Heidegger and Being-Beyond-Death
Here is a brief critique of Heidegger’s idea that human existence is an existence that lives towards its death and nothing more.
The primacy of the category of temporality shows itself in that it forms the horizon for the existence of Dasein. Dasein cannot be understood without reference to time. Dasein is characterized by existence. The primary characteristic of existence is (using a non-Heideggerian term for the sake of clarity) development. Dasein always understands itself, its own existence, as what-it-is-not-yet. It lives continually toward something new, i.e. its own becoming. There is continuous development. In a way Dasein is open to the future. This future includes Dasein’s death. This development charts its course through time and entails potentially and ideally a move from inauthenticity (the initial stage of thrownness-in-the-they, the stage of guilt, but a positive one for being pregnant with potentiality) to authenticity, i.e. a full acceptance of Dasein’s being-toward-death.
It is at this point where I have to provide a criticism of Heidegger. Reading Heidegger fills me with both excitement and annoyance at times bordering on outright rejection. Heidegger’s language is highly laborious, serpentine, convoluted, labyrinthine if not outright tortuous. Some of his ideas are so ground-breaking that they simply deserves a better style. Such that people would want to keep his work by their bedstand. One of these is the monumental move from epistemology to ontology. It feels like modernity wants to end and postmodernity wants to take off with this man. But somehow the innovation gets stranded in what I consider old unwarranted biases and stifling conclusions.
In arguing for a developmental move from inauthenticity toward authenticity and describing the latter as acceptance of Dasein’s being-toward-death, Heidegger betrays a certain arbitrariness. We could wonder, on the one hand, why it is necessary to label the beginning and end stages of Dasein, inauthentic and authentic existence respectively. It is undeniably true that the temporal dimension necessitates an interpretation of Dasein’s being as always becoming. This is a true insight. But why does Heidegger attach ethical labels (i.e. one ‘ought’ to be authentic and not inauthentic) to the various developmental stages of Dasein’s existence? This can only be explained as an intrusion of his Christian upbringing and education. There is nothing in a phenomenological engagement with Dasein that warrants the ethical conception. Heidegger wants a linear development but phenomenologically speaking there could be a multiplicity of Dasein’s existential developments.
My critique of Heidegger flows out of the following contradictory observation I make. Why is Heidegger’s authenticity equated with being-towards-death? Why does Heidegger smuggle a Christian ethical notion into his thought (into his so-called unbiased phenomenological engagement with Dasein), while he denies this ethical notion its proper eschatological fulfillment? In other words, why is Christian ethics allowed, but is Christian hope denied? Why is revelation accepted (albeit in a reductionist sense) on one account and denied on the other? As I said above, this is arbitrary. I believe it could be argued—on the same phenomenological basis that Heidegger rejects a beyond death, that is—that Dasein has a never-ending expectation of things to come, a never-ending unfolding of the existential structure of its being. Somehow an intuition simply must arise, that we might call Dasein’s being-beyond-death. If expectation is part of the existential structure of Dasein—which Heidegger claims—then so is hope. There is a hope, not as a result of burden or anxiety, but arising out of Dasein’s existential structure. Dasein’s wholeness is beyond death. Thus Dasein’s true existential structure is one of love (represented by ‘care’ in Heidegger) and hope for what Dasein-is-to-be in faith that Dasein’s unseen-being-beyond-death will be realized in spite of Dasein’s being-towards-death.
Proof for the location of hope in Dasein’s ontological structure can simply found in Heidegger’s own observation that “the structural factor of care tells us unambigously that something is always still outstanding in Dasein which has not yet become “real” as a potentiality-of-its-being.” This notion points Dasein beyond death when it faces death, as is corroborated by the wide-spread belief that there is more after this life. I think this belief is rooted in Dasein’s always present understanding of being.
Having said this, I believe Heidegger opens up some important avenues for thought (a move away from epistemology, understanding space and time not as absolute independent categories, understanding as given with Dasein’s thrownness in the world, the hermeneutical circle, or the courage to squarely face the issue of death). These avenues, however, can only be safely traversed when there is recourse to revelation. For a proper understanding of being more is needed that Dasein’s reliance on its own understanding of being.