of the first semester, Heidegger abruptly abandoned his studies in Freiburg and returned to Meßkirch. The diagnosis made by Dr Heinrich Gassert, the doctor in residence at the Collegium Borromaeum, was that that Heidegger was experiencing a recurrence of an illness that had compelled him to make an early departure from his Jesuit College eighteen months earlier, and that he was “exhausted” and “over-worked”.[55] That Heidegger may have been studying too hard is entirely possible: not only was he following a course in Catholic theology, he was also doing a great deal of independent reading in philosophy, notably in Logic and in the Classic Greek philosophers. But those who knew Heidegger well, such as his closest friend, Ernst Laslowski, could see that the crisis was as much psychological as physical. Laslowski was a history student in the Department of Theology, where he had met Heidegger during one of the classes given by the Professor of History (Catholic Chair), Heinrich Finke. Heidegger and Laslowski soon became friends, and a lengthy period of correspondence ensued. On 17 March, Laslowski wrote to Heidegger wishing his friend a speedy recovery. He makes no mention of Heidegger’s specific complaint, but the fact that he calls it a “Leiden” (“suffering”) indicates that the perspicacious Laslowski realises that what is afflicting Heidegger reflects a deeper turmoil.[56] Heidegger, too, in his writing of this period gives us similar signs. In April, he published the poem “Gethsemane Hours” in the Catholic journal Allgemeine Rundschau. The poem indicates that Heidegger was going through a crisis at this time:

Gethsemane hours of my life:

in dim light

of doubting despair

you have often seen me.


Crying I called out: never in vain.

My young being

was weary of lamentation

trusted only in the “mercy” of the angel.[57]


In The New Testament, Christ comes down to Gethsemane following his teaching in the temple. Here, in an olive garden, on the eve of his betrayal and crucifixion, he prays for guidance.[58] In the accounts of the Gospels, Christ is described as ‘troubled and deeply distressed’ (Mark 14: 33). Even after the appearance of the angel, his agony continues, his sweat falling ‘like beads of blood’ to the ground (Luke 22:44). In the poem, Heidegger’s persona, too, has reached a nadir in his religious faith, which seems to be hovering near extinction (“doubting despair“), and it is noticeable that when spiritual relief comes in the grace dispensed by the angel, it is placed in inverted commas. The tone of the poem is infused with a melancholy bathos: redemption and the security of religious faith are things that have been hoped for rather than achieved.[59]

The fact was that the teachings of the Church had become incompatible with Heidegger’s intellectual development, which was taking him increasingly away from theology and towards philosophy. Writing later in Mindfulness (Besinnung, 1939), he looked back on the trauma that he had experienced at this time:


And who would not want to recognise that a confrontation with Christianity reticently accompanied my entire path hitherto – a confrontation that was not and is not a “problem” that one  “takes up” to address but a preservation of, and at the same time a painful separation from one’s ownmost provenance: the parental home, homeland and youth. Only someone who has been deeply rooted in a real, living Catholic environment will be able to appreciate something of the crisis that impacted like a subterranean tremor upon my earlier path of philosophical enquiry.[60]


Heidegger’s decision to abandon theology in favour of philosophy has been described as “an anxiety-ridden turn in his intellectual outlook”.[61] But closing the past can mean opening the future, and there is one piece of writing from this period that indicates that Heidegger, at some deeper level of his mind, felt positive about these developments. It is the poem “We shall wait” (“Wir wollen warten”), published in March 1911:


In front of the gate of the garden in spring

we shall wait, listening,

until the skylarks ascend,

until songs and the violins,

the murmuring of the brooks,

the bright silver

bells of the herds

become a universal chorale of joy.


We should not read too much into what is, in all other respects, simply a conventional poem about the joys of nature. And yet the imagery of the poem possesses, within the context of its writing, an important symbolical import. The very fact that this was one of the few poems written by the young Heidegger that does not contain religious sentiment is in itself significant (indeed, the concluding reference to a “universal chorale” is of a distinctly humanist hue). Written in one extended sentence, with little punctuation, “We shall wait” is infused by a tone of exultation and energy: the skylarks ascend, the brooks murmur and songs and violins are poised to play (although the time is not yet right for their music, as Heidegger emphasises not once but twice with his temporal adverb “until”). They belong to the future, but Heidegger is confident that this future exists as he stands before the gate (the gate that led in to the “Feldweg” perhaps) “listening” to what is before him. The tone of the poem combines patience and expectancy, and vividly imparts a feeling for the urgency of life, for the “living spirit”.

On 20 April, Laslowski wrote again, offering Heidegger advice on what he termed his friend’s “situation”, which he viewed as “serious but not hopeless”. The normal somewhat otherworldly Laslowski, student of medieval history and a fervent Catholic, the future author of Contributions to the History of the Indulgences in the Late Middle Ages (1929), shows himself on this occasion to be a supreme pragmatist, advising his friend on how best to retain his intellectual integrity without sacrificing his study of theology. In Laslowski’s opinion, a move into the area of Apologetic Theology would offer the greatest scope, and he cites the example of Hermann Schnell (1850–1906) as an obvious role model.  Schnell had been ordained as a priest in 1873 before becoming Professor for Apologetics and Christian Archeology at the University of Wurzburg in 1888. In his writings, most notably in the three volumes of his Catholic Dogmatism (published between 1889 and 1893), Schell had sought to defend the integrity of Catholic doctrine by establishing its logical and historical veracity. Schnell had successfully combined a career that included teaching philosophy within the rubric of a Catholic framework, and this was precisely the path that Laslowski hoped Heidegger would take.

What Laslowski did not realise was that Heidegger had not only given up theology; he was also on the point of abandoning his Catholic faith. It was not until later that year, perhaps after seeing how his friend’s academic interests were developing in Freiburg, that Laslowski came to terms with the fact that a fundamental and irrevocable change had taken place in Heidegger. In a letter of 2 December, he finally asked the critical question: “have you so quickly given up your vocation of priest because your purely scholarly work as a philosopher is more appealing than work as a pastor?” We do not have Heidegger’s reply, but Laslowski would have known by then that his question needed no answer.

In October, Heidegger returned from Meßkirch to Freiburg and enrolled in courses in mathematics and the natural sciences, moving at the same time out of the seminary into private lodgings at No. 1 Hohenzollernstrasse in a north-west precinct of the city. He took Professor Ludwig Gattermann’s “Analytic Geometry of Space”, “Exercises in Analytical geometry” (Professor Lothar Heffter) and “Experimental Physics” (Professor Alfred Loewy). Heidegger’s attendance in these courses was gestural rather than substantive; he would have little use for analytical geometry in his later work. The only course that seems to have engaged his intellectual interests was “Dogmatic Theology”, taught by Carl Braig, with whom Heidegger established a personal rapport. As he later recounts:


After four semesters, I gave up the study of theology and devoted myself entirely to philosophy. I attended but one theological lecture after 1911, the one given on Dogmatism by Carl Braig. I was motivated by my interest in speculative theology, and, above all, by the impressive manner of thinking that this particular professor brought to bear in all of his lectures. Through him, I learnt for the first time, on the few walks that I was permitted to accompany him on, how important in the field of speculative Theology Schelling and Hegel were, in contrast to the pedagogic system of the scholastics. It was then that the tension between ontology and speculative theology in the structure of metaphysics first came into the ambit of my philosophical quest. [62]


In that first semester, Heidegger also attended Ludwig Gattermann’s five-hour lecture course on “Logic and Epistemology”, and the seminars on Spinoza given by Professor Arthur Schneider (the Professor of Catholic Philosophy, who would later become the Heidegger’s PhD supervisor). But it was the courses that he enrolled for in the second semester that would prove decisive for Heidegger’s career in philosophy: Heinrich Rickert’s “Introduction to Epistemology” and his “Epistemological Exercises in Theory of Judgement”. It was Rickert who was to provide Heidegger with the passage out of theology and into philosophy, and Heidegger later penned a testimony to his influence:


I enrolled in the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics for the winter semester 1911–1912. My philosophical interests were not diminished by the study of mathematics. On the contrary, since I was no longer required to attend the prescribed lecture courses on philosophy [those with a focus on Catholic theology], I was able to range more widely in my choice of philosophy lectures, and in particular I was able to attend the lectures given by Professor Rickert. In my new faculty I learned, above all, to recognise philosophical problems as problems, and I gained an insight into the nature of logic, the philosophical area that still [in 1915] continues to interest me the most. At the same time I acquired a proper understanding of modern philosophy since Kant, which I found had been covered only very sketchily in scholastic literature. My basic philosophical convictions remained those of Aristotelian-scholasticism. In time, I came to see that the ideas contained in the latter must permit of – and indeed demanded from me – a much more intensive process of interpretation and application. In my dissertation on “The Theory of Propositions in Psychologism”, which addresses a central problem in logic and epistemology with simultaneous reference to modern logic and fundamental Aristotelian-scholastic propositions, I attempted to lay a basis for further study.[63]


Born in Danzig in 1863, Rickert had been educated at the universities of Berlin and Strasbourg, where he had studied philosophy with Wilhelm Windelband, who guided his doctorate, “On the Meaning of Definition” (1888). Rickert had returned to Berlin briefly before going to study at Freiburg in 1889, where he took his “Habilitation” under Professor Alois Riehl on “The Object of Knowledge”. Rickert taught at Freiburg initially as a “Privatdozent” before becoming an associate professor of philosophy in 1894 and then a full professor two years later. Through his The Object of Knowledge (1892) and The Limits of Concept-Formation in Natural Science (1902), Rickert had joined with the Marburg philosophers, Hermann Cohen and Paul Natorp, in becoming one of the leading exponents of Neo-Kantianism in Germany.  The Neo-Kantians argued that the origin of experience lay in universally valid principles, which Rickert as with other Neo-Kantians (although there were divergences between the so-called Freiburg and Marburg schools) found in the transcendental method of Kant, where concept-formation and reflective judgment are produce concepts that cannot and need not be empirically proven, but must be posited a priori world as absolute principles.[64]

We have been told that Rickert “played only a marginal role in the development of Heidegger’s career”.[65] This may be true, but the fact is that Rickert was the most important philosopher in Freiburg, and Heidegger recognised that his support was essential for the development of his career and gradually built up a rapport that would survive their diverging philosophical paths.[66]  Their association, whilst perhaps never personal, nonetheless involved mutual respect and led to an exchange of letters over more a period of more than twenty years (the first, written by Heidegger, dates from December 1912; the last from May, 1933).

Heidegger was, however, soon to stake out his own position within contemporary philosophy. In the autumn of 1911, he sent an essay, “Recent Research in Logic”, to the Catholic journal, Literarische Rundschau, which appeared in March the following year and in which Heidegger attempted to establish “a certain context of connections” within contemporary debates around logic, focusing, in particular, on Edmund Husserl, Emil Lask and Alexius Meinong, who explore “the antagonism in critical idealism between psychological and transcendental method”.[67] Heidegger concludes from his review of their work that “the final goal of knowledge is a complete objective unity of the contents of knowledge”. [68] What is required is “a completely new science”, one founded on mathematical logic, and Heidegger concludes his essay by adumbrating what direction it should take.[69]

By abandoning Catholic theology, Heidegger was no longer eligible for the Elister stipend, and now found himself in financial hardship. This was a cause of concern for Luslowski. On 16 January 1912, the latter wrote saying that “in recent days, I have thought more about you than myself”. He was worried about his friend‘s future, and suggested that Heidegger should consider studying for the “Staatsexamen” (school teaching diploma), because that at least would provide him with a useful qualification and a career if all else should fail. In the meantime, however, he advises him to look into possible grant-giving benefactors:


You must – and don’t take this the wrong way – scout around a bit more [for money]. I mean, there is the Albertus-Magnus-Verein [a charitable organisation for students], and free meals to be found in monasteries and families. There are grants and stipends you can apply for, journals which pay well (and I am not particularly thinking of the prestigious Catholic ones). There is also cheap accomodation provided by the Albertus hostel.


Heidegger, fortunately, did not have to resort to any of these expediences. In April, the university voted him a grant of 400 marks a year from the Grieshaber-Pino stipend, with the first payment made retroactive to 15 February.  The grant lasted for three years, and was renewed annually. In the meantime, Heidegger had continued to publish. In March, he had sent a letter to the editor of the Literarische Rundschau, Josef Sauer, in advance of the second instalment of his essay “Recent Research in Logic”, in which he outlined the broader goals of his enquiry. The letter indicates that Heidegger can see what the problems in contemporary philosophy are, if, as yet, he can provide no solutions:


If the whole undertaking is not to become a sterile exercise in fault-finding, purely a scholastic exposure of contradictions, then the problem of time and space must at least be brought close to a preliminary solution by applying to it the principles of mathematical physics. That task is made the more difficult by the fact that the theory of relativity has thrown everything in physics into a state of flux at present. At the same time, the study of logic has recently sought to merge with the general theory of objects, which in turn serves to simplify the investigation again very considerably. In short, my chosen field of study is itself in such a state of turmoil that it would be premature of me to adopt a firm position.[70]


In the winter semester between November 1912 and March 1913, Heidegger enrolled in “Advanced Algebra” (Professor Heffner), “Theory of Differential Equations” (Loewy), “General History of Philosophy”, and “Exercises in Epistemological Problems” (Schneider). We know little about what Heidegger learnt from these courses. It seems likely that, although he may have been attending them, his real education was taking place elsewhere: in his private reading. Heidegger read not only Kant and Hume but also contemporary publications such as Friedrich Klinke’s Monism and its philosophical Foundations (1911), Richard Avenarius’ The Human Concept of the World (1905), and Oswald Külpe’s Contemporary Philosophy in Germany (1905), all of which Heidegger reviewed in an essay “The Problem of Reality in Modern Philosophy”.[71]

In October 1912, whilst on study leave in Rome, Ernst Laslowski had met Engelbert Krebs (1881–1950), a priest in the archdiocese of Freiburg and a lecturer (“Privatdozent”) in the Faculty of Theology. Krebs was at a crossroads in his career. He had studied in Freiburg and Munich, before going on to do research in Catholic theology at the Papal University Gregoriana in Rome. In 1903, he had received a doctorate in philosophy and, in 1910, a second in theology. In 1911, he achieved his “Habilitation”, which qualified him to teach Catholic Theology. By this date, he had published two books: Meister Dietrich (1906), and The Logos as Saviour in the first Century (1910). In 1911, Krebs, who had been ordained a priest in 1906, was appointed as the temporary replacement of Professor Arthur Schneider to the Chair of Catholic Philosophy at Freiburg.

Krebs was a willing confidant, someone who was prepared to listen to his friends and to offer advice to younger colleagues, whom he approached as equals. Certainly Laslowski found him such, and Heidegger too would come to regard him also in this way. As Laslowski wrote after his first meeting with him, “I have rarely met such a sympathetic, kind man as Dr Krebs. He is truly a very broad minded and intelligent person. But also so modest, convivial, relaxed, with a childlike sense of humour, and brimming over with a plethora of new ideas”. Heidegger would also find him approachable, Laslowski believed. Indeed, after the initial meeting between Krebs and Heidegger in July 1913, there developed a close bond that went beyond the purely collegial. They exchanged ideas and mutual advice on how best to deal with intelletual and strategically important philosophical issues (controversial ones, too, within the context of their mutual allegiance to the Catholic Church). And it was to Krebs that Heidegger later broke the news that he had lost his faith, and wished to leave the Church.

Krebs had, in fact, already encountered Heidegger, on 8 October 1912, during the thirty-second General Assembly of the “Görres-Gesellschaft”, of which he was secretary for the Freiburg regional committee, and of which Heidegger had recently become a member.[72] On that occasion, Heidegger had attended a paper by Krebs and had commented sharply upon it. The comments had made an impression on Krebs:


In October 1912, the young historian Laslowski from Breslau told me about his friend Heidegger, and in July 1913 the latter came to visit me. He has a lively mind, and is reserved but assured in his demeanour. Then suddenly I realised that I had already met him, in October 1912, on the day before I left for Rome, on the 8 October. On that date, I had given a lecture at the annual meeting of the Görres-Gesellschaft on “Knowledge of God and Epistemology”, which had been severely criticised by Prof. Lang from Strasburg University. Heidegger had entered the debate on Lang’s side.[73]


In the meeting in Rome, Laslowski had outlined Heidegger’s plight to Krebs, who had advised that Heidegger should complete a doctoral thesis as quickly as possible, because there was a great deal of staffing mobility in the philosophy faculty at Freiburg and vacancies were sure to come up. Heidegger took Krebs’ advice, and shortly afterwards contacted Professor Josef Geyser, an expert in neo-scholasticism and one of the most progressive voices in Catholic philosophy in Germany. Heidegger was familar with Geyser’s work, having read the latter’s Fundamentals of Logic and Epistemology, during a summer break in 1911.[74] Geyser’s response was disappointing: he was supportive but could recommend only that Heidegger should consider a career in school teaching or become an editor with a publisher of theological works.[75] These were not words that Heidegger wanted to hear, and shortly afterwards he approached Professor Artur Schneider, whose courses he had taken in the winter semester of 1912, with a view to obtaining a doctoral qualification.  His intention was to develop the research he had undertaken for his essay published in the Philosophisches Jahrbuch, “Recent Investigations in Logic”, into a doctoral dissertation.

On 20 January 1913, Laslowski wrote to Heidegger, telling him that he had successfully arranged a grant from a Catholic university fraternity in Breslau on his behalf. He then offered Heidegger the following advice, in sentiments that made it clear that Laslowski, too, had been thinking deeply about the limitations that the Catholic Church was imposing upon the scope of independent thought:


I have recently been having productive conversations with a liberal, well educated protestant theologian. I have only now come to understand that so much depends upon philosophical principles. Catholicism does not fit into modern philosophical thinking at all. This is something that you should talk about in ten years or so – ideally from a pulpit in Berlin: that would be epoch-making (but please put the right interpretation on it!). Do you still wish to publish in the [Catholic] Philosophisches Jahrbuch? I don’t think this is a good idea. Too many people are watching what you are doing. You must be careful not to be allocated to any particular category by the powerful clique [of academics] that surrounds you. In my opinion it would be good if you cloaked yourself for the immediate future with a cloud of mystery and made “people” curious.


Laslowski’s advice combines a hard-headed pragmatism with naive, almost romantic wish-fulfilment. Heidegger was talented and ambitious, but for him to cloak himself in an aura of mystery would simply have been to sideline himself from the important networks in the academic politics at Freiburg, and to alienate colleagues who would eventually exert an influence (for better or worse) upon his career. In the summer semester, Heidegger attended three courses given by the two most influential professors in the philosophy faculty in Freiburg: Heinrich Finke’s “The Age of the Renaissance”, and Ernst Rickert’s “Logic: Foundations of theoretical Philosophy” and his “Philosophy Seminar: Exercises on Metaphysics in the Context of the Work of H. Bergson”. During this period, Heidegger intensified his work on his doctoral dissertation, which now had the working title The Theory of Judgement in Psychologism: A Critical and Positive Contribution to Logic. Finally, by June, he was able to submit it to the Faculty of Philosophy, where it was examined by Professor Schneider, representing the Philosophy Faculty, Professor Finke (History) and Professor Lothar Heffter (Mathematics).[76]

In his dissertation, Heidegger gives a critique of psychologism, analysing its impact upon contemporary philosophy, thus bringing to fruition the seeds of his earlier analysis of the subject in “Problems in Modern Logic”. Heidegger argues in his dissertation against Neo-Kantians such as Rickert and Paul Natorp who claim that the influence of psychologism on contemporary philosophy is negligible, and that its threat to the discipline of logic has been overcome. This is an erroneous position:


For as soon as one ventures however into the particular problems of logic and seeks a clear solution to those problems, it becomes evident how predominant the psychologistic thinking is, and how convoluted and involved the assumptions and procedures are that pure logic must avoid. This certainty in the face of deviations and regressions can only be achieved through a detailed knowledge of the full extent of psychological theories. [77]


Concentrating upon the work of Heinrich Maier, Wilhelm Wundt, Theodor Lipps, Franz Brentano and Anton Marty, Heidegger explores in detail the “antagonism between psychological and transcendental methods within the discipline of Critical Idealism”, focusing most notably on their treatment of Kant.[78] He approaches the problem by constructing a taxonomy of psychologism (and Heidegger’s approach is largely exegetical, until he comes to his final chapter where he offers a critical summary). As he explains:


Wundt concerns himself with the origins [of judgement]; Maier with its constitution out of partial acts; and Lipps with the completion of the process of judgement. Brentano, whose doctrine of judgment is supported with the most systematic interrogation (the classification of psychic phenomena), comes before Lipps because the doctrine of judgment of the latter is one that most approximates the purely logical and thus forms the transition to a delineation of such a [logical] theory. The second chapter of the fifth section [of the dissertation] does not aspire to provide the final word on a solution to these ultimate epistemological issues, which are connected to the judgement problem. This work is and remains a prospectus, a preliminary foothold. [79]


In his preface, Heidegger gives fulsome thanks to the three professors who had supported him: Ernst Rickert, who helped him understand and deal with “problems in modern logic”; Heinrich Finke who “in the most obliging and sympathetic way awakened in the unhistorical mathematician [Heidegger] affection and understanding for history”; and Rudolf Schneider, his supervisor, for his “unflagging solicitation”.[80] It was Schneider who on 10 July submitted to the examiners in the Philosophy Faculty the final report on the dissertation, which was entirely positive:


The entire problematic that the author addresses is a complex one: it is nothing less than a symptomatic issue. It demands an extraordinarily comprehensive knowledge of modern logic, a corresponding perspicacity and, above all, a distinctive maturity in philosophical judgement. These qualities are all possessed by the author, who has impressively demonstrated his capabilities in scientific journals in his pronouncements on logic. Even if I may not be in total agreement with all the points made in the positive section of the work, even here there is much in the way of philosophically interesting and important ways of thought. The work as a whole must be judged as a first-rate achievement.[81]


On 26 July, Heidegger’s dissertation was approved by the Faculty of Philosophy and awarded a summa cum laude. Although academically, Heidegger had taken an important step forward in freeing himself from theology and the Church, financially, he was still dependent on the latter. On 20 August, Heidegger applied to the Freiburg Archdiocesan Chancellery Office for a grant from the von Schaezler endowment, which had been established in 1902 by Constatin von Schaezler to aid Catholic students. Once again, Heidegger was compelled to give the impression that he was still working within the discipline of Catholic theology, writing in his application:


The obedient undersigned makes bold to submit a humble request to the Reverend Cathedral Chapter of Freiburg in Breisgau for the award of a grant from the Schaezler Foundation. The obedient undersigned intends to devote himself to the study of Christian philosophy and to pursue an academic career. Since the applicant lives in much straightened circumstances, he would be deeply obliged to the Reverend Cathedral Chapter if it would please the same to award him a grant from the aforementioned Foundation for the period during which he is preparing his “Habilitation” thesis.[82]


A grant of 1000 Marks was duly awarded, but only on the condition that the candidate “would remain true to the spirit of Thomistic philosophy”. [83] Heidegger was, thus, still obliged to work, if he were to honour his pledge, not only within the confines of Catholic theology but, more specifically, within the framework of the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas.[84] It was to be a temporary but necessary accommodation. The stipend was granted for the academic year 1913–1914, with the option of renewal, and Heidegger successfully retained it until 1916.[85]

On 11 October, Engelbert Krebs was invited temporarily to fill the Chair in Christian philosophy left vacant by the departure of Professor Arthur Schneider, who had gone to Strasburg. On 12 October, Heidegger wrote to Rickert discussing Krebs in positive tones. The letter, which was only the second that he had written to Rickert and the first after the award of his doctorate two months earlier, is an important document, because Heidegger speaks here to Rickert in the tones of a colleague rather than as a student. He talks about the “common ground” between them that exists in spite of obvious differences, and which he will cultivate even if it entails giving up “deeply seated dogmatic conceptions”. Far from being a religious bigot, Heidegger fully identifies himself with modern philosophy, saying he does not see it as a “chain of mistakes”, the result of “Godlessness”. He also discusses his essay on logic published the year before which, he assures Rickert, was not intended to demonstrate that he knows more than his senior colleagues (he means Rickert) in this area: the essay was simply intended to move the debate about logic beyond the “dead point” that it seems to have reached. Heidegger concludes by asserting that with his doctorate he has only really just begun his serious study of philosophy, and he hopes that Rickert will have a place available for him in his courses for the coming semester.[86]

Indeed, in the winter semester between November 1913 and March 1914, Heidegger attended both of Rickert’s lecture courses: “German Philosophy from Kant to Nietzsche (an Historical Introduction to Contemporary Problems in Philosophy)” and the seminar “Exercises on the historical-philosophical Methodologies of the Cultural Sciences”. On 7 November, Krebs, whose academic background lay not in philosophy but in theology and Catholic history, asked Heidegger for his assistance in preparing the philosophy courses he was due to teach. As Krebs wrote in his diary:


For ten days now, I have been entrusted with the professorship of [Christian] philosophy. Under Heidegger’s influence, I have studied chiefly Husserl as well as Heidegger’s own little work [“Recent Research in Logic”], published in the Literarische Rundschau in 1912, and Geyser’s Foundations [of Logic and Knowledge], and I talk with him frequently in the Philosophy Department in order to attain greater clarity on certain problems. I show him the lectures that I intend to give in the course, and I talk their content over with him. He helps me more than perhaps he realises.[87]


Krebs, for his part, had much to offer Heidegger. Two weeks later, on 14 November, Heidegger visited him to discuss his work and his career. Krebs recorded the meeting in his diary:


Heidegger came to visit me this evening between five and six o’clock. He told me how Finke had urged him to do his “Habilatation” on some aspect of the history of philosophy, and that Finke had clearly given him to understand that as long as the chair [of Catholic Philosophy] remained vacant Heidegger should seek to qualify as a lecturer as soon as possible, thereby making himself available as a candidate. So it may be that in my present caretaker role I am simply keeping the chair warm for Heidegger.[88]


Krebs and Heidegger started sharing their reading experiences, in a process of reciprocal learning and instruction, “a giving and a taking”, comparing notes on, for example, The Logic of Philosophy and the Doctrine of Categories, a book by Rickert’s former pupil, Emil Lask.[89] Throughout November, Heidegger, still unsure about which topic to choose for his “Habilatation”, discussed with Krebs various options. His natural inclination was to build upon his earlier doctorate with further work on logic, and in particular on “the logical nature of the number concept”, which would give scope to his studies in mathematics and the natural sciences, although this would have represented a final departure from his theological studies.[90] Krebs’s advice was unambiguous, as is clear from the diary entry for 14 November:


For a number of days, I have been talking with Heidegger, trying to persuade him to choose a philosophical-historical topic for his post-doctoral dissertation. I recommended him editing one of the logical treatises of Meister Eckhart, which I had only briefly considered in my book on Dietrich. His firm reply was that while that topic is certainly of interest he did not think that he would be able to produce anything of value in that field, but was more confident of doing worthwhile work in a mathematical-logical area.[91]


Heinrich Finke gave similar advice. Finke, an expert on papal history and occupant of the Catholic-endowed Chair of History, was “the dominant figure within the Faculty of Philosophy”, and Heidegger attended his “The Causes of the Reformation” in the summer semester of 1911, where he became friends with Laslowski.[92] Finke advised Heidegger to choose a topic in the history of philosophy, but he also suggested that, for the sake of his future financial security, he should consider sitting for the “Staatsexamen” (a teaching diploma), find a post at a secondary school, and only then consider the option of a university career.[93] Heidegger now found himself at a cross roads, both intellectually and professionally. He had been educated a Catholic, and for the early part of his career he had been able to follow a path in theology and Catholic philosophy, and to secure financial support for this direction in his studies. His intellectual development had now entirely problematised this direction, and yet he could not afford to abandon his Catholic past entirely, for he still required its financial assistance. This was a predicament that required a delicate “balancing act – keeping the favour of the Catholic environment without becoming labelled a Catholic philosopher”.[94]

The final months of 1913 were to add one further complication to Heidegger’s life. Earlier that year, Heidegger had become secretly engaged to Marguerite Weininger, a young woman from a Catholic family in Strasbourg (her father was a customs official in the German Imperial Protectorate of Alsace-Lorraine), whom he had met through her brother, a fellow student at Freiburg.  Heidegger’s closest confidant, Laslowski, wrote on 6 December, concerned that his friend had made an over-hasty commitment. Laslowski disapproved of the liaison, possibly on grounds connected to her character (he writes, presumably picking up on Heidegger’s own views, of her “impulsiveness”), or possibly on grounds of health (she had a serious lung complaint). Laslowski also felt that Heidegger would be jeopardising his career, and more than that: his philosophic mission, which could well make him the successor of Nietzsche. For, as Laslowski enthuses (expressing sentiments that the young Heidegger too might have inwardly felt): “why should we not be able produce a philosopher or moralist, who with the same power, the same depth of knowledge and the same compelling inner conviction can hold an enormous auditorium in his sway? Dear Martin, your task and your mission is enormous”.

As 1913 turned into 1924, it was with the demands of the immediate present that Heidegger was preoccupied: aspirations to be the next Nietzsche must be held in check for the moment. As the end of the year approached, Heidegger sent Christmas greetings to his benefactors, formally acknowledging their support throughout the year. On 30 December, he wrote to Sauer, thanking him for his advice (we are not told what it was but it would almost certainly have been similar to that offered by Krebs, that Heidegger should choose an historical theme for his “Habilatation”), and on 31 December to Rickert, complimenting his professor on his stimulating courses. Heidegger was, however, as late as January 1914 (as Krebs tells us in his diary on the second of that month) still unclear “whether he should seek to attain his ‘Habilatation’ with a topic on history or on logic: he is full of enthusiasm for the latter; but he can’t come to grips with the former. He wants nothing to do with it”.[95]

One reason for Heidegger’s hesitation was almost certainly due to the heavy workload that he, once again, had undertaken, and which involved him in reading material that had little to do with either of his prospective dissertation topics. So much is clear from a letter that he wrote to Rickert on 5 February where he apologised for the incomplete nature of his recently submitted class paper. He had simply not had the time to find appropriate references from the work of Dilthey, Simmel and Wundt to provide a thorough demonstration of all of the questions that had arisen in his paper. We do not have Rickert’s response, but he could not have been anything other than impressed by the “failure” of his student. Contact with Rickert intensifies from now on. Indeed, from the summer semester of 1914, Heidegger took only courses offered by Rickert, commencing with “The System of Philosophy” and “Exercises on Epistemology”. We do not know how he integrated these into his post-doctoral work, although such courses would certainly have raised issues relevant to its methodological framework. It was not until April that Heidegger began to work in earnest on his dissertation, after finally deciding on a study of the medieval philosopher, Duns Scotus. He later explained the context of this work:


My reading of Hegel and Fichte, and my close study of Rickert’s “Limits of Conceptualisation in the Natural Sciences” and the investigations of Dilthey and, not least, the lectures and seminars given by Professor Finke, all combined to expunge completely the antipathy for history that my taste for mathematics had previously fostered. I came to realise that philosophy must not allow itself to be merely one-sidedly guided by, on the one hand,  mathematics and the natural sciences, or by history, on the other – although the latter, in the form of the history of ideas, has incomparably more to offer philosophers. The current upsurge in the consideration of history made it easier for me to undertake a more detailed study of medieval philosophy, which is acknowledged as essential for a thorough synthesis of scholasticism. This was for me initially more a matter of establishing historical links between individual thinkers than of using modern philosophical methods to arrive at an interpretative understanding of the theoretical content of their philosophy. This is how I came eventually to write my study, “The Categories and Doctrine of Meaning in Duns Scotus”.[96]


On 24 April, Heidegger wrote to Rickert thanking him for helping to formulate his Scotus thesis: “your invaluable suggestion regarding my Dons Scotus work, that I should attempt to understand and evaluate him from the point of view of modern logic, has given me heart to proceed with my research into an early but worthy philosopher of linguistic philosophy”. Heidegger then outlined the content of his intended dissertation; he has made good progress although he is still unclear about one or two aspects, and seeks Rickert’s advice:


According to him [Scotus], forms of meaning receive their determination from material. For him it is naturally what you call empirical (objective) reality that is the first and final consideration. If, however, he permits from this perspective his forms of meaning (“modi significandi”) to be determined then the question prompts itself whether, through this, we can draw any conclusions regarding the doctrine of forms of a pre-scientific reality. Regarding this last point, I’m not at all clear what you, honourable sir, think about the relationship between these forms and scientific categories. I would be eternally obliged if, on my next visit (perhaps next Wednesday), you might enlighten me on this matter.


We do not know whether this meeting took place; but if it did it is possible that there were issues with Heidegger’s work that were still unresolved, for on 5 July, three months later, Heidegger wrote again to Rickert saying he would like to talk to him about his Scotus dissertation and suggesting (with just a hint of impatience) that he would appreciate a more substantial interest from Rickert in his work.

Krebs was of more immediate and greater value.  On 19 July, Heidegger wrote to him, discussing his work and most notably the difficulties he was having in understanding the final chapters of Husserl’s phenomenology, before moving on to the lectures that Krebs (as the temporary Professor of Catholic Philosophy) had given him to look through. Heidegger was clearly concerned about the effect that Papal policy may have had on the teaching of Krebs’s courses, what he was allowed to discuss and from what angle. Krebs had begun his career as a staunch Ultramontist but he had now come to feel that the oath against Modernism that theologians were compelled to take (after the Papal edict of 1896), and if accepted would impose severe constraints on what he was allowed to teach. Heidegger shared his discomfort, and he asks in his letter (in a half jovial way) for Krebs’s opinion on the matter:


The “Moto proprio” [papal policy] on philosophy has as yet not been handed down. Perhaps, as an academic, you could request a better procedure, one that takes out the brains of people who think that they are entitled to independent thought and replaces them with “Italian salad”. [97]


Important as they were to Krebs and Heidegger, tensions between Papal dogma and the teaching of Catholic philosophy were soon to lose their relevance through an epochal turn in world history. Reacting to a crisis brought about through the assassination of the Austrian Archduke, Franz Ferdinand, by a Serbian separatist on 1 August, Germany joined Austria in declaring war on Serbia and its ally, Russia. On 2 August, German armies invaded Luxembourg, and on 4 August Belgium. The First World War had begun. On 2 August, Heidegger volunteered and was posted to the Infantry Reserve Battalion 113 in Müllheim (Baden), forty kilometres south-east of Freiburg, to undergo training as a rifleman. Within a week, he was experiencing medical problems and was discharged.[98] On 3 November, he wrote to Rickert explaining that he had been forced to leave the army because of the recurrence of an earlier heart complaint, which had made him unfit for marching, but saying that he had, in spite of all of this, completed three chapters of his Scotus dissertation. Heidegger now believed more than ever that philosophy would have a major role in establishing a new “system of values” once the war had ended.

Heidegger’s military service allowed him to obtain a broader perspective on the significance of the war. On 13 January 1915, back for the Christmas break in his home town, he was invited, as a young Catholic philosopher, to give a talk at a seminar, “The War-Triduum in Meßkirch”, a “Triduum” being a period of three days of prayer and contemplation on the war. Heidegger took as his subject “Reflection” (“Besinnung”), and the message of his short talk was that although the war, in its “unsurpassable mayhem, uncertainty and apparent purposelessness”, had brought misery to many, it had also provided an important opportunity to think deeply about who Germans were, as a people and as individuals.[99] For Heidegger, this was the deeper meaning of the war, and he concluded his talk with a call to his listeners to move forward out of the vacuum of values that had blighted pre-war Germany and rise up into a new realm where “the most fundamental questions of life” might be confronted. [100]

Because Heidegger was no longer in military service, he was able to give greater consideration to his academic career. At the moment, he could only look on as others were able to make advances in theirs. Krebs was one of them.  On 12 March, Krebs wrote to the Education Ministry in Karlsruhe, notifying them that he was no longer prepared to occupy the vacant chair of Christian Philosophy in Freiburg on a temporary basis, and encouraging them to seek a permanent appointment to this position. Krebs mentions no names, but he does point out that the possible contenders for the vacancy (Geyser, Ettlinger and Dyroff) had all gone to posts elsewhere, and Krebs suggests that he alone has the support of the Philosophy Faculty for the position. There is no mention of Martin Heidegger. Krebs’ ambitions were, however, thwarted by a negative report from Finke, who was not prepared to see the chair filled by a candidate whose background lay purely in Church history.[101]

Personnel matters at Freiburg University were now becoming complicated and difficult to predict. Laslowski, a keen student of the scene, was aware of these complications. On 13 March, he wrote another letter to Heidegger, the longest that he had ever sent, and he broached many subjects. He mentions the difficulties he is having in his own career: he is a Catholic from a humble background, while all the noted historians of the past have come from a certain “milieu” (from a superior social class). Laslowski realises that he does not come from such a class, and nor (as he helpfully points out) does Heidegger. But such obstacles can be overcome, and he cites the case of their mutual benefactor, Heinrich Finke, who had also experienced difficulties when, at the same age, he had sought professional advancement. Laslowski makes a shrew observation regarding the best way forward for Heidegger: “perhaps he will have to dissimulate [“posieren”] a little to cover up his lack in certain areas”. The implication is that Heidegger will need to improve his social skills and project a more polished image of himself if he is to succeed. But he must be careful how he does this: he should not trust anyone; it is impossible to tell a friend from an enemy.

Laslowski was thinking of one person in particular. On 15 May, he wrote again to Heidegger, warning him about Krebs and telling him to be suspicious of the motives of the latter. Krebs is, he believes, an out-and-out careerist and cannot be trusted:


I am starting to think that Krebs is up to something. For the letter that I wrote to him four weeks ago, congratulating him on his nomination [to the temporary chair of Christian Philosophy], has still not been answered. It is all a little suspicious. I can certainly understand that he would like to be a professor, of anything: even it were a professorship of Oriental Church History, of which he knows nothing, he would grab it.

I have to say, things are not at all straightforward here [in Freiburg]. Rickert’s crafty tactics you have seen for yourself. You can’t expect much from him. Finke is in a tight spot. And Krebs will have done his homework well.


Laslowski then offers tactical advice to Heidegger:


The best way to deal with Finke and Rickert is just to stay cool, calm and collected. Even if they do appoint Krebs [to the vacant Chair of Christian Philosophy], there will still be a place here for you as a lecturer and, if not here, then somewhere else. Of course, Freiburg would be best, because that is where your prospects [of a full professorship] are most favourable. [102]


Krebs was, however, continuing to act in a supportive way towards Heidegger. Throughout June, the two men met on a daily basis to look at possible problems in Heidegger’s dissertation prior to its submission. As Krebs noted in his diary on 7 June:


When he [Heidegger] submitted it [the dissertation], I read it through for Rickert at the latter’s request and wrote a report, on the basis of which it was accepted. As I read it, however, I had Heidegger sitting right there beside me, and we discussed all the difficult or problematic passages as we went along.[103]


Heidegger submitted his dissertation on 2 July. Titled The Theory of Categories and Meaning in Duns Scotus (Die Kategorien- und Bedeutungslehre des Duns Scotus), it focused on one of the major works of medieval scholasticism: Scotus’ On the Modes of Signification of Speculative Grammar (Tractatus de modis significandi seu Grammatica speculativa).[104] Scotus belonged to the school of speculative grammarians called the “Modists”. As one commentator has noted, the Modists “represented the synthesis […] of the two lines of grammatical thought which had dominated antiquity – the logical-philosophical grammar of Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics, and the literary grammar of the Alexandrians, Donatus and Priscian – but with this difference, that they restated the categories and forms of grammar in terms of the current metaphysical theories of reality”.[105] The Modists were so named because they believed that meaning in language consisted of three separate but mutually interdependent modes: modes of signifying (modus significandi), modes of understanding (modus intelligendi), and modes of being (modus essendi). The principles of grammar (modus significandi) were derived from mental acts of signifying (modi intelligendi), which reflect the way things really are (modi essendi).  It was a model intended to explicate the relationship between word, concept and thing.[106]

Just before the submission of Heidegger’s dissertation, on 18 June, Krebs had sent Rickert a positive assessment of it, which Rickert used as the basis of his own report.[107] Heidegger had, in the end, succeeded in combining the two disciplinary methodologies that were open to him at the beginning of his work: the historical and the philosophical. Krebs wrote:


From the analytical perspective of modern logic, the dissertation seeks to depict in a systematic way the achievements of Duns Scotus in the area of category and meaning, and make them theoretically valuable for the study of logic. The dissertation fulfils this task completely. It does not attempt to place the achievements of Scotus within any historical perspective or within the solutions of Scotus’ contemporaries in the Middle Ages. The dissertation is not, therefore, a contribution to the historical development of philosophy in the Middle Ages. It does, however, enrich our historical knowledge of what was actually achieved in medieval logic, and offers through its ongoing references to contemporary theories an advancement of our theoretical thinking about logic, in general.


On 19 July, Rickert submitted his report. He outlined the nature and extent of Heidegger’s research, noting previous work in this area, and observed that Heidegger had, in a highly original way, effectively worked across the two disciplines of intellectual history and philosophy. Rickert also noted that in his speculations on the relationship between logic and language Heidegger had made contact with the “meta-grammatical subject-predicate theory of Emil Lask”. Rickert confided that his own knowledge of medieval thought was slight, and that he had drawn on the advice of his colleague, Krebs. He concluded by speculating on the future development of Heidegger:


All in all, while the dissertation is not a study of the history of medieval logic, it is a valuable preliminary study for one. And it will require many such preliminary studies before we will have an historical account that will really penetrate the “spirit” of medieval logic. We possess too few of these, and the author has done us a great service in this field. He is still at the beginning of his academic development, but he nevertheless has shown himself capable of absorbing the difficult trains of thought of previous centuries, and he possesses sufficient extensive training in modern philosophy to grasp the connections between the past and the present. Since he also possesses a background in mathematics and an extraordinary capacity for abstract thinking, one can, with the industry and thoroughness that he conducts research, confidently hope for good things from subsequent academic work. I can therefore only recommend the award of his Habilitation.[108]


Heidegger had included with his dissertation a letter, in which he applied for permission to teach at university level (the “venia legendi”). This was normally only granted after the candidate had given an inaugural lecture on a mutually agreed topic. Heidegger wrote:


To the Esteemed Philosophy Department of the University of Freiburg.


Concerning the application of Dr. Phil. Martin Heidegger of Meßkirch (Baden) for the license to teach:

If this treatise should be found academically (“wissenschaftlich”) adequate, the undersigned then respectfully requests the esteemed Philosophy Department to grant him the venia legendi in philosophy.

If he should be admitted to the examination, the undersigned wishes to submit to the esteemed Philosophy Department the following three [topics] as [possible] themes of the requisite trial lecture:

First, “The Concept of Time in History”.

Second, “The logical Problems of the Question”.

Third, “The Concept of Number”.[109]


On 27 July, in support of his “venia legendi”, Heidegger gave his trial lecture, “The Concept of Time in Historical Studies”, one of the three potential themes he had offered to the faculty when he submitted his dissertation. Heidegger’s lecture was a success, and on the same day he was granted his licence to teach.  Ten days later, on 5 August, the decision of the faculty was confirmed by the university, which officially conferred on him the rank of lecturer (‘Privatdozent’), granting Heidegger permission to begin teaching in the winter semester 1915–1916.

In the meantime, the First World War was dragging grimly on, and far from bringing the much expected brief and decisive victory that many had expected (a victory for the German army by Christmas), it had developed into a protracted and bloody stalemate, particularly on the Western Front. Further reserves were needed. Consequently, on 16 August, Heidegger was called up again and assigned to the reserve rifle battalion 142 of the Second Infantry Regiment in Müllheim (Baden).[110] Heidegger, however, was still suffering from his earlier medical condition and, after less than four weeks of training, he was diagnosed with neurasthenia and heart palpitations and was transferred to a military hospital, where he remained until 16 October.

Taking advantage of the fact that Heidegger was now in an entirely foreign environment, away from problems relating to grants and the influence of the University and Church, Laslowski wrote to him on 8 October, encouraging his friend to take stock of the direction that his life and career were taking. He warns him against being over influenced by what he terms “circumstances”, the impingements of family, personal influences and milieu, for these can destroy one’s mental stability. Heidegger was, however, fully aware of the complexity of his situation, and knew what he had to do. He had already thought through Laslowski’s generalities; the pressing matter was to deal with the immediate circumstances that he found himself in, particularly his wish to return to Freiburg and take up his teaching duties,  and for this he needed not inspiring words but quite specific practical support from the senior figures there, most notably from Krebs who, in the  absence of Rickert (who is on the point of leaving for the Chair of Philosophy in Heidelberg), had become an influential person in the faculty. Heidegger now sent off a number of letters to Krebs in quick succession. On 14 October, he wrote, giving him details of his immediate situation:


The doctor was of the opinion that I should try to avoid being transferred to an orderly room, but should see whether I might be requisitioned by the University. With those who have been classified as unfit for work that is possible, and it is even regarded as desirable by the authorities, because they have little use for people of our type.

In every office, there are three people working where one would do, and who have absolutely nothing wrong with them, but at the outbreak of war were clever enough to “volunteer” for such postings.

It’s really a matter of whether it is possible for a junior lecturer to be requisitioned. That would only be possible if it could be arranged for me to take over your two-hour per week lecture course. Please write back and let me know what your opinion is on this matter.


Two days later, Heidegger wrote again to Krebs, not once but twice. In the first letter, he asks him to use his personal influence with Professor Alfred Korte, a classical philologist at the University, who was in charge of the postal depot for reservists in Freiburg:


I have just spoken to my captain. In the last few weeks, he has been behind the Front with Professor Korte, who is also in charge of a depot in Freiburg. The conversation came round to me. Korte was very impressed by my qualifying lecture [“The Concept of Time in Historical Studies”].

As far as I can remember, I think you know him quite well. Would it not be possible for him to put in a word for me at Regional Headquarters?



The letter seems to have crossed in the post with one from Krebs, who was able to confirm that Heidegger had been allocated a lecture course in the coming winter semester. He still, however, had to secure a position at the depot in Freiburg. He certainly has the requisite skills, as he immodestly points out to him in a second letter of the same day: “I can speak French, English and Italian. It is true that I can “read” better than I can speak these languages. Actual conversation would be impossible”. Within a few days, Heidegger was transferred to Freiburg (only to be briefly recalled to Müllheim later) but, as he explained to Rickert in a letter of 31 October, the move was non-reversible, and he could now turn his full attention once again to philosophy. On 1 November, Heidegger finally took up his position in Freiburg in the Postal Censor Office with the title “Landsturmmann” (member of the Home guard). He would now need to combine his teaching with his military duties and, as he explained to Rickert on 4 November, this would be a logistically complex matter:


Since I must combine [my teaching] with a week of morning and then a week of afternoon postal duty, and in the afternoons between 3 and 4 give my two-hour lectures (“The Basic Outlines of Antique and Medieval Philosophy”), that will only work if I am able every two weeks to give four hours of lectures in one block.

I think that will work, given the few students [because of the war] we have.


Heidegger had resolved a dilemma in his career; he must now do the same in his private life, and bring to an end his premature engagement with Marguerite Weininger. This would clearly be a painful matter, as Laslowski fully understood, writing in a letter of 21 November:


My dear Martin, I fully appreciate the inhuman weight of the sacrifice you are making, for perhaps I too stand before such a sacrifice. But I have long since suspected that you would have to make it. I watched you growing day by day, until you had far outgrown the sphere in which “love” and “happiness” are able to flourish. I recognised long ago that you will have to – have to – tread paths where “love” must freeze to death, if you ever want to achieve your goals.


And Laslowski, “probably”, as one commentator notes “a little in love with Heidegger”, [111] offers his friendship as a substitute for Heidegger’s loss of Gretel:


As far as I am able to, I will try to replace what you, in order to reach the final goal, have with a bleeding heart willingly sacrificed. I understand your actions entirely, for I saw them in advance.


It was a kind offer, but what Laslowski did not realise was that Heidegger was about to replace Gretel with another love, the twenty-two-year-old student Elfride Petri, in a marriage that would last his lifetime, and would require no loss of career or philosophical ambition.

On 6 December, Laslowski wrote again on the subject of Heidegger’s career. The intrigues regarding the still unfilled chair of Christian Philosophy had intensified, and Laslowski warns Heidegger to be careful about commenting upon scholastic matters to his Freiburg colleagues:


Please be careful, especially now, about what you say regarding scholasticism. I wouldn’t be giving you such an avuncular piece of advice if you yourself hadn’t already hinted, in your last but one letter, that certain gentlemen were undue attention to you. And you know yourself how pathologically hypersensitive theologians are, and how highly developed their “sense of responsibility” is when it comes to intriguing against someone that they consider “unsound”.[112]


The remuneration from his teaching did not provide Heidegger with a proper livelihood, so on 13 December he applied to the Schaezler Foundation once again for an extension of his grant and for assistance in helping him to publish his Scotus dissertation.[113] Heidegger was being forced both by financial exigency and the dictates of his career to continue profiling himself as a Catholic philosopher, a role that he had long since abandoned. In his application, he wrote:


The obedient undersigned ventures to think that he can show something at least of his lasting gratitude for the valued trust placed in him by the Reverend Cathedral Chapter by dedicating his scholarly life’s work to the task of harnessing the intellectual and spiritual potential of scholasticism to the future struggle for the Christian-Catholic ideal.[114]


These were words that Heidegger, even as he was writing them, knew to be untrue, but they were unfortunately necessary. Heidegger was still waiting, but his patience would be rewarded. Even as he was penning these lines, he was in the midst of teaching the first university course of his career, the lecture series, “Basic Outlines of Ancient and Scholastic Philosophy”, and a seminar “On Kant’s Prolegomena”. The religious moment in Heidegger’s thinking had not been discarded, but it would now have to take its place within the broader framework of a wide ranging philosophical enquiry (he would call it a “Suchen”, a “seeking”), which would eventually culminate in a philosophy that would be uniquely his own.


[1] Hans Dieter Zimmermann, Martin und Fritz Heidegger: Philosophie und Festnacht (Munich: Beck, 2005), pp. 20–22.

[2] Martin Heidegger. Elisabeth Blochmann: Briefwechsel, 19181969 (Marbach am Neckar: Deutsche Schillergesellschaft, 1990), p. 32. For the importance of Beuron in Heidegger’s life, see Johannes Schaber, “Phänomenologie und Mönchtum. Max Scheler, Martin Heidegger, Edith Stein und die Erzabtei Beuron”. Eds. Holger Zaborowski and Stephan Loos, Leben, Tod und Entscheidung: Studien zur Geistesgeschichte der Weimarer Republik (Berlin: Duncker and Humboldt, 2003), pp. 71–100.

[3] Heidegger, Hölderlin’s Hymn “The Ister”. Trans. William McNeill and Julia Davis (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1996), p. 30.

[4] Heidegger, Hölderlin’s Hymn “The Ister”, p. 21.

[5] And perhaps for this reason we know more about the ancestors on the maternal line of Heidegger’s family than on the paternal. See the documentation covering the genealogy of the respective families in Martin Heidegger und seine Heimat. Eds. Elsbeth Büchin and Alfred Denker (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 2005), pp. 186–238.

[6] A selection of his verse is reprinted in Martin Heidegger und seine Heimat. Eds. Büchin and Denker, pp. 206–220.

[7] Martin Heidegger, Aus der Erfahrung des Denkens (19101976) (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 2002), p. 1.

[8] Hans Dieter Zimmermann, Martin und Fritz Heidegger, p. 127.

[9] Christoph Witt, Der Weg durch das Feld des Denkens: Eine Deutung zu Martin Heideggers “Der Feldweg” (Meßkirch: Gmeiner-Verlag, 2011), p. 85.

[10] Witt, Der Weg durch das Feld des Denkens, p. 96.

[11] Meßkirch gestern und heute: Heimatbuch zum 700-jahrigen Stadtjubiläum 1961. Ed. Stadt Meßkirch (Meßkirch, nd), pp. 17–19.

[12] Meßkirch gestern und heute, pp. 27–30.

[13] Such as one taken in 1909, when Heidegger had just graduated from his Gymnasium. The photo is reproduced in Martin Heidegger und seine Heimat. Eds. Büchin and Denker, p.13.

[14] For a full account of the issues involved, particularly as it affected Catholic philosophy, see Gabriel Daly, “Theological and Philosophical Modernism”. Ed. Darrell Jodock, Catholicism Contending with Modernism: Roman Catholic Modernism and Anti-Modernism in Historical Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 88–112.

[15] Alfred Denker, Unterwegs in Sein und Zeit: Einfuhrung in Leben und Denken von Martin Heidegger (Stuttgart: Ernst Klett Verlag, 2011), pp. 23–24.

[16] “700 Jahre Meßkirch”. Ed. Stadt Meßkirch, p. 38.

[17] Martin Heidegger, Reden und andere Zeugnisse eines Lebensweges: 1910-1976 (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 2000), p. 521.

[18] The path linked Meßkirch to the neighbouring town of Bichtlingen. In Heidegger’s time it was called the “Bichtlinger Strässle”. Witt, Der Weg durch das Feld des Denkens, p. 7.

[19] Martin Heidegger, “Der Feldweg”. In Martin Heidegger: Zum 80. Geburtstag von seiner Heimatstadt Meßkirch, pp. 11–15 (p. 11).

[20] Quoted in Hugo Ott, Martin Heidegger: A Political Life (London: Harper Collins, 1994), p. 46.

[21] As in, for example, Forest Paths (Holzwege), his first book of essays to be published after the Second World War in 1950.

[22]Fritz Heidegger, “Ein Geburtstagbrief”. In Martin Heidegger: Zum 80. Geburtstag von seiner Heimatstadt Meßkirch, pp. 61–62.

[23] Heidegger, Reden und andere Zeugnisse, p. 594.

[24] From a letter of 13 December 1915. See, “Mein liebes Seelchen”: Briefe Martin Heideggers an seine Frau, Elfride, 19151970. Ed. Gertrud Heidegger (Munich: btb Verlag, 2007). The English translation is Martin Heidegger, Letters to His Wife, 19151970. Transl. R.D.V. Glasgow (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010), p. 5. I have modified the translations where necessary.

[25] Alfred Denker, Unterwegs, p. 22

[26] Heidegger, Reden und andere Zeugnisse, p. 595.

[27] Heidegger, “Vom Geheimnis des Glockenturms”. In Martin Heidegger: Zum 80. Geburtstag von seiner Heimatstadt Meßkirch, pp. 7–10 (p. 10).

[28] Manfred Geier, Martin Heidegger (Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 2005), p. 20.

[29] Geier, Martin Heidegger, p. 20.

[30] Ott, Martin Heidegger, pp. 47–49.

[31] Conrad Gröber, Die Geschichte des Jesuitenkollegs und –Gymnasiums in Konstanz (Constance: Streicher, 1904).

[32] Ott, Martin Heidegger, pp. 49–51.

[33] Quoted in Geier, Martin Heidegger, p. 20.

[34] Heidegger, Aus der Erfahrung des Denkens, p. 197.

[35] Martin Heidegger, Zur Sache des Denkens (Tubingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 1988), p. 81

[36] Heidegger writing in 1957, as quoted by Ott, Martin Heidegger, p. 51.

[37] Heidegger, Reden und andere Zeugnisse, p. 37.

[38] Thomas Sheehan, “Heidegger’s Lehrjahre”. In The Collegium Phaenomenologicum: The First Ten Years. Eds. John C. Sallis i.a. (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1988), pp. 77–137 (p. 86).

[39] Denker, Unterwegs p. 26.

[40] From a letter of 13 December 1915 to his wife.

[41] See the foreword to Martin Heidegger, Frühe Schriften (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1972), p. x.

[42] Alfred Denker, “Heideggers Leben- und Denkweg 1909–1919”. Eds. Alfred Denker i.a.,  Heidegger und die Anfänge seines Denkens (Freiburg/Munich: Verlag Karl Alber, 2004), pp. 97–122 (p. 99).

[43] Sheehan, “Heidegger’s Lehrjahre”, p. 88. Translation modified.

[44] Heidegger’s “joy in sport” is described by Fritz Heidegger in his “Geburtstagbrief”, p. 58.

[45] As Denker observes, “the study of theology was for him the only possibility of studying at all.” There is, however, no evidence at this time for Denker’s further speculation that this was simply “a means for the purpose of studying philosophy”. Denker, “Heideggers Leben- und Denkweg 1909–1919”, p. 99.

[46] Sheehan, “Heidegger’s Lehrjahre”, p. 87. Translation modified.

[47] Martin Heidegger, “Mein Weg in die Phänomenologie”. In Martin Heidegger, Zur Sache des Denkens (Tubingen: Max Niedermayer Verlag, 1988), pp. 81–90 (p. 82).

[48] Heidegger, “Mein Weg in die Phänomenologie”, p. 83.

[49] Heidegger, “Allerseelenstimmungen”. Eds. Alfred Denker i.a., Heidegger und die Anfänge seines Denkens, pp. 18–21.

[50] Heidegger, “Allerseelenstimmungen”, p. 21.

[51] Heidegger, “Abraham a Santa Clara: Zur Enthüllung seines Denkmals in Kreenheinstetten am 15. August 1910”. In Heidegger, Erfahrung des Denkens, pp. 1–3 (pp. 2–3).

[52] Heidegger, “Mein Weg in die Phänomenologie”, p. 81.

[53] Sheehan, “Heidegger’s Lehrjahre”, p. 93,

[54] Braig, “Was soll der Gebildete von dem Modernismus wissen” (1908). Quoted in Dieter Thoma, Die Zeit des Selbst und die Zeit danach: Zur Kritik der Textgeschichte Martin Heideggers, 19101976 (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1990), p. 37.

[55] Geier, Martin Heidegger, p. 27.

[56] “Auswahl aus den Briefen Ernst Laslowskis an Martin Heidegger (1911–1917)”. Eds. Alfred Denker i.a., Heidegger und die Anfänge seines Denkens, pp. 26–57 (p. 26).

[57]Heidegger, Aus der Erfahrung des Denkens, p. 6.

[58] See the Gospels Matthew 26: 36, Mark 14: 32 and Luke 22: 39.

[59] As Holger Zaborowski notes, this poem shows how far Heidegger’s faith had already been beset by “loss of purpose, darkness and discouragement”. In Zaborowski “ ‘Herkunft aber bleibt stets Zukunft: Anmerkungen zur religiösen und theologischen Dimension des Denkweges Martin Heideggers bis 1919”. Eds. Alfred Denker i.a.,  Heidegger und die Anfänge seines Denken, pp. 123–158 (p. 134).

[60] Martin Heidegger, Mindfulness. Transl. Parvis Emad and Thomas Kalary (London: Continuum, 2006), p. 368. Translation modified.

[61] Editor’s Introduction to Martin Heidegger, Supplements: From the Earliest Essays to “Being and Time” and Beyond. Ed. John van Buren (Albany: State University of New York, 2002), p. 4.

[62] Heidegger, “Mein Weg in die Phänomenologie”, p. 82.

[63] Quoted in Ott, Martin Heidegger, p. 85. Translation modified.

[64] Klaus Christian Köhnke, The Rise of Neo-Kantianism: German Academic Philosophy between Idealism and Positivism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 180–191.

[65] Ott, Martin Heidegger, p. 76.

[66] Heidegger rehearsed the fundamental differences between himself and Rickert in his 1919 lecture course “On the Determination of Philosophy”. See martin Heidegger, Zur Bestimmung der Philosophie (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1999), pp. 180–181.

[67] See Heidegger, “Recent Research in Logic” in Becoming Heidegger: On the Trail of His Early Occasional Writings, 19101927. Eds. Theodore Kisiel and Thomas Sheehan (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2007), pp. 30–44 (pp. 31 and 32).

[68] Heidegger, “Recent Research in Logic”, p. 35.

[69]Heidegger, “Recent Research in Logic” pp. xxx.

[70] Quoted in Ott, Martin Heidegger, p. 71.

[71] Heidegger, Supplements, pp. 39–48. The texts are cited in the endnotes, pp. 184–186.

[72] Hugo Ott, “Martin Heidegger und seine Beziehungen zur Görres-Gesellschaft zur Pflege der Wissenschaft im katholischen Deutschland”. Eds. Alfred Denker i.a.  ”Heidegger und die Anfänge seines Denkens, pp. 197–200 (p. 198).

[73] Denker, “Heideggers Leben- und Denkweg”, pp. 108–109.

[74] Sheehan, “Heidegger’s Lehrjahre”, pp. 95-96.

[75] Ott, Martin Heidegger, p. 74.

[76] Denker, Unterwegs, p. 40.

[77] Heidegger, Frühe Schriften, p. 5.

[78] Heidegger, Frühe Schriften, p. 6.

[79] Heidegger, Frühe Schriften, p. 7.

[80] Heidegger, Frühe Schriften, p. 3.

[81] Sheehan, “Heidegger’s Lehrjahre”, p. 115. My translation.

[82] Quoted in Ott Martin Heidegger, p. 77. Translation modified.

[83]Quoted in Ott, Martin Heidegger, p. 77.

[84] Geier, Martin Heidegger, p. 32.

[85] Ott, Martin Heidegger, pp. 76–78.

[86] Martin Heidegger/ Heinrich Rickert, Briefe 1912 bis 1933 und andere Dokumente, aus den Nachlass. Ed. Alfred Denker (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 2002), p. 12. Future references to this correspondence will only cite the date of the relevant letter in the main text.

[87] Quoted in Sheehan, “Heidegger’s Lehrjahre”, p. 110. Translation modified.

[88] Quoted in Ott, Martin Heidegger, pp. 78-79.

[89] Christoph von Wolzogen, “ ‘Gottes Geheimnisse verkosten, bevor sie geschaut werden’. Martin Heidegger und der Theologe Engelbert Krebs”. Eds. Alfred Denker i.a., Heidegger und die Anfänge seines Denkens, pp. 201–213 (p. 204).

[90] Ott, Martin Heidegger, p. 76.

[91] Krebs quoted in von Wolzogen, “Gottes Geheimnisse verkosten”, p. 205.

[92] Ott, Martin Heidegger. p. 74.

[93] Ott, Martin Heidegger. p. 76.

[94] Rüdiger Safranski, Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998), p. 43.

[95] Krebs as quoted by von Wolzogen in “Gottes Geheimnisse verkosten”, p. 205.

[96] Quoted in Ott, Martin Heidegger, pp. 85–86.

[97] “Briefe Martin Heideggers an Engelbert Krebs (1914–1919)”. Eds. Alfred Denker i.a., Heidegger und die Anfänge seines Denkens, pp. 61– 68 (p. 61). Future references to this correspondence will only cite the date of the relevant letter in the main text.

[98] According to Sheehan, Heidegger’s initial activity in the army falls into two periods: 2–10 August, and 9–20 October. “Heidegger’s Lehrjahre”, p. 72.

[99] Heidegger, “Das Kriegs-Triduum in Meßkirch” Eds. Elsbeth Büchin and Alfred Denker, Martin Heidegger und seine Heimat, pp. 110–115 (p. 112).

[100] Heidegger, “Das Kriegs-Triduum in Meßkirch”, p. 115.

[101] Ott, Martin Heidegger, pp. 87–88.

[102] Quoted in Ott, Martin Heidegger. p. 88.

[103] Quoted in Ott, Martin Heidegger, p. 80.

[104] This work was later found to have been written not by Scotus but by Thomas of Erfurt in the first decade of the fourteenth century.

[105] Thomas of Erfurt, Grammatica Speculativa. An edition with translation and commentary by G.L. Bursill-Hall (Longman, 1972), p. 22.

[106] Thomas of Erfurt, Grammatica Speculativa, pp. 20–26.

[107] Rickert may well have submitted it as his own report. Indeed, did the busy Rickert, on the point of leaving Freiburg for a Chair in Heidelberg, ever read Heidegger’s dissertation in full? Safranski for one thinks not. Safranski, Martin Heidegger, p. 63.

[108] Rickert as quoted in Sheehan, “Heidegger’s Lehrjahre”, p. 110. My translation.

[109] Sheehan, “Heidegger’s Lehrjahre”, pp. 77–78.

[110] According to Sheehan, however, Heidegger was conscripted on 18 August, and from 18 September received training in Müllheim, but was exempt from duty on 16 October, when he returned to Freiburg to take up his new position as a postal censor on 1 November. “Heidegger’s Lehrjahre”, pp. 81–82. Both Sheehan and Denker give 16 October as the date of Heidegger’s dismissal from the army, but Heidegger wrote a letter to Krebs from Müllheim on 19 October, and then again on 31 October, by which time he had certainly left for Freiburg (only to be briefly called back to Müllheim). “Briefe Martin Heideggers an Engelbert Krebs”, pp. 64–67.

[111] Safranski, Martin Heidegger, p. 43

[112] Quoted in Ott, Martin Heidegger, p. 90. The full letter (in German) is reprinted in “Auswahl aus den Briefen Ernst Laslowskis”, pp. 52–53.

[113] Ott, Martin Heidegger, p. 78.

[114] Quoted in Ott, Martin Heidegger, p. 78.