What can Death mean today in times in which the technological conception of life conjures up new visions of overcoming death? We address this question here by critically examining the Heideggerian ontology of human finitude. For Heidegger, mortality is an essential mark of our being human. Only human beings can exist and thus die in the full sense of the word. It often seems that in accepting Heidegger’s vision of Dasein as a being-in-the-world, one must also commit to the idea that death is the measure for the authenticity and meaningfulness of a human life. To see why Heidegger’s claims are problematic, we point out a crucial ambiguity that lies at the heart of his analysis. Heideggerian anxiety could be understood in two different ways: it is a mood that reveals the structure of our being-in-the-world, but it is also the affect of being-towards-the-end. In the former sense, anxiety opens for Dasein the encounter with what is threatening in being qua being-possible. In the second sense it uncovers the finitude of Dasein’s existence as an essential feature involved in determining oneself to be oneself. The experience of finitude can take the form of embracing one’s existence with determination, and it is in this sense that anxiety is said to individualize Dasein. But, Heidegger’s rhetoric of anxiety with its emphasis on the revelation of the nothing is concomitantly informed by yet a different affective mode: that is, being-towards-the-end in the sense of being anxious of dying. Does death really belong to our “potentiality of being”? Death can interrupt the course of a life in a variety of ways. Nevertheless, we claim that this does not entitle us to think of death as a possibility for Dasein. Dasein’s life is by its nature always unfinished, at any point of its existence. Death neither integrates life nor does being-towards-death constitute wholeness. Although death can come at any one of life’s moments, it is ultimately external to the inner development of a human life. Nor is Dasein’s relation to its own death unique in determining the meaningfulness of human activity. The relation to the death of beloved others is no less significant. The fact that death is always in the future, always awaiting, means that it does not inhere in Dasein’s being. Although the existence of mortals is contingent, the end is neither an intrinsic feature of our lives nor of our being who and what we are. Withholding totality reveals that the possibility of a never-ending life is not merely an illusion.
- being towards death
- the death of others