Martin Heidegger was a German philosopher, born in (1889-1976). Heidegger sought to return philosophy to the science it is
meant to be which is the investigation of the question of Being (Akpen 47). At the heart of Heidegger’s work “BEING AND
TIME” is the concept of a being-unto-death. Heidegger occasioned a drastic and radical existential analysis of the concept of
Arising from this background therefore, the paper seeks to examine the Heideggerian notion of man as a being-unto-death and
to demonstrate how death awareness can regulate our existential consciousness. The paper contains an introduction,
clarification of terms, main content, and a conclusion. Needless to inaugurate any clarification of terms, but for the purpose of
this task, these two are important; death and consciousness.
Brief clarification of terms:
What is death?
In his submission, Battista Mondin opined thus: death means the “cessation of the vital process in living organism” (264). In a
common parlance, “death is the separation of the soul from the body”. On the other hand consciousness as postulated by
Ozumba is a moral element in us telling us what is bad or good. As such, consciousness tells me that i ought to make my
situation mine, rather than let it descends or inflict itself on me. It is the voice calling me out from the distractions that are rife
in the day-to-day life (258-259).
HEIDEGGER’S NOTION OF MAN AS A BEING UNTO-DEATH AND HOW DEATH AWARENESS CAN REGULATE OUR EXISTENTIAL CONSCIOUSNESS:
In his work BEING AND TIME, Heidegger stressed that being is time and time is finite. For human beings, time comes
to an end with our death. With this consciousness, we project our lives on to the horizon of our death. This is what Heidegger
famously announced as “being- unto-death”. For him, if our being is finite, then an authentic human life can only be found by
confronting finitude and trying to make a meaning out of the fact of our death. Heidegger proposed to the ancient maxim that
“to philosophies is to learn how to die”. Mortality is that in relation to which we shape and fashion our self-hood.
Death is the condition of being without life. It marks the end of life. But it is also a phenomenon of life. For the simple reason
that our life will come to an end, our existence is finite. Such thinking about death points to the indelible mark of one’s
mortality, of one’s finitude. In death, time ceases, the present vanishes in the passing of our having-been.
There are four formal criteria in Heidegger’s conception of being-unto-death: it is non-relational, certain, indefinite, and not to
Firstly, death is non-relational in the sense that, in standing before death one has cut off all relation to others. Death cannot be
experience through the death of others, but only through the relation to his death. Secondly, it is certain that we are going to
die. Although one might run away from the fact, no one can doubt that life comes to an end in death. Thirdly, death is indefinite
because we do not know when it is going to happen. Fourthly, to say that death is not to be outstripped means death is pretty
damned important. There’s no way of trumping it and its outstrips all possibilities that our power of free projection processes.
This is the idea behind Hiedegger’s famously paradoxically statement that death is the “possibility of impossibility”. Death is
the limit against which our potentiality for being is to be measured. It is that essential impotence against which the potency of
our freedom shatters itself. At the end of the introduction, to BEING AND TIME, Heidegger writes, “Higher than actuality
stands possibility”. Being and Time is a long hymm of praise to possibility and finds full expression in being-unto-death.
Heidegger makes a distinction between anticipation and expectation or awaiting. His claim is that the awaiting of death still
contains too much of the actual, where death would be the actualization of possibility; such would be a gloomy philosophy of
morbidity. On the contrary, for Heidegger, anticipation does not passively await death, but mobilises mortality as the condition
for free action in the world. It is only in being- unto- death that one can become the person who one truly is. Concealed in the
idea of death as the possibility of impossibility, is the acceptance of one’s mortal limitation as the basis for an affirmation of
one’s life. Heidegger’s thought is that being-unto-death pulls Da-sein out of its immersion in inauthentic everyday life and
allows it come in to its own. It only in relation to being-unto-death, that one can become passionately aware of his freedom.
Death marks the end of life but is also the phenomenon of life. Heidegger presents a radically different interpretation of death.
In BEING AND TIME, death does not simply spell the end of existence, for in recognizing the undeniable certainty of one’s
death, something else is revealed, and something more fundamental is disclosed. Heidegger seeks to formulate a more
authentic mode of relating to death that goes beyond understanding death as the simple coming to an end of life or the final
annihilation of all possibilities. This more “authentic” relation to death is “being-unto-death” which Heidegger calls a “running
ahead”(BT 232). Heidegger posits that because the certainty of my death is futural, because death will always come to me out of
the future, my anticipation of death in the present makes me ahead of myself.
Heidegger announces that because I relate to the possibility of my death with resolute certainty, because I will someday die. I
am always a being that is a being- unto- death. According to Heidegger, the being- unto- death is precisely what makes my
being possible (250). Heidegger conceptualized death not as pure nothingness but rather as pure possibility. He sees death as
Dasien’s most extreme possibility. An authentic being-unto-death renders a notion of death as the source of radical
possibilization, such that the existential analysis of death as a being-unto- death demonstrates the primordial manner in which
Dasien gives itself, it throwness, time and it own being (135).
Heidegger postulated that, it is a certain relation to death which gives existential access to the possibility of Dasein that is itself
it own. Heidegger maintained that being-unto-death discloses Dasein’s structure of possibility. Heidegger indeed defines death
as a certain “end” and as a certain “possibility”.
Death stands before us as a certain end, but it is an end towards which we relate as a possibility. Hence Heidegger writes,
“the ending we have in view when we speak of death does not signify a being-at an-end of Dasein but rather being toward the
end (228). This being toward an end gives access to death as the most proper possibility of Dasein. “As the end of Dasien, death
is the ownmost non-relational, certain, and as such, indefinite and not to be bypassed possibility of Dasein”(239).
In death, Heidegger writes, “Dasein is neither fulfilled nor is does it simply disappear; it has not become finished or
completely available as something at hand”(228). In other word, the end of death is neither conceived as eskhaton nor as
teleos. One cannot after all ‘experience’ the nullity that is one’s own death. This is because when my death “arrives”, i am longer
there to experience dying as- no- longer- being- able- to- be- there by this Heidegger meant when he define death as “the
possibility of the impossibility of Dasein (232). The end of death must be endured as a possibility in our relation to it.
Heidegger postulated that because I am certain of my own death, the coming of which I cannot overcome or bypassed, death is
the ineluctable, unsurpassable possibility I anticipate with resolute anxiousness, a mood which Heidegger call Angst.
In Angst, Heidegger writes, “Dasein finds itself faced with the nothingness of the possible impossibility of its existence”(245).
This for Heidegger does not amount to an obsessive thinking about death or relating to death in the manner of awaiting or
expecting. To wait or expect anxiously are inauthentic modes of relating to death. They are inauthentic for Heidegger because
they risk obfuscating or altogether nullifying the structure of possibility of an authentic being-unto-death.
Heidegger existential analysis of man as a being-unto-death goes beyond the conventional way of viewing death as an
annihilation of all possibilities view of a thinking of being toward death as pure possibility. For Heidegger, death seals the
singular facticity of my existence which stretches from birth to death, a lifespan finite and terminable. And because being-unto-
death throws me to a futural possibility that is mine and my own only, i am thrown to what i was always already am.
The German eminent philosopher further that, death is a special kind of end without which Dasein would not be able to
disclose itself as a being-possible. Death, in Heidegger paradoxically affirms that possibility lies in the funtural. It is always
something that is yet to come and, to this extent, one’s being-unto-death affirms the fact that one is- that a “not yet”, whose
eventuality is not ours to decide, always remains to be lived because it is not yet passed.
Being-unto-death opens Dasein to a horizon and movement of possibility whereby he understands himself as running
ahead, retrieving and finding comfort in what he was already always namely ‘thrown possibility”(135). Heidegger’s drastic and
radical re-interpretation of death thus amount to something like the following: death is the absolute impossibility that makes
my being there in the world possible. Being-unto-death pulls man out of inauthentic everyday life and allows him to realise his
To demonstrate in summary how death awareness regulates our existential consciousness are these few submissions below:
- That the question of death is a non-negotiable human drama, it arose our human mortality.
- That the inevitability of death or death consciousness is a call to order.
From the foregoing, Martin Heidegger, the eminent German philosopher, on the one hand had shown death as
something conclusively determined, in the sense that it is inevitable for every human being. While on the other hand, it unmask
its indeterminate nature via the truth that one never knows when or how death is going to come. He argued that all human
existence is embedded in time: past, present, future, and when considering the future, ‘death’ reality downs on us. This then
creates what Heidegger calls “Angst”. Angst can create a clear understanding in one, that death is a possible mode of existence.
The German philosopher also submitted that death consciousness discloses our mortality. It is therefore in the light of these
pre-occupation that the thrust of this paper is anchored.