Thomson will explain Heidegger’s intertwined thinking about death and the nothing and explore its significance. “Death” (Tod) is Heidegger’s name for a stark and desolate phenomenon in which Dasein (that is, our world-disclosive “being-here”) encounters its own end, the end “most proper” to the distinctive kind of entity that Dasein is. Being and Time’s phenomenology of death is primarily concerned to understand Dasein’s death ontologically. Heidegger is asking what the phenomenon of our own individual deaths reveals to us all about the nature of our common human being, that is, our Dasein (and what that discloses, in turn, about the nature of being in general). Understood ontologically, “death” designates Dasein’s encounter with the end of its own world-disclosure, the end of that particular way of becoming intelligible in time which uniquely “distinguishes” Dasein from all other kinds of entities—and Heidegger thinks such death discloses the phenomenon he calls “the nothing.” This nothing does not designate brute non-being; what Heidegger calls “the nothing itself” is not nothing at all. In his words, the nothing is not “the non-being of the null [das Nicht-Sein des Nichtigen], which is not at all.” Such a null or nugatory nothingness would have no force or effect, whereas the phenomenon Heidegger calls “the nothing” actively does something: “The nothing itself noths or nihilates [Das Nichts selbst nichtet].” Heidegger made that notoriously recondite pronouncement in 1929 and philosophers have disagreed vociferously about what it might mean ever since. By situating Heidegger’s thinking of the “noth-ing of the nothing” in its phenomenological context, we will be able to understand much more clearly.
Post-Kantian European Philosophy Seminar Convenors: Joseph Schear, Manuel Dries, and Mark Wrathall