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Heidegger’s Confessions

The Remains of Saint Augustine in "Being and Time" and Beyond

Heidegger’s Confessions

The Remains of Saint Augustine in "Being and Time" and Beyond

Although Martin Heidegger is nearly as notorious as Friedrich Nietzsche for embracing the death of God, the philosopher himself acknowledged that Christianity accompanied him at every stage of his career. In Heidegger’s Confessions, Ryan Coyne isolates a crucially important player in this story: Saint Augustine. Uncovering the significance of Saint Augustine in Heidegger’s philosophy, he details the complex and conflicted ways in which Heidegger paradoxically sought to define himself against the Christian tradition while at the same time making use of its resources.
Coyne first examines the role of Augustine in Heidegger’s early period and the development of his magnum opus, Being and Time. He then goes on to show that Heidegger owed an abiding debt to Augustine even following his own rise as a secular philosopher, tracing his early encounters with theological texts through to his late thoughts and writings. Bringing a fresh and unexpected perspective to bear on Heidegger’s profoundly influential critique of modern metaphysics, Coyne traces a larger lineage between religious and theological discourse and continental philosophy.   


“Coyne’s new study of Heidegger’s extended, complex, and fluctuating relation to Augustine is an excellent piece of work that proceeds through a series of close critical readings of key texts extending from the early post–World War I lectures on religious life through to the 1957 paper on ‘The Onto-theo-logical Constitution of Metaphysics.’ Taking in central elements of Being and Time, the Contributions to Philosophy, the critique of Nietzsche, and the return to the Pre-Socratics, the apparently narrow focus on Augustine is used to develop an overall reading of Heidegger’s deeply conflicted relation to religion.”

Journal of the American Academy of Religion

“Coyne provides a rich exploration of ‘Heidegger’s own portrayals of Augustinian concepts,’ as he writes in the introduction. He traces these Augustinian concepts through Heidegger’s work to reveal the ways in which they inform some of Heidegger’s most fundamental themes. Coyne argues that Heidegger’s rearticulation of certain themes throughout his lifetime reveals the centrality of those themes and is reason enough to take them up carefully. Coyne does exactly that with the concept of ‘being-there,’ as presented in early Heidegger, and of ‘de-theologization,’ which appears in Heidegger’s writings of the 1920s. . . . Articulating his argument with care, Coyne brings new light to Heidegger and theology. . . . Highly recommended.”


Heidegger’s Confessions traces the role of Augustine across Heidegger’s thinking—early, middle, and late—to convincingly show that Augustine is not only a constant companion but an inspiration for Heidegger’s own transformations throughout his career.”

Andrew J. Mitchell, Emory University

“Coyne’s careful reconstruction and analysis of Heidegger’s other ‘hidden debt’ provides us with much-needed background of the latter’s lifelong fascination with the author of the Confessions, just as it offers suggestive hypotheses to assess its overall ‘counterintuitive’ meaning and current import. Even where the later Heidegger’s Kehre turned further away from the religion of old, Coyne wisely suggests that Heidegger’s ulterior ‘deep inquiry’ into the existence and essence of man nonetheless redraws a ‘silhouette reflected darkly’ in Augustine’s most profound pages. Rare are the books that complete an emerging, complex picture in full philological and genealogical detail and also succeed in bringing systematic philosophical problems—here: that of the relationship between phenomenology and theology, existential or fundamental ontology and Christianity—into much clearer focus. Coyne has set the future debates concerning the legacy of Heidegger and all those he influenced in these matters on much firmer footing, while giving a truly original account of the decisive contribution that Christian tropes brought and continue to bring to bear on the critique of ancient and modern metaphysics.”

Hent de Vries, Johns Hopkins University

Heidegger’s Confessions explores major currents in Heidegger by taking his readings of Augustine as a guiding thread. Coyne shows that Heidegger’s occasional interpretations of Augustinian texts are not incidental to his thought, but are linked explicitly and implicitly to major questions in his philosophy—such as whether human beings can know themselves, possess themselves, and be whole. Heidegger’s engagement with Augustine also bears on broader questions about Being and its relation to God. Coyne’s approach goes well beyond a simple genealogical argument about how Heidegger was ‘influenced’ by Augustine, or a simple comparative study that tallies up agreements and disagreements between two thinkers. Instead, Coyne interrogates the very nature of influence, debt, and attestation, showing that Augustinian concerns are relevant not only to the relation between these two figures but to how philosophers cite their predecessors, how they relate to their own past thoughts, how philosophy tries to establish its own integrity, and how philosophy may remain beholden to theology at the same time that it combats it.”

Richard Polt, Xavier University

"Anyone tempted to take Heidegger’s occasional references to Augustine as marginal asides, worthy of curiosity or perhaps biographical but not philosophical interest should read Ryan Coyne’s Heidegger’s Confessions. Coyne’s examination of the Heideggerian texts and their histories makes clear that a confrontation with Augustine is indispensable to Heidegger’s elaboration of the most important questions, issues, and phenomena the master treated. . . . What is perhaps most impressive about Heidegger’s Confessions is the erudition and philological care Coyne exercises in documenting the presence of Augustine in the Heideggerian corpus. Coyne’s analyses are meticulous, his mastery of the texts and their histories compelling. These are indispensable virtues in the reading of a corpus as dense and complicated as Heidegger’s."

Continental Philosophy Review

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Heidegger’s Paul
Chapter 2: The Cogito Out-of-Reach       
Chapter 3: The Remains of Christian Theology
Chapter 4: Testimony and the Irretrievable in Being and Time
Chapter 5: Temporality and Transformation, or Augustine through the Turn
Chapter 6: On Retraction

Conclusion: Difference and De-Theologization

Selected Bibliography

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