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  1. 1. CONCEPTS OF DEATH1. MARTIN HEIDEGGERThere is a very brief way of framing how Heidegger approaches an understanding of death: sincedeath is not something we can experience (live through), there is really nothing at all to say about"death itself." In this sense, death is not -- it does not exist for an individual to experience. But since"death," in the sense of the termination of all possible experience (at least a we presently know it) isinevitable, a given fact of human existence, we can say a great deal about the attitudes we do have,as well as the attitudes we ought to have, about this quintessential aspect of human existence. Wecan say that what is important is not "death itself," but dying, the manner in which the humanbeing lives as it aims toward death. "Death," as our being toward it, is the focus of Heideggersanalysis. The old saying that as soon as we are born we are old enough to die, Heidegger notes, isnot something we can ignore -- for how we live in light of this fact makes all the difference (BT, p.158).Given this above frame, however, we must be careful not to confuse Heideggers analysis withordinary "sayings" or formulations of everyday speech. Heidegger develops a special language inthe analysis of Dasein. In what follows, it will be necessary to assume some familiarity withHeideggers special terms. Otherwise, we will be faced with the problem of building Heideggerssystem from the ground up. As an example, let us apply Heideggers language to the problem framewe just described. The "attitudes" we have toward death need to be understood in Heideggerslanguage as "understanding attunements." These are types of future-oriented awareness that alsocontain a heedfulness or emotional investment. The type of understanding attunements we canhave, that derive directly from the primordial structure of Dasein are "existential possibilities." Butthese possibilities can take on an abstract or "theoretical" aspect because the given facts of ourexistence limit our possibilities. The understanding attunements that we can actually live throughare "existentiell possibilities." Those existentiell modes of life which adequately express and revealthe true structure and possibilities of human existence are "authentic," while those modes whichcover these over are "inauthentic." Hence, Heideggers problem is to investigate Daseinprimordially, yielding an existential analysis that will in turn establish existentiell possibilities ofour being toward death. In the next section, we will follow Heideggers thought in pursuing thisproject as he develops it in the central chapter on death in BT.2. JEAN-PAUL SARTRE Traditional European Christian philosophy, particularly in the eighteenth century, was filled withimages of and sermons on the fear of the judgment that would come upon the time of death.Characterized by Plato as the need to free the soul from the "hateful" company of the body, deathwas seen as the entrance into another world. By contrast, the efforts of nineteenth- and twentieth-century existentialists were to humanize and individualize death as the last stage of life rather thanthe entrance into that which is beyond life. This shift historically helped to make death conceptually
  2. 2. a part of life, and therefore could be understood as a human phenomenon rather than speculationas to the nature of a spiritual life.If death is the last stage of life, then one philosophical question is, What is the nature of theexperience? It is to this question that the phenomenological analysis of Jean-Paul Sartrecontributed significant insight. It can be said that when a child dies, the child becomes frozen intime. Always a child, the potential of that child is never realized and the experience of the life ofthat child ends. Sartre explains in his analysis of time that the past is fixed in the experientialhistory of the person. Whatever the person did, or even did not do, is simply the way it is. If aperson was a coward when he or she died, then the image of that person as a coward is how theindividual is remembered.In his book Being and Nothingness (1956) Sartre established his early phenomenological method,exploring the nature of the human experience. Since Socrates, Western philosophers have suggestedthat essence or those basic aspects that make up the person are divinely preordained or predesignedprior to birth. Sartre, on the other hand, understood that the person must first exist before thatwhich makes up the person can be identified, as human beings are not objective objects but rathersubjective in their dynamic ability to change. Thus for Sartre, existence precedes essence. Ifanalysis starts with the first human experience and ends with the last, then ones past is the pastthat was experienced by the individual, the present is the current reality, and the future reflects hisor her potential. For Sartre, at the point of death the person does not have a past, as he or she isnow dead and cannot continue to write in the log of the present. Rather, a person then becomes hisor her past. Like the child who has died, in death the person is frozen in the minds of those personswho remember him or her.Sartre used the concept of a wall to explain the transition from life to death. This concept is bestunderstood by persons in a hospice who find that their comrades in death often understand thembetter than their families or those who do not understand their own finite nature. As he often did,Sartre offered his existentialist philosophy in a more academic volume and then explained it in hisplays and novels. In his story The Wall (1964) Sartre writes about Pablo, a Spanish loyalist in hiscell with two other republicans waiting execution by Generalissimo Francos soldiers. He reflects asfollows: "For twenty-four hours I have lived at Toms side, I had heard him, I had talked to him,and I knew that we had nothing in common. And now we resemble each other like twins, onlybecause we shall die together" (Stern 1967, p. 174). Persons faced with their own finitude often seethe meaning of both their experiences and their lives from a larger perspective.3. MAURICE MERLEAU-PONTY Was greatly influenced by Husserl, and in his own work he attempted to refute the tendencies inWestern philosophy of empiricism and what he called intellectualism, or what is commonlyreferred to as idealism. He challenged the thinking of dualisms, of subject and object, self andworld, through the lived experience of the existential body, as revealed in his (The Phenomenologyof Perception). He argued that the body subject was frequently underestimated in philosophy,which tends to view the body as something to be transcended by the power of the mind. For this
  3. 3. reason, he was interested in the primacy of perception, as a place of embodied inherence in theworld, while admitting that perception itself is primarily cognitive. His opposition to the knowledgeof scientific and analytic methods was based on their derivative relation to knowledge as comparedto the practical thinking of an embodied relation to the world.He confirmed the primacy of lived experience by pronouncing, "the perceiving mind is an incarnatemind." He saw the body as in continuity with the world, arguing that even considering the body asexternal and in the world is inconsistent with a concept of the primacy of lived experience. This is adifficult mode of thinking, where the consideration of perception in the world itself delivers thesubject into the state of perception. Therefore, there is no perception in general, there is onlyperception in the world. For Merleau-Ponty, the lived perception is fundamental tophenomenology, it is what makes it possible and necessary. As the perceiving subject changes,hence the relation of the subject to the world also changes, beginning things anew. Consciousnessfor Merleau-Ponty is also perceptual, in a state of flux, and is never autonomous from what itperceives of the world. Certainty of idea is based on the certainty of perception, which, contrary tothe cogito of Descartes, always remains to be established by phenomenological investigation -thereis no universal or ideal certainty at the level of ideas. One cannot say that I perceive is equivalentto I think, nor is the concept of being strictly a universalism. The incarnate situation of theperceiving subject opens the way to a phenomenological description of the living present -theperceived thing is equivalent to what is said about it.Merleau-Ponty was also fond of language-based concepts as those of linguistic and structuralistphilosophies, and he cited such ideas in his critiques of Sartre and his contemporaries for playingdown the importance of language in relation to thought. Jacques Lacan, Claude Levi-Strauss andFerdinand De Saussure were all key figures for Merleau-Ponty. Claude Levi-Strauss, a structuralistanthropologist, dedicated his major work The Savage Mind to the memory of Merleau-Ponty, andFerdinand De Saussure, a linguist who demonstrated the importance differences play in language,was introduced to Merleau-Ponty, into his reflections and teachings on language, in the late 1940sand early 1950s. The dialogue between Merleau-Ponty and Saussure would form the core ofstructuralist thought, particularly on theories of language and semiotics. In his unfinished work,The Prose of the World, Merleau-Ponty writes, Saussure shows admirably that … it cannot be thehistory of the word or language which determines its present meaning. Structural linguistics is atheory that seems to emphasize the subjects lived relation to the world. Meaning in language isattributed to the interplay, a diacritical relationship, between signs. As Merleau-Ponty has observedof Saussure, the notion of the primacy of the synchronic dimension of language for understandingthe nature of language itself "liberates history from historicism and makes a new conception ofreason possible." Language is enacted and evolving, it is the "living present" in speech. Therefore,language can no more be reduced to a history of linguistics than history can be reduced to historicaldiscourse.
  4. 4. CONCEPTS OF FREEDOM1. MARTIN HEIDEGGERThe concept of freedom plays an important role in Being and Time and takes on an increasinglyimportant place in Heideggers essays and lectures of the post-Being and Time 1920s and early1930s. In his lecture course of 1928/29, Introduction to Philosophy, he speaks of freedom as the“innermost essence of [human] existence” (GA 27: 103). An entire lecture course devoted to theconcept of freedom in 1930 (The Essence of Human Freedom: An Introduction to Philosophy)begins with the claim that the question of the essence of human freedom “lays the whole ofphilosophy before us.” The essays written during this period make even stronger claims forfreedom. According to “On the Essence of Ground,” written in 1928 immediately after thepublication of Being and Time, “Freedom alone can let a world prevail and let it world for Dasein”(Wegm 162/Pathm 126). And in “On the Essence of Truth,” written in 1930 and revised over theyears, the discussion of “the essence of truth” is introduced by way of a section entitled “TheEssence of Freedom” (Wegm 185–189/Pathm 143–147). It is here that we find the nearly inscrutablestatement that the essence of truth is freedom.The concept of freedom is also central to Being andTime. In some cases, when Heidegger talks about freedom, we seem to be on familiar ground.2. JEAN-PAUL SARTRESartre believed that as human beings we are free to make our own decisions and choices (free will).This belief rejects the argument that states that life is pre-determined because of past events(determinism). In other words our everyday actions are the result of other causes.Being and ConsciousnessSartre rationalises this notion of human freedom by explaining his thoughts on consciousness(phenomology). Firstly, Sartre described two different types of beings in the world.Being-for-itself(etre-pour-soi): Sartres term for any being capable of self-consciousness.Being-in-itself (etre-en-soi): Sartres term for anything that lacks self-consciousness.Another characteristic of the being-for-itself (humans) is the ability to project themselves in thefuture or to reassess their past. Also, being-for-itself have the ability to recognise when something isabsent.For example if you arranged to meet a friend at a caf but he does not arrive then his absence is felt.You could list all the people you know who werent in the caf, but it will only be your friend whoyou would genuinely miss. Sartre describes this absence or lack of something as nothingness. Thisknack to see things which are missing is linked to Sartres idea of freedom. This is because we canpicture things which have not happened and things yet to be done, and subsequently this reveals aworld full of possibilities where anything can happen (freedom).
  5. 5. 3. MAURICE MERLEAU PONTYIt is not surprising that Merleau-Ponty concludes Phenomenology of Perception with a chapter onfreedom. His concept of freedom relates to the embodied subjectivity that finds itself within thestructures of the phenomenal field, and only free subjects can be obligated by imperatives. All thephenomenologists are critical of Kant’s notion of autonomy, as it is an inward turn away from theworld (i.e., from the phenomenal field in Merleau-Ponty’s terms), whereas the phenomenologistsargue for the exteriority of imperatives in things and other people. But how does Merleau-Ponty’sview of freedom compare with Kant’s? Merleau-Ponty’s first reference to Kant’s conception offreedom points out a problem of Kant’s autonomy and idealism in the experience of freedom inconcrete actions. Specifically, Merleau-Ponty refers to Max Scheler, who alleges that Kant conflatesethical intentions and real actions in "… the Kantian idea of an intention which is tantamount tothe act, which Scheler countered with the argument that the cripple who would like to be able tosave a drowning man and the good swimmer who actually saves him do not have the sameexperience of autonomy."75 It would be more correct, however, for Scheler and Merleau-Ponty tospeak of good will and duty rather than good intentions in Kant’s ethics. In the Grounding, Kantshows that he is well aware of the limitations in the archetype of good intentions, the "GoldenRule." For Kant, as with all ethical intentions, the Golden Rule is conditional, because it is based onempirical outcomes. Its heteronomy cannot be an autonomous grounding principle, and it does notaccount for strict notion of duty.76 Still, Scheler’s contention of the limits of good intentions can beaptly applied to the good will and duty. The experience of autonomy in wanting to save thedrowning person would not be the same in someone who cannot swim as in someone who can. Inagreeing with Scheler’s assertion, Merleau-Ponty points out that Kant’s indeterminate freedomwould undo all determinate ethical actions with its successive indeterminacy. Without thedeterminations of concrete action, freedom is everywhere and nowhere. For Scheler and Merleau-Ponty, the intention of the good will is not tantamount to its act. Merleau-Ponty insists on acommitment of freedom to action and events, which forms the basis of a lived ethics of free, butconcrete, choices. These actions are not merely the good will’s intentions followed by their effects.Ethical intentions must be committed to action or else they will remain indeterminate. Contrastingthe indeterminacy of Kant’s autonomy with the determinacy of action, Merleau-Ponty argues that:A freedom which has no need to be exercised because it is already acquired could not commit itselfit knows that the following instant will find it, come what may, just as free and indeterminate. Thevery notion of freedom demands that our decision should plunge into the future, that somethingshould have to be done by it, that subsequent instant should benefit from its predecessor and,though not necessitated, should at least be required by it. If freedom is doing, it is necessary thatwhat it does should not immediately be undone by a new freedom…. Unless there are cycles ofbehavior, open situations requiring a certain completion and capable of constituting a backgroundto either a confirmatory or transformatory decision, we never experience freedom.