Continental Philosophy

Martin Heidegger

What were Martin Heidegger’s views on death?

Heidegger thought that the individual’s death had to be wrested away from “the they,” who made of death something impersonal that was ordinary, but which somehow didn’t happen to anyone in particular. Heidegger claimed that death is “in each case my own” and that authentic existence requires an attitude of “anticipatory resoluteness” toward one’s own death. It is nothing less than conscience, “the call of care,” which draws a person to attend to his or her own death.

The problem is that Dasein cannot be completed until Dasein is no more. But when Dasein is no more, Dasein will no longer “be” as a concrete individual, and furthermore, its own death is a nothing. Heidegger took this to mean that we are constantly being called to a nullity in a paradoxical need to authentically be that which we most fully are. This nullity in the essence of Dasein, which in Heidegger’s terminology is “always out-standing,” so long as Dasein is, creates a primordial anxiety in Dasein. Heidegger meant that the fact that our death is always in the future is what makes us always anxious. But of course, if our death were in the present, we would no longer exist. So we mortals have to put up with the fact that we will die as something that we are always aware of while we are alive.


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