James L. Perotti on coping with the Kantian milieu.
Heidegger's early works were guided by the question of Being. The climate of thinking at that time, however, was totally opposed to the direction that the question of Being represents. The Neo-Kantian attitude toward metaphysics was prevalent at Freiburg as Heidegger began his studies there. The Neo-Kantian had interpreted Kant's Critique of Pure Reason and the Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics to mean that metaphysics is impossible, unknowable, a mere illusion. Metaphysics was thought to be impossible because metaphysical knowledge can only be speculative; it is impossible for men to have knowledge that transcends experience. As a result, at the outset of his thinking, Heidegger's desire to do metaphysics was obstructed by Kant's Critique of Pure Reason: "But he who undertakes to judge or, still more, to construct a system of metaphysics must satisfy the demands here made, either by adopting my solution or by thoroughly refuting it and substituting another. To evade it is impossible."Continued
It is conceivable that Heidegger could have ignored the Neo-Kantians and gone along his way. Instead he took up the challenge and in so doing shaped his early thinking. There are two probable reasons why he attempted to resolve the Kantian problem. Between 1908 and 1911, Heidegger was a Jesuit seminarian and as such a student of Neo-Scholastic philosophy and theology. Kant's Critique of Pure Reason was directed at Neo-Scholastism. Heidegger was one of many Neo-Scholastics of that time who were hard at work showing where Kant was wrong and where his Critique had failed. Indeed, another possibility was that Heidegger took up Kant's challenge because Heidegger could not hope to be taken seriously in the University if he set out on a way that his colleagues felt was outmoded.
Two of Heidegger's earliest works, Kant and The Problem of Metaphysics and Being and Time, reveal a confrontation with Kant in service of the question of Being. The point on which the possibility of metaphysics rests is the ability of man to have metaphysical knowledge, i.e., according to Heidegger, knowledge of the Being of beings. This knowledge is taken as the ground or foundation of metaphysics. Given this terminology, Heidegger describes his task as that of "laying the foundation for metaphysics," which is a way of saying that he will attempt to justify a comprehension of Being on which the other aspects of metaphysics could become possible. In the first pages of Kant and The Problem of Metaphysics, Heidegger calls attention to the purpose of the laying of the foundation for metaphysics:
A laying of the foundation of metaphysics...must, above all, keep the final purpose of metaphysics in view, i.e., the determination of the essence of metaphysica specialis. Metaphysica specialis which in a pre-eminent sense is knowledge of the super-sensible essent. [P. 14]On the preceding page he had distinguished the disciplines of metaphysica specialis: "These disciplines are theology, the object of which is the summa ens, cosmology and psychology."
Thus in Kant and The Problem of Metaphysics Heidegger described his task as that of laying the foundation of metaphysics and then noted that this task is in service of a later determination of the question about god (theology), world (cosmology), and man (psychology). In other words, Heidegger is anticipating that once he settles the laying of the foundation for metaphysics, he can then attend to building the disciplines which rest on that base.