Graduation Year

2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Philosophy

Major Professor

Charles Guignon

Keywords

Christianity, Death, Epicurean, Heidegger, Kierkegaard, Platonic

Abstract

I begin by offering an account of two key strains in the history of philosophical dealings with death. Both strains initially seek to diminish fear of death by appealing to the idea that death is simply the separation of the soul from the body. According to the Platonic strain, death should not be feared since the soul will have a prolonged existence free from the bodily prison after death. With several dramatic modifications, this is the strain that is taken up by much of the mainstream Christian tradition. According to the Epicurean strain, death should not be feared since the tiny pthesiss that make up the soul leave the body and are dispersed at the moment of death, leaving behind no subject to experience any evil that might be associated with death. Although informed by millennia of further scientific discovery, this is the strain picked up on by contemporary atheistic, technologically advanced mankind.

My primary goal is to demonstrate that philosophy has an often-overlooked alternative to viewing death in terms of this ancient dichotomy. This is the alternative championed by Søren Kierkegaard and Martin Heidegger. Although both thinkers arise from the Christian tradition, they clearly react to Epicurean insights about death in their work, thereby prescribing a peculiar way of living with death that the Christian tradition seems to have forgotten about.

Despite the association of Kierkegaard and Heidegger, there is a fundamental difference between them on the subject of death. In Being and Time Heidegger seems to rely on the phenomenology of death that Kierkegaard provides in texts such as "At a Graveside." It is interesting to notice, however, that this discourse, especially when seen in the light of Kierkegaard's more obviously religious works, might only be compelling to the aspiring Christian. If so, then perhaps there is a tension in both Heidegger's "methodologically atheistic" appropriation of Kierkegaard's ideas about death, and Heidegger's attempt to make these ideas compelling to the aspiring human. My secondary goal is to determine whether Heidegger takes the "existential philosophy of death" too far when he incorporates it into his early ontological project.

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