Death in Being and Time: Preliminary Remarks
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Before delving into the analytic of Dasein it is helpful to point out how not to understand death in Being and Time. First of all, death is not to be taken in the ordinary sense of the end of someone’s life, or more technically, death is not demise. Thus, the ontological phenomenon of death Heidegger is after has nothing to do with the measurable end of someone’s life, or with dying in the ordinary sense of the word. Yet, death, and this is the crux, is neither of merely metaphorical meaning nor does death have nothing to with mortality, as, for example, Blattner maintains in his paper on “The Concept of Death in Being and Time” (Blattner 1994). Blattner there defines death as an episode of psychiatric depression that Dasein has to experience in order to become fully authentic. For Blattner “death” in Being and Time has nothing to do with mortality. Instead, death just signifies an episode where meaning collapses globally. Put differently, death is an episode of someone’s life where the world, simply defined as a set of meaningful relationships with others and things, collapses. In a recent paper on the distinction between death and demise in Being and Time Thomson has attempted to synthesise claims that “death” is but a marker for global world collapse with the fact that Heidegger does not appear to speak of death in purely metaphorical terms. In a nutshell, Thomson follows Blattner and argues that death means momentary “global collapse of significance.” (Thomson 2013: 263) Furthermore, and this is how Thomson wants to retain some sense of mortality attached to “death” in Being and Time, Thomson argues that we each have to live through such an episode of utter meaninglessness in order to make peace with the fact that we demise at some point in time. I strongly disagree with such readings. Not only does Heidegger clearly state that “edification” or “rules of behavior toward death” (SZ: 248/238) are not at all at stake in the analytic of death. Additionally, such a reading entirely ignores Dasein’s ecstatic temporality and distorts that death in Being and Time does something else entirely. I shall show that death as the utmost limit of Dasein’s existence is precisely the condition for world to arise and not the cause of its collapse!
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