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Early Martin Heidegger on “Death”

Martin Heidegger is one of the most significant philosophers of the 20th century. He made an outstanding contribution to the development of existential theories and is a well-known representative of German philosophy. Studying death as a philosophical matter played a considerable role in the establishment of his ideas. He viewed death as a defining phenomenon for time and being. He also believed that a human starts “dying” at the moment of birth and is in the process of death throughout life.

Early Heidegger pays special attention to the phenomena of death. He even defined human existence as being toward death. According to Heidegger, death provides an opportunity to comprehensively understand being, which is not “complete” as long as it continues and not all of the possibilities are fulfilled, including the primary purpose of life – death (244). However, to bring up the meaning of death from Heidegger’s perspective, it is necessary to mention some other concepts. In his fundamental work “Being and Time,” Heidegger talks about an existential pair of Erschlossenheit and Entschlossenheit, which are translated accordingly as disclosedness and determination.

People who lack determination are destined to “uneigene” being or not to belong to themselves. Such people are not participating in true, alive existence. Heidegger believes that determination is needed to exist in their own or “eigene” stance, where people are focused on being towards death and acknowledge death as the primary purpose of human life. Death is an inevitable and essential part of being, which defines life itself. Death is the last possible life opportunity, and it is always exclusively personal as it can belong only to the dying person.

Being to death interprets the meaning of life, excluding primitive everyday routine, facts, and events. Foreknowledge of death gives a purpose for all living through acknowledgment of future nothingness and oblivion. Nevertheless, Heidegger views suicide as a wrongful understanding of anticipation of death (247). Such experience may not apply to nature as “being towards death” represents human fear of death, making people face the inevitable “Nichts” or nothing, the meaninglessness of any projects, actions, and existence. That threat coming from the isolated “Dasein” or being represents fear.

Acknowledging the fear of “being towards death”, overcoming the fear, and obtaining the ability to accept own “Nichts” is the key to true existence. Fear of death, by contrast, makes it impossible to access true being. In everyday life, people may forget about death, transforming it into an object that should be feared, surrounding it with rites and rituals, or trying to avoid all possible causes of death. Death of other people represents an experience of loss, yet it is not possible to experience it as a loss of our own “Dasein”. People even tend to doubt the evidence and near certainty of death. Humanity also tries to make death a relative phenomenon with time-related uncertainty as it is not possible to predict the future.

“Being” is also crucial in Heidegger’s perception of death. It may not be possible to define “Being” or existence as any definition contains “Being” as the main principle. Therefore, attempts to comprehensively describe the term “Being” represent a vicious circle. It is only possible to claim the existence of any object if someone saw or witnessed the object. Hence the existence of anything implies by definition the existence of the observer. Yet again, the necessity of the observer creates a vicious circle. Existence may have dualistic nature as it implies the existence of objects by “themselves” indifferent and independent of any other existence and being of a person constituting own existence and the existence of others.

“Being” of a human has a special status by comparison to the existence of objects. People are conscious beings, and understanding is essential for “Being”. Humans, unlike other living beings, are able to acknowledge mortality and the phenomenon of death, which is necessary for true existence, according to Heidegger (241). Own being is understood through the perception of death and the acceptance of “Nichts”.

People often avoid thinking about death, which may be explained by the psychological unpleasantly of these thoughts. However, Heidegger believes that humanity rejects thinking of mortality for other reasons. He thinks that people or “das Man” are too focused on insignificant daily activity to realize the temporary nature of being. “Das Man” in that case refers to an impersonalized crowd that is not able to acknowledge death as it is an intrinsically personal act. Only an individual is capable of reflecting on the “possibility of impossibility” of endless existence.

As already mentioned, death is obvious to people, yet they doubt it. It may be explained by the empirical nature of perception of demise, as humans are not able to experience their own death. It is not possible for an observer of death to determine if it is the end of existence and not a transition to another form of being. However, Heidegger excludes the dilemma from existential analysis due to its unsolvable nature.

Personally, I partially agree with Heidegger’s views on death. I believe that a common understanding of being and existence is closely linked with understanding of death. To some extent, death may define being in terms of life. If living beings were not mortal, it would be impossible to determine if they are alive in the first place. There would be no such concept as life without the concept of death. It may be a paradox, but life is not possible without death. If something is endless then its fractions have no value. An immortal sentient being would not be able to evaluate its existence as “existing” is the only available stance. It is not possible to understand what light is if there is only darkness, and it is not possible to create the concept of darkness if there is no light. Contrast is necessary to develop these concepts, and they are inseparable. Demise is required to understand the difference between being alive and being dead.

Conclusively, Heidegger only viewed the issue of death from one perspective. His views are exclusively atheistic and materialistic as he rejects the possibility of an afterlife. In his thought, death is personal, inevitable, universal, and fearful for all people. Being toward death refers not only to the question of immortality and the afterlife but the concept of death during existence. Acknowledgment of unavoidable end and acceptance of “Nichts” and nothingness appear to be the primary life values in Heidegger’s perspective. He believes that only through overcoming fear of death a person may be able to achieve “true Being”.

Work Cited

Heidegger, Martin. Being and time. Suny Press, 2010.


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