Vigdis Songe-Møller: Heidegger and the Death of the Other

In Sein und Zeit Martin Heidegger claims that Dasein’s relation to its own death is an ontological condition for understanding itself as a temporal, finite being, while the experience of the death of another is seen as an «ontic», or empirical, phenomenon which cannot contribute to an understanding of the meaning of death. In other words: the relation to my own death is ontologically primary to the experience of the death of another person. It is my hypothesis that Heidegger’s motive for privileging my own death over the death of another is his conviction that a fundamental ontological analysis must analyze its phenomenon as being one and whole: only in relation to its own death – in its anticipation of the end of being – can Dasein be seen as being whole. According to Heidegger, Dasein can face its own death only by undoing its relations to other Daseins, in other words: in total isolation. In this article, I make the argument that death is an essential cultural, or intersubjective, phenomenon and that the meaning of death – and thus of man’s temporality and finitude – can only be learned by living together with other people. As a consequence of this argument the other’s death gains a fundamentally different significance to what it has in Heidegger’s analyses.

Keywords: Heidegger, «death», «my own death», «death of the other»