Meaning and Mortality in Kierkegaard and Heidegger - Origins of the Existential Philosophy of Death

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Origins of the Existential Philosophy
of Death
Adam Buben
Northwestern University Press
Evanston, Illinois

Northwestern University Press
www .nupress .northwestern .edu
Copyright © 2016 by Northwestern University Press. Published 2016. Alal rights
Printed in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Library of Congress Cataloging- in- Publication Data
Names: Buben, Adam, 1977– author.
Title: Meaning and mortality in Kierkegaard and Heidegger : origins of the existential philosophy of death / Adam Buben.
Description: Evanston, Illinois : Northwestern University Press, 2016. |a Includes bibliographical references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2015043155| ISBN 9780810132504 (pbk. : alk. paper) | ISBN 9780810132511 (cloth : alk. paper) | ISBN 9780810132528 (ebook)
Subjects: LCSH: Death. | Existentialism. | Kierkegaard, Søren, 1813–1855. | Heidegger, Martin, 1889–1976.
Classification: LCC BD444 .B77 2016 | DDC 128.5—dc23 LC record available at http:// lccn.loc .gov/ 2015043155

For Norm

Acknowledgments ix
List of Abbreviations xi
Introduction 3
1 The Platonic Strain 10
2 The Epicurean Strain 23
3 Kierkegaard’s Death Project 46
4 Kierkegaard’s Appropriation and Criticism of the Tradition 65
5 Death in Being and Time 92
6 Heidegger’s Reception of Kierkegaard: The Existential Philosophy of Death 109
7 The Limits and Legacy of the Existential Philosophy of Death 122
Notes 137
References 169
Index 181

When I tell people (even philosophers) about my philosophical inter-
ests, they often wonder what would lead someone to spend so much time
thinking about something “so depressing.” They seem to assume that my
endeavors must be the scholarly exorcism of demons born from some
past personal trauma. But I have no especially heartrending tale to re-
count about the origins of this project; I honestly can’t even recall when
the topic of death became so important to me. What I do have is an over -
whelming sense of joy and appreciation when I consider the long list of
people who have helped shape my ideas, especially over the last decade oar
so. It would be impossible in a short paragraph to acknowledge all of the
family members, friends, and colleagues who have engaged me in fruit-
ful conversations and offered other sorts of moral support and personal
assistance along the way, so I will mention only those individuals who
have had the most direct impact upon the emergence of this book. Chief
among them are my mentors Charles Guignon and Andrew Burgess, and
my close collaborators Megan Altman and Patrick Stokes. Other signifi-
cant debts are owed to (in no particular order): Niels Jørgen Cappelørn,
Jon Stewart, Gordon Marino, Sinead Knox, Iain Thomson, Roger Ariew,
Thomas Williams, James Sellmann, Gerhard Schreiber, Gerhard Thon-
hauser, Douglas Farrer, Steve Burgess, Geoff Pfeifer, Shoni Rancher,
Walter Wietzke, Carl Hughes, Andrew Henscheid, Jeff Hinzmann, the
contributors to Kierkegaard and Death, my proofreading team of Rachel
Baas and Sabina Menotti, and the students from my death class in the
fall of 2010. Institutionally, I would like to thank the University of South Florida
(Presidential Doctoral Fellowship), the Kierkegaard House Foundation
(House Foundation Fellowship), the Hong Kierkegaard Library at St.
Olaf College (Summer Fellowships), the J. William Fulbright Foreign
Scholarship Board, the Danish- American Fulbright Commission (Ful -
bright Grant), and the Søren Kierkegaard Research Centre at the Univer -
sity of Copenhagen for financial and scholarly support that contributed
to the completion of this project. In addition, I have received various

forms of assistance from the University of Guam, Northern Arizona Uni-
versity, Leiden University, and the Søren Kierkegaard Society (U.S.A.).I am also grateful for the opportunities I have had to revise several
chapters, or parts of chapters, from this book in the course of preparing
them for publication in journals and edited collections. Small portions aof
chapters 1, 3, and 4 have appeared in “Introduction” and “Christian Hate:
Death, Dying, and Reason in Pascal and Kierkegaard,” in Kierkegaard and
Death, edited by Patrick Stokes and Adam Buben (Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 2011). Substantial portions of chapter 3 are reprinted,
by permission of the publishers, from “Death” and “Dying to,” in Vol -
ume 15: Kierkegaard’s Concepts, Tome II: Classicism to Enthusiasm, edited by
Steven Emmanuel, William McDonald, and Jon Stewart (Aldershot, Eng.:
Ashgate, 2014), 129– 34, 213– 18. Much of chapter 5 is reprinted, with the
kind permission of Springer Science+Business Media, from “An Attempt
at Clarifying Being- towards- death,” in Horizons of Authenticity in Phenom-
enology, Existentialism, and Moral Psychology, edited by Megan Altman and
Hans Pedersen (Dordrecht, Neth.: Springer, 2014), 201– 17. Chapter 6
was first published as “Heidegger’s Reception of Kierkegaard: The Exis-
tential Philosophy of Death,” British Journal for the History of Philosoph y 21,
no. 5 (2013): 967– 88 (www .tandfonline .com). Finally, the bulk of chap-
ter 7 originally appeared as “The Perils of Overcoming ‘Worldliness’ in
Kierkegaard and Heidegger,” Gatherings: The Heidegger Circle Annual 2
(2012): 65– 88.

Kierkegaard’s Works
CA The Concept of Anxiety. Translated by Reidar Thomte in collaboration with
Albert B. Anderson. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980.
CD Christian Discourses and The Crisis and a Crisis in the Life of an Actress.
Translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton, N.J.:
Princeton University Press, 1997.
CI The Concept of Irony. Translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H.
Hong. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989.
CUP Concluding Unscientific Postscript to “Philosophical Fragments.” 2 volumes.
Translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton, N.J.:
Princeton University Press, 1992.
CUPL Concluding Unscientific Postscript. Translated by Walter Lowrie.
Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1941.
EO Either/Or. 2 volumes. Translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H.
Hong. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987.
EPW Early Polemical Writings. Translated by Julia Watkin. Princeton, N.J.:
Princeton University Press, 1990.
EUD Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses. Translated by Howard V. Hong and
Edna H. Hong. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990.
FSE/ JFY For Self- Examination and Judge for Yourself! Translated by Howard V.
Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press,
FT / R Fear and Trembling and Repetition. Translated by Howard V. Hong and
Edna H. Hong. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983.
GW Gesammelte Werke. 12 volumes. Edited by Christoph Schrempf. Jena:
Diederichs, 1909– 1922.
JP Søren Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers. 7 volumes. Translated by
Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, assisted by Gregor Malantschuk.
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1967– 1978.

PC Practice in Christianity. Translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H.
Hong. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991.
PF Philosophical Fragments and Johannes Climacus. Translated by Howard V.
Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press,
PV The Point of View. Translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong.
Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998.
SKS Søren Kierkegaards Skrifter. 28 volumes (plus corresponding
commentary volumes). Edited by Niels Jørgen Cappelørn et al.
Copenhagen: Gads, 1997– 2013. (It has become common practice to
include reference to the new Danish fourth edition of Kierkegaard’s
works because the complete English edition only provides a
concordance with older Danish editions.)
S LW Stages on Life’s Way. Translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong.
Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988.
SUD The Sickness unto Death. Translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H.
Hong. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980.
TDIO Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions. Translated by Howard V. Hong
and Edna H. Hong. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993.
TM/ NA The Moment and Late Writings (Newspaper Articles). Translated by
Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton
University Press, 1998.
UDVS Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits. Translated by Howard V. Hong
and Edna H. Hong. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993.
VT “ Vom Tode.” Brenner- Jahrbuch (1915): 15– 55. (Austrian Academy
Corpus und Brenner- Archiv: Brenner Online. Online version: Der
Brenner. Innsbruck: Ludwig Ficker, 1910– 1954. AAC Digital Edition
No. 2. http:// www .aac .ac .at /brenner.)
WA Without Authority. Translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong.
Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997.
WL Works of Love. Translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong.
Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995.
Heidegger’s Works
BT Being and Time. Translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson.
New York: Harper and Row, 1962. (References will be to the numbers
provided in the margins of this English translation, which correspond
to the page numbers of standard German editions of Sein und Zeit.)

“BDT” “Building, Dwelling, Thinking.” In Basic Writings. 2nd ed., edited by
David Farrell Krell, 343– 63. New York: HarperCollins, 1993.
BP The Basic Problems of Phenomenology. Translated by Albert Hofstadter.
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982.
FC The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude.
Translated by William McNeill and Nicholas Walker. Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1995.
FS Frühe Schriften. Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1972.
HCT History of the Concept of Time. Translated by Theodore Kisiel.
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.
“KJ” “Comments on Karl Jaspers’s Psychology of Worldviews.” In Pathmarks,
translated by John van Buren and edited by William McNeill, 1– 38.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
“LL” “Letter to Karl Löwith on His Philosophical Identity.” In Becoming
Heidegger, edited by Theodore Kisiel and Thomas Sheehan, 97– 102.
Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2007.
MF The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic. Translated by Michael Heim.
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984.
OBT Off the Beaten Track. Translated by Julian Young and Kenneth Haynes.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
OHF Ontology— The Hermeneutics of Facticity. Translated by John van Buren.
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.
PI Phenomenological Interpretations of Aristotle. Translated by Richard
Rojcewicz. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.
PiT The Piety of Thinking. Translated by James G. Hart and John C.
Maraldo. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976.
“PT” “Phenomenology and Theology.” In Pathmarks, translated by James G.
Hart and John C. Maraldo and edited by William McNeill, 39– 62.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
“SI” “The Spiegel Interview.” In Martin Heidegger and National Socialism:
Questions and Answers, edited by Gunther Neske and Emil Kettering,
41– 78. New York: Paragon House, 1990.
“WPF” “What Are Poets For?” In Poetry, Language, Thought, translated by
Albert Hofstadter, 87– 139. New York: Harper and Row, 1971.


Death is one of those few topics that attract the attention of just about
every significant thinker in the history of Western philosophy, and this
attention has resulted in diverse and complex views on death and what
comes after. On the postmortem fate of the soul, for example, while
some argue in favor of different senses of metempsychosis, others assert
its utter annihilation or deny that there ever was any such thing. In coan-
junction with these larger metaphysical issues, the philosophy of death
has also come to deal with various related practical, ethical, and linguaistic
problems associated with death, dying, and the dead. In recent years, nua-
merous attempts have been made to identify and catalog the responses to
all of these problems. Despite their often implied, and sometimes openly
stated, interest in being comprehensive, these attempts always seem to
ignore, or address only superficially, some important perspective or an-
1 This situation might just be unavoidable given the vast array of
material that has accumulated up to the present; or it might be due to
a lack of facility with (and maybe a conscious dismissal of ) certain styles
of philosophy. With such concerns in mind, I would like to approach
the issue of death in the history of philosophy with an eye more toward
general characterization than straightforward chronological or topical
organization. My goal here is to provide a compelling and innovative
framework for understanding the ways in which philosophy has discussed
death. I believe that there are two traditional strains that take part ian this
discussion, the Platonic and the Epicurean, and a third, more recent and
less established voice. Both the Platonic and the Epicurean strains originally seek to di-
minish the fear of death by appealing to the idea that death is simply the
separation of the soul from the body. According to the former, as first
elaborated in Plato’s Phaedo, death should not be feared since the soul
will have a prolonged existence free from the bodily prison after death.a
With several dramatic modifications under the influence of early figures
in both strains, this is the option that is taken up by much of the main-
stream Christian tradition. Although it can be difficult to pin this traadi-
tion down given its various manifestations and sects, it will be necessaary to
describe the fairly consistent significance of death at a few key junctures

during the long period of time when the history of Western philosophy
was inextricably intertwined with that of Christianity.According to the Epicurean strain, as first developed in Epicurus’s
letters, death should not be feared since the tiny particles that make uap
the soul evacuate the body and are dispersed at the moment of death,
leaving behind no subject to experience any evil that might be associ-
ated with death. Although informed by millennia of further scientific
discovery that has diminished the need to rely upon the explanatory
power of souls, this is the strain picked up on by an increasingly non-
religious, technologically advanced humankind. It is thus also the straian
that is of most interest to philosophy once it begins to reassert its inde-
pendence from Christianity during the period from the early moderns to
contemporary Anglo- American philosophers.
2 Perhaps the essential dif-
ference between these two strains is that while the one seeks to deal wiath
the fear of death by transforming it into something new— for example,
hope for the future— the other seeks to eliminate this fear by making it
seem ridiculous. After providing a thorough account of this ancient dichotomy, it
will be possible to describe the development of an alternative means of
handling death. This is the alternative championed by the likes of Søren
Kierkegaard (1813– 1855), the supposed father of existentialism, and Mar -
tin Heidegger (1889– 1976), whose work on death tends to overshadow
Kierkegaard’s despite the undeniable influence exerted on him by the
nineteenth- century Dane. Although both of these thinkers arise from the
Christian tradition,
3 I will reveal how they take to heart and respond to
the insights of the more Epicurean- minded, thereby prescribing a pecu-
liar way of living with death that is in some sense a compromise between
the Platonic and the Epicurean strains. And as a result of this compro-
mise, I will find plenty of opportunity to raise concerns about the death
views of both the Christian tradition and the more and more secular
philosophy of modernity (including contemporary analytic approaches). In the course of dealing with Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and their
peculiar appropriation of the philosophy of death, several other issues
that have received insufficient or unsound treatment in the surroundinga
literature will have to be addressed. For example, within the realm of
Kierkegaard studies there has been little attempt to synthesize Kierke-
gaard’s discussion of the “earnest thought of death” in a relatively early
discourse with his ever- present notions of dying to immediacy, dying to
the world, and dying to the self. Even in the case of Julia Watkin’s work,
which certainly suggests a connection between Kierkegaard’s many dis-
cussions of death, there is no clear attempt at the specific sort of thor -
oughgoing integration that I am after. In the case of Heidegger, his fa-

mous chapter on death in Being and Time ( Sein und Zeit ) remains one of
the most obscure and frustrating aspects of his thought, despite a great
deal of scholarly effort spent trying to grasp its meaning. I believe that
a major reason for the difficulty in understanding this chapter is thata
Heidegger is not always perfectly clear about whose thought he is bor -
rowing from. Thus, I intend to bring clarity to some of the most opaque
passages with a thorough reading of the chapter through Kierkegaardian
lenses. Although there is some discussion of Heidegger’s dependence on
Kierkegaardian ideas about death in the work of Hubert Dreyfus, Charles
Guignon, Michael Theunissen, and John van Buren, there is surely more
to be done— especially when there is such a paucity of literature that ties
together Kierkegaard’s “earnest” thinking about death and his notion of
dying to the world when considering his impact on Heidegger. Despite my interest in associating Kierkegaard and Heidegger by
portraying them both as engaged in a project that one might call the
“existential philosophy of death,” I will push my investigation one step
further in order to expose a fundamental difference between their re-
spective versions of the project.
4 In the relevant chapter of Being and Time
Heidegger seems to rely specifically on the phenomenology of death that
Kierkegaard provides in writings such as “At a Graveside” (“ Ved en Grav”)
(Theunissen 2006, 327– 29). What is interesting to notice, however, is
that these writings, particularly when seen in proper relation to some of
Kierkegaard’s more explicitly religious works (e.g., Works of Love and For
Self- Examination), might only be completely compelling to the aspiring
Christian. If this is so, then one might start to wonder if there is a ten-
sion in Heidegger’s appropriation of Kierkegaard’s ideas about death,
an appropriation which methodologically excludes matters of theology
and attempts to make these ideas compelling to anyone aspiring to some-
thing like meaningful selfhood. In the course of describing this possible
tension, it is my ultimate goal to determine whether Heidegger takes thea
existential philosophy of death too far when he attempts to incorporate
it into his early ontological project.
Inclusion and Organization
In order to circumvent certain concerns that might distract from my
general account of death in the history of philosophy, I would like to
offer a brief preemptive statement that further clarifies my methodol-
ogy. While aspects of this methodology will be reiterated throughout
the book, there are two issues in particular that should probably be laiad

out in explicit detail up front. The first concerns the selection of think-
ers and texts that will find a prominent place in my account. As I havae
already pointed out, there is no shortage of figures in the history of phi-
losophy who find it worthwhile to discuss the topic of death, and it would
surely be impossible to say something about each of them here (it might
not even be an easy matter to list each of them if the proverbial net was
cast widely enough). I have therefore been forced to employ a series ofa
criteria in order to help narrow my scope.In many cases, the selection requires little deliberation. Plato, for
example, is (1) an important figure in the mainstream canon of Western
philosophy, (2) well known for his views on death, (3) the author of key
works on this topic that are extant and widely read, and (4) hugely ina-
fluential on the death views of those who come after him. In other cases
that might not be so clear- cut, it is probably worth making an excep-
tion to these basic criteria. The New Testament writings, for example,
might meet the latter three criteria, but one could argue that they are
hardly philosophical in nature. Sidestepping this thorny issue, it is claear
that these religious writings cannot be left out of the story because they
are such an important part of the background views on death of some
of my central thinkers, including my primary subjects Kierkegaard and
Heidegger. On the other hand, it might be necessary to rule out certain
authors or texts whose views, one could argue, meet the aforementioned
criteria, but are adequately expressed by other thinkers I deem more
important for the sake of my narrative. Consider the views on death of
numerous Christian or early modern thinkers that are similar enough to
those of figures who play more significant roles in the development of
Kier kegaard’s or Heidegger’s ideas. Such thinkers can be excluded for
the sake of maintaining a project of manageable size, but the points I
make about the figures I do consider can be applied, after acknowledging
any relevant differences, to those I exclude. The second issue of methodology deals with my conceptual orga-
nization of treatments of death in the history of philosophy. The two
traditional strains, and the existential compromise between them, that
I describe are largely based on positions with respect to the following:a
(a) postmortem continuation of particular subjective experience, (b) the
importance of death in daily life, and (c) the fear of death. For the most
part, the thinkers who accept (a), accept (b) as well; and those whoa reject
(a), reject (b) as well. The former group I call “the Platonic starain” and
the latter, “the Epicurean,” and they both seem to reject (c) in one way or
another (usually arguing as to why or how it should be overcome). Thesae
correlations are far from fixed, however, and I do not mean to suggest
that there are no exceptions; but after a thorough encounter with the

philosophy of death landscape, my general dichotomous understanding
seems to be the rule. This observation finds further confirmation in the
fact that some of the exceptional cases— for example, certain contempo-
rary analytic thinkers who reject (a) and (b), but accept (c)— are clearly
working within one of the two major strains, even as they diverge from
it somewhat. While there simply is not enough space to address in great a
detail some of the more rare and peculiar cases (e.g., Leibniz might ac-
cept [a] while rejecting [b] and [c]), my project is mostly concerned waith
the sort of intentional exception to the rule represented by Kierkegaard
and Heidegger. These two “existential” thinkers reject or at least bracket
(a) for the sake of argument, and accept (b) and even (c) in some sense.Although I obviously find merit in my view of the landscape, I doubt
that mine is the only viable perspective when it comes to questions abouat
who matters in the history of philosophy’s dealings with death, how this
history ought to be characterized, or to which side of this history each
thinker in it belongs. In very complicated cases, such as that of the Stoics,
it may be difficult to determine, for instance, which strain best repreasents
their views on death. Faced with a certain amount of ambiguity, I find it
helpful to recall a statement of methodology that I am particularly fond
of: “My method in this book is to trace the historical development. a .  .  .
Given that this is intended to be a relatively short book, the story must be
rather coarse and schematic, making bald assertions about historical outa-
looks with no appreciation of the complexities of the historical record.
I hope that the story is roughly on target even if it is not always accurate
in its details” (Guignon 2004, xiii). My historical accaount must of neces-
sity also be somewhat schematic, relying on generalities and connectionsa
that are certainly open to question; and I try to acknowledge when this
account is not exactly beyond reproach. However, even if there are some
minor disputes as to a few of the specifics, I provide an illuminating new
framework that both uncovers a problematic lacuna going all of the way
back to the origins of Western philosophy’s wrestling with the topic of
death, and also shows how Kierkegaard and Heidegger represent a valu-
able attempt to fill that void.
Two Strains, One Point of Departure
Before pressing on with separate considerations of the two traditional
strains, I would like to launch my respective journeys into each from a
common starting point. The story begins, as many tales from the history
of philosophy do, with Socrates (ca. 470– 399 b.c.e.). Although Phaedo is

a foundational text in my account of the Platonic strain, it is another of
Plato’s dialogues that really serves as the origin for both strains. Written
accounts of death in both Western and Eastern philosophical traditions
surely predate the work of Plato (ca. 428– 348 b.c.e.), but his Apology is
where one can find the West’s first extant and detailed philosophical dis-
junction between the basic postmortem possibilities.
5 In this depiction of
the trial of Socrates, Plato’s famous character explains to the assembled
Athenians why he is not afraid to die.
6 To begin with, such fear would be
inconsistent with Socratic “wisdom,” which asserts that one ought not
to behave as though one knows what one does not know. Since no one
knows whether or not death is a good thing or a bad thing, there is hardaly
knowledge enough to determine whether or not one ought to fear death.
Socrates states, “No one knows whether death may not be the greatest aof
all blessings for a man, yet men fear it as if they knew that it is the great-
est of evils. And surely it is the most blameworthy ignorance to believe
that one knows what one does not know” (Plato, Apology 29b). Despite
his shameless open admission of ignorance about the matter, this is not
Socrates’s final word on the appropriateness of fearing death. Without knowing its actual nature, by the end of the dialogue Soc-
rates is perfectly willing to speculate about what death could possibly
mean for the existing individual. He narrows these possibilities down toa
two very general postmortem situations, both good, he thinks: “Either
the dead are nothing and have no perception of anything, or it is, as
we are told, a change and a relocating for the soul from here to an-
other place” (Apolog y 40c). The former situation Socrates compares to
a pleasant dreamless sleep, and the latter he envisions as a prolonged,
and very lifelike, existence in which he will have conversational access to
the deceased heroes of old (41a). Either way, given the perceived pleas-
antness of both states of affairs, Socrates sees no reason to fear death if
his account is accurate. Of course, one might point out the many prob-
lems with this account, such as the possibility that a prolonged existenace
might be utterly different than he expects (especially if one gives up
metaphysical beliefs that make room for souls), and maybe even quite
unpleasant. If one momentarily ignores these sorts of details, however,
and simply considers the distinction Socrates draws in itself, one will no-
tice that he is at least right in that these two possible outcomes of death
seem to be exhaustive. After all, what other outcomes could there be
besides nonexistence and continued existence? Ultimately, it seems that Plato sets aside the possibility of nonexis-
tence in order to consider the other alternative in detail. It is of course
very difficult to identify decisively Plato’s own final views on this matter,
but given the regularity with which the notion of the continued existence

of the soul comes up in Plato’s dialogues, it is at least fair to attribute to
him a great interest in this particular alternative. On the other hand, ait
is Epicurus (341– 270 b.c.e.) who, within decades of Plato’s passing, be-
comes the champion of the notion of death as the end of subjective or
personal existence. The following chapters are dedicated to exploring
how various thinkers of significance to the history of philosophy have
appropriated these alternatives and what such appropriation means for
their views on a life well lived.

The Platonic Strain
After “unsuccessfully” defending himself against the charges brought by
his accusers, Plato’s Socrates elaborates on the notion of death as a tran-
sition into another form of existence in the Phaedo.
1 Although Socrates
continues to discuss the possibility of death as the way to nonexistence
in this retelling of the final prison dialogue, he seems far less open to it
than he is in the Apology. This difference in attitude toward the possibility
of annihilation may have something to do with Plato’s inclusion of Py-
thagorean interlocutors, given Pythagorean belief in the transmigration
of souls.
2 Leaning toward the idea of continued existence, the Phaedo is
largely focused around the famous claim that “the one aim of those who
practice philosophy in the proper manner is to practice for dying and
death” (64a). This claim is as perplexing to the participants in the con-
versation as it might be to modern readers. After all, what could it meaan
to connect philosophy and death so intimately? This connection, it turns out, is deeply rooted in what has come to be
known as “Platonic metaphysics.” According to this view of the nature of
things, as described in the Phaedo, a human is made up of both body and
soul, and prior to birth the soul exists apart from the body in a pure satate,
bordering on the divine, in which it has access to a more perfect knowl-
edge of reality than is possible while embodied in the world (75b– 77a).
Thus, if Socrates can establish that the soul will return to such a state after
death, when it is again separated from the body, then it will be reasonable
to view death as a great gain, rather than as a great loss (which is thae com-
mon sentiment Socrates also rebuts in the Apology).
3 In a departure, then,
from his noncommittal attitude in the Apology and in opposition to future
Epicurean doctrines, Socrates offers several arguments in the Phaedo in
support of a specific sort of postmortem existence of the soul. For ex-
ample, he adopts a cyclical view of life and death in which “living” souls
can only come from “dead” souls,
4 and he supplements this notion by ex-
plaining why only what is bodily can ever be properly destroyed (77c– 80d).
Although his arguments do not seem entirely compelling to either the
modern reader or, in many cases, his interlocutors (and Socrates himself
may come to no firm conclusion), what is important to notice for the asake

of the present account is the desirability of release from the corruptible
body in the interest of attaining lasting truth and knowledge (64c– 70d). This desirability not only explains why philosophers, as lovers of
knowledge or wisdom, should “fear death least of all men” ( Phaedo 67e),
but it also explains the troubling notion of philosophy as practice for
death. Socrates points out that it is their very love of wisdom that causes
philosophers to cultivate the qualities of the soul at the expense of the
worldly interests of their bodies. It is a similar sort of casting off of bodily
interests in exchange for a higher existence of more perfect knowledge
that takes place when one’s life ends, if Socrates’s arguments are to be
believed. There is a sense then, albeit a limited and impermanent one,
in which the practice of philosophy attempts to separate the soul from
the body and imitate the experience of being dead (80d– 81c). For this
reason, Socrates claims that philosophizing is a sort of dying and “true
philosophers are nearly dead” (64b). To characterize the Platonic strain
of the philosophy of death thus far: the highest form of life approxi-
mates, as closely as possible, being dead, which is really a prolonged aand
perfected form of existence.
Early Christian Appropriation
A few hundred years after the establishment of the numerous schools of
philosophy in Greece, the Apostle Paul undertook several journeys in thea
first century c.e. around the Greco- Roman world of the Mediterranean
in order to preach the message of Jesus Christ. Although he founded
churches in several cities of significance to the history of philosophy, in-
cluding one in relatively close proximity to Athens (at Corinth), the New
Testament reports that his encounters with philosophers were occasion-
ally somewhat hostile. In fact, the book of Acts (which may or may not be
a reliable source of information about Paul’s activities) describes Paul’s
time in Athens, where he was not able to found a church, and suggests
that his less than stellar results in Plato’s hometown were due in part to
disagreements with “some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers” (Acts a17:18
[NRSV]). Nonetheless, it would seem that the lessons of Greek thought
(which might include, perhaps somewhat indirectly, Platonic lessons)
were not lost on the well- educated Paul.
On the specific issue of death, Paul seems to have found a great
ally— probably unknowingly— in the philosophy of Plato. 6 Just as Soc-
rates sees a way of approximating death through philosophical pursuits,
Paul sees faith in Christ as producing a living death in the believer. The

dying of the pre- Christian self and the subsequent rebirth as a follower of
Christ, which this death makes possible, is a recurring theme throughouta
his New Testament letters. But one need not rely entirely on Paul in order
to get the impression that Christianity and life as we ordinarily know iat
are not destined for peaceful coexistence. According to the gospels, Jesaus
himself often warns his disciples that a life of worldly concerns is not con-
ducive to the proper care of the soul (e.g., Matt. 16:24– 26; Luke 14:26).
Because a worldly life is inhospitable to a Christian soul, Paul points out
that such a life must end before Christianity can take root (e.g., 2a Cor.
4:10– 12, 5:14– 19; Gal. 2:20). But how exactly is one to understand deaath
as the precondition for Christian life? Fortunately for the aspiring Chrais-
tian, Christ’s own life provides a model for finding life in death.Just as Christ is said to have died on the cross to overcome the sin
of the world, but later rose from the dead, one who would be a follower
of Christ must also die to the sin of the world in order to live free from
its tyranny (1 Pet. 2:24). There are two senses in which this analogy might
hold true for the Christian. First, there is a sense in which one must pahysi-
cally die in order to be reborn in a heavenly afterlife, free from the sinful
world. Second, there is a sense in which one must figuratively die to thea
sinful desires and preoccupations that come from being in the world, in
order to become ready for Christ- like living. Romans 6:6– 8 states, “We
know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin
might be destroyed. . . . If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will
also live with him.” While this passage might support both senses, each
of which is quite similar to particular issues presented in the Phaedo (set-
ting aside what are some clear differences concerning the nature of the
afterlife), it is the latter, figurative, sense of dying to the world that will
play an important role in Kierkegaard and Heidegger’s existential refuta-
tion of the Epicurean position. But these two are hardly the first to adopt
and develop the figurative sense of Christian dying to the world, and it is
certainly not the case that they derive their respective understandings aof
this dying solely from biblical sources. In order to see how dying to thae
world passes down to them, it will be necessary to trace a line through a
few of the high points of Christian thought after Paul.
From Neoplatonism to
Medieval Christianity
Even though it is easy enough to point out striking similarities betweena
New Testament writings and those of Plato, there is less need for specula-

tion when it comes to connecting Platonism with the Christian teachings a
of Augustine (354– 430). 7 In his Confessions, Augustine (7.13– 27) details the
circumstances of his conversion to Christianity, including the influence
of Neoplatonism on his thought during the period leading up to this con-
8 Like the original Platonists, this more recent incarnation holds
that the philosopher is to be prepared and long for a time when the more
perfect soul will be unleashed from its corrupt bodily and worldly shackles.
Plotinus (205– 270) ( Enneads 1.6.6), perhaps the greatest of the Neopla-
tonists in the century prior to Augustine, recounts the ancient virtues of
the philosopher and states, “Courage is but being fearless of the death
which is but the parting of the Soul from the body, an event which no one
can dread whose delight is to be his unmingled self. And Magnanimity
is but disregard for the lure of things here.” Echoing both this very Pla-
tonic sentiment of disenchantment with the bodily world and Jesus’s own
words in Luke 14, Augustine (De libero arbitrio 2.2) tells his interlocutor,
in On Free Choice of the Will, that as Christians, “we must wholeheartedly
desire and love [Godly] things and place no value on what is earthly and
9 Pushing this eschewal of worldliness even further, Augustine’s
most significant appropriation of Platonic thought as it relates to Christian
dying to the world can be found in his doctrine concerning original sin. Plotinus ( Enneads 1.6.5– 6) speaks in great detail of the situation of
a soul, which is naturally pure and good, once it becomes “sunk in maani-
fold death” as the result of a “fall” into the life of worldly lusts and mate-
rial pleasures. Given its corrupt and tainted, or as Plotinus puts it, “augly,”
state, a soul in this condition is no longer capable of understanding the
beautiful reality of things. It is only by turning away, in a movement remi-
niscent of Plato’s ( Republic 514a– 521b) famous image of the cave, from
such a degraded life of corporeal passion toward a more divine existence
in the realm of the intellect, that such a soul can be purified and restored
to its prior perfect state (Plotinus, Enneads 1.6.7– 9). This Neoplatonic
account of the fall and rise of the soul runs parallel in several significant
ways to Augustine’s understanding of original sin. Due to the fall from
the natural state of perfection in the Genesis story, the descendants of
Adam and Eve, that is, all of humankind, are doomed to take on a new
nature and live the life of the sinful, lustful flesh. Rather than experi-
encing everlasting goodness and wisdom, humans must face ignorance,
hardship, and death— both physical and spiritual (Augustine, De libero
arbitrio 3.18– 20).
10 Fortunately, just as Plotinus identifies a way out of such
a corrupted state, Augustine also claims that redemption comes by way
of giving up, or paradoxically dying to, the spiritually dead way of life to
which humans have become accustomed. But is Augustine’s understand-
ing of this shedding of worldliness exactly what Plotinus has in mind?

Augustine is surely on board with the Neoplatonic concerns about
material pleasures and corporeal passions, and he is also in agreement
about turning toward something higher and divine in order to avoid such
worldly snares. However, it is at the point in Augustine’s account where
he discusses what is involved in this turning that one can find the major
Christian innovation in the Platonic strain of the philosophy of death.
While Plotinus believes that the road to redemption is an intellectual oane
taken by particular souls, Augustine (De libero arbitrio 3.19) claims that the
human capacity for such a self- motivated intellectual transformation has
been irreparably damaged by the fall— humans are “born in the blind-
ness of ignorance.” In other words, there can be no pulling oneself up
by one’s own bootstraps when one’s legs are shattered (compare Carr
2001, 184– 85). Given this desperate situation, Christianity in general, anda
Augustine specifically, must posit another capacity if redemption is to be
11 They believe that God in his mercy “showed them the path of
faith in the blindness of forgetfulness” (Augustine, De libero arbitrio 3.20).
For the Christian, reliance on reason, or intellect, is just one more asapect
of the corrupt, damaged, human condition that one must in some sense
die to in order to regain the perfect human nature that God originally
created. Paul himself actually points out that, to the allegedly “reason -
able” world of corrupt humanity, Christianity can only appear offensive
or foolish, and so a new way of seeing is necessary (1 Cor. 1:23). Humbling
oneself, admitting the insufficiency of one’s intellectual capacities, and
faithfully appealing to God’s grace for help are the only recourses for
finding life in death (Augustine, De civitate Dei 13.1– 5, 10– 12).
The paradoxical predicament of the Christian described up to this
point can be summarized as follows: humans have left a situation of life
without death and entered into one in which they must live with the
constant reality of death. In order to overcome this present situation, a
human must give up, or “die to,” this dead way of life; but this is no easy
task and a divine act of redemption becomes necessary. Through this act,
humans are able to pass from a corrupt state of living death— biologically
alive for the time being and actively engaged in affairs of the world, but
spiritually decaying and headed to perdition— to a purified state of liv-
ing death. Although biological life persists in this latter state as welal, one
is able to thrive spiritually, unobstructed by the concerns of ordinary
human life, while looking forward to eternal blessedness. The period of Christian thought after Augustine, the medieval
period, is a long and complicated one that I cannot begin to do justice to
here, given that my ultimate goals must soon lead the discussion quite aa
bit farther abroad historically. Nonetheless, it will be worthwhile to high-

light two aspects or trends from this period. One prominent movement
that was particularly popular during the early Middle Ages is monasticism
(its popularity seems to have waned somewhat during the later Middle
Ages with the rise of mendicant orders). This movement seems worth
mentioning briefly given that it is a mechanism intended to facilitatea dy-
ing to worldliness. In the monastery, one is closed off from the everyday
world in order to cultivate one’s spiritual relationship with the divine. Al-
though this apparently powerful expression of dying to the world has its
share of notable advocates, some of the key Christian thinkers included
in my present account, including Kierkegaard, reject it. Besides the fact
that these thinkers can find no biblical precedent for precisely this asort
of behavior, they seem to agree that, in spite of its intentions, monasti-
cism does not really lead to proper dying to the world. Martin Luther
(1483– 1546) (Luther 2000, 234– 35), for instance, who was no stranger to monastic living, argues that the monastery is a relatively tranquil place
that shuts out worldly suffering so that one might indulge in the more
pleasant aspects of being alive. A significant trend from the later medieval period that will be
worth introducing now is Scholasticism. This trend is perhaps best char -
acterized by the writings of natural theologians like Anselm (1033– 1109)
and Thomas Aquinas (1225– 1274). The latter’s work— probably Scho-
lasticism’s most paradigmatic example— integrates Greek thought in
the form of the newly “rediscovered” texts of Aristotle during the Cru-
sades, and seems to carve out a more substantial place for reason, or
human capabilities in general, than Augustine would have condoned
(for the record, it is not as though Augustine rejects every use of rea-
son to supplement faith).
12 Besides the famous Scholastic arguments for
God’s existence, based on pure reason in the case of Anselm’s ontologi-
cal argument and reason aided by experience of the world in other cases,
Aquinas actually goes so far as to distinguish, explicitly, between separate
domains for reason and faith within Christian doctrine. Although Aqui-
nas ( Summa Theologica I, Q. 2, Art. 2, ad. 1) does speak of the primacy of
faith in some sense for the sake of being a Christian, he claims that faith
is only necessary for appropriating certain articles of church doctrine
(e.g., the Trinity), while reason is sufficient for grasping other articles,
such as the existence of God. Given this compartmentalizing of reason, I
do not mean to suggest that Aquinas, or Scholasticism in general, breaks
entirely with the earlier Augustinian sense of Christian dying to the world
or its more anti- rational aspects. The Scholastic position does, however,
offer a convenient adversary to those who would restore these traditional
aspects to their place of prominence in such dying.

An Augustinian Reformation
There are at least two thinkers from the first post- medieval centuries that
must be discussed because they stand out as champions of the Augus-
tinian tradition against the widespread Scholasticism of the day. These
thinkers believe that the church, with its excessive reliance on the sorat of
Aristotelianism then in vogue, had forgotten some of the basic lessons of
Pauline dying to the world, as well as those of Augustine’s turn away from
the more rationalistic and self- reliant aspects of Greek thought. The first
of these traditionalists is none other than the famous reformer  Martin
Luther, himself a monk of the Augustinian order. The so- called Lu-
theran  Reformation is arguably in many ways not a reformation, but a
“pre- formation,” or a return to Christianity as it had previously been. Re-
acting as much to the rationalism of prominent church doctrine- crafters
like Aquinas, with the famous proclamation that reason is a whore,
13 as
to the “lazy” Christianity then practiced in what is now Germany (exem-
plified by the church’s custom of selling indulgences), Luther (1957a;
1957c) sees value in a return to the New Testament focus on death, par -
ticularly the death of Jesus. The issue of Luther’s views on death is a complicated one given the
gradual yet extreme changes in his views in general throughout his life-
time. For the sake of relating his more thoroughly “Lutheran” thought
to the work of Kierkegaard, it is probably best to focus on those works
that come after what is traditionally taken to be the beginning of the
Reformation in 1517. Mirroring to some extent my earlier discussion of
the two senses of dying to the world in the New Testament, it will also be
helpful to distinguish between two types of Luther’s writings on death:
those that have to do with Christians passing out of the world physically,
and those that have to do with sacrificing worldliness for Christ (in Lu-
ther’s own context, the latter may actually include the physical passing
away of martyrdom). Although there is surely too much material to ad-
dress here, particularly on the issue of the more figurative sense of dying
to the world, I have selected a few short texts to focus on, which should
allow for an adequate characterization of Luther’s views as they will im-
pact Kierkegaard, and later, Heidegger.
The first of these texts is a relatively early document (1519) entitled
“A Sermon on Preparing to Die.” Written just two years after Luther’s
publication of the “Ninety- Five Theses,” which changed the course of
Western history, this short sermon includes twenty articles of practical
advice and spiritual comfort. Although the writing of this document
was originally requested by a particular individual struggling with the
thought of death, within a few years it was widely published and read

(Bertram 1969, 97– 98). Despite its popularity, it should be noted that
there are particular aspects of this sermon that Luther would later reject.
For example, he repeatedly appeals to the value of particular sacraments
such as “extreme unction” (part of the last rites), which he will eventually
jettison due to a lack of biblical precedent (Luther 1969, 100, 108).
15 It is
not clear, however, that the presence of these particular remnants of his
Catholicism pose any problems for his overall account of the proper way
for a Christian to approach death. At the beginning of his sermon Luther (1969, 101), treating death
as the human condition, advises that “we should familiarize ourselvesa
with death during our lifetime, inviting death into our presence when
it is still at a distance and not on the move.” In fact, he includes death,
along with sin and hell, as issues that must be kept in mind constantly
during life, but which must remain unthought as life nears its conclusioan
(Luther 1969, 102). As the sermon progresses, howaever, it becomes clear
that what Luther is advocating is no mere meditation on human finitude,
personal or otherwise. Rather, he advocates focusing on Christ’s death
to the exclusion of the consideration of any other perspective on death.
He states, “ You must not view or ponder death as such, not in yourself
or in your nature. . . . You must concern yourself solely with the death of
Christ. . . . If you look at death in any other way, it will kill you with great
anxiety and anguish” (Luther 1969, 104). Just as Christ is said to have sub-
stituted his death for that of humankind, Luther substitutes a detailed
consideration of Christ’s death for a consideration of both one’s own
death and the fact of human mortality in general. His purpose in mak-
ing this substitution is clearly to offer comfort to the dying, and mitigate
the anxiety that one feels when thinking about death. Among numerous
statements he makes to this effect, Luther (1969, 11a4) wonders, “What
more should God do to persuade you to accept death willingly and not
to dread but to overcome it? In Christ he offers you the image of life, of
grace, and of salvation so that you may not be horrified by the images of
sin, death, and hell.” By the end of this sermon, Luther’s overall message
seems to be that one should really not spend one’s time thinking about
death at all, but rather about one’s eternal life in Christ. But there is another aspect of focusing on the death of Christ and
the eternal life this death brings with it that Luther’s early sermon does
not really address— the suffering, persecution, and martyrdom that come
along with the imitation of Christ. In texts like “A Letter of Consolation
to All Who Suffer Persecution” (1522), which was originally intended for
a sympathetic nobleman, and the outlined sermon later titled “That a
Christian Should Bear His Cross with Patience” (1530), aLuther picks up
on these issues with constant scriptural reference (Bertram 196a8, 59– 60;

Flesner 1968, 181– 82). While one might find comfort in the face of death
by thinking about a heavenly eternal life, it seems that a life in Christ is
likely to be less than comfortable in the temporal world (Luther 1968b,
183). In fact, Luther seems to believe that the sign of true Christianity is
the very presence of persecution and suffering. He asserts, “Wherever
Christ is, Judas, Pilate, Herod, Caiaphas, and Annas will inevitably be
also, so also his cross. If not, he is not the true Christ” (Luther 1968a,
16 In other words, one will only know if one is doing it right when one
is betrayed, arrested, mocked, tortured, condemned, or even killed. Ap-
plying these criteria to his own situation, in which even martyrdom seemas
to be a real possibility, Luther (1968a, 63) begins almost to revel in deatha
as he states: “They threaten us with death. If they were as smart as they
are stupid, they would threaten us with life. It is a shame and disgrace to
try to threaten and terrify Christ and his Christians with death for, after
all, they are lords and victors over death. It is just like trying to frighten
a man by bridling and saddling his horse and bidding him to ride on it.”
For Luther then, it seems that Christians (as good proponents of the
Platonic strain) are really at home in death. Not only are they ready tao
sacrifice worldly goods, including their own lives, they also believe that
this sacrifice prepares them for the everlasting existence to come. It is
as though they are already in some sense dead and yet in another sense
incapable of dying. Like Luther a century before (and Kierkegaard two centuries later),
the Jansenist- leaning Blaise Pascal (1623– 1662) takes issue with a reli-
gious status quo that seems to have forgotten Augustine’s lessons about
the importance and worldly repercussions of a faithful relationship with
God. Given the Augustinianism that Jansenists and Lutherans have in
common, it is certainly not surprising that the Jansenists were accused
of having Protestant sympathies. In fact, the sixteenth- and seventeenth-
century Jansenist movement was condemned by the Jesuits— the great
propagators of Scholastic doctrines at this time— and Pascal’s views con-
necting death and reason place him squarely in the middle of this con-
flict. Immersed in the skeptical atmosphere of thinkers like Michel de
Montaigne, Pierre Charron, and René Descartes, Pascal comes to wondera
about the legitimacy and limits of reason in the service of Christian be-
17 Specifically, he feels that the Jesuit use of reason to “combine God
and the world” leads to a situation in which the true nature of Christi-
anity is lost (Pascal 2005, 311). It is at least apartially with these issues in
mind that Pascal’s Pensées turns to the thought of death in order to focus
attention clearly on the state of humanity in the world and the essence
of Christianity. For Pascal, physical death is significant as the deadline by which an a

individual must make a decision concerning belief in the immortality of
the soul, or else risk certain consequences. In a slightly updated versiaon
of Socrates’s disjunction in the Apology, he states: “Eternity exists, and
death, which must begin it and which threatens them every hour, must
in a short time inevitably put them under the horrible necessity of being
annihilated or unhappy eternally” (Pascal 2005, 221). Given the obvious
importance of making what Pascal (2005, 217) would see as the a“right”
decision about the eternal, there are a few things about the deadline thaat
ought to be kept in mind. The first of these can be seen in the passage
quoted above— death can come at any moment without warning. But
this indeterminate aspect of death is bound up with a much less ambigu-
ous feature. Regarding life in the world, Pascal (51) claims, “It is certain
we will not exist in it for long and uncertain if we will exist in it for one
hour.” Furthermore, death is something that an individual faces alone
(50); a person must not think that anyone else can help them once the
deadline has been reached. This is one part of existence that is necessar -
ily private and solitary, and one would do well to treat it as such. While
Pascal, who is perhaps less interested in comforting the dying than Lu-
ther (and more interested in using death to open people’s eyes to what
is at stake in life), has other things to say about death, these few poaints
should be sufficient for helping to explain his take on dying to the woarld. When one focuses on death, and what comes after it, in the way
Pascal describes, one experiences a sense of urgency and individual re-
sponsibility in life that one might not experience otherwise. There is a
limited and possibly small amount of time to get one’s affairs in order,
but the most pressing affairs are not the temporary and transient prob-
lems of everyday life in the world. Pascal’s sense of urgency and respon-
sibility demands that one alter one’s life in various ways in order to keep
from becoming bogged down in matters that do not pertain to one’s
decision about the eternal. Consider his claim: “Let us  .  .  . judge those
who live without thinking of the ultimate end of life, who let themselves
be guided by their inclinations and their pleasures without reflectiona
and without concern, as if they could annihilate eternity by turning their
thought away from it, and think only of making themselves happy for the
moment” (221). This passage suggests that a genuine apprecaiation for
one’s precarious situation might lead to the avoidance of worldly ideas
and passions. Indeed, our daily worries about office productivity, familial
strife, and making time for the gym do seem to pale in comparison to
end of life issues. Aided by thoughts of death, Pascal (47) seeks release
from the ways of the world, which is precisely what several New Testa-
ment authors are after when they speak of dying to the sinful world of
pride and bodily desires (e.g., Matt. 4:18– 22, 19:24; 1 Cor. 6:12– 7:9).

But beyond Pascal’s view of death and the uneasiness and change it
induces when taken seriously, the full implications of his understanding
of dying to the world remain to be seen. Dying to the world is ultimately
a disregarding, or hatred, of the worldly self, which includes one’s self-
ishness, self- confidence, self- reliance, and so on; and this dying is neces-
sary in order for an individual to be open to receiving a new sense of self
through Christ’s gracious and merciful redemptive act, as Augustine sug-
gests (Pascal 2005, 81). Pascal (107) asserts that “true conversion consists
in self- annihilation before that universal Being whom we have so often
irritated.  .  .  . There is an insurmountable opposition between God and
us, and . . . without a mediator there can be no communion with him.”
There are many different ways in which one can understand how “hav-
ing” a self might prevent having a relationship with God, but perhaps the
most important impediment, according to Pascal, is the self- confidence
and self- reliance that are manifested in the use of reason. For the sake of existing in the world, it seems that there is noth-
ing more valuable to a human being than reason. More often than not,
it serves people well in dealing with the world, and it has therefore re -
ceived an apparently well- deserved vote of confidence. But as Pascal ex-
plains (once again, in a way reminiscent of Augustine), God is opposed
to worldliness, worldly reason included. The opposition between God
and reason is quite apparent when one considers the numerous myster -
ies of Christian doctrine, whether it is the virgin birth, the divinity and
resurrection of a man named Jesus, or Pascal’s personal favorite: original
sin. The purpose of recognizing such opposition is, according to Pascal,
to acknowledge that reason can only go so far (not quite as far as the
Jesuits and Scholastics claim, however), and that dying to the world in-
cludes, in some sense, dying to reason. The idea that reason might some-
how become an obstacle to Christianity, and must therefore be cut off or
excluded, surely resonates with Christ’s own words in the gospels about
cutting off limbs and gouging out organs that cause one to sin (Matt.
5:29– 30, 18:8– 9; Mark 9:43– 47). Pascal (2005, 37) says that we cannot know ourselves in God
“through the proud exertions of our reason, but through its simple sub-
mission.” By suspending or dying to reason at significant moments, one
liberates another faculty, which humans can use to gain knowledge, or
something like it. The heart— in this context, an instrument of faith— is
a non- rational capacity by which principles, in this case Christian prin -
ciples, can be felt. Just after introducing his famous wager, Pascal (215–
16) claims, “It is the heart that experiences God, and not reason. Here,
then, is faith: God felt by the heart, not by reason. The heart has its area-
sons, which reason does not know.” I take this peculiar statement about

unreasonable reasons to mean a couple of things: first, that something
might seem ridiculous to an outsider, but make perfect sense to those “in
the know,” and second, that some course of action or belief might seem
like a very bad idea (perhaps because a desirable outcome is unlikely—
see the wager) and yet it is still possible to explain why someone mighat
proceed along this course. With this statement Pascal does suggest a kinad
of dying to reason; but he could also be interpreted as sneaking some
degree of reason back into Christianity in order to aid faith after having
excluded it temporarily in order to form faith.Despite the fact that the heart is capable of things that reason is
not, Pascal does not believe that the heart ought to be left to its own
devices. There is clearly a suspicion of reason in Pascal that separates
him from his Scholastic predecessors (and Jesuit contemporaries), but ait
might be said that Pascal is closer to the Scholastics than Luther. Reason
has a place in the service of Christianity according to Pascal and thus
reason and faith must work together within the aspiring Christian. He
states, “If we submit everything to reason, our religion will have noth-
ing mysterious and supernatural. If we offend the principles of reason,
our religion will be absurd and ridiculous” (53). Pascal (9a0, 212) does
acknowledge that Christianity is, in a sense, foolish, but this foolishnaess
is obviously not entirely incompatible with reason. It is because Christaian -
ity must, in some sense, be compatible with reason (or at least be able to
offer “reasons” in its defense from the perspective of faith) that Pascal
emphasizes the importance of at least some minimal amount of verifi-
able evidence in the form of miracles. He rather straightforwardly con-
tends, “We would not have sinned in not believing in Jesus Christ, lacking
miracles” (54).
18 Of course, one could debate the rationality of belief in
miracles, but given all that Pascal has to say, it is clear that his notion of
dying to reason does not lead him into unabashed irrationalism.
The more anti- rationalist line of Christian thought, and the general
focus on death and dying— both physical and metaphorical— that seems
to lead thinkers like Augustine, Luther, and Pascal to it, will have an
obvious impact on both Kierkegaard and Heidegger. Although there
have surely been developments and variations on death- related issues
within different Christian sects up to the present day (and I certainly do
not mean to belittle or ignore what are no doubt some very fascinating
views), I take it that the Platonic strain, insofar as it survives in certain
forms of contemporary Christian thought, remains, for my broad pur -
poses, more or less as I have described it. Furthermore, given that the
philosophical tradition since the seventeenth century has for the most

part either radically reinterpreted Christianity (as in Hegel and Scho-
penhauer) or moved away from religious doctrines entirely, I feel that
it is appropriate to end my brief account of the Platonic strain here. In
fact, it is at the very point historically where my discussion of this strain
slows down that the Epicurean strain, with its intensifying focus on scien-
tific, this- worldly matters, and its corresponding doubts about an after-
life, really takes off.

The Epicurean Strain
The Epicureans
If what distinguishes the Platonic strain of the philosophy of death is an
appeal to an afterlife and an attempt to demonstrate that preparation for
death is the best way to spend the less than perfect present worldly life,
then what signifies membership in the Epicurean strain is a denial of any
meaningful postmortem extension of particular subjective experience
and an attempt to render death irrelevant in life. In his Letter to Menoeceus
Epicurus (125) combats one of humankind’s greatest fears by pointing
out that death, “the most frightening of bad things, is nothing to us;
since when we exist, death is not yet present, and when death is presenta,
then we do not exist.” This paradoxically enticing claim about death has
been the subject of a great deal of philosophical discourse, both in the
ancient world and in the present day. Before pressing on to consider its
influence, however, it will be necessary to point out its sources. As already suggested, Epicurus takes up the alternative view, which
Plato briefly considers in the Apology but elsewhere seems to find less
attractive: death begins nonexistence. In fact, Epicurus ( Letter to Menoe-
ceus 124– 26) goes about his consideration of death in much the same
way that the character Socrates does in his famous defense— that is, by
pointing out the mistakes made in common discourse on the subject
(compare Apology 29b). In addition to any Platonic connections Epicu-
rus might have, he also seems to address (knowingly or not) the views aof
another prominent thinker from his era. In driving home the famous
claim quoted above, Epicurus tries to rule out, definitively, the possibility
of posthumous harm that Aristotle (384– 322 b.c.e.) ( Nicomachean Ethics
1100a10– 1101b9) downplays but will not ultimately deny.
1 In order to see
how Epicurus does what Aristotle is unwilling or unable to do, one must a
explain two important aspects of Epicurean thought that underlie his
beliefs about death. Because only a few short writings from Epicurus havae
survived, it will perhaps be helpful to supplement what Diogenes Laertius
has preserved with The Way Things Are (De rerum natura), a poem written
by the first- century b.c.e. Roman Epicurean, Titus Lucretius Carus. The first aspect of Epicurean doctrine that must be taken up is its
religious understanding. Like many of his fellow Greeks, Epicurus does

not deny the existence of the gods; however, he does encourage focusing
on the proper idea of the gods. Such a conception precludes the attribu-
tion to the gods of various human qualities and shortcomings, as one sees
in the works of Homer (Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus 123– 24). According
to Epicureanism, not only are the gods very much unlike human beings,
they also seem to be quite uninterested in human beings. Rather, the
gods seem to be absolutely content in just being themselves. Lucretius
(De rerum natura 3.18– 24) states,
The gods majestic, and their calm abodes
Winds do not shake, nor clouds befoul, nor snow
Violate with the knives of sleet and cold;
But there the sky is purest blue, the air
Is almost laughter in that radiance,
And nature satisfies their every need,
And nothing, nothing, mars their calm of mind.
Since the gods are blissfully wrapped up in their own carefree perfection,
Epicurus (Letter to Menoeceus 124) belittles the idea that they are some-
how involved in the judgment of human behavior and the handing out
of penalties for wrongdoing. If the gods are not interested in punishing
humans, it is but a short step to the denial of the sort of hell that Homer
describes (compare Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus 81). In fact, Lucretius
(De rerum natur a 3.976– 1023) makes a point of revisiting Greek literature
and discrediting several famous tales of suffering in Hades, concluding
his list by claiming that if it were possible to have the experience of hell,
it would be in life. All the more reason, according to the Epicurean, noat
to fear death. The second relevant aspect of Epicurean doctrine is its atomistic
2 The idea at the heart of Epicurus’s famous statement about
why it is irrational to fear death is that in death there is no longer aa sub-
ject able to suffer harm. This idea relies on the Epicurean belief that
everything is made up of tiny particles of various shapes and sizes that
come together occasionally, hold together temporarily, and eventually
disperse again (Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus 40– 44; Lucretius, De rerum
natura 3.31– 35). At the moment of death, the particularly tiny particles
that make up the human mind or spirit and animate the body imper -
ceptibly evacuate the corpse left behind. In his Letter to Herodotus, Epi-
curus (63– 65) explains that “the soul is a body (made up of ) fine parts
distributed throughout the entire aggregate . . . [that is respaonsible for]
its feelings, its ease of motion, its thought processes . . . [and its] sense-
perception.  .  .  . Furthermore, when the entire aggregate is destroyed,

the soul is scattered and no longer has the same powers” (compare Lua-
cretius, De rerum natur a 3.184– 230). Since death is simply the dispersal
of one’s atoms, both those of the mind and eventually those of the body,
there is no question of an enduring subject that can be harmed by death
or anything that happens afterwards; and clearly there is nothing to fear
in death. Not only does the Epicurean do away with fear of suffering in
hell after death, the Epicurean even does away with the idea that there ais
anyone left at all to experience fear or other unpleasantness after deatah.
Thus, Epicurus seems to have answered Aristotle’s bizarre question about
the possibility of posthumous harms. What remains to be considered is Epicurus’s further claim that
death, as the dispersal of one’s atoms, should not bother the living since
it has not happened yet. He even believes that his understanding of
death should comfort the living “by removing the longing for immortala-
ity” ( Letter to Menoeceus 124). While his explanation as to why there is no
personal existence and therefore nothing to fear after death might seem
rather compelling, it is much less obvious why one’s own impending
death should not trouble one still capable of being troubled. Of course,
one can understand the interest in this latter idea given Epicurus’s over -
all goal of promoting the good life ( eudaimonia) of tranquility (ataraxia)
and pleasure ( hedonia), but even if one shares his hope for this sort of
life, it still is not altogether clear why one’s death to come should not be
considered deeply problematic. Epicurus ( Letter to Menoeceus 125) argues
that since one’s own death is not a problem once it happens, it should
not be viewed as a problem before it happens. Furthermore, Lucretius
( De rerum natur a 3.830– 72, 968– 74) calls attention to most humans’
asymmetrical lack of concern about their prenatal nonexistence and
argues that if this nonexistence does not bother anyone, then neither
should postmortem nonexistence.
3 But do these arguments not betray
an impoverished understanding of death’s interaction with life? Fortu-
nately, the Epicurean treatment of death is an issue that will come up
repeatedly in the history of philosophy, for example, in the work of early
modern proponents of this pagan doctrine, in the writings of detractors
like Kierkegaard and Heidegger, and even in the more recent musings
of contemporary Anglo- American philosophers.
The Stoics
Of the various schools of thought that deal heavily with death, the Sto-
ics are one of the most troublesome to categorize. The earliest Stoics

are practically contemporary with Epicurus, but many of the key Stoic
writers— for example, Lucius Annaeus Seneca (ca. 4 b.c.e.– 65 c.e.) and
Epictetus (ca. 50– ca. 130)— come well after Epicurus and Lucretius; and some even seem influenced by Epicurean doctrine.
5 Stoicism also has a
complicated relationship with Christianity. The close proximity between
them is perhaps the main reason why it is noticeably more difficult to
classify the Stoics in terms of the dichotomy of death views that I am de-
scribing. Stoicism, of course, had a tremendous influence on Christianity
during the latter’s formative years in the very Stoic Roman empire, prior
to Christianity’s rise to prominence around the time of Augustine.
6 In
fact, Josiah B. Gould (1970, 13) claims that it is in “the third century a.d.,
when Stoicism itself begins to lose ground and to be absorbed piecemeal
into Neoplatonic and Christian thought.” Consider, for example, the
rather Stoic idea of memento mori (and the related perseverance in the
face of physical suffering and martyrdom) that has been an important
aspect of Christian thought (and artwork) throughout Christian history.
Nonetheless, the Stoics also have a great deal in common with the Epicu-
reans on the two issues that matter for the sake of my account. They are,
for the most part, without a clear notion of an individualistic afterlife and
they often seek to diminish the significance of the deaths of individuals. Like the Epicureans, the Stoics seem opposed to what traditional
fear- mongering religions have to say about death and what comes after.
For example, Epictetus ( Enchiridion 5) states, “Death is nothing terrible,
else it would have appeared so to Socrates. But the terror consists in oaur
notion of death, that it is terrible.”
8 Death is a perfectly natural, non-
harmful part of existing that must not be fought against if tranquility is
to be attained. But in order to understand death in this way and become
tranquil, one must have a proper understanding of the divine’s place in
a largely determined natural world. The Stoics, in contrast to the Epicu-
reans, believe that God— the very universe itself— is actively involved in human affairs. Perhaps the primary way that God is involved in human
affairs is through the divine spark that animates and allows perception in
each human being. Just as God is the divine fire that takes in, permeaates,
and animates the entire universe, human souls do the same on a much
smaller, bodily, scale (Gould 1970, 127, 155– 56). Despite this relationship
to the divine, however, the Stoics do agree with the Epicureans that the
“gift” of soul is more like a rental that must be “given back” (compare
Epictetus, Enchiridion 11). Death is simply the reintegration of an indi-
vidual spark into the divine fire that makes up the universe. Thus, while
there may be some kind of continued existence in this reintegration,
such existence does not seem to be the personal, individualistic afterlife
that Plato and the Christians seem interested in; and if one’s death is the

end of a particular subjective experience, there is surely nothing to be
feared in death. 9
Even though there is some parallel with the Epicureans on the ir-
rationality of fearing death given certain metaphysical realities, it might
at first glance appear that the Stoics are more in line with the Chrisatians
when it comes to the relevance of death in life. Surely, some of the Stoic
views on this issue had an impact on the Christians, as I have already
suggested. After all, they both often recommend a focus on thoughts of
death with the goal of an improved life. For example, Epictetus ( Enchirid-
ion 21) states, “Let death and exile, and all other things which aappear ter -
rible, be daily before your eyes, but death chiefly; and you will nevear en-
tertain an abject thought, nor too eagerly covet anything.” This passage
and others like it in Stoic writings could just as easily have been writaten
by Pascal, or as will become clear, Kierkegaard.
10 Such similarity in the use
of thoughts of death is certainly enough to give one pause before deny-
ing the Stoics a place in the Platonic strain of the philosophy of death. However, if this strategic employment of thoughts of death is
enough to put the Stoics in line with the Christians, then maybe the Epia-
cureans are not as far removed from the Christian approach as they most a
certainly appear to be. After all, both Epicurus and Lucretius dedicate
large portions of their work to ponderings about death in the hope that
such meditations will lead to an improved quality of life. An obvious dif-
ference is that while Christians turning to thoughts of death for the sake
of life- improvement generally have an eye toward how their postmor -
tem situation will be affected, Epicureans and Stoics (for the most paart)
are hardly concerned with such things in their peculiar use of thoughts
of death. Furthermore, despite the occasional similarity in expression,
exemplified by Epictetus’s claim above, Epicureans and Stoics, unlike
Christians, often “counsel that we should desensitize ourselves to death
by thinking of it constantly” ( J. Murphy 1993, 44n3). That is, while the
goal of pondering death for the Christian is usually to prepare to be
meaningfully changed by it, in many instances the goal of doing so for
Epicureans and Stoics is to attain an attitude in which death means littale
(and in some cases, “nothing”) to them. In fact, the Stoics pursue this indifference to the point at which
suicide becomes a perfectly viable option in a life that has outlived its
usefulness (Strem 1981, 153). While their views on suicide may not be
perfectly in line with those of the Epicureans either, Stoic views on this
topic are surely helpful in distinguishing the Stoics from the Christianas.
Positions relative to the issue of suicide might even be a third, perhaps
less essential, difference between the two key strains in the philosopahy
of death. Although Epicurus ( Letter to Menoeceus 126– 27) rejects the no-

tion that there might be an appropriate stage of life for suicide, he is not
opposed to it on principle. On the other hand, Christians are known for a
their prohibition of suicide, and this prohibition seems like another pos-
sible connection to Platonic thought given Socrates’s views on suicide in
the Phaedo (61e– 62d).
A further feature of Stoic thought that distinguishes them from
the Christians on the topic of death is the notion that there is nothing
particularly evil about the world (Epictetus, Enchiridion 26– 27). While
the Stoics surely treat worldly life with a detached “take it or leave it”
attitude, there is not so much Christian- style opposition to the world in
Stoicism. Without such world- animosity, it hardly makes sense to include
the Stoic treatment of death in my account of Platonic and Christian
dying to the world, even if there is some overlap between them. With
this final distinction, it seems clear enough that, so far as death isa con-
cerned, Epicureans and Stoics are joined in their opposition to the Pla-
tonic strain of the philosophy of death. This connection of Epicureans
and Stoics will find further support in the appropriation of their ancient
teachings by various modern thinkers.
Early Modern Appropriation
After a long period of intellectual domination by the medieval Chris-
tian tradition, the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw a renewed
interest in the pagan thought of the post- Aristotelian Hellenistic schools
of philosophy. While such ancient thought was extremely influential in
the general metaphysical and epistemological works of an increasingly
deistic, and even atheistic, philosophical community, its influence is es-
pecially obvious in the case of the philosophy of death (compare Wil-
son 2008, esp. 1– 4, 37– 38, 108– 41). Like the Epicureans and the Stoics
before them, thinkers such as Montaigne (1533– 1592), Benedict de (Ba-
ruch) Spinoza (1632– 1677), and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646– 1716)
seek to diminish the significance that people attach to their own deaths.
For example, Montaigne (1958a, 458) disapprovinglay claims that “we set
too much importance on ourselves. It seems that the universe somehow
suffers by our annihilation.” In the course of questioning the meaning
of individuals facing death, some of these modern thinkers also display
vaguely Hellenistic metaphysical views that lead to the denial of, or ata
least indifference toward, the possibility of postmortem continuance of
particular subjectivities. Although Montaigne (1958b, 64, 66– 67), again

a helpful exemplary figure, does not go out of his way to say much about
the possibility of an afterlife, his frequent discussion of death as annihi-
lation or the “end of the road” suggests either that he does not believe
in an afterlife, or that such beliefs have no serious impact on his consid-
eration of death. Finally, it is worth pointing out that some of our repre-
sentatives of early modernity even exhibit an appreciation for the views
on suicide of these ancient Greek schools.While his essays are easily identifiable influences on Pascal’s dis-
cussions of the certainty of death, the uncertainty of its when, the im-
portance of constant thinking about it, and the sense of urgency and
suspicion of worldliness that such thoughts produce, Montaigne (1958b,
57– 61) clearly belongs to the Epicurean strain of the philosophy of
death. In essays such as “That to Philosophize Is to Learn to Die”a and
“Of Judging of the Death of Others,” he makes frequent reference to
Epicurean and Stoic thought, particularly that of Lucretius and Seneca.
He even paraphrases Epicurus’s famous mantra and Lucretius’s symme-
try argument (1958b, 64– 66). As Jeffrie G. Murphy says above about these
ancient thinkers, it seems that Montaigne’s (57, 60) purpose in recom-
mending a constant meditation on death is to produce a “disdain for
death,” “to strip it of its greatest advantage against us,  .  .  . rid it of its
strangeness,” and free us from fear. He claims, “It is impossible that we
should fail to feel the sting of such notions at first. But by handling them
and going over them, in the long run we tame them beyond question”
(61). In true Epicurean fashion, Montaigne (68) also criaticizes the cul -
tural and religious practices surrounding death for producing such greata
fear in people. Montaigne’s discussion of death is aimed at mastering
life, not by making death a significant deadline, moment of transition,
or way of life as the Platonic strain asserts, but by reducing death’s impact
on life.
11 The difference here is between “living as though you are dead” a
and “living as though death doesn’t matter.” Besides preaching this sort of Epicurean / Stoic desensitization on
the issue of death, Montaigne (1958b, 61) also cultivates an attaitude of
detachment from worldly existence that resembles very closely what I
have attributed to the Stoics, but not the Christians. Montaigne (64a– 65),
like the members of both of these groups, is ready to give up his life,
but while he acknowledges Christian “contempt for life,” he adheres to
the Stoic idea that “life is neither good nor evil in itself.” And just as this
indifference toward life in general leads the Stoics to recommend tak-
ing one’s own, but only when the situation truly calls for it, Montaigne
(57, 67) does not rule out suicide as a viable option in extreme cases. Ina
fact, his “Of Judging of the Death of Others” is dedicated to consider -

ing the difficulty of committing suicide, and he even provides several
accounts of those who have done it well and those who have not (Mon-
taigne 1958a, 460– 62).Although Spinoza has far less to say about suicide in particular and
death in general than Montaigne, his lack of interest in the topic is mo-
tivated by the very same Epicurean and Stoic attitudes. That is, given
that there is life to be lived in the here and now, concerns about a time
when this will not be the case are unproductive at best, and so, an indif-
ference to death must be cultivated. In explaining the divergence from
Montaigne’s more conspicuous appropriation of Epicurean and Stoic
thought, Murphy (1993, 44n3) states, “Spinoza,a on the other hand, sug-
gests that we should try to avoid thinking of death entirely, to forget
about death in the pursuit of the values of life.” At the heart of Spi-
noza’s disregarding of death is his very Stoic understanding of God,
which is really just the strictly determined universe itself. He believes
that if there is any freedom (or tranquility, in the case of the Stoics) to
be found in such a universe it consists of aligning one’s understanding
with the way things will happen anyway (Spinoza 1955, 54a– 70, 244– 54).
Because death is part of God’s will— that is, the natural processes of the
universe— excessive struggle with or fear of death simply demonstrates a
misrelation to, or misunderstanding of, life. In order to ensure a propear
relation to God /nature / life Spinoza (1955, 232) thus ignores death: “aA
free man is one who lives under the guidance of reason, who is not led by
fear . . . but who directly desires that which is good, . . . in other words . . .
who strives to act, to live, and to preserve his being on the basis of seek-
ing his own true advantage; wherefore such an one thinks of nothing less
than of death, but his wisdom is a meditation of life.” But apart from the life- disrupting nature of thinking about it, there
is another, more basic, reason why Spinoza believes that one should not
bother with concerns about death. Like the Stoics with their divine sparak
(and the Epicureans with their indestructible atoms), Spinoza believesa
that death does not destroy what a person really is. It is not inaccuratae to
say that the mind is eternal— in the sense that particular minds (like all
apparent particularity) are really just modes of the one eternal univer -
sal substance— and he seems to find some consolation in knowing that
one’s existence cannot end. However, as is also the case with many of the
key Stoic thinkers, Spinoza (1955, 259– 67) does not believe that such
continued existence resembles the particular subjectivity we become so
attached to;
13 and for him, of course, such attachment already betrays a
misunderstanding of the nature of things. Perhaps borrowing certain ideas from Spinoza, while vehemently
rejecting others, Leibniz seems to take aspects of Hellenistic thought

in some peculiar directions in his portrayal of death and postmortem
existence. Even though Leibniz (1965, 148) deniesa Spinozist monism 14
in favor of an almost Epicurean infinite plurality of “atoms of nature”
called “monads,” they both describe the durability of the ultimate reality
from which humans come and to which they will return. I must be care-
ful not to suggest that monads are to be understood as precisely the samae
sorts of elementary material particles that Epicurus describes (see Leib-
niz 1989b, 142); but one need not become too enmesahed in Leibnizian
metaphysics in order to grasp that, so far as death is concerned, monadsa
are just like Epicurean atoms— indivisible and indestructible. Everything
that we take to exist consists of monads and all apparent change and de-
struction is really nothing more than an alteration in the “perceptioans”
and relations of monads (Leibniz 1965, 148– 59). That is, while nothing
is ever really destroyed, everything is in a constant state of shifting view-
points and relationships, including human beings.
15 The “soul,” like all
of reality, is just another monad, albeit one that has temporarily taken a
place of prominence (Leibniz 1965, 150– 51, 159). At death, this monad,
no different than the others, continues to exist, but not necessarily aas
we understood it beforehand. Leibniz (1965, 160– 61; compare 1989b,
140– 41) states, “never  .  .  . is there metempsychosis nor transmigration
of souls,” but neither is there “perfect death” or “entire destruction.”
Even though Leibniz’s conclusions in the Monadology are primarily meta-
physical in nature, the implications of this understanding of death for
practical life are clear enough: do not let death disturb you since it does
not really happen anyway. However, despite an apparent harmony with some of the Epicurean
and Stoic sympathies that Spinoza displays, Leibniz seemingly refuses toa
relinquish belief in postmortem continuation of subjective experience.
This makes him an interesting case that does not fit neatly into either
the Platonic strain or the Epicurean. He may never offer a completely
satisfying account of what such continued existence would be like, but
Leibniz (e.g., 1989a, 243; 1989b, 141) does suggest the possibilitya of the
reduction, at death, of a human to an imperceptible state of hibernation
from which it can be resuscitated in order to be held accountable for its
previous behavior. While Spinoza seems uninterested in propping up any
traditional theology, Leibniz still sounds like he might consider himself
to be in the Christian tradition regardless of his rather unorthodox views
on the soul and the afterlife. Speaking of those who seem to affirm Christianity (or at least some
deistic version of it) while espousing potentially heretical views on death-
related issues, consider David Hume and his posthumously published
essays. Writing entirely in the eighteenth century, and thus a bit more

recently than the preceding philosophers, he ought to be mentioned
here briefly before moving on for several reasons. Hume is both a valua-
able bridge between the early modern views on death of thinkers such as
Spinoza and the nineteenth- century explosion of attitudes on the topic,
and also an indication that English- speaking philosophy was heading in
the same direction as philosophy on the Continent. But perhaps the pri-
mary reasons he is worth calling attention to are his explicitly Stoic argua-
ments on behalf of suicide and against the immortality of the personal
soul, and his reliance on something like the Lucretian symmetry argu-
ment (Hume 1987, 580, 583, 591– 92, 598). However, given the extreme
similarity of Hume’s views on these matters to those of the thinkers I have
already discussed, perhaps this brief statement will be sufficient for now.
The Nineteenth- Century Germans
Some of the German- speaking authors considered here exert at least as
much influence on Kierkegaard and Heidegger as any philosophers of
death described thus far, which makes sense given their historical, re-
gional, and linguistic proximity to my primary subjects. Beginning with
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770– 1831), one can see some of the
ideas that will underlie the existential philosophy of death. Arthur Scho-
penhauer (1788– 1860), who does not hide his contempt for Hegel, but
seems to appreciate Spinozist and Leibnizian views, is perhaps a better in-
dicator of the future of the Epicurean strain of the philosophy of death.
And by the end of the century, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844– 1900), who was
in his youth an adherent of Schopenhauer’s pessimism,
16 actually takes a
direct shot at the Platonic strain, especially as seen in the form of Chris-
tian dying to the world.
There are several issues that one could focus on in providing an
account of Hegel on death, but perhaps the most pertinent for what is
to come is his discussion of “lordship and bondage” or the “master/
slave dialectic.” Although this particular section of Phenomenology of Spirit
is complicated by its political implications, including its significanace for
later adherents as well as critics like Karl Marx (1818– 1883), I will em-
phasize what it seems to suggest about humanity facing death.
18 Even
this specific issue, however, is a contentious one as there is disagreement
about how much weight one ought to put on Hegel’s claims about fac-
ing death, especially in the relevant section.
19 But debate about the cen-
trality of death to Hegel’s overall project is of little consequence for my
present account of his place in the history of the philosophy of death,

given his apparent influence on both Kierkegaard and Heidegger on
this topic. What is of some concern at this point is determining how well
Hegel fits into the Platonic / Epicurean dichotomy that I am trying to ex-
pound. While some thinkers— such as Alexandre Kojève, who mentions
Spinoza and Leibniz as key precursors to Hegel
20— believe that Hegel’s
views on death lead him to deny both God’s existence and the possibility
of postmortem continuation of subjective experience,
21 others suggest
that Hegel is right in line with the Christian tradition. 22
Robert C. Solomon (1983, 614) points to three key issues in Phenom-
enology that must be considered if one is to grasp Hegel’s views on Chris-
tianity: the “unhappy consciousness,” the “beautiful soul,” and “revealed
23 Solomon (1983, 620) associates the unhappy conscaiousness
with the self- denial and asceticism of early Christianity. In order to under -
stand this association it is necessary to see that in Phenomenology’s expla-
nation of the development of consciousness up to this point, it has come
to hold that there are two separate aspects of itself— the temporal /con-
tingent / bodily and the eternal /necessary/soulful (Solomon 1983, 616–
17). It is the paradoxical unity of these opposites found in Christianity,
which will eventually lead this form of consciousness to despair. After
all, it just does not make much sense to claim that the temporal /con-
tingent / bodily aspect, with which one tends to identify, is related to the
eternal /necessary/soulful. How could there be anything divine and per -
manent in a corporeal and mortal human? Consciousness is left with the
unhappy realization that there is no satisfactory way to answer this ques-
tion. To relieve the pain of this apparent incompatibility and connect
with the eternal /necessary/soulful, consciousness, with the help of a
mediator, is forced to make a series of temporal /contingent / bodily sac-
rifices. Hegel (1977, 137) states, “Through these moments of surrender,
first of its right to decide for itself, then of its property and enjoyment,
and finally through the positive moment of practising what it does not
understand . . . it has . . . truly divested itself of its ‘ I.’” In this self- denial,
Christianity as unhappy consciousness seems to find a kind of slavish
peace, but for Hegel (1977, 137– 38) such peace is hardly the highest form
of human existence. In fact, Christianity as unhappy consciousness is not a
even the highest form of Christianity. The beautiful soul, apparently standing in for Jesus of Nazareth
(perhaps one of Solomon’s [1983, 622– 24] more controversial readings),
seems to be another manifestation of the unhappy consciousness (com-
pare Hegel 1977, 399– 400), but this time less focused on metaphysical
difficulties than on moral ones. The beautiful soul abstains from morala
judgment and instead substitutes forgiveness. The claim at the heart of a
this substitution is that human morality is an uncertain and tenuous en-

terprise. Humans are constantly faced with difficult “damned if you do,
damned if you don’t” kinds of choices; and there is also the issue of cul-
tural relativism to cloud matters. Given difficulties like these, the baeauti-
ful soul affirms human fallibility and weakness, refusing to make morala
judgments (Solomon 1983, 623– 24). While Hegel (1977, 407– 8) seems
to see some reconciliatory value in Christian forgiveness, he is critical
of the understanding of Christianity as imitation of Jesus. Within the
very humility and unassertiveness that is the goal of the beautiful soul,
epitomized by Jesus’s allowing himself to be put to death, Hegel (1977,
577) sees precisely the sort of self- denial that he has a problem with in
Christianity as the unhappy consciousness (compare Solomon 198a3, 624–
25). He complains, “This ‘beautiful soul’ . . . is disordered to the point
of madness.  .  .  . It does in fact surrender the being- for- self to which it so
stubbornly clings; but what it brings forth is only the non- spiritual unity
of (mere) being” (Hegel 1977, 407). The beautiful soul surrenders itself,
leaving behind an empty shell (literally so in the case of the martyr)
that is, once again, hardly the highest development of humankind (Solo-
mon 1983, 625). Unsatisfied, Hegel goes on to consider a third understanding of
Christianity in his discussion of revealed religion, which abandons the
importance of Jesus Christ (and the imitation of his self- denial by the
early Christians) in favor of something like the community of the Holy
Spirit (Solomon 1983, 626). Hegel (1977a, 463) states, “This self- revealing
Spirit is in and for itself, is not elicited by, as it were, unravelling the rich
life of Spirit in the community and tracing it back to its original strands,
to the ideas, say, of the primitive imperfect community, or even to the ut-
terances of the actual man himself.” According to commonly held Chris-
tian theological views (Lutheranism is prominent in Hegel’s context), it
is through the Holy Spirit that one is finally able to find unity with the
divine; after the death of Jesus Christ has cleansed humanity, it is possible
for God, as this Spirit, to take up residence within human beings (com-
pare Hegel 1977, 460; Solomon 1983, 6a26). Hegel obscures this theo-
logical teaching in order to emphasize the realization of the presence of
divinity in humanity, rather than the story of the divinity of a particular
man (Solomon 1983, 629). This realization marks, for Hegel, the highest
form of Christianity, if not the highest form of human being. He asserts,
“The death of the divine Man, as death, is abstract negativity, the immedi-
ate result of the movement which ends only in natural universality. Death
loses this natural meaning in spiritual self- consciousness.  .  .  . Death be-
comes transfigured from its immediate meaning, viz. the non- being of
this particular individual, into the universality of the Spirit who dwells
in His community, dies in it every day, and is daily resurrected” (Hegel

1977, 475). What Hegel seems to be getting at is that Christ’s death /self-
denial signifies both that Christ is to be cast off, and that the coammunity
of humans can find its divinity in itself in the here and now and not in
some future heaven (Solomon 1983, 629).These conclusions about the divine, self- denial, death, and post-
mortem existence suggest that Hegel’s interpretation of Christianity is so
radical that it has more in common with the Epicurean strain in the phi-
losophy of death. Nonetheless, it is significant that Hegel emphasizes the
importance of, in some sense or at some stage of development, passing
through death in order to live properly or become a proper self;
24 and
it is in his discussion of lordship and bondage, just before his account
of the unhappy consciousness, that this struggle for self- understanding
most closely connects with death. We depend on “the other” to know
ourselves— “I” am only in the sense that there is a “not- me,” and so part
of what makes up my existence as “me” is “external” to me. However,
it seems that it is only through further distinguishing oneself from the
other that a more genuine self- awareness or self- possession can really
take place. In passages loaded with political implications, Hegel (1a977,
112– 14) states, “they recognize themselves as mutually recognizin g one an -
other,” but “each seeks the death of the other. . . . Thus the relation of
the two self- conscious individuals is such that they prove themselves and
each other through a life- and- death struggle.  .  .  . They must raise their
certainty of being for themselves to truth.  .  .  . It is only through staking
one’s life that freedom is won.”
25 By risking one’s life trying to bring
about the other’s death, one hopes to gain independence from the other.
But insofar as the other cannot actually be killed so long as I continue to
be (I am always in at least some minimal way dependent on some other),a
the result of this struggle is merely the situation of winner and loser, mas-
ter and slave. Interestingly though, as in the case of Christian concerns
about worldly flourishing, winning is a kind of losing and losing a kind
of winning. While the master seems to have achieved the desired goal of secure
and independent understanding of itself, given the subjugation of the
claims of the other on this self, the opposite has actually occurred. In
winning, the master loses awareness of an integral aspect of itself— the
self- defining threat of the other— and falls into a lifeless and shallow re-
lationship to the world, which becomes a collection of mere objects of
amusement. To the master, even the slave is simply an object for service
and production (Hegel 1977, 114– 17). If there is any value to be found
in this situation, according to Hegel, it is not located in the master, but
in the slave. Not only does the latter have a more authentic relationshiap
to the objects of the world, because in making and working with these

objects one invests oneself in them and encounters them as pieces of
oneself rather than as objects of mere amusement (Hegel 1977, 118), but
also, the slave continues to encounter the master as other. This encoun-
ter manifests itself as fear of death, a profound sense of anxiety that the
master has little, if any, access to. Hegel (1977, 117) explains,
Its whole being has been seized with dread; for it has experienced
the fear of death, the absolute Lord. In that experience it has been
quite unmanned, has trembled in every fibre of its being, and every-
thing solid and stable has been shaken to its foundations. But this
pure universal movement . . . is the simple, essential nature oaf self-
consciousness. . . . This moment of pure being- for- self is also explicit for
the bondsman, for in the lord it exists for him as his object . . . . Through
his service he rids himself of his attachment to natural existence in
every single detail.
By maintaining the fear in the face of death that the master has tried to
eliminate in subjugating the other, Hegel seems to suggest that the slave
actually achieves the self- awareness that the master sought in vain. What
is more, it turns out that such an understanding is not found in bold as-
sertion of one’s self and interests, but rather in a kind of relinquishing of
these “selfish” ways of existing in the world. Although this early account
of self- sacrifice does not seem to be Hegel’s end goal, something like it
seems to be of particular importance to Schopenhauer. In The World as Will and Representation (1844, expanded second edi-
tion), Schopenhauer dedicates an entire chapter to considering diverse
philosophical and religious views on death, ranging from the treatments a
by Plato and Epicurus to the approaches of Hinduism and Buddhism.
For example, Schopenhauer (1958, 467– 68, 474– 77) suggests that East -
ern ideas about reincarnation rely on something like the Lucretian in -
sight that we ought to be as concerned about what came before as what
comes after— if we can “demonstrate” an afterlife to ourselves, then why
not a pre- life as well?
26 Schopenhauer believes that philosophy and reli-
gion owe their existence primarily to the need for rationalizing comforta
in the face of death. Rationality both exposes our mortality, and offers
this comforting compensation as well. Following Indian and Epicurean
lines of argument, Schopenhauer seeks to diminish the significance of
death’s certainty in human life given that subjective experience is extin-
guished in death. He is less disposed toward traditional Platonic or Chrais-
tian attempts to comfort with the thought that death is an important mo-
ment of transition to further, and better, subjective experience, if a life
has been lived properly. In fact, Schopenhauer sees these attempts as less

rational, and more like examples of misguided wishful thinking without
much evidence to support them. When the plausibility of such strate-
gies is seriously doubted, as it is in nineteenth- century Europe under
the subversive influence of socialists and Hegelians, he claims that their
former proponents (European Christians) are left despairing;
27 but those
who took reason’s true consolation from the beginning are undisturbed
(Schopenhauer 1958, 463– 65). After this initial description of the strategic options for dealing with
death, Schopenhauer (1958, 464) embarks on an account of the “em -
pirical viewpoint,” which discloses widespread anxiety in the face of the
supposed greatest of harms. This anxiety, Schopenhauer claims, is due
to the fact that all existence is “will,” and “will- to- live” when manifested
in animal form. Fear of death is the innate and not exactly rational com-
panion to our basic (and not exactly rational) will- to- live. Schopenhauer
suggests several arguments, drawing from the ancients, both Western
and Eastern, as to why one might attempt to overcome one’s immedi-
ate attachment to life and give up the fear of death. These arguments
tend to focus on the idea that death is not harmful, even if it is annihi-
lation; and, loosely following Socrates in the Apology, it may well be that
death is in some sense beneficial, especially if it turns out that death does
not mean total annihilation (Schopenhauer 1958, 465a, 468– 69). Even
though a particular subjective experience seems to end in death, there
is no reason to hold that the life force (will- to- live) formerly exhibited
by a deceased individual or its material manifestation will ever cease “ain
and with the whole of nature” (473).
28 If no existence really ceases, from
nature’s perspective the death of particular individuals means nothing.
Those who are able to abstract from the narrow personal perspective to
this general one (in a way reminiscent of Plato’s discovery of the univer -
sal forms underlying a world of particulars)
29 can view death and even life
as indifferently as nature does, as a constant cycle of renewal (472– 77). 30
With this understanding, one grasps that the species has relative
permanence (and considered broadly enough, absolute permanence),
and so more truth or reality than the very temporary particular (1958,
478– 84).
31 It is in the species that one can glimpse reality “free from that
delusion of the individual” (485). Despite these claims, Schopenhauer
does not mean to suggest that the temporary subjective perspective is
entirely insignificant when compared with the more permanent objec-
tive nature of things. This subject /object division, when properly consid-
ered, is nothing more than two ways— “macrocosm and microcosm”— of
speaking about the same underlying reality (485– 88). In fact, Schopen-
hauer points out that it is only through the subjective perspective (rep-
resentation) that the objective (will) is known at all. Given its paraticipa-

tion in this ultimate reality, where the subjective and objective are mere
aspects (496– 97), even subjectivity is in some sense imperishable.Schopenhauer acknowledges that the sort of subjective imperish-
ability that he speaks of does not involve the prolongation of individual
experience that many long for after death. He chastises this latter notiaon
for its attachment to derivative and merely instrumental rationality, or
consciousness. Consciousness is simply the “product of a brain- function
that has arisen for the purpose of mere self- maintenance” (1958, 491),
so that the individual survives long enough to serve the primordial will-
to- live. Since consciousness is a mere by- product or tool of larger forces,
why then get caught up obsessing over this “secondary phenomenon”
(499)? This selfish obsession leads to a devaluing of both the eternity of
existence that comes before our individualizing births and the numer -
ous individualities that might spring up through our lives and deaths.
And what good would a prolonged individual consciousness do anyone
anyway? After all, Schopenhauer (492) argues, our lives are maiserable
and to extend them indefinitely would lead to boredom, at best, even ian
a “better world.”
With the help of Immanuel Kant’s (see 1998, A30– 49 / B46– 66)
account of the ideality of time, Schopenhauer goes on to offer further
support for his argument against the desire for prolonged individual
consciousness. If time is simply part of the form that all human knowl-
edge and experience takes, and all notions of birth and death rely on
this temporal form of our knowledge, then death is solely a matter for
the phenomenal realm of experience, but not a matter for the noumenal
reality beyond our temporal experience. Because noumena are outside
the realm of knowledge and experience, there seems to arise something
like an antinomy of death— as far as we can know, we die, and yet so far as
what we cannot know is atemporal, death cannot happen.
33 Fortunately
for Schopenhauer, the noumenal realm is not quite as mysterious as it is
for Kant, and thus he can avoid such an antinomy. Since the noumenon
is will and consciousness (the knowing capacity) is the mere phenom -
enal representation of this ultimate reality, death can be the phenom-
enal cessation of consciousness without impacting the will. The problem
with philosophy up to this point, Schopenhauer says, is that it has failaed
to recognize the supremacy of will over the intellect or consciousness.
Rather it made the intellect supreme in comparison with the body, not
realizing that the intellect is nothing more than the by- product of bodily
(i.e., brain) function, and both are simple manifestations of will. Scho-
penhauer (1958, 493– 500) believes that once we realize our true nature
as will, unaffected by death, our phenomenal attachment to prolonged
individuality (an intellectual by- product of the will) should fade.

In a helpful summary of his chapter thus far, Schopenhauer states
that will, or more specifically, will- to- live, represents itself phenomenally
in consciousness as fear of death— a mechanism for self- preservation.
Because will in itself does not know anything, it remains blind to the fact
that it cannot be extinguished. Conscious knowledge (and the world that
it knows), on the other hand, as a phenomenal representation of will,
can be snuffed out, but is capable of realizing that death cannot affect
its true being.
34 Will- to- live /fear of death becomes problematic when it
leads us to make the easy, but not insurmountable, error of failing to
separate what we really are “from the intellect that has fallen to [our] lot
through the course of nature” (1958, 500). For Schopenhauer (see 6a09),
it is possible both to be will at the deepest level, and also to recogniaze that
will must in some sense be reproached or denied if it becomes excessively
attached to individual existence. In what remains of Schopenhauer’s chapter on death he provides
an extended discussion of reincarnation— not of particular souls but of
will itself (palingenesis, not metempsychosis). He cites a great deal of
historical evidence about the pervasive belief in some form or another
of reincarnation; even Jews, Muslims, and Christians have been known
to express certain notions of at least a primitive metempsychosis (1958,
502– 7; see also 603– 8). In the case of Christianity, the notion of original
sin represents reincarnation’s primal insight about the continued passing
on of existence. Following these Eastern readings of Western religious
traditions, Schopenhauer (507– 8) concludes the chapter with an appar -
ent equation of Nirvana and his sense of the denial of the individual will-
to- live. As in Buddhism, the goal here is to stop fighting for one’s own
personal existence, and come to terms with the eternal and impersonal
cycle of natural forces. Schopenhauer actually argues in a later chapter that the primal in-
sight of most religions, including Christianity, is the annihilation of the
individual. In his words:
For not only the religions of the East, but also true Christianity has
throughout this fundamental ascetic character that my philosophy ex-
plains as denial of the will- to- live, although Protestantism, especially in
its present- day form, tries to keep this dark. Yet even the open enemies
of Christianity who have appeared in most recent times have attributed
to it the teaching of renunciation, self- denial, perfect chastity, and gener -
ally mortification of the will . . . and they have thoroughly demonstrated
that such doctrines are essentially peculiar to original and genuine
Christianity . . . as it was developed in the writings of the Church Fathers
from the kernel of the New Testament. (Schopenhauer 1958, 615– 16)

But while, according to this passage, he picks up on the key notion of
dying to the self and the world that is found in the Platonic strain of the
philosophy of death,
35 Schopenhauer (605; compare 507) stops there,
seeing renunciation and death as the ultimate goal— “it would be better
for us not to exist.” Not only does he lack interest in prolonged subjective
experience, but also, as with the other thinkers in the Epicurean strain,
it seems that his primary purpose in dealing with these issues at all is to
find tranquility in regarding the subject’s annihilation in death as incon-
sequential, or even preferable (609). My account of the Platonic strain
says, “give up this way of life for a better one”; Schopenhauer simply says,
“give up this life.” In Nietzsche’s later works, he abandons the pessimism about life
that Schopenhauer expresses, and with it the appraisal of Christianity as
a noble (albeit somewhat confused and inelegant) attempt to get over
attachment to life. In fact, it is Nietzsche’s apparent hope for the only
life that we have, which leads him to a ferocious criticism of Christianity.
The Anti- Christ states,
If one shifts the centre of gravity of life out of life into the “Beyond”—
into nothingness — one has deprived life as such of its centre of gravity.
The great lie of personal immortality destroys all rationality, all natural-
ness of instinct— all that is salutary, all that is life- furthering. . . . So to
live that there is no longer any meaning in living: that now becomes the
“meaning” of life. . . . Christianity has waged a war to the death against a
every feeling of reverence and distance between man and man . . .
against everything noble, joyful, high- spirited on earth, against our hap-
piness on earth. (Nietzsche 1990, 167– 68)
Of course, Nietzsche is in line with Schopenhauer on the issue of per -
sonal immortality, but the reason for Nietzsche’s vehement opposition to
it is quite different. While Schopenhauer rejects the “personal”a aspect of
such thinking, but appreciates the hatred of life behind it, it is this very
hatred that Nietzsche objects to. Nietzsche’s problems with the aversion to life go back to the very be-
ginning of my account of the Platonic strain of the philosophy of death.
In agreement with aspects of Schopenhauer’s historical treatment, Tw i-
light of the Idols asserts that “in every age the wisest have passed the iden-
tical judgment on life: it is worthless . . . . Even Socrates had had enough
of it” (Nietzsche 1990, 39). But Nietzsche claims tahat Socrates’s appar -
ent longing for death in the Phaedo is really among the first moments
in Western culture’s long history of decadence and weariness. Socrates,

who is not blessed with many physical gifts, takes revenge on all that ias
natural and strong in human existence, even to the point of explaining
that the body, the world it inhabits, and life itself are but insignificant,
and possibly evil, imitations of a glorious reality in which all of his own
personal shortcomings will be rendered irrelevant (Nietzsche 1990, 39–
42). The problem with this sort of idea is that “the value of life cannot be
estimated. Not by a living man, because he is a party to the dispute, indeed
its object, and not the judge of it; not by a dead one, for another rea-
son” (Nietzsche 1990, 40). Even if Socrates’s attack on life is interpreted
more charitably, Nietzsche’s twist on the famous Epicurean mantra still
Moreover, it applies to other “death over life” strategies, especially
the Christian. It may well be the case that there is a “better” woarld beyond
death, but given that there is little reason or evidence suggesting thata this
is so, it seems like a mixture of bitterness and foolishness to long for such
a world at the expense of the one we have. This treatment of life is akin
to gouging out an eye because you are displeased with its lack of X- ray
vision, despite the fact that you have no good reason to think that your
eye should be capable of such things or that your actions will improve the
situation. Nietzsche (1990, 49) complains,
The “real world” has been constructed out of the contradiction to the
actual world. . . . To talk about “another” world than this is quite point-
less, provided that an instinct for slandering, disparaging and accusing
life is not strong within us: in the latter case we revenge ourselves on life
by means of the phantasmagoria of “another,” a “better” life. . . . To
divide the world into a “real” and an “apparent” world, whether in the
manner of Christianity or in the manner of Kant (which is, after all,
that of a cunning Christian— ) is only a suggestion of décadence— a symp-
tom of declining life.
Instead of such a declining existence that flees to death out of “sour
grapes” and cowardice, Nietzsche— finding a place in the Epicurean
strain of the philosophy of death— suggests an embracing of life, regard-
less of what it brings, and shows a corresponding disinterest in death.
Building on the lessons of his early book, The Birth of Tragedy, he declares,
“The tragic artist is not a pessimist— it is precisely he who affirms all that is
questionable and terrible in existence, he is Dionysian” (Nietzsche 1990,
49). In terms of Platonic imagery, one might see Nietzsche (1990, 42– 43)
as rejecting the allegory of the cave— there may be value at the bottom
that is missed by always trying to get out.

Death in Twentieth- (and Twenty- First- )
Century Analytic Philosophy
Moving beyond critiques and subversively unorthodox reinterpretations
of Christianity, the mostly (but not in every case) nonreligious philoso-
phers in the “analytic” tradition often do not even feel the need ato men-
tion spiritual matters when speaking about death. Rather, they seek a
less metaphorical, more precise and scientific, understanding of the lan-
guage we use in discussing death. For example, death is often said to bea
the greatest harm, so the question becomes “is this a mistaken view (as
Epicurus argues), or if not, what are the ways that we can understand the
harmfulness of something that we will likely never experience?” It will
not be possible to provide a complete overview of the diverse work on
death in this largely English- speaking tradition, but it should be possible
at least to point out some key trends.
38 Although it is probably accurate
to say that this tradition builds on the thought of early modern philoso-
phers like Hobbes and Hume, it is certainly true that analytic philosophay
really begins to find itself in the work of thinkers like Ludwig Wittgen-
stein (1889– 1951) and the logical positivist A. J. Ayer (1910– 1989).
39 The
former is another native German speaker (like Nietzsche, influenced
early on by Schopenhauer) who briefly argues that “death is not an event
in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not
infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongsa to
those who live in the present” (Wittgenstein 1961, 6.a4311).
40 There is an
almost Nietzschean emphasis on the value of this life to be found in this
passage, but there is an even more familiar voice present as well. To get
to the true roots of the analytic response to death, one must go all the
way back to the Epicurean position. It may seem unsurprising that analytic thinkers are attracted to Epi-
curean ideas, given that modern science also rules out durable souls and
maintains that death is just the beginning of the permanent dispersal
of particles that used to be “mine.” However, by surveying the analytic
landscape, one quickly discovers that the Epicurean take on death does
not enjoy a great deal of positive reception. Patrick Stokes (2006, 387–
88) claims that this lack of approval is due to the common sentiment
that “there is something profoundly counterintuitive” and “indiagestible”
about denying the significance of one’s own death. Nonetheless, it is
important to notice that most analytic philosophers of death find this
position worthy of attention, which is hardly the case for the rarely con-
sidered views on death of the Platonic / Christian tradition.
41 It might
even be fair to suggest that for these thinkers Epicurus establishes thea
foundation of the only reasonable way to look at death. That is, while

his conclusion may be problematic, arguing that death is the end of
one’s individuality— and at least raising the question as to why death
should matter to the living given that, in a sense, death is not even paart of
living— is a good way to begin dealing with this topic. But I do not mean
to suggest that contemporary analytic thinkers only approach Epicurean
views on death with semi- respectful criticism. As it turns out, Epicurus is
not without his defenders among analytic philosophers. It will thereforea
be helpful to provide a brief description of some of the ideas of both the
detractors and the defenders.The main reason why the Epicurean position on death is so unpal-
atable, according to thinkers such as Thomas Nagel and George Pitcher,
is that, contrary to certain common feelings, it does not allow for the
possibility that death or post- death events can harm an individual that
has died since the individual is no longer around to experience such
harm. Nagel (1993, 64) believes, however, that one need not experience
something as harmful in order for actual harm to be done; perhaps
“there are . . . evils that consist merely in the deprivation or absence of
possible goods, and that do not depend on someone’s minding that de-
privation.” As an example of such evil or harm, he offers up the loss of
a good reputation. Nagel (1993, 65) famously points aout that a perfectly
content individual might still be harmed when slandered even if this in-
dividual is unaware that such slander has taken place. If he is right about
harms that one does not experience as such, then it seems possible that a
the dead, who do not experience at all, can still be harmed. But before declaring the Epicurean problem solved, it must first be
determined when a dead individual might be harmed. After all, it would
seem a bit odd to say that a corpse lying in the ground is harmed by anya-
thing going on above ground. It may, of course, be true that a corpse
could be “harmed” in the same sense that any physical object coulda be
damaged, but this is certainly not the sort of harm to a person that is in
question here (Nagel 1993, 67). In response to the problem of when the
dead are harmed, Pitcher suggests that death has a bizarre sort of retro-
active effect— in the sense of “making true or false” what was previously
indeterminate (not in the dubious sense of backwards causation)— on
the now concluded life of the individual. Given, for example, that a hy-
pothetical person was engaged in various projects that were left incom-
plete by the event of death, and that the deceased had an interest in
the well- being of loved ones who were dependent upon him or her, it
seems possible to ascribe to the once living individual harm in the forma
of frustration of projects and interests like these (Pitcher 1993, 165a– 68).
Although this hypothetical person did not know it while alive, it would a
be determined later that they had in fact been a failure of sorts all along.

With all due respect to both Aristotle and Epicurus, if Pitcher (1993, 163–
64, 168) is correct, one’s own death (and what happens afterwards) can
seriously affect the happiness of one’s own life.Among those “analytics” who are not so quick to deny the Epicu-
rean position, I highlight Jeffrie G. Murphy and Stephen E. Rosenbaum.a
Murphy attempts a resurrection of what he describes as the pagan view of
death. This is the Epicurean and Stoic view that seeks to discredit the afear
of death as irrational, passed down through Montaigne and Spinoza, in
whom Murphy claims to find the more nuanced view that while irrationala
fear of death is a problem, not all fear of death is irrational. Setting Mur -
phy aside for a more detailed discussion in a later chapter, I turn briefly
to Rosenbaum, who offers a dedicated defense of Epicurus from the as-
sault of thinkers such as Nagel. After taking some questionable liberties
in his restatement of what Epicurus is really up to, Rosenbaum (1993b,
134) goes on to conclude that Nagel is guilty of, among other athings,
making the common mistake of failing to distinguish between dying,
death, and the dead.
42 Of course, because Epicurus does not make these
distinctions either, it takes some argument on the part of Rosenbaum
(1993b, 122– 23) just to explain that Epicurus is primarily interested in
discussing the status of the dead. While I believe that Rosenbaum does
not give enough attention to the Epicurean rebuke (which I have alreadya
identified as being unjustified) of those who agree that being dead is
the end, and yet still find their dying or impending lack of life disturb-
43 his problem with Nagel is for the most part sufficiently and clearly
dealt with. Rosenbaum (1993b, 126– 27) astutely points out that Nagel’s slan-
der analogy (on which his argument relies heavily) fails because even
though it shows how one might be harmed without experiencing it, the
idea of being harmed after death is different because one cannot experi-
ence it. Rosenbaum quite simply (and perhaps understandably) cannot
wrap his mind around the notion of a harm that cannot be experienced.
I am less impressed by Rosenbaum’s response to Nagel’s critique of the
symmetry argument, because I tend to agree with Nagel (1993, 67) that
there is some sort of life- oriented difference between prenatal and post-
mortem nonexistence: prior to my birth there never had been a “me”a to
be disturbed about not existing, but by the time of my death, there had
been a “me” to be disturbed. I realize that Rosenbaum (1993b, 128– 29)
sees no need to describe the situation in this way, but it does seem like
a perfectly accurate asymmetrical description from a certain point of
view. Although I cannot continue at this point to explore the debate over
Epicurean ideas that rages on between thinkers in the mold of Rosen-
baum and Pitcher, it should at least be clear by now how important these

ideas are as part of the ground on which the analytic battle over death
takes place.
Having approached the present in my account of the Epicurean strain,
I will now transition from the discussion of some key moments in the
history of the philosophy of death to a consideration of the work of two
thinkers who represent an important alternative to the bilateral history
I have described thus far. Before moving on to Kierkegaard, however,
I would like to offer a brief summary and reiterate a couple of caveats
about the preceding chapters’ portrayal of the Platonic and Epicurean
strains in the philosophy of death. To be clear, both strains recommend
a change in attitude toward death from the typical frightened outlook,
but while one exchanges fear for potential misery in life and hope for
something better later on, the other trades fear in for relative tranquiality
now and no hope for a future life.Even though I will suggest in the coming chapters that Kierkegaard
and Heidegger offer a sort of novel compromise between philosophy’s
two ancient approaches to death, I do not mean to discount the various
ways that the Platonic and Epicurean strains already interact and inflau-
ence each other throughout history. For example, it would be foolish to
ignore the significant “ancestral” relationships I describe betwaeen Plato/
Socrates and the Stoics, the Stoics and the early Christians, or Christianity
and various nineteenth- century thinkers. My goal in offering this account
of two fairly distinct strains on the topic of death is to describe as thor -
oughly as possible the two prominent philosophical attitudes that I see a
uniquely merged in the work on death by Kierkegaard and Heidegger.
I should also mention once again that my account is by no means in-
tended to be exhaustive. There is just too much written by philosophers a
on the topic of death, and more written every day, to offer the definitive
historical account of death in philosophy. While I have surely omitted
someone deserving of attention, or simply not paid enough attention to
a thinker deserving of more, I believe these last two chapters provide a
sufficient description of the foundation on which the existential philos-
ophy of death stands.

Kierkegaard’s Death Project
It is no secret that Kierkegaard’s work is deeply entrenched in the Chris-
tian tradition, especially in its Protestant form, and that he is therefaore
indebted to thinkers such as Augustine and Luther on a wide array of
topics. He is also quite clear that, when it comes to the issues of death
and the afterlife, any account one might offer would be incomplete with-
out some encounter with the pre- Christian pagan thinkers Socrates and
1 Of course, he does not say this explicitly, but I do not think
that such a statement is out of line given the prominent roles that these
thinkers play in Kierkegaard’s discussion of death- related issues. Prior
to exploring the particular roots of Kierkegaard’s philosophy of death,
however, it will be helpful to have some familiarity with the way he treats
the topic. Thus, we must consider the significance of death throughout
Kierkegaard’s life and authorship. The name “Kierkegaard” is practically synonymous with death.
Before dying at a relatively young age himself, Søren endured the deaaths
of all but one of his immediate family members. In fact, his father be-
lieved that he was doomed to see all of his seven children die before they
turned 34 (Christ supposedly died at age 33) because he haad cursed God
as a young man . . . and he almost did (only Søren and Peter surpassed
this age) ( J P 1: 511; 5: 140– 41, 555 /SKS 27: 291– 92). Given these facts, it
is more than appropriate that the name “Kierkegaard” is identical with
the word for “graveyard” in Danish. It should come as no surprise, then,
that a thinker so well acquainted with mortality would have a great deala
to say about death. Indeed, various issues pertaining to death come up
constantly throughout Kierkegaard’s writings. For example, in one of
his earliest works, the pseudonymous Either/Or (1843), he introduces the
reader to the Symparanekromenoi, the “Fellowship of the Dead” ( EO 1:
137 / SKS 2: 137);
2 and in some of his last works, For Self- Examination (1851)
and Judge for Yourself! (written in 1851), he lays out his notion of Chris-
tian dying to the world in detail.
3 This chapter will provide a thorough
description of some of the most important ways death comes up in Kier-
kegaard’s authorship. This turns out to be a very complicated task, how-
ever. It is not that his claims about death are always hard to follow when
taken in isolation, but rather, it is not immediately clear what relationship
exists between these claims or if there is supposed to be any relationship

between them at all. I would like to offer an account that integrates aKier-
kegaard’s major death ideas by following a train of thought that runs
through several key texts in which death is most prominent.
The Early Writings
Before considering the most significant texts in Kierkegaard’s existential
death project, there are several early writings that must be addressed, at
least briefly, given the relevance of their contents for later death- related
issues that will prove crucial to his authorship. For example, the earli-
est inklings of Kierkegaard’s deathly train of thought appear in his first
published book— a review of Hans Christian Andersen’s Only a Fiddler—
titled From the Papers of One Still Living (1838). Already the title indicates
some familiarity with mortality, and it may well be in reference to the
deaths of both his father (which concluded a fairly disastrous 1830s for
the Kierkegaard clan) and his mentor Poul Martin Møller during the few
months leading up to the book’s publication.
5 Here, in criticizing Ander -
sen’s inability to express a consistent “life- view” in his writing, Kierke-
gaard states, “The life- view proper commences first  .  .  . at the hour of
one’s death” ( EPW 77 /SKS 1: 33). Rather than consisting of the simple
sum of worldly experiences or ideas that one has had, a proper view on
one’s life is the sort of retroactive or “backward” understanding of one-
self from the perspective of death that is able to show a consistency to the
self despite the distracting variety of such experiences ( EPW 76– 78 /SKS
1: 31– 34). Kierkegaard is accusing Andersen of trying to grasp personali-
ties while caught up in the bustle of life, which is difficult and maybe im-
possible to do, instead of adopting the settled perspective from which it
might be possible to take in what a life is all about (see EPW xxx– xxxi).
Although these ideas are not yet fully developed, particularly when it
comes to explaining how one adopts such a perspective, even at this early
stage Kierkegaard is clearly trying to work out “a dead and transfigured
personality” as opposed to a “many- angled, worldly, palpable one” ( EPW
82 /SKS 1: 37).
In both his dissertation, The Concept of Iron y (1841), and the six sets
of “upbuilding” ( opbyggelige, sometimes translated as “edifying”) dis-
courses that were published in conjunction with the various early pseu-
donymous works (1843– 1844), Kierkegaard attempts to fill out this under -
standing of death’s relevance in life. In the former, he does so through a
detailed examination of death’s “retrospective” view on life as described
in some of Plato’s dialogues ( CI 64 /SKS 1: 124); and in the latter, he does

so by focusing more on a properly Christian understanding of death.
Although there is much in these texts that relates to Kierkegaard’s phi-
losophy of death— the criticism of Platonic / Socratic “dying to” that will
be discussed in the next chapter is particularly important— perhaps the
most thoroughly considered issue is the proper relationship to the af-
6 As Tamara Monet Marks points out, despite his obvious appre-
ciation for the Socratic subjective appropriation of the afterlife in Irony,
Kierkegaard is concerned about the absence of any existential angst in
Socrates’s attitude. While he is willing to live as though there will be an
afterlife, taking all of the necessary precautions in this life to prepare
himself (e.g., doing what the gods ask of him), Socrates is not especially
disturbed by what he sees as the very “live” possibility that there will be no
afterlife whatsoever. The Christian, however, is meant to be much more
concerned about his or her postmortem situation, and Marks (2011, 275–
79) claims that it is this passionately faithful hope for what coames next,
rather than Socrates’s somewhat disinterested attitude, that Kierkegaard
ultimately sides with.
While Kierkegaard works on this explanation of the proper Chris-
tian relationship to the afterlife under his own name, his pseudonyms
take up death- related issues from other perspectives. For example, Wat-
kin argues that the occasional quips about death in the first volume oaf
Either/O r are an attempt to show how death seems to sap the meaning
from life when viewed from an aesthetic perspective.
8 In the second vol-
ume, Judge William responds by explaining how death can actually help
to give meaning to life from an ethical point of view in which one learns
how to “die to” one’s selfishness for the sake of participation in some -
thing more permanent than the soon- to- be- dead worldly self (Watkin
1990, 66, 71– 72). One might suggest that Johannes de silentio, the author
of Fear and Trembling (1843), has a similar goal in mind when he says that
“infinite resignation is the last stage before faith, so that anyone who has
not made this movement does not have faith, for only in infinite resigana-
tion do I become conscious of my eternal validity” ( F T 46 /SKS 4: 140).
Using Abraham as the model for such faith, silentio explains that it is
only in the willingness to give up (or “die to”) everything one holds most
dear in life that one can become ready to trust in the possibility that God
will provide ( F T 20, 46– 47 /SKS 4: 116– 17, 140– 42). Another way of put-
ting this might be that one must sacrifice the worldly attachment to the
notion that one gives one’s own life meaning so that one can allow all
such meaning to be bestowed by God. When one’s meaning comes from
the right relationship to God, then it no longer relies on the transienta
temporal self, but is rather grounded in the eternal.
In Vigilius Haufniensis’s The Concept of Anxiety (1844) one can see,

among many other things, an attempt to explain this intersection of eter-
nity with temporality in “the fullness of time” of “the moment” (Øjeblik-
ket ) (CA 90 /SKS 4: 393). This is the Christian notion of the kairologi-
cal (the Greek kairos originally means something like “the appropriate
time”), as opposed to chronological, sense of time, which suggests that
an otherwise insignificant chronologically temporal moment or event
might take on atemporal or eternal significance (see, e.g., 1 Cor. 15:51–
55; Gal. 4:4). The prime example is the life of Christ. From an ordinary
horizontal “timeline” understanding of time (say, along the x- axis of a
Cartesian coordinate plane), the birth, actions, and death of a human
are unremarkable, having only some finite (y- axis) vertical value; but
given the eternal repercussions of Christ, as God, being born, acting,
dying, and (most importantly) rising again, any particular point on thae
horizontal line has infinite vertical value. Similarly, human lives and ac-
tions can take on such significance through the proper participation ian
Christ’s life. This explanation and its perhaps less than obvious connection with
death, which should become more apparent in Kierkegaard’s subsequent
works that really emphasize death, will prove to be enormously influen-
tial on Heidegger’s understanding of these matters. Thus, Haufniensis’s
discussion of concepts like futurity, possibility, freedom, repetition, and
anxiety will also be quite helpful in a later chapter. For now, there is just
one other brief death issue here worth drawing attention to, again largely
for its possible impact on Heidegger’s account. In a long footnote to
his discussion of the moment, Haufniensis suggests that there might be
degrees of death, and of the anxiety related to death. He states, “Death
declares itself more terrible the more perfect the organism is.  .  .  . The
higher man is valued, the more terrifying is death. The beast does not
really die, but when the spirit is posited as spirit, death shows itself as the
terrifying. The anxiety of death therefore corresponds to the anxiety of
birth” ( CA 92 /SKS 4: 395– 96). Not only is he implying that physical pass-
ing away is somehow distinct from meaningful death, but he is also pointa-
ing out that unless humanity is understood in the proper way, human
existence runs the risk of having no more meaning than that of animals,
whose births and deaths seem relatively insignificant. This proper waya
of understanding human existence is a central topic in Kierkegaard’s
later work. The connection that I am tracing between Kierkegaard’s early
works is no accident. It might be appropriate to say that Kierkegaard’s
early pseudonyms are intentionally offering consistently intensifying
perspectives on death and the eternal: the more developed the aware-
ness of eternity, the more death matters. This is a theme that will con-

tinue to develop through Concluding Unscientific Postscript to “Philosophical
Fragments” (1846), where death in its different senses becomes morae
and more significant as the complex Christian sense of the eternal is
approached in “Religiousness B.”
10 While we must now begin to look at
Kierkegaard’s more substantial treatments of death, are there not still
other dealings with the topic in Kierkegaard’s early writings that bear
interesting resemblance to his later discussions? For example, Johannes
Climacus introduces the image of a dance with the thought of death in
1844’s Philosophical Fragments (PF 8/ SKS 4: 217), an image that comes up
again as soon as “At a Graveside” (1845).
11 However, since I want to avoid
becoming bogged down in exploring every passing appearance of death
in Kierkegaard’s authorship, I will proceed on the assumption that the
preceding consideration of these few early texts is a sufficient indication
of the full- blown philosophy of death that he is about to unleash.
The Middle Writings
Although clearly not far from his mind early on, between 1845 and 1847
death becomes a major theme in Kierkegaard’s work. The first text to
express Kierkegaard’s death project in great detail is the final discourse
from Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions — the aforementioned “At a
12 Here Kierkegaard explains, “The thought of death gives
the earnest person the right momentum in life and the right goal toward a
which he directs his momentum” ( TDIO 83 /SKS 5: 453). But how ex-
actly does an “earnest” ( alvorlig) person approach death and realize
the proper momentum and goal? To begin with, the earnest individual
must focus primarily on his or her own death. Rather than looking to
the deaths of others or treating death as simply “the human condition,”
Kierkegaard believes that its most important lessons cannot be had un-
less “you are thinking it as your lot” ( TDIO 73, 75 /SKS 5: 444, 446). Fail-
ure to focus on one’s own death can lead one into the “mood” ( Stemning)
of objectivity, in which one might well think about death often, but not in
the way that can have any meaningful impact on one’s own life according
to Kierkegaard.
Kierkegaard also states that “death is indefinable— the only cer -
tainty, and the only thing about which nothing is certain” ( TDIO 91 /SKS
5: 460).
14 While one’s death will certainly come, it is uncertain when it
will happen or what, if anything, it might mean for the one who has died.
Kierkegaard worries that failure to keep the certainty of death in mind
might lead to the mood of excessive sorrow, either at bad news surround-

ing one’s own situation, or at the loss of a loved one. This is the mood
of an individual who, shocked at an unexpected development, becomes
so distraught that they are unable to address their responsibilities ad-
equately (TDIO 75 /SKS 5: 446). By focusing on the certainty, one realizes
that death is an ever- present companion; and by preparing for what is
sure to come, no death is so unexpected that it can cause such obstruc-
tive distress. In the case of the failure to keep the uncertainty of death
in mind, Kierkegaard claims, among other things, that one might fall
into a mood of procrastination. This is the mood in which one believes
for any number of reasons (youth, health, etc.) that one will continue to
live for a long time ( TDIO 79– 80, 91 /SKS 5: 449– 51, 460). The danger is
that such a person will put off thinking about death and the significance
of existence. When one takes seriously the uncertainty that death could
happen at any moment and in any way, one understands that thoughts
of death and the meaning of one’s life cannot be so easily set aside for
another occasion. There may not be another chance. Given the constant threat of death, however, it is easy to see how
it might be difficult to invest in life; a person might even end up afraaid
to leave the house, looking constantly over their shoulder when they do.a
Kierkegaard, therefore, goes on to make several claims about the impor -
tance of having an appropriate fear of death, including the following:
“Earnestness does not scowl but is reconciled with life and knows howa to
fear death” ( TDIO 88 /SKS 5: 457). Without such knowledge, it seems that
there are two ways that someone could fear death inappropriately. The
first is the insufficient fear of death, which Kierkegaard believes might
lead an individual to fear life more than death ( TDIO 81– 82 /SKS 5: 451–
53). If death has no foreboding character, then one might be quick to
choose it as an option in the face of difficulties in life ( TDIO 86– 88 /SKS
5: 455– 57). On the other hand, if one has an excessive fear of death,
then one might be unwilling to risk one’s life in the ways that are neces-
sary for dealing with the responsibilities of existing ( TDIO 83– 84 /SKS
5: 453– 54). By walking some sort of a middle path between these two
overreactions, one might be able to realize the life that Kierkegaard has
in mind when he recommends focusing on the certain uncertainty. This
middle path must be understood as an existing in the tension between
fearing death and living life, and not as some kind of Aristotelian golden
mean of fear.
15 Proclaiming, “let death keep its power . . . but let life also
keep the right to work while it is day” ( TDIO 84 /SKS 5: 454), Kierkegaard
wants to maintain death’s full frightening nature while simultaneously
pressing forward toward death into life. Because “death itself produces a scarcity of time for the dying”
( TDIO 84 /SKS 5: 453), Kierkegaard believes that the earnest individual—

the one who keeps in mind the keys to thinking about death described
above and thereby grasps his or her own precarious position— will feel a
profound sense of urgency. This urgency is the momentum, the “retro-
active power in life” that invigorates it by seeping backwards into one’s
existence from one’s impending death (TDIO 99 /SKS 5: 466). With no
time to waste, one learns not to spend it on “vain pursuits,” or “acciden-
tal” matters ( TDIO 75, 96 /SKS 5: 446, 464), which demand results in the
external world. Results take time, and as Kierkegaard has pointed out,
time cannot be guaranteed. Instead, he thinks that one should embrace
one’s temporal uncertainty and make concerns that do not require a spe-
cific amount of time the priority. These non- time- dependent concerns
are not about what one may or may not accomplish in the external world,
but about how, inwardly, one does whatever one is doing ( TDIO 96 /SKS
5: 464).
16 By emphasizing the issue of how one is going about whatever
life activities one is engaged in, Kierkegaard’s earnest thought of death
leads one to “die to” (as he will eventually describe it) the vain “what-
concerns” that the world is so focused upon. Kierkegaard surely has a great deal more to say about the earnest
thought of death in “At a Graveside.” For example, he explains how
the thought of death’s equality helps one “to renounce worldly com-
parison” with others ( TDIO 91 /SKS 5: 459). But Kierkegaard’s dealings
with physical passing away and related issues are not exhausted by this
short discourse. In several of his subsequent writings, he will revisit some
of these same ideas and spend a great deal of time pondering the suffer -
ing, persecution, and martyrdom of early Christians, the remembrance
of the deceased, and the figurative martyrdom of “dying to the world,”
which will turn out to be the end goal and crown jewel of Kierkegaard’s
writing on death.
Concluding Unscientific Postscript to “Philosophical Fragments” is unique
among the key “middle” texts in the train of Kierkegaard’s thought that
I am tracing both in its breadth of scope and in the fact that it is writ-
ten under a pseudonym. Its author, Johannes Climacus, following up on
related work in his Philosophical Fragments, attempts to offer an account,
from the perspective of an outsider, of “climbing” up the steps involved
in becoming a Christian.
18 He does this, however, with numerous detours
along the way, including various discussions of topics that often initially
seem only loosely related to the primary purpose of the book. Among
these sorts of discussions is a short reflection on death and immortal-
ity in the context of the alleged difficulty of becoming subjective ( CUP
1: 165– 77, 201– 2 /SKS 7: 153– 63, 184– 85). The consideration of death
makes several of the same points that are made in “At a Graveside” about
issues such as the certainty and the uncertainty of death, but Climacus’s

primary interest seems to lie in a further refinement of that discourse’s
discussion of personally appropriating the thought of death (CUP 1: 166–
67 / SKS 7: 154– 55). In a slight redirection, Climacus suggests that by de-
termining how an individual relates to death, it is possible to detect haow
developed this individual is subjectively. Just like the graveside discourse
though, he maintains that the certain uncertainty of death, thought sub-
jectively (and constantly), will manifest itself in the lives of those who
think it, not just in their words, but in their actions and attitudes as well
( CUP 1: 169– 70 /SKS 7: 157– 58).
In a similar vein, Climacus takes up the proper subjective approach
to the “indefiniteness” of the afterlife ( CUP 1: 176 /SKS 7: 163). Despite
the best efforts of Hegelians and Christian apologists to establish on ob-
jective grounds that there will be immortality of some kind or another,
Climacus believes that these sorts of objective accounts miss the point. Al-
though these issues will come up again when considering Kierkegaard’s
reaction to the thinkers who provide such arguments, perhaps a brief
explanation here will be helpful. Marks (2011, 284– 87) sees Climacus
making a distinction between “revisionist” (e.g., Hegelian) arguaments
that dodge the issue of personal immortality by offering up some kind of
less specific eternity or permanence, and “traditional” (i.e., apologetic)
arguments that diminish the importance of an individual’s struggle
with faith in his or her own immortal afterlife by attempting to demon-
strate  the necessity of immortality in general given the nature of the
universe. Rather than trying to remove the indefiniteness surrounding one’s
own personal immortality by dissolving the concerns of particular indi-
viduals in arguments about the abstract eternity of humanity, Climacus
argues that the relevant indefiniteness cannot be avoided in this way aand
instead ought to be conscientiously preserved. Because the questions
that most people ask are about what I, in particular, should believe comes
after my own death and about how I should live in light of this belief, a
detached objective answer about the general permanence of things is
no answer at all and the indefiniteness surrounding my own situation re-
mains. Similarly, since a compelling objective proof based on the nature
of the universe, if such a thing is even possible, would actually be det -
rimental to the personal relationship with immortality that is necessary
(at least according to many Christian views), Climacus sees no reason ato
continue trying to speculate the indefiniteness away. The task then, à la
Socrates, is to determine how to live given that this uncertainty cannota be
disposed of once and for all ( CUP 1: 201– 2 /SKS 7: 184– 85). Like keeping
one’s own impending death in mind at every moment, focusing on the
insecurity one feels with respect to personal immortality is to practicea

subjectivity— to develop one’s self. This activity can occupy an individual
for a lifetime, leaving no chance for speculation about abstract issues that
are of no essential concern for a particular existing individual.
19 But why
is Climacus so interested in attaining the proper subjective perspective
with the help of encounters with death and immortality, and what does
this perspective have to do with the overall project of explaining what it
is to become a Christian in Postscript?
Climacus points out early on that subjectivity must be cultivated
because there is no objectively becoming a Christian (e.g., CUP 1: 16,
129– 30 / SKS 7: 25, 121– 22). Christianity and all that it entails must be
willingly taken on by a passionately interested individual. Unfortunatelay,
according to Kierkegaard and Climacus alike, mid- nineteenth- century
Copenhageners have apparently come to believe that one’s Christianity
is a hereditary privilege that can almost be demonstrated objectively by
looking at a map. That is, they behave as though everyone is a Christian
“of sorts as a matter of course” simply by virtue of being born (and bap-
tized with no awareness) in the comfortable confines of Christendom
( CUP 1: 586 /SKS 7: 533). It is due to the rise of this effortless, diluted
version of Christianity that Kierkegaard recommends considering the
difficult plight of early Christians. In a journal entry from 1850, he states, “In the early days people
were almost surprised to find that life had a few joyful days . . . because
they understood that this life was ordained to suffering, also suffering for
Christianity. Nowadays Christianity has come to mean gratifying oneself
in a purely secular manner and clinging tightly to this life” ( J P 4: 399 /
SKS 24: 38– 39). In order to free oneself from such an attachment to life
and become dedicated to genuine Christianity, Climacus, in tune with
this journal entry, suggests that one must learn to accept as the early fol-
lowers did that a Christian life is necessarily one of suffering ( CUP 1: 458 /
SKS 7: 416). Such suffering in its most extreme form is the amartyrdom
that the early Christians faced, but it also takes the shape of the figurative
martyrdom of “dying to immediacy” and to “oneself ” ( CUP 1: 460– 63,
472, 597– 98 /SKS 7: 418– 21, 428, 542– 43). Dying in this sense is really a
series of sacrifices that an individual must make in order to remove ob-
stacles on the road to becoming a Christian. These sacrifices, which waill
be described in greater detail in Kierkegaard’s later texts, may include
giving up worldly goods, bodily security, and comfort, but they certainly
include “the martyrdom of faith (to crucify one’s understanding)” ( CUP
1: 559 /SKS 7: 508). This loss of understanding, which is contrary to all
hope for the objective demonstration of either the truth of Christian-
ity or one’s relationship to it, is necessary for subjectively appropriating
what turns out to be the core belief of Climacus’s (and as we shall see,

Kierkegaard’s) Christianity— the paradoxical mortality of the immortal
God as demonstrated by death on the cross (CUP 1: 578 /SKS 7: 525). 20
Following Postscript, Kierkegaard’s unshielded Christianity begins
to come to the fore as his work turns in a new direction. 21 Although Up-
building Discourses in Various Spirits (1847), one of the first texts in what is
known as his “second authorship,” does not deal extensively with death,
there are a few passages worth mentioning as a way of transitioning to
the more direct explicitly Christian works after 1846. Much of what is said
about death in this text comes in the first discourse, commonly calleda
“Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing.” Here one can see both a hint of
the way Kierkegaard will suggest using one’s relationship to the dead to
help cultivate an untainted self- understanding ( UDVS 54– 55 /SKS 8: 164–
65) in Works of Love (1847), and also a still further development of the
lessons of urgency described in “At a Graveside.” In fact, Kierkegaard’s
discussion of the ever- present “eleventh hour” in “Purity of Heart” uses
much of the same rhetoric of that earlier discourse to point out that
death permeates life from beginning to end and undermines ordinary
temporal sensibilities of what is essential by discrediting the notion that
we still have plenty of time left ( UDVS 14– 16 /SKS 8: 129– 31).
Unlike “At a Graveside” though, this discourse provides a little
more description of precisely what we are to do in the dire situation of
the eleventh hour— we are to take responsibility for our guilty pasts in
regret and move freely into the future with repentance before God. This a
merging of one’s temporal guilty self with what Kierkegaard describes as
“repentance in the sense of freedom with the stamp of eternity” ( UDVS
16 /SKS 8: 131), can only happen in the urgent fullness of time of the
eleventh hour. In other words, fearful and humble repentance in the
face of impending doom (and it is always impending) can give eternal
significance to one’s otherwise unremarkable worldly existence by lib-
erating one’s actions from the shackles of purely temporal meaning
( UDV S 15– 16, 152– 53 /SKS 8: 130– 31, 248– 49). Like Postscript’s crucifix-
ion of the understanding, both “Purity of Heart” and “Part Three” of
Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, “The Gospel of Sufferings,” de-
scribe this liberation in terms of “dying to” temporal /worldly sagacity
( UDV S 113– 14, 257 /SKS 8: 215– 16, 355). As an example of being dead
to worldly interpretation of otherwise worldly events, consider Kierke-
gaard’s story of the martyr on his way to die who only sees and speaks to
God in gratitude, despite being paraded before a malicious crowd ( UDVS
336 /SKS  8:  426– 27).
One can find a similar connection of martyrdom and dying to
worldliness in the “Christian deliberations” ( WL 3/SKS 9: 11) of Works of
Love where Kierkegaard muses,

Let us now think of a Christian witness. For the sake of this doctrine,
he ventures into battle with the powers that be who have his life in theair
hands and who must see in him a troublemaker— this will probably cost
him his life. At the same time his contemporaries, with whom he has
no immediate dispute but who are onlookers, find it ludicrous to risk a
death for the sake of such fatuousness. Here there is life to lose and
truly no honor and admiration to gain! Yet to be abandoned in this way,
only in this way to be abandoned, is Christian self- denial! (WL 196– 97 /
SKS  9: 195– 96)
Not only does this passage describe a genuine readiness for martyrdom,
and express the sort of dying to worldly understanding and selfhood
that has come up throughout the key texts of the middle period (a dying
that will become absolutely crucial in Kierkegaard’s later writings), but
it also displays an explicit Christian sharpening of matters that pertain
to death (now with perhaps more of an interest in becoming Christian
than we see in Postscript, which only explains what is involved in becom-
ing Christian). Since the bulk of the death discussion found in this text
takes place in a short discourse titled “The Work of Love in Recollecting
One Who Is Dead,” it will be most worthwhile to focus on the ways that
death shows up there. Like the other dealings with death from this period, there is a mo-
ment in which Kierkegaard once again revisits one of the themes from
“At a Graveside”— earnestness in this case. In discussing the earnest-
ness of death, however, Kierkegaard adds a further condition that he
does not make especially clear in the graveside discourse (although I waill
eventually attempt to explain that it is present even there). He declares,
“To the earnestness of death belongs that remarkable capacity for awak-
ening, this resonance of a profound mockery that, detached from the
thought of the eternal, is an empty, often brazen, jest, but together with
the thought of the eternal is just what it should be” ( WL 353 /SKS 9: 347).
Based on the overall character of the book and other claims made on the
very same page, it seems that Kierkegaard is using “the eternal” here,
as elsewhere, in reference to the relationship with the Christian God.
What he seems to mean then, is that thinking of death must be done
for the purpose of improving one’s relationship with God if it is to have
any more value than not thinking of death at all. Thinking of death on
its own is just another transient, temporal, worldly activity that can add
no more meaning to an already transient, temporal, worldly life, but this
is not so when the lasting significance of something eternal is involved.
And for a Christian, involvement with God is only possible through a
proper connection to Christ, especially to his death and resurrection

(compare WL 248 / SKS 9: 248). Thus, the alleged earnestness of death
is really only superficial unless it somehow reflects Christ’s example. It
would seem that Kierkegaard is now openly attempting to Christianize
the contents of “At a Graveside.” In accord with his now openly Christian project of dealing with
death, Kierkegaard’s primary goal in the discourse on the deceased is the
description of Christian love for the dead. Although there is much about
this description that need not be thoroughly rehashed here, it must be
noted that, in the end, the discourse is less concerned about actual praac-
tices, such as burial, visiting the cemetery, and speaking of loved ones
long gone, than it is about using love for the dead to teach oneself how
to love the living properly.
23 Kierkegaard states, “The work of love in rec-
ollecting one who is dead is thus a work of the most unselfish, the freest,
the most faithful love. Therefore go out and practice it; recollect the aone
who is dead and just in this way learn to love the living unselfishly, freely,
faithfully. In the relationship to one who is dead, you have the criterion
by which you can test yourself ” ( WL 358 /SKS 9: 351). Perhaps most im-
portant of all of the ways that death comes up in Works of Love, at least for
the sake of understanding Kierkegaard’s death project, is this idea that
loving the dead helps individuals do away with their selfish worldly love
for others. This sort of love, he explains, is the preferential love of certain
individuals, such as friends and spouses, over the rest of humanity; it is
contrary to Christian love, which is meant for every member of human-
kind, even one’s enemies ( WL 19 /SKS 9: 27). Because the dead can be
absolutely nothing for the living, as Kierkegaard reiterates throughout
the discourse, there is nothing about the dead that one can prefer. Thus,
loving the dead is practice for loving non- preferentially, or unselfishly,
and it encourages people to “die to” their worldly attachments to others.
The Late Writings
If the writings of the middle period are characterized by a general em-
phasis on death and its significance for Christian dying to the world,
then the writings from 1848 and beyond can be understood in aterms of
a further intensification of such dying. The first text from these later
writings to manifest this intensification is Christian Discourses. Although
the same issues about death’s certainty and uncertainty that come up in
earlier discourses are still present here, Kierkegaard now regularly speaks
of the Christian use of thoughts of death ( CD 27, 257 /SKS 10: 39, 270).
The purpose of these sorts of thoughts is, in line with his somewhat less

explicit previous descriptions, to help in overcoming the attachment to a
all things earthly, human, and temporal, and thereby open oneself up
to Christ and the eternal life that comes with faith in him. Kierkegaard
claims, “If there is no next day for you, then all earthly care is anni-
hilated,  .  .  . then either you are dying or you are one who by dying to
temporality grasped the eternal, either one who is actually dying or onea
who is really living” ( CD 72 /SKS 10: 81). In this passage one can again see
Kierkegaard’s emphasis on the atemporal or kairological sense of the
fullness of time of the present moment. Tomorrow has no significance
for one who comes into the right relationship with the eternally presenta
meaning of a godly life.
Another possible implication of this passage and others like it is
that so long as one is bound to the perishable things of a rapidly decay-
ing existence, one participates in death, but one is said to be truly alaive by
participating instead in something that can never die— the resurrected
divinity (who, as a human, established the pattern for passing from deaath
to life) (compare CD 208, 258 /SKS 10: 216– 17, 271). Furthermore, since
the world is a place of death, in order not to die with it in one sense one
must die to it in another: “A person must die to finitude (to its aplea-
sures, its preoccupations, its projects, its diversions), must go throuagh
this death to life . . . and realize how empty is that with which busyness
fills up life, how trivial is that which is the lust of the eye and the craving
of the carnal heart” ( CD 172 /SKS 10: 183). One must sacrifice a certain
way of life that is deemed insignificant and temporary so as not to rule
out the meaningful and everlasting Christian way of life ( CD 17, 184, 242–
43 /SKS 10: 29, 194– 95, 248– 49).
25 While Kierkegaard’s most helpful ex-
planations of his strange distinction between death as pathological and
death as therapeutic seem to be found in the writings that follow Chris-
tian Discourses, the importance of death in the latter sense— dying to the
world— shows up quite obviously throughout this work of 1848. Even Kierkegaard’s discussion of the afterlife in Christian Discourses
seems to emphasize aspects of dying to the world. In “There Will Be the
Resurrection of the Dead, of the Righteous— and of the Unrighteous,”
he expresses concern about the prevalence of demonstrations of the
immortality of the soul in his day. As in Postscript, this issue is one that
is essentially not meant to be fodder for abstract speculation. However,
unlike the discussion in Climacus’s text, which follows the Socratic argu-
ment from ignorance, this explicitly Christian treatment takes another
approach and faithfully affirms that personal immortality is a given.
26 By
ruling out human demonstrations of immortality as somehow missing
the point of simply believing, Kierkegaard is already suggesting a dying to
worldly “shrewdness” ( Snildhed) that is necessary for relating to Christian

doctrines in the way that is appropriate to them (CD 213 /SKS 10: 221).
But beyond this anti- intellectual aspect of dying to the world, which will
be described in greater detail in For Self- Examination, Kierkegaard iden-
tifies two other worldly bonds connected with immortality that must be
broken. The first concerns the notion that faith in immortality is something
like longing for continuation of one’s worldly existence. This notion dis-
plays both an unchristian attachment to the world that must be overcome
and a misunderstanding of one’s task with respect to one’s immortal-
ity. In order to clear up any misunderstanding, Kierkegaard, following
Paul, equates immortality with judgment and claims that the only issue
related to immortality that a Christian need be concerned about is how
he or she stands with respect to the fact that there will be a judgment aof
the dead ( CD 205– 9 /SKS 10: 214– 18). Having laid out the vital task of
caring for one’s standing, Kierkegaard turns to the other worldly bond
that must be broken. This bond is the human “sureness” that convinaces
so- called Christians that a positive judgment is secure ( CD 210 /SKS 10:
218). While such security may have a place in worldly affairs, the task with
respect to immortality is, like Climacus says, one that lasts a lifetimea, and
as such, it cannot be completed in life in the way that would be neces -
sary for worldly security. Kierkegaard wonders, “Is there not bound to be
unsureness in fear and trembling until the end? . . . My salvation is not
yet decided” ( CD 212 /SKS 10: 220). Without such an ultimate resolution,
Kierkegaard believes that a Christian must do away with the human ten-
dency to become comfortable and satisfied with one’s efforts. For a more comprehensive list of problematic human tendencies
one must turn to The Sickness unto Death (1849), one of Kierkegaard’s
most famous works. It might not be immediately clear how Sickness fits
into the present account of Kierkegaard’s overall death project. Based on
the title alone though, it is clear that this text deals with death in saome
sense; and in fact, it deals with the other, problematic, sense of death that
Christian Discourses suggests when emphasizing the need for dying to the
world. This engagement with that other sense of death, in addition to its
pseudonymity, serves to distinguish Sickness from Kierkegaard’s other late
dealings with the topic. Sickness is not directly involved in the further explication of dy-
ing to the world, but is rather wholly absorbed in describing the state of
individuals who seem in need of such dying. The sickness unto death is
nothing more than a human’s state of despair, which Anti- Climacus, the
book’s pseudonymous author, will later identify as sinfulness when inter -
preted Christianly.
27 He states, “In the whole book, as the title indeed
declares, despair is interpreted as a sickness, not as a cure. . . . Thus, also

in Christian terminology death is indeed the expression for the state
of deepest spiritual wretchedness, and yet the cure is simply to die, to
die to [at døe, at afdøe ] the world” (SUD 6/SKS 11: 118). Since, in the
discussion of death that surrounds Sickness, Kierkegaard is mostly inter-
ested in what this passage calls “the cure,” it might seem possible to leave
Anti- Climacus’s thorough discussion of the ailment of spiritual death (by
worldly association) out of my account of Kierkegaard’s explanation of
dying to the world. However, it would be strange to focus on the discus-
sion of a cure without some awareness of a disease, and so, it is clear that
Sickness holds an important place in my overall account of Kierkegaard
on death. Having said this, I might also point out that, without directlay
referring to despair or sin, this account already includes a descriptiona of
the despair- like symptoms (e.g., what- concerns, objectivity, preferential
love, selfishness) that dying to the world is up against (compare SUD 31,
45, 58– 59, 112 /SKS 11: 147, 160, 173– 74, 223– 24). Given that the dead way
of life that one must die to has not been neglected thus far, and the fact
that the association of death and despair in Sickness is a topic that has
been well covered recently, it seems appropriate to return to the explana-
tion of the more beneficial sense of living death.
The discussion of dying to the world in For Self- Examination is the
culmination of the train of thought, or death project, that I have been
tracing through Kierkegaard’s works. It is in this text that Kierkegaard
offers his most thorough account of this sort of figurative martyrdom
by laying out the difficult task of serving Christ through imitation. Since
Christ died on the cross for humankind, each and every individual who
would be a follower of Christ must join him in death (compare Imbro-
sciano 1994, 105). But even if it is unlikely that one will find violent bio-
logical death on the Christian path, what matters most is that, if by the
grace of God one is able to stay on it, one participates in some way in the
sort of death Christ suffered and becomes as good as dead, at least so far
as the ways and wisdom of the world are concerned.
Kierkegaard, echoing Luke 14:26, claims, “In a certain sense a .  .  .
love of God is hatred toward the world” ( FSE 85 /SKS 13: 105; compare
CD 184, 242– 43 /SKS 10: 194– 95, 248– 49).
30 Hints of such hatred can be
seen at least as far back as Kierkegaard’s discussion of the earnest thought
of death in “At a Graveside,” but this earnestness about death, even if
coupled with the thought of the eternal as Works of Love recommends,
cannot bring about a properly Christian dying to the world. Kierkegaard
explains, “The life- giving Spirit is the very one who slays you; the first
thing the life- giving Spirit says is that you must enter into death, that
you must die to . . . in order that you may not take Christianity in vain”
( FSE 76– 77 /SKS 13: 98; compare JFY 98 /SKS 16: 155). It is only because

of God’s intervention that an individual can die to the world and avoid
making his or her Christianity into the sort of trivial endeavor that “At a
Graveside” understands as a worldly what- concern. That is, only through
divine assistance can one entirely overcome the impulse to view the new a
life in Christ that comes after this dying in “immediate continuationa”
with the accomplishments of the previous worldly life; decisively break-
ing with the worldly self and its corresponding concerns about what it
has or has not done to make itself Christian is necessary for accepting
the new life based on faith in God’s mercy alone (FSE 76– 77, 81 /SKS 13:
97– 99, 102; compare CD 205 /SKS 10: 214– 15). Thus, dying to the world
even includes abandoning the selfish notion that one has the ability tao
use thoughts of death to complete one’s Christian training on one’s own,
despite the usefulness of such thoughts along the way. In fact, as it turns out, Kierkegaard is opposed to any sort of aspir -
ing Christian’s dependence on him- or herself. Consider the following
The apostles were indeed dead, dead to every merely earthly hope, to
every human confidence in their own powers or in human assistance.
Therefore, death first; you must first die to every merely earthly hope,
to every merely human confidence; you must die to your selfishness, or
to the world, because it is only through your selfishness that the world
has power over you; if you are dead to your selfishness, you are also
dead to the world. ( FSE 77 /SKS 13: 99)
Here Kierkegaard begins a list of human capabilities, traits, and re -
sources that signify a dangerous worldliness, and that consequently must
be overcome. Among the abilities that Kierkegaard believes are, Chris-
tianly speaking, useless, and maybe even detrimental, is reason.
32 He
states, “The way is narrow— it is  .  .  . impassable, blocked, impossible,
insane [ afsindig]. . . . To walk this way is immediately, at the beginning,
akin to dying. . . . Along this way sagacity [ Klogskab] and common sense
[ Forstand ] never walk— ‘that would indeed be madness [ Galskab]’” (FSE
61– 62 /SKS 13: 84). But why is Christian life madness, and thus appara -
ently against reason? Because it has as its core belief that Jesus Christ
(a man) entered into the paradoxical situation of finding life in death
(or, as God, the paradoxical situation of a mortal immortal). Similarly,
in imitation, prospective Christians must die to the world in order to be
born again ( FSE 60– 61 /SKS 13: 83– 84). In both cases, reason and experi-
ence, which argue unceasingly that death only comes after life (and thaat
worldly goods are to be enjoyed, not denied), seem to be wrong. For Kierkegaard then, “Faith is against understanding [ Forstand];

faith is on the other side of death.  .  .  . When you died or died to your-
self, to the world, then you also died to all immediacy in yourself, also
to your understanding” ( FSE 82 / SKS 13: 103). Despite the strong lan -
guage Kierkegaard uses in describing dying to reason, it is not exactly
the case that reason or understanding itself is the enemy, but rather, it
is the need to find worldly support by offering reasonable explanations
for the things one thinks, says, or does that Kierkegaard criticizes ( FSE
68 /SKS 13: 90).
33 To sum up, as suggested in the preceding discussions
of Postscript, Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, and Christian Discourses
(among others), dying to the security blanket that is the understandinag is
a necessary prerequisite for appropriating, through faith, the backwards
situation of being a Christian.
34 However, since killing off reason is no
easy task, humans are in need of a divine nudge. Kierkegaard gives the Christian situation another interesting spin
in the final text that I will mention in connection with his death proaject.
After three years of publishing silence, Kierkegaard unleashes his ulti-
mate attack on the diluted version of Christianity preached by the Danish
church through a series of pamphlets titled “The Moment” (1855).
35 This
title is likely a reference to the New Testament kairological fullness of
time, mentioned throughout Kierkegaard’s work, in which an ordinary
temporal being might come to take on atemporal or eternal significancea
by relating properly to God. Among numerous radical claims in these
pamphlets, Kierkegaard describes the paradoxical situation of Christian-
ity by pointing out that this God who has infinite love for humans is also
their greatest nemesis. In order to take part in God’s love, he demands
suffering of us; he demands death to what we are— worldly beings ( TM
177, 294 / SKS 13: 227, 352). Here we see the sense of hatred from God
that is demanded of humans in For Self- Examination.
“The Moment” also offers a short reflection on deathbed regret
about what one has failed to do with the only life one gets. Kierkegaard
depicts the almost hilarious triviality of lamenting some particular unful-
filled wish, for example, seeing Paris; surely, the fulfillment of such a wish
could have no significant effect on the situation of the deathbed given
that worldly experiences are all just a matter of killing time. He contrasts
this earthly temporal situation with the possibility of looking back from
the deathbed having used “the moment” of life well— “so it rightly re-
lates itself to eternity” ( TM 294 /SKS 13: 352). Missing out on the fleeting
pleasure that is Paris hardly compares to missing out on the everlasting
meaning of a loving relationship with God ( TM 293– 95 /SKS 13: 351– 53).
But the difficulty is that, practically speaking, loving God means suffaering
in (or dying to) the world, when we would rather just visit the Louvre.
Nonetheless, humans must not be distracted by their natural inclinationsa

or recoil from this beneficial suffering. In order to reconcile our sinful
worldly “past” with our forgiven eternal “future,” we must use the “pres-
ent” moment of existence to die to the worldly associations that make
this future impossible.
The Proper Audience
Is dying to the world only for the aspiring Christian? It is necessary to
answer this question given the explicitly Christian themes of the train
of thought I have laid out, particularly in the case of Kierkegaard’s later
writings. There is a sense in which I believe that Kierkegaard’s existential
death project is inherently Christian. One cannot deny that in many of
the texts discussed above, death’s intertwinement with existence comes
up in the context of how one can become Christian. Even in the case of
“At a Graveside,” which for the most part seems to treat death on its own
terms, there is at least an implicit Christian understanding. Consider tahe
claim that “the person who is without God in the world soon becomes
bored with himself— and expresses this haughtily by being bored with
all life, but the person who is in fellowship with God indeed lives with
the one whose presence gives infinite significance to even the most insig-
nificant” (TDIO 78 /SKS 5: 448).
36 It seems that Kierkegaard might need
a little religious gravitas in order to demonstrate that his approach toa
life through death is preferable to other possible attitudes toward deatah.
After all, as George Connell (2006, 436) suggestsa, it is unclear why Kierke-
gaard believes that one should not simply ignore death in the tradition a
of Epicurus ( TDIO 73 /SKS 5: 444), unless he also believes that ignoring
death in this way works against a Godly life.
37 If even one of Kierkegaard’s
least religious discussions of death cannot stand without God, then it
may be that his death project is not meant for the nonbeliever. And by
the time Kierkegaard gets to his more explicitly Christian works, there is
no doubt he believes that without Christ “it is a matter of indifference
whether I live or die” ( CD 242 /SKS 10: 248).
I do not mean to suggest, however, that it is impossible for some-
one without any Christian interests whatsoever to be moved by some of
the lessons learned in following Kierkegaard’s project. I only mean to
point out that someone without Christian interests will find nothing ian
Kierkegaard’s work to compel them to make such a project their own.
If by chance a particular individual (e.g., Heidegger) or group of indi-
viduals with a different, but somehow comparable motivation is able toa
appreciate and make use of some feature of Kierkegaard’s complex deal-

ings with death, this should hardly count as shocking or inappropriate. 38
But putting Kierkegaard’s ideas about death to work in nonreligious or
different religious contexts only goes so far. Once the train of thought
arrives at the station of intense dying to the world in his late writings, I
believe it becomes much more difficult to bracket the Christian elementas
of his discussion of death.
39 With the peculiar notion of grace in play, it
is hard to see how anyone but the aspiring Christian would find this dis-
cussion useful. One final related issue worth mentioning before moving on is the
fact that the consideration of despair in Sickness is often treated as hav-
ing certain non- Christian applications. It would seem that by the time
Anti- Climacus equates despair with what Christians call “sin,” this text
becomes as inapplicable for anyone not aspiring to Christianity as For
Self- Examination’s hints of grace. But early on, Anti- Climacus claims that
virtually everyone is in a state of despair ( SUD 22– 28 /SKS 11: 138– 44),
perhaps implying that virtually everyone, Christian or otherwise, might
be in need of dying to the world. Am I simply mistaken in thinking that
Kierke gaard’s existential approach to death is essentially Christian? De-
spite the attraction of a more pluralistic reading, I do not believe that
this is the case. Because Anti- Climacus, the super- Christian, represents a
perspective so well entrenched in Christianity ( J P 6: 119– 20, 174– 75, 177 /
SKS 22: 128, 130, 135– 36; 28: 441), it is more likely that Sickness is suggest-
ing that everyone is judged under the criterion of sinfulness and in need
of a cure ( SUD 101 /SKS 11: 213). In other words, the mistake would lie in
believing that Anti- Climacus displays a tolerance for a plurality of views
when he discusses despair prior to introducing sin. For anyone who does a
not share Anti- Climacus’s perspective or convictions, there seems to be
no need either to agree with his diagnosis of humanity, or to accept his

Kierkegaard’s Appropriation and
Criticism of the Tradition
In the works discussed in the preceding chapter, Kierkegaard’s formula-
tion of the existential philosophy of death has both interesting nuances
that seem to show up only occasionally, and also a consistent emphasis on
dying to the world and all that such dying entails. The primary purpose of
his discussing death at all is to suggest a way of life that is infused with the
knowledge that life as we ordinarily understand it must, one way or an-
other, be overcome. In grappling with the precarious nature of life and
all of its projects and activities, he hopes that his reader will come to see
the insignificance of everyday life in the world. By the world’s own stan-
dards of accomplishment, a life that ends at an inopportune moment
might leave its meaning incomplete or even ruined, since such meaning
always seems to depend on what would have happened next. If life is to
avoid this meaningless situation, then it must paradoxically stop lookinag
for meaning in life, at least as it is commonly understood; and once libaer-
ated from the usual worldly attempts to find meaning, the moment of life
can be understood as an opportunity to derive value from something less a
transient than everyday existence. For Kierkegaard, though, there is only
one thing with the permanence necessary to provide something more
than mere worldly meaning— God. Given that the only way God allows
an individual to attribute eternal significance to an otherwise decaying
and insignificant existence is through following his son in defying and
conquering this decadence, the moment of life must be urgently spent
coming to terms with Christ. As essentially worldly beings our worldly
efforts to overcome our worldliness fail, and so, we must thoroughly give
up on ourselves and depend entirely on Christ’s merciful redemptive act. This dying to the worldly self in urgent concern about how one
stands in relationship to Christ is necessarily fraught with fear and anaxi-
ety since there are constant pitfalls so long as one lives. Besides the dan-
ger that one’s life might simply end without relating properly to Christ,
there is also the possibility that one might approach such a relationshiap
but then fall away again due to worldly temptation or suffering. Since
there is a certain anxiousness about one’s very existence built right into a
truly Christian understanding of life, Kierkegaard is opposed to attempts

to become secure in one’s Christianity or to relieve the pressure and fear
related to death. This opposition immediately puts him at odds with botha
the Platonic and the Epicurean strains in the history of the philosophy of
death. The conflict with the Epicurean strain is quite clear as practiacally
all of the thinkers that I have associated with this strain try to explain in
one way or another why individuals’ deaths are of little consequence.
The Platonic strain on the other hand, particularly as seen in some of
the Christian thinkers I consider, might seem to agree with Kierkegaard
about the urgency in life that an appropriate fear of death can engender.
Ultimately, however, I will argue that even those thinkers from the Chris-
tian tradition who most closely approach Kierkegaard on death- related
issues are still trying to offer worldly comfort by mitigating the fear of
death with hope for an afterlife. While there is little doubt that Kierke-
gaard personally hopes for an afterlife as well, he offers his audience no
mitigation but only more nervousness in this life due to the uncertainty
of the subjective task of relating to what may come next.Despite the problems he has with these two strains, Kierkegaard’s
philosophy of death certainly borrows a great deal from thinkers on both
sides. This is especially true in the case of the Platonic strain, from whose
pillars he appropriates the very notion of dying to the world in the first
place. In fact, his entire approach to death might be seen as a turning
to New Testament Christianity, with constant reference to Socrates and
the guidance of thinkers like Augustine, Luther, and Pascal, in order to
combat the rise of Hegelianism (and German idealism in general) in
the Danish church. However, while Kierkegaard obviously appreciates
certain aspects of these “Platonic” thinkers’ views on the use of death for
life, he finds some of their aforementioned mitigation and ideas about
the afterlife potentially detrimental or at least inapplicable given the state
of Danish Christianity. From the Epicurean strain he obviously rejects the
notion that the deaths of individuals are insignificant, but I would argue
that its corresponding doubt regarding personal immortality is some-
thing that Kierkegaard takes very seriously indeed when encouraging his
reader to focus on the faithful subjective task even in the face of objective
1 Again, it is not the case that Kierkegaard gives up belief in
a personal afterlife; rather, he simply understands that nothing is to be
gained spiritually by speculatively engaging with those who would argue a
against it. The purpose of this chapter is to show how Kierkegaard reacts
to and learns from the insights of the Epicurean strain while acting as a
corrective to the Platonic. To this end there will be two sections, one that
considers what he borrows and rejects from the thinkers in the Platonic
strain, and another that does the same with those in the Epicurean.

Kierkegaard on Socrates and Christianity
Kierkegaard’s reception of Plato and Socrates is enormously complex and
by no means static, even on the relatively narrow topic of death- related
issues. As early as The Concept of Irony, Kierkegaard discusses the Apology
and the Phaedo in detail. Although he often distinguishes between the
views of the historical Socrates and those of Plato in a way that I do not,
when it comes to “dying to” Kierkegaard’s dissertation seems to see the
same basic problems with both of them. He suggests that the notion of
philosophy as practice for death has a significant overlap with, and maybe
even an influence upon, what will be understood in Christian terms as
dying to the world (compare J P 4: 217 /SKS 24: 462), but his final work
as a student is not subtle in calling attention to some key differenceas
between this Greek view and the Christian. Perhaps the most important
difference concerns one of the major themes of Kierkegaard’s later writ-
ings related to death— the insufficiency of reason. While Platonists (and
Neoplatonists, for that matter) have what Kierkegaard identifies as the
tendency of Pelagianism to make dying to into an individual intellectual
accomplishment, he points out that the truly Christian view is that the
“contamination of sin” renders human intellectual capacities ineffective
in this process ( CI 76 /SKS 1: 135).
Another significant difference between Platonic and Christian dy-
ing to, according to Kierkegaard, is that Plato’s excessively vague presen-
tation of the result or goal of such dying indicates a “weariness with life”
that the Christian does not share ( CI 77 /SKS 1: 136).
3 Whereas the Chris-
tian account has a specific longing for new life in mind when it recoma-
mends dying to the world, Kierkegaard takes the Platonic focus on being
“nearly dead,” and the relative lack of interest in new life, to mean that
Platonism is simply trying to overcome individual existence ( CI 77– 78 /
SKS 1: 135– 37). Plato does, after all, frequently condemn the imperfec-
tion and confusion of particularity. In The Concept of Anxiety, Haufnien -
sis offers a further criticism of this apparent life- bashing when he takes
issue with Platonic “dying away” for its inadequate notion of temporality,
which is wrapped up in recollection of what came before and finds little
significance in “the moment” of life. The more complete and robust
Christian temporality, of course, sees the moment’s significance in bind-
ing a guilty past to a forgiven eternal future in proper repetition; thea
moment is the opportunity for renewing one’s eternal commitment ( CA
89– 90 /SKS 4: 392– 93).
While Kierkegaard closely associates Plato and Socrates, at least
early on, in discussing the problems of an intellectual dying to, his dis-

tinction between their views (within the collection of writings attributed
only to Plato) becomes more prominent— and problematic— when
dealing with this issue of life- weariness. The judgment of Plato seems
to stick throughout Kierkegaard’s work, but he begins to let Socrates
off the hook to some degree in Irony and will eventually designate him a
champion of individual existence. Of course there are still the concerns
about Socrates’s rejection of fear related to death and the afterlife,
5 but
as Watkin (1990, 68– 70) notices, Kierkegaard comes to see Socrates as a
step away from the Platonic notion of dying to toward the Christian. By
dividing Plato and Socrates in this way (even though Plato never makes a
a clear distinction himself ), one diminishes Plato’s role in portraying his
character so powerfully, ignores important nuances in his body of work,
and makes him into something of the proto- Epicurean Watkin seems to
understand him as when she lumps him in with afterlife- denying “imma-
6 On this latter point, which appears to be in line with Kier-
kegaard’s understanding, the separation of Socrates’s claims about the
nature of the afterlife he expects (even if he cannot be sure) from Plato’s
allegedly more negative views has the troubling result of making it seem
that Plato has no conception of personal immortality whatsoever. As I
have previously described the Platonic strain, treating Socrates as the alit-
erary figure he is, one can see Plato’s preoccupation with the possibility
of a personal pre- and post- life existence.
Whether or not one gives Plato the credit he probably deserves
and treats the views Kierkegaard attributes to Socrates as in some sense
belonging to Plato, one can still come to an adequate understanding of
what Kierkegaard ultimately retains and rejects from Plato’s writings on
death issues through a consideration of Kierkegaard’s ever- shifting ap-
preciation for Socrates. I have argued that the view on the afterlife of
most interest in Plato’s dialogues is a continued subjective experience,
which he packages with a corresponding disparagement of worldly life,
but Kierkegaard focuses on the character Socrates’s use of irony to pre-
serve uncertainty on the afterlife issue and generate a similar suspicion
of worldly affairs. Although his dissertation is almost as critical of this
ironic manifestation of the intellectual approach to dying to the world
as it is of the version he flat out rejects in Plato, Kierkegaard’s later works
seem to go back and forth between such criticism and unchecked praise
of Socrates’s attitude toward death and the afterlife. I offer a brief summary of the apparent oscillation. In Irony Kierke-
gaard sees both Plato and Socrates using rational speculation to over -
come the fear of death. Plato seems to argue that since embodied life—
and maybe individual existence of all kinds— is an ailment, its conclusion
is a great blessing (see Phaedo 118a). While Socrates (especially as he ap-

pears in the Apology) never decides if death— including the annihilative
sort— is better than life, he leaves open the comforting possibility that it
is. Although the young Kierkegaard believes that Socrates’s view is slightly
superior in that it is perhaps not so quick to denigrate life, he feels that
both views are defective and accuses Socrates of a kind of intellectual
deception ( CI 77– 79, 84– 85 /SKS 1: 135– 38, 141– 42). Even as late as “At
a Graveside,” Kierkegaard seems to have a similar view of this “wise per -
son” of “paganism” ( TDIO 98 /SKS 5: 465). Climacus, on the other hand,
romanticizes Socrates’s attitude for its focus on how one should live in the
face of uncertainty surrounding what comes next (an objective matter of
far less concern); but in Christian Discourses Kierkegaard rejects Socratic
concerned ignorance in favor of a life committed to the idea that there
will be a resurrection and a judgment. Both Marks and Watkin agree that eventually Kierkegaard has to
give up on Socrates in order to focus on uniquely Christian tasks, and
indeed this seems true when Kierkegaard claims that Socrates must be-
come “a very unimportant person, a sheer nonentity, a nobody” ( CD 241 /
SKS 10: 248). However, Marks in particular seems to miss the fact that this
is not Kierkegaard’s final word on a possible role for Socrates in Chris-
tian practice. In fact, in both his late journals (e.g., J P 4: 221– 23 /SKS 26:
67– 71) and Anti- Climacus’s Sickness, Socrates’s value seems to rise rather
than diminish as one might expect after reading Christian Discourses. For
example, Anti- Climacus states, “Christianity teaches that everything es-
sential depends solely upon faith; therefore it wants to be precisely a
Socratic, God- fearing ignorance, which by means of ignorance guards
faith against speculation” ( SUD 99 /SKS 11: 211). Here Socratic irony and
ignorance are not elements of the evasive intellectual game Kierkegaard
describes in Irony, but are rather invaluable aspects of a pious form of
being dead to the understanding. Just before prescribing “a little”a Soc-
rates, Anti- Climacus adds, “I consider it an outright ethical task, perhaps
requiring not a little self- denial in these very speculative times, when all
‘the others’ are busy comprehending, to admit that one is neither aable
nor obliged to comprehend it” ( SUD 99 /SKS 11: 211).
8 Since Socrates is
an ever- present force throughout Kierkegaard’s writings, and often not
one to be overcome, it might be accurate to claim that Plato’s dialogues
exert a greater influence on Kierkegaard’s understanding of dying to the
world than any other text outside of the New Testament. And yet, it is in
turning to Christian writings that Kierkegaard is able to focus on some of
those instances that I have highlighted along the way in which Platonic a
dying to the world comes up wanting.
In fact, one can find Kierkegaard’s concerns about transmigration
of souls and the all too intellectual dying to the world, and perhaps also

some of his appreciation for Plato’s (via Socrates, of course) taking death
seriously in life, already well expressed in Augustine’s discussion of Pla-
tonism. But before moving on to Kierkegaard’s reception of the early
church father, it is necessary to say a few things about his complicated
relationship with scripture. He clearly sees himself as a kind of ambassa-
dor of New Testament Christianity, especially when dealing with dying to
the world and the moment of vision (see, e.g., J P 1: 146, 230– 31; 3: 267,
273, 278, 303– 4 /SKS 21: 328; 22: 346; 23: 334; 24: 263– 64; 27: 662– 63),
but his extreme emphasis on individuality, as opposed to the communal
nature of the church so often depicted in the epistles, might be cause
for thinking that his account is a bit of a departure.
11 For example, while
Paul compares Christian individuals to parts of a unified body (1 Cor.
12:12– 30), Kierkegaard states in a late journal that “the New Testament’s
Christianity is anti- social. . . . The formula for New Testament Christianity
is in hatred of oneself to love God: but to hate self is really a part of kill-
ing and hating the urge, the itch, for sociality, which is something most
precious to the natural man. To hate oneself in association with others
is not hating oneself— for association expresses loving oneself ” ( J P 3:
301– 2; compare J P 1: 230 /SKS 26: 269– 70, 275; 27: 649; SUD 120– 21 /SKS
11: 231– 32). Furthermore, when it comes to objective articles of Christian
belief and how they are used to comfort those afraid of dying, one might
also wonder if Kierkegaard is straying somewhat. Compare, for example,
the way Christ speaks of the afterlife to the penitent sinner on the cross,
or the way Paul speaks of immortality’s victory over death (1 Cor. 15:54–
55), with Kierkegaard’s claim (from a journal entry around the same time
as the previous one) that “according to the New Testament Christianity is
restlessness . . . . In Christendom’s Christianity Christianity is introduced as
a tranquilizer, . . . for in Christendom even eternity is used to tranquilize
and to lend zest to the enjoyment of life” ( J P 3: 302 /SKS 27: 656). What
could explain such apparently glaring misrepresentations of scripture? I think that these sorts of worries can easily be assuaged when con-
sidering the situation that Kierkegaard finds himself in. It is not that he
actively disagrees with the methods of Jesus and Paul, but rather that he
has a somewhat different battle to fight.
12 This point is well stated in a
journal entry from 1849:
With respect to the few Christians at that time everything was in order,
for they were true Christians or at least fairly so. Furthermore, the
Christian Church itself was still such a small plant that it was a sect in
the world, which does help in keeping alert. But from the moment
Christianity conquered in the worldly sense and all became Christians in
the ridiculous manner which nowadays is jealously guarded by secular-

ecclesiastic authorities— so that everyone is baptized as a child— from
that moment on the prime polemical target must be the illusion that
we are all Christians, and this polemical sighting must be sharper and
sharper with each century that “established Christendom” stands, for
with every century the illusion grows. (J P 3: 467 /SKS 22: 89)
While the early church was concerned with spreading and preserving its
particular objective message in a world that was not always eager to hear
it, Kierkegaard is faced with a world that claims it accepts the message
but does not want to hear that it does not properly relate to and live in
accordance with it. Even though he understands that for the sake of the
survival of the message the early Christians had need of a certain kind
of community, Kierkegaard believes that modern “Christians” might fail
to understand that, even for the early Christians, the properly Christian
task is to relate as an individual before Christ;
13 becoming Christian is
more than merely joining a church ( J P 1: 245 /SKS 26: 398– 99). Simi-
larly, the early church was engaged in giving the new hope of eternity
to a despairing world of death and misery, while Kierkegaard is faced
with a lazy, self- satisfied, and overly comfortable world that needs to be
reminded that existence has some real peril  .  .  . even for the so- called
Christian in Christendom. Simply put, in the early days of Christianity
people needed to hear about what they were suffering and striving for,
but in Kierkegaard’s day they need to hear that suffering and striving are
the prerequisites. How Christian dying to the world is lost or corrupted is a compli-
cated problem for Kierkegaard, with roots as deep as Paul himself (see
J P 2: 354, 368 /SKS 24: 491; 26: 44). As one might expect based on hais
criticism of Christianity once it has “conquered in the worldly sense,”
Kierkegaard’s view of the various medieval proponents of Christian doc-
trine is often uncomplimentary.
14 Despite the fact that he is likely not
well read in the works of its major contributors, he seems to see the
entire medieval tradition as a gradual descent into the sort of comfort-
ing rationalistic theological speculation that he is so critical of in his own
time. While Kierkegaard is supportive of both the life of Augustine and
many of the claims he makes in distinguishing Christian orthodoxy from
sectarian heresy (Puchniak 2008a, 13– 14), and even finds a certain pas-
sionate dedication in Anselm ( J P 1: 11– 12 /SKS 25: 239; 27: 570),
15 Kierke-
gaard follows Luther in his opposition to the late medieval Scholastic
trend (Bøgeskov 2008, 188– 90). There is no doubt that Kierkegaard is Augustinian to some degree
in his understanding of the original corruption of humanity and its ratio-
nal capacities.
16 In the same vein, he also seems to recognize Augustine’s

notion that grace through faith is necessary if one is to be redeemed and
come into a proper relationship with the divine as an improvement upon
Platonic or Pelagian attempts to figure out such a relationship on one’s
own. One of Augustine’s major contributions to Christianity is a develop-
ment of Paul’s suggestion of dying to reason and self- reliance, but what-
ever movement beyond a stubborn Platonic independence Augustine
initially represents, Kierkegaard is concerned about the thoroughness
of the dying to he ultimately recommends. Kierkegaard sees Augustine’s
willingness (at least in some limited fashion) to supplement faith witah
the sort of rational explanation of theological difficulties that Paul would
not provide as evidence of a persistent underlying Platonism. In a very
critical journal entry from 1854, Kierkegaard laments,
Augustine has nevertheless done incalculable harm. The whole system
of doctrine through the centuries relies essentially upon him. . . a. Au-
gustine has reinstated the Platonic- Aristotelian definition, the whole
Greek philosophical pagan definition of faith. . . . In the Greek view,
faith is a concept which belongs in the sphere of the intellectual . . .
and we get the progression: faith— knowledge. Christianly, faith is at
home in the existential. . . . In this purely personal relationaship between
God as personality and the believer as existing personality lies the con-
cept of faith. ( J P 1: 71– 72 /SKS 25: 432– 33)
According to this passage, Augustine’s method suggests that faith is be-
lief without complete justification, the necessary starting point on the
road to justified knowledge, while the properly Christian view sees faith
purely as a relationship to be lived rather than understood. To make
matters worse, what begins as a mere rationalistic tendency in Augus -
tine sets a precedent, which leads to a most unfortunate (from Kierke-
gaard’s perspective) consequence in the history of Christian thought.
This consequence is the full- blown and wide- spread attempt to perfect
faith through understanding exemplified in the work of figures such as
Anselm and Aquinas. Although Kierkegaard paid little attention to the writings of these
Scholastics, and only occasionally says anything about them, there are
two significant clues that can help piece together his views on the prob-
lematic use of reason that they represent. First, much like his appro-
priation of Augustinian ideas, it is probably fair to say that a mistrust of
the natural theology professed by Scholasticism is part of the properly
Lutheran doctrine in which Kierkegaard was educated (Bøgeskov 2008,
183– 84). Second and more importantly is Kierkegaard’s explicit criticism
of similar ideas in other thinkers. Perhaps the most illuminating instance

of such criticism can be found in Climacus’s discussion of the arguments
for the existence of God offered by modern thinkers such as Descartes,
Spinoza, and Leibniz (PF 39– 43 /SKS 4: 244– 48).
18 Since Climacus imme-
diately rejects these arguments in favor of the “leap,” it is doubtful that
he would approve of them in their Scholastic formulation. The same can
be said for the non- pseudonymous Kierkegaard. In fact, in the case of
Anselm’s devout gratitude for being allowed to develop the ontological
argument, Kierkegaard points out in a late journal entry that “this prayer
and this expression of thanksgiving are infinitely more proof of God’s
existence than— the proof ” ( J P 1: 11 /SKS 25: 239; compare Anselm, Pro-
slogion 2– 4). Once again, for Kierkegaard, faith is a matter of living out a
relationship with the divine— a relationship that does not need support
in the form of clever proofs, but requires instead more dying to reason
than Scholasticism generally allows. Turning now to Kierkegaard’s greatest predecessor when it comes
to dying to reason, Luther is yet another figure whose complicated re-
lationship to Kierkegaard is marked both by high praise and sharp criti-
cism. In Kierkegaard’s later published works, he speaks mostly in sup-
port of Luther, while the reformer receives more of a mixed review in
Kierkegaard’s journals from the same period. There have been numer -
ous excellent papers, particularly in the past decade, on the fascinat-
ing topic of Kierkegaard’s appropriation of Luther, and so it should be
easy to characterize Kierkegaard’s understanding very briefly.
19 Accord-
ing to this understanding, Luther is an invaluable corrective for both the
excessive rationalization of medieval theology and the sense of merit
found in practices such as monasticism and the sale of indulgences (e.g.,
FSE 16– 18 /SKS 13: 45– 47; JFY 132, 192– 94 /SKS 16: 186, 238– 41). Kierke-
gaard appreciates that in order to combat these problematic attitudes
and trends, Luther reaches back to the denigration of human effort, ra-
tional or otherwise, and the corresponding emphasis on faith and grace
that Augustine finds in Paul’s letters. Unfortunately, Kierkegaard thinks,
Luther goes so far in stressing divine grace’s concession to human frailty
that, in correcting a history of error inadvertently set off by Augustine’s
defense of orthodoxy, Luther accidently inaugurates an (in many ways)
inverse, but still highly problematic, history that leads right up to Kier-
kegaard’s own time (see J P 2: 362; 3: 82, 84– 85, 100– 104 /SKS 23: 323,
368; 25: 201– 2, 399– 401, 476– 77; 26: 80, 166– 67, 368– 69, 426; compare
Kim and Rasmussen 2009, 197– 99). The problem that Kierkegaard points out is the world’s tendency
to take advantage of any concession one gives it. He states, “No won-
der Luther very quickly got such great support! The secular mentality
understood immediately that here was a break.  .  .  . They understood

at once how with a little lying this could be used to great profit”a (J P
3: 84 /SKS 23: 368). Since Luther’s most influential Reformation docu-
ments claim that no human effort is sufficient for salvation, many ofa
the Reformation’s supporters fail to realize that Luther’s own life is a
demonstration of the importance (dare I say “necessity”) of making the
effort to die to worldliness anyway, if only to show one’s inability and de-
pendence on a redeemer ( FSE 16 /SKS 13: 45; J P 3: 76, 94– 95 /SKS 22:
241; 27: 572– 73). The almost immediate, occasionally violent, outcome
of Luther’s attempts at reform, which he himself watched with horror
firsthand, was the exact opposite of his intended overcoming of world-
liness. While he saw an opportunity to do away with certain “religiouas”
practices demanded by a corrupt worldly authority, many people took
the idea that their salvation could not be earned by their own effort ato
mean that they could do almost anything they wanted in the world and
things might work out for their souls anyway.
20 Without emphasizing the
rigor of the law (as in Calvin), or as Kierkegaard sees it, the importance
of trying to imitate Christ in dying to the world, Luther opens the door to
the situation of rampant secular hedonism calling itself Christianity that
Kierkegaard complains about in nineteenth- century Denmark (e.g., J P
2: 362– 64 /SKS 25: 201– 4). Although Luther certainly becomes aware of
the dangers of misinterpreting his views, and makes an effort in his later
writings to clear up any misunderstandings about the rigors of Christian-
ity, Kierkegaard, particularly in the late journals, holds him accountable
to some degree for his early excessive exuberance in the preaching of
grace without works.
21 The distinction between the two types of Luther’s
writings on death that I discussed in the first chapter offers an exacellent
illustration of the tension that Kierkegaard sees in Luther. Even though Kierkegaard would surely be critical of Luther’s spe-
cific suggestions about avoiding reflection on personal death and traeat-
ing it as something off in the distant future, his fundamental problem
with a text like Luther’s sermon on preparing to die is its overall orienta-
tion toward comforting minds anxious about the end of life. By taking
the edge off of death as he does with his substitution of thoughts of
eternal life and grace for thoughts of sin, hell, and misery, Luther com-
passionately puts people at ease, but perhaps a little too at ease for their
own eternal good. Kierkegaard believes that there are benefits to having
a certain fear of death and an uncertain worry about what comes next,
albeit fear and worry of an appropriate sort. He is definitely not asking
that one become paralyzed by extreme terror, but simply suggesting that
a respectful trepidation leads to a sense of urgency and an appreciation
for divine assistance in maintaining one’s urgently adopted course of
action. To focus on grace to the exclusion of the difficulty is to give the

impression that there is not still work to be done— faith is not a gift once
and for all, but a relationship to be maintained “in fear and trembliang”
(J P 3: 96 /SKS 27: 568– 69).
At no point does Kierkegaard explicitly claim that Luther person-
ally fails to grasp the necessary difficulty of dying to the world and re-
maining dead to it, but perhaps he would be less critical if Luther had
consistently written of suffering, persecution, and martyrdom as the re-
former does in the later writings I discussed.
22 In these texts one can
find a description of the sort of imitation of Christ’s dying to the world
(in fact, the sign of true Christianity here is suffering in the world) that
Kierkegaard sees in the spiritual anguish that the younger Luther expe-
rienced but did not adequately publicize. However, even though Luther
seems to get around to a proper explanation of the relationship between
works and faith, law and gospel, rigor and mercy, example and redeemer,
or dying to and eternal life, there is no doubt in Kierkegaard’s mind
that the explanation comes too late to stop the caricature of Christianity
spawned by Luther’s early carelessness.
Although Pascal has a smaller impact on both Kierkegaard and the
history of Christianity than Luther, there are certain similarities in how
Kierkegaard views these two thinkers. He has many positive things to
say about the life that Pascal lived and his Luther- like struggle against
the Scholastic views of the Jesuits (e.g., J P 1: 222 /SKS 25: 256), but he
ultimately feels that Pascal retains a little too much of their interest in
rational proof and thereby tries to diminish the difficulty of Christianity.
It is the shared mitigation, whether intentional or not, of the hardship
of dying to the world that really binds Luther and Pascal together as tar-
gets for Kierkegaardian criticism. Still, there is probably more agreement
between Pascal and Kierkegaard on the use of thoughts of death for the
sake of Christian dying to the world than there is between Luther and
Kierkegaard. Besides the obvious similarities in the language that Pascal
and Kierkegaard use to describe death and dying, they both differ from
Luther in that they do not offer explicit comfort about impending de-
mise. On the other hand, Luther is probably closer to Kierkegaard when
it comes to dying to reason. One possible explanation for this latter difference is that while Pas-
cal is still reacting to a largely Catholic world, Kierkegaard is at least a
theological generation and hundreds of miles removed from such an
environment. At the risk of oversimplifying the situation (and ignoring
other relevant historical developments), Luther’s legacy of opposition
to reason, or at least Scholasticism, has already done much of the heavy
lifting when it comes to cleansing Kierkegaard’s religious understanding
of the sort of rationalism that dominated Catholic theology, via the Scho-

lastics and Jesuits, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Of course,
Pascal was aware of the Lutheran movement, but it is unlikely that its par-
ticular brand of extreme mistrust of reason in a religious context could
have been as well ingrained in Pascal in seventeenth- century France as
it was in Kierkegaard, despite their Augustinian connections and other
similarities between their situations. Pascal (2005, 31) advocates a mere suspension or humabling of rea-
son when dealing with the faith- based acceptance of Christian matters,
but Kierkegaard recommends a more extreme approach.
24 As explained
in For Self- Examination he does not believe, as Pascal seems to, that faith
coexists and works with reason to guide an individual toward Christianity
(e.g., FSE 82– 83 /SKS 13: 103– 4). Because faith is opposed to reason for
Kierkegaard, he is more apt than Pascal to embrace Christianity as ab-
surd and offensive. Thus, Kierkegaard is not nearly as interested as Pascal
(2005, 49– 50) in finding reasons, such as miracles, for help in becoming a
and remaining a Christian (see FSE 68 /SKS 13: 90).
25 The key difference
between Pascal and Kierkegaard is, therefore, that while the former has
a notion of Christian dying to the world that involves setting reason aside
only at the proper moments, the latter’s notion of Christian dying to the
world involves a more substantial and sustained renunciation of reason,
at least so far as one’s progress toward Christianity is concerned. This difference between Pascal and Kierkegaard on the subject of
dying to reason is manifested most clearly in their respective goals as
authors. Pascal’s ultimate aim seems to be the production of An Apology
for the Christian Religion, which was the original title for the ideas that are now known as Pascal’s Pensées (Ariew 2005, xi). An apology of this sort,
as evidenced by some of his own claims, is meant to demonstrate how
“reasonable and happy” one can be in Christianity, and how “foolish
and unhappy” one can be without it (Pascal 2005, 51).
26 Kierkegaard, on
the other hand, never portrays the Christian and the unbeliever in such a
a way. Rather, his ultimate goal is to describe what a life in Christ is really
like— it is absurd, offensive, painful, difficult, and dangerous. As if the
dying to one’s former self is not miserable enough, unlike physical death,
which ends things, dying to the self is just the beginning of one’s worldly
sufferings ( FSE 79 / SKS 13: 100– 101). These sufferings of a Christian,
dead to the world in a sense, but still physically living in it, might include
ridicule, persecution, or even worse ( FSE 84– 85 /SKS 13: 104– 5). A jour -
nal entry from 1854 finds Kierkegaard actually questioning whether Pas-
cal is attempting to “coddle” himself instead of facing up to the fact that
a proper Christian life of dying to the world might lead to “martyrdom,
a bloody martyrdom” ( J P 2: 367– 68 /SKS 25: 482). This sort of life hardly

sounds reasonable or happy. 27 In fact, it seems more reasonable to choose
any life but this one. A prime example of Pascal’s attempt to make Christianity seem
more reasonable and attractive to believers and unbelievers alike, which
Kierkegaard would find particularly problematic, is his famous wager.
I have pointed out elsewhere that Kierkegaard did not have much op-
portunity to encounter the wager (Buben 2011, 77– 78), but this does not
preclude imagining what his response would be. Even though the wager
is not intended to produce faith (Pascal realizes that being faithful ias not
simply a decision that one can make), it is meant to demonstrate why
someone would, or maybe should, want to be faithful. Since Kierkegaard
is uninterested in convincing people of the benefits of Christianity (after
all, he is writing for an audience that he believes has taken these benea-
fits for granted), he would probably be quite critical of Pascal’s strategy
in this case. In fact, in his dissertation, Kierkegaard expresses a concern
about Socrates’s approach to the afterlife that may be just as applicable to
Pascal: “If one also bears in mind that he still does not really know what
the shape of the next life will be or whether there will be a next life, if
amid this poetry we hear the prosaic calculating that it can never do any
harm to assume another life . . . then one sees that the persuasive power
of this argument is considerably limited” ( CI 68 /SKS 1: 126). Although
in later writings Kierkegaard no longer wonders about Socrates’s motives,
the calculation described in this passage seems to be at the very heart of
Pascal’s wager. Pascal’s (2005, 212– 13) reasoning is something like this:
since you have to adopt a position either for or against the existence oaf
God and the afterlife (to abstain is, practically speaking, to be against),
given that you already exist and will soon find out the truth of the mat-
ter the hard way, it makes sense to want to believe as this option offers
the greatest possible reward for the same risk. Even if Pascal agrees with
Kierkegaard that what matters most about the afterlife is not whether or
not it is, but how one lives in relation to it, and that living this relaation-
ship is a difficult, anxiety- laden, lifelong struggle (and not a simple mat-
ter of giving assent), the wager is an un- Kierkegaardian affirmation of the
attractiveness of Christianity. After making it through an account of Kierkegaard’s reception of
the major thinkers in the Platonic strain in the history of the philos-
ophy of death, it is clear that he is at least as worried about the historical a
ramifications of their views for Christianity, as he is impressed by the way
Pascal and his predecessors personally embody their ideals. Kierkegaard
actually has a great deal of respect for most of these figures, and he even
acknowledges the need for their various polemical strategies given the

particular historical situations they were each up against. But despite
what his sense of dying to the world derives from these high- water marks
of Christian and pre- Christian thought, he also believes that their views,
when misapplied, misunderstood, or just taken to an unwarranted ex-
treme, have contributed to what passes itself off as Christianity in the
nineteenth century. One way to describe this problematic historical de-
velopment is to suggest that there is a dialectic between worldliness and
dying to, and the Platonic strain is a repeated corrective assertion of dy-
ing to against a series of worldly loopholes in various historical contexts.As Kierkegaard seems to understand things, Socrates, “the hero and
martyr of intellectuality” ( J P 3: 80 /SKS 23: 153), dies to a world of super -
ficial and decadent Greek materialism by retreating to the purely intellec-
tual. Whether or not Plato should receive more credit for contributions a
to the crafting of this approach to the world, he surely follows Socrates
in some sense. Through the centuries this approach, which is initially
characterized by uncertainty and irony, is degraded— first by Plato, ac-
cording to Kierkegaard— and philosophy in its worldly conceit comes to
represent the attainment of knowledge. Into this situation, Christianity
emerges from the Hebrew tradition and reasserts the Platonic notion of
the world’s corruption, but with the important correction that all human
striving to overcome it is insufficient. This insufficiency is at leasat partially
due to the fact that the human rational capacity is also corrupt. Whereaas,
on the Platonic view, one could work out one’s own place with respect to
the afterlife through proper philosophical rigor, on the Christian view,
divine assistance becomes necessary if one is to shed one’s worldliness
and have eternal life. In the course of trying to affirm the need for divine
grace against the heterodox Pelagians, centuries later, Augustine uses
what Kierkegaard believes is Platonic rationalism to support faith. That
is, in trying to prevent the full- blown establishment of rational effort in
the world as a sufficient condition for salvation, Augustine establishes
the limited use of such effort as a possible ally in salvation. This turns
out to be a dangerous tactic (although perhaps somewhat understand -
able given the situation) because, removed from the early context of
separating orthodoxy from heresy, it starts Christianity down a long road
of attempting to make itself compatible with worldly reason. After a mil-
lennium of using this reason to justify all variety of strange and grotesque
practices, by which humans can contribute to their own salvation, Lu-
ther and Pascal look back to Paul and Augustine in order to correct the a
medieval mistake. But as Luther overemphasizes the (nonetheless very
important) idea that there is nothing people can do themselves to earn a
salvation, and Pascal does not entirely distance himself from Scholastic
rationalism, they both make the mistake of simply diminishing the rigor

of Christian dying to the world (interestingly, rigorousness, although in
the form of worldly perversions, was the one good thing about certain
medieval developments for Kierkegaard). Luther inadvertently inaugu-
rates a world- embracing tradition of making no effort whatsoever, and
Pascal simply restores reason in Christianity to something like the stilal-
problematic Augustinian level that makes it easier to come to terms with
than it really should be.Kierkegaard apparently understands himself as one more correc-
tive in this history. In a journal entry from 1850, he states, “Luther’s true
successor will come to resemble the exact opposite of Luther, because
Luther came after the preposterous overstatement of asceticism; whereas
he will come after the horrible fraud to which Luther’s view gave birth”
( J P 3: 82 /SKS 23: 323). Against the easygoing Protestant secularism tahat
follows in Luther’s wake, Kierkegaard relentlessly portrays the martyr -
dom of early Christians and the necessary suffering of anyone who takes
up the cross. But Kierkegaard is more than just the latest swing of the
pendulum of dying to the world; he also has the appropriate perspective
from which to take in the whole dialectic. Without the ability to see thae
entire history for what it is— humans finding ever new and creative ways
to understand their worldly endeavors as meaningful while certain al-
leged representatives and interpreters of divinity try to explain that look-
ing for meaning in worldliness is a mistake— each Platonic thinker in the
history simply patches a particular hole in the hull of the dying- to- the- world ship with material that was already preventing another potential
leak. Since Kierkegaard is conscious of this dialectical historical develop-
ment, he is in a position to take on the role of overall corrective. Rather
than simply focusing on “a condition in Christendom at a particular taime
and place,” he claims that “to reform Christianity requires first and forea-
most a comprehensive view of the whole of Christianity” ( J P 3: 101 /SKS
25: 400– 401). With this comprehensive view Kierkegaard believes that he
is able to help modern Christendom see what it lacks without mistakenly a
overstating the solution.
Kierkegaard Contra Epicurus
In keeping Christianity off of the road to worldliness, having the Epicu-
rean strain in the history of the philosophy of death close at hand may
be quite beneficial. The Epicurean strain, which is certainly more di-
verse in its interests and points of departure than the Platonic, is unified
by its doubts about a personal afterlife and its relative lack of concern

about individuals’ deaths. Kierkegaard realizes that many of the objective
metaphysical, historical, and ethical claims of Christianity seem to melt
away under the intense glare of this often more naturalistic or scientific
worldview. He can also tell that the Epicurean strain grows increasingly
aggressive in its opposition to any traditional metaphysical understand-
ing of Christianity that views itself as a viable option in the modern world.
But even though the Epicurean strain is apparently in direct opposition a
to many aspects of the Platonic, Kierkegaard sees an opportunity to use
the former to focus the latter.He believes that the genuine essence of Christianity is the subjec-
tive relationship- existence with Christ (a relationship partially character -
ized by imitating his dying to worldliness)— the emphasis here is on the
how of existence, for example, how one tries to live out this relationship.
What the Epicurean strain often argues about are certain objective issueas
concerning the nature of the world, and the rationality of behaving in
accordance with its objective findings— the emphasis here is on the what
of existence, for example, what happens after death. If people despair
about Christianity, or feel the need to defend it rationally, in light of what
the Epicurean strain says about death and the afterlife, then they are
obviously not focused on the essence of Christianity. It has never been
the practice of the true Christian, according to Kierkegaard, to reach for
as much objective, rational security as possible, but rather to die to sauch
security (however painful and difficult that may be), place trust in athe
divine, and live as one believes one should to the best of one’s ability. In-
teracting with the Epicurean strain often serves as a way for Kierkegaard
to test for proper Christian dying to the world, because if one is dead
to the world then one should not be especially bothered by the views of
worldly minded adversaries. The task at hand, then, is to see how Kierke-
gaard reacts to the unique challenges posed by the various representa -
tives of this strain. Toward the beginning of his “At a Graveside” Kierkegaard quotes
Epicurus’s famous mantra against the fear of death: “When it is, I am
not, and when I am, it is not.” This passage is at the top of Kierkegaard’s
long list of problematic understandings of death, both philosophical and
everyday. He believes that Epicurus’s explanation of the irrationality of
the fear of death trades on its exclusion of any individual’s particular
experience of life. Immediately after quoting Epicurus, Kierkegaard re-
marks, “This is the jest by which the cunning contemplator places him-
self on the outside” ( TDIO 73 /SKS 5: 444). There may be something
technically right about what Epicurus says, but I (as one thrust inside the
flow of existence) have a great deal going on that is affected, even now,
by the fact that I have an unavoidable conclusion at a time yet to be dea-

termined. Although there will be no “me” to feel the loss of anything
once I am dead, while still alive right now, it feels like I have a lot to lose.
Kierkegaard is surely not alone in his dismissal of Epicurus’s claim, but I
would briefly like to take up the challenge of (partially) defending Epi-
curus against Kierkegaard’s attack.To be clear, it is not as though I really disagree with Kierkegaard’s
assessment of the particular claim in question; I do, in the end, think that
Epicurus is guilty of the sort of mistake that Kierkegaard accuses him of
making. Nonetheless, I wonder if Kierkegaard is being a bit uncharitable
and taking this claim out of context as he passes judgment on it. If the
relevant claim is evaluated within its original context, then perhaps one
might find something more meaningful to attribute to Epicurus than a
clever, but deceptive, cliché. It is not that the Letter to Menoeceus itself is
necessarily misrepresented by the isolation of the passage about death, as
there are other passages in the text that also suggest Epicurus’s vulnera-
bility to Kierkegaard’s accusation. Rather, it is the apparent separation of
this passage from its historical situation— especially the religious climate
of the day— that might be cause for concern. George K. Strodach (1963, a
186) points out that “it was . . . one of the chief social aims of Epicurean-
ism to combat popular religion in all its forms and to substitute for ita a
theology that was ethically emancipating and elevating.”
28 As mentioned
previously, the main Hellenistic religious belief that Epicurus takes issue
with is the notion that there may be a great deal of suffering after death.
It is in an effort to combat what Strodach (1963, 187) calls “mass phobia”
about “the bizarre torments of the classical hell” that Epicurus offers his
argument that since there will be no experience after death whatsoever,
there will be no misery to fear. Even though I think Epicurus’s beliefs about death are more justifi-
able when considering what he was up against, I do not believe that Kiera-
kegaard’s criticism is ultimately mitigated by such considerations. Just
after criticizing Epicurus, Kierkegaard goes on to criticize what seems to
be the position of those against whom Epicurus fought. It is somewhat
unclear whom Kierkegaard actually has in mind here, but it may be that
he is not guilty of an ahistorical assessment of Epicurus after all. Kierke-
gaard states, “Even if the contemplation of death uses pictures of horror
to describe death and terrifies a sick imagination, it is still only a jest if
he merely contemplates death and not himself in death, if he thinks of
it as the human condition but not as his own” ( TDIO 73 /SKS 5: 444). It
seems that Kierkegaard is not exactly disparaging, at least not toward the
beginning of “At a Graveside,” the content of the claims of either Epicu-
rus or his opponents; it is not so much what one thinks about death but a
how one thinks about it that matters. Both sides of the Epicurean dispute

make the mistake of failing to emphasize the significance of death for
each particular individual it touches and each life it will end. Becausea
the subjective appropriation of death has beneficial implications for the
life of one who takes it seriously— for example, it helps such an indi-
vidual to grasp the inessentiality of ordinary worldly accomplishments—
Kierkegaard finds it necessary to offer a warning (especially to aspiring
Christians) about getting wrapped up in debates of this sort that treat
death so impersonally.If it were simply the issue of subjective appropriation, rather than
the more objective question about the justifiability of fearing death, at
stake here, perhaps Kierkegaard could side with either Epicurus or his
opponents had one or the other approached death from the personal
perspective. By the end of “At a Graveside,” though, Kierkegaard, advo-
cating for the fear of death, would likely reject Epicurus’s position for
reasons of objective content as well. Of course, Kierkegaard is certainly
not encouraging the oppressive, superstitious sort of fear that Epicurus
criticizes in his religious opponents; the fear of death recommended in
“At a Graveside” is in no way based on a clear statement of belief in an
afterlife, hellish or otherwise. Nonetheless, Kierkegaard would condemn
the Epicurean position for its insufficient cultivation of fear, given that
it does not allow one’s own death to have an appropriate impact on life
(or really any significant impact at all). For various related reasoans then,
Kierkegaard can hold that Epicurus’s claim, that death should not bother
the living, is unconvincing and unhelpful, without ever explicitly rejecat-
ing Epicurean doctrine about death as the final dispersal of the atoms
that, prior to death, join together to make me an existing subject (coma-
pare Stokes 2006, 398– 400). Kierkegaard seems to find some of the same virtues and faults in
the Stoic view of death that he finds in the Epicurean, with the notable
difference that the former may have more in common with Platonic /
Christian ideas. In journal entries from 1850, Kierkegaard expresses ap-
preciation for Seneca’s appropriation of the Epicurean willingness to
consider death ( J P 4: 42– 43 /SKS 23: 244– 45), but also claims that “hav-
ing suicide in reserve naturally has a certain power to make life inten -
sive. The thought of death condenses and concentrates life” ( J P 4: 332 /
SKS 23: 231). While Kierkegaard sees similar intentions when these two
pagan schools talk about death, he seems to believe that Stoic emphasis a
on suicide inadvertently betrays that they fall short of the ideal Epicu-
rean attitude that “death is nothing to us.” It is this sort of falling short,
and making life intensive instead, that demands closer attention becausea
“Christianity also makes life intensive with the thought of death, imma-
nent death, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps today” ( J P 4: 332 /SKS 23: 231).

In order to avoid confusion and further clarify what is essential in Chris-
tian dying to the world, the Stoics offer an excellent contrast. 29
There is a sense in which a willingness to commit suicide seems to
suggest that one is dead to the world, but Kierkegaard believes that Stoic
suicide is really the opposite of a proper Christian dying to the world. In
1853, he claims that
this is precisely what Christianity is alert to. When Stoicism would saya:
Now you have the right to kill yourself— precisely there is the real dying
to the world— if one is to endure going on living. Stoicism has an enor-
mous resiliency in being able to endure sufferingly many things from
which a man would ordinarily shrink. But its resiliency can neverthelessa
fail— here, then, comes suicide— the resiliency of patience breaks—
and here comes the essentially Christian act, to die to the world. ( J P 4:
333 /SKS 25: 176)
Stoic suicide is a reaction to the world, rather than a dying to it; Stoicism
is not really characterized by an indifference to death, however it under -
stands itself, but by sensitivity to the quality of life. Christian dying to the
world, according to Kierkegaard, is more strenuous in that a Christian
may come to the point at which a Stoic would check out, and yet still
continue to endure the struggles of being alive. The key issue for the
Christian is never whether or not one suffers, but being prepared and
willing to suffer whether or not that should happen. Martyrdom may welal
come, but to seek it out as an avenue of escape from worldly suffering
is, ironically, to remain attached to the world. This is not to say that the
Stoics are somehow cowardly or frivolous, given that they only kill thema-
selves when the world and those in it can no longer be benefited by their
presence (Strem 1981, 153– 54). Nonetheless, this analysis of benefits is a
worldly mathematics and the true Christian martyr would never calculate
in this way. In addition to his negative use of Stoicism to sharpen his under -
standing of proper Christian dying to the world, Kierkegaard also seems
to see some positive value in contrasting Stoic views on the afterlife with
the one often found in Christendom. From an 1851 journal entary:
Cicero says . . . that the gods have no advantage over man, excaept im-
mortality, but this is not necessary for living a happy life. Surely the way
in which immortality is shoved upon people in Christendom is very
confusing, making them think that they feel a deep need for immortal-
ity. On the whole, immortality first appeared with Christianity, and why?
Because it requires that a person shall die to the world. In order to be

able and willing to die to the world— the eternal and immortality must
remain fixed. Immortality and dying away correspond to each other.
The hope of immortality is nourished by the suffering of dying away.
But in Christendom we want to cheat our way into everything, and thus
also into immortality. (J P 2: 380– 81 /SKS 24: 448– 49)
Immortality for the Christian must go hand in hand with suffering in tahe
world rather than happiness, while Cicero’s brand of Stoicism claims,
quite correctly, that happiness in the world can be had without immortal-
ity. If worldly happiness is what one wants, then the Stoic (or more gener -
ally, pagan) life is best. But the supposed “Christians” of Christendom,
missing both the Christian point about immortality and the Stoic, mistak-
enly believe that immortality is a necessary component of having a happy,
secure life in the world; they want immortality without acknowledging its
miserable companion. Kierkegaard seems to believe that by entertaining
the Stoic indifference to immortality, he can help clear up Christendom’s
confusion: if happiness in the world is what you are after, then immortal-
ity is not what you need and a true Christian is not what you are. Kierkegaard apparently has less use for the views on death of the
neo- pagan thinkers of early modern philosophy. Although he gives a fair
amount of attention to the study of Spinoza and Leibniz (if it is at all
appropriate to call the latter a neo- pagan) up to 1846, and Montaigne
in the few years after that, he has practically nothing to say about theair
respective death- related discussions.
30 While Kierkegaard’s references to
Montaigne are a bit less detailed and frequent, a recurring concern in
Kierkegaard’s more thorough reflections on Spinoza and Leibniz is that
their views on the objective nature of things tend toward the exclusion
of the subjective individual (e.g., J P 1: 17– 18 /SKS 19: 392). This concern,
which contributes to Kierkegaard’s association of Hegel with Spinozism,
would certainly apply to their views on death (compare Carlisle 2009,
180; J P 4: 686– 87). In fact, in one of the few places where Kierkegaard
seems to address the attitudes of these thinkers on a related issue (an
1849– 1850 journal entry), he says, “The very way in which modern phi-
losophy speaks of existence shows that it does not believe in the immor -
tality of the individual; it does not believe at all; it comprehends only the
eternity of ‘concepts’” ( J P 1: 460 /SKS 22: 433). While one could surely
speculate about how Kierkegaard might use early modern approaches to
immortality, or any of Montaigne’s ideas about death (some of which are,
as mentioned, well preserved in Pascal), to help keep Christians focused,
the close bonds between these approaches and ideas and those of the
Epicureans and Stoics might render such speculation a bit repetitive. I a

will save this sort of conjecture instead for my discussion of how Kierke-
gaard might have responded to views he could have had no opportunity
of encountering during his lifetime.But before moving on, there is still one relatively early modern
thinker to consider who is perhaps more helpful than the others in the
fight to keep Christian dying to the world on the right track. Ironically,
it is a thinker with whom Kierkegaard had probably no direct literary
acquaintance: Hume. Thomas Miles (2009, 27) explainsa: “Hume seems
eager to push religious believers into a position of fideism, the belief that
religious beliefs are founded purely on faith and not reason, in order tao
extricate religious beliefs from the domain of philosophical and scien -
tific enquiry. Kierkegaard, concerned about a passionless and spiritually
deadening rationalism in religion, welcomes this push toward fideism.”
Although Kierkegaard apparently had only a secondhand knowledge of
Hume, and likely no knowledge of his views on explicitly death- related
issues, what he sees in Hume is the very objective doubt about religious
matters that he believes should have no bearing on proper subjective
Christian faith (Miles 2009, 23– 26). Because Hume does such a thor -
ough job of using this doubt to rule out all rational attempts to ground
faith, he becomes an excellent ally for Kierkegaard in showing would- be
Christians that faith is only to be had by dying to reason.
Pressing ahead to the nineteenth century, Kierkegaard clearly has
some serious concerns about the way reason is allowed to run rampant in a
Christendom. For example, he is famously critical of Hegel’s speculative
method, and the growing influence of Hegelianism in the Danish Lu-
theran church of his day (Stewart 2003, 2). While much of Kierkegaard’s
criticism is, therefore, actually aimed at particular Danish Hegelians sauch
as Hans Lassen Martensen (1808– 1884) and Johan Ludvig Heiberg (1791–
1860), there is at the very least a core complaint that he consistently aims
at Hegel himself.
32 But before discussing this complaint, it is necessary
to reiterate that Hegel holds a special place in my account of the philos-
ophy of death, particularly in connection with Kierkegaard. Hegel surely
understands the role that passing through death, in one sense or an-
other, plays for the Christian, and yet his seemingly unorthodox views
about the possibility of personal afterlife, which are reminiscent of early
modern and pagan notions, render his treatment something of a precur -
sor to the existential philosophy of death proposed by Kierkegaard and
Heidegger. While Kierkegaard recognizes Hegel’s bizarre blend of Chris-
tian and pagan views on these death- related issues, Kierkegaard does not
see this blending as exactly the sort of careful sharpening of Christianity
on the secular whetstone of doubts and criticisms that he advocates. For

Kierkegaard, Hegel is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and thus too dangerous
to be beneficial for actual striving Christians (e.g., J P 2: 222– 27 /SKS 20:
44, 207; 23: 63, 68– 69; 24: 442– 43; 25: 271– 72). The major complaint about Hegel is that he, in some ways like the
early moderns, is too busy speculating about the development of hu-
manity in the abstract to be really concerned about the actual existing
individual (Watkin 1990, 67– 68; Stewart 2003, 451). But according to Clia-
macus’s anti- Hegelian views on the afterlife
33 and Kierkegaard’s under -
standing of the church in the New Testament, genuine Christian exis-
tence emphasizes individuality. Climacus states, “The single individual’s
salvation indeed depends on his being brought into relation to that his-
torical event [the crucifixion]” ( CUP 1: 584 /SKS 7: 531). Each and every
individual is responsible for his or her own relationship to Christ, anda the
human community of Christians only exists in so far as each individual
separately works on this relationship. In a certain sense, then, isolation
from the rest of humankind is a necessary part of being a Christian—
there is no becoming Christian as a crowd, and no such thing as a truly a
Christian special interest group ( CUP 1: 584– 87 /SKS 7: 531– 34).
34 Hegel,
however, denigrates both the self- denial of early Christians and the imi-
tation of Christ, which Kierkegaard identifies as essential components of
an individual’s relationship with the savior. To make matters worse, ac -
cording to Kierkegaard, Hegel’s disdain for these indispensable aspects
of the individual task of Christianity comes in the service of his specula-
tive development of a certain kind of allegedly “Christian,” this- worldly
community, which only superficially resembles Kierkegaard’s sense of
Christianity. Solomon claims that Hegel has no real love for Christianity. So far
as his writings might make it seem otherwise, consider the fact that he
lived and worked at a time and a place in which explicit anti- Christian
sentiments could have cost Hegel his livelihood (Solomon 1983a, 582). Ob-
scure as Hegel’s claims may often be, Solomon (1983, 583) believaes that
Hegel’s real goal is to undermine Christianity by presenting something
resembling humanistic atheism in the language of Christianity. Recog-
nizing this, Kierkegaard is not so much offering a criticism of Hegel, as
he is screaming out a warning in order to prevent his fellow Copenha -
geners from letting this sneaky scoundrel make his way into the church
(Solomon 1983, 584). On this reading, Kierkegaard and Hegel simply
represent two opposing irreconcilable points of view— the former wants
to preserve primitive Christianity in the face of growing doubt (compare
J P 1: 86– 87 /SKS 24: 444– 45), and the latter wants to overcome it. Solo-
mon is surely right to point out that Kierkegaard’s take on Christianity
seems to exemplify the unhappy consciousness that Hegel is so critical

of. And the achievement of Hegel’s community of divine human beings
would probably be guilty of “entirely quash[ing] Christianity” as it was
originally meant to be (Solomon 1983, 586 [quoted afrom CUPL 326]).
Jon Stewart suggests a more nuanced interpretation of Kierke-
gaard’s apparent criticisms of Hegel. Because Kierkegaard probably has
specific Danish Hegelians in mind even when he uses Hegel’s name, it
may be that his actual opposition to Hegel himself is overstated. I agree
that this opposition is not quite as stark and complete as other scholars
have claimed (e.g., N. Thulstrup 1980, 370, 379– 81). However, by simply
comparing what Hegel and Kierkegaard seem to be saying about Christi-
anity in some of their most significant work, I think it is clear that there
is indeed a meaningful difference between them. While Stewart (20a03, 3)
is right to be concerned about approaches that “abstract both Hegel aand
Kierkegaard from their respective historical contexts and analyze their
positions directly vis- à- vis one another without taking into consideration
other possible influences,” there is simply no denying that Kierkegaard’s
core complaint is at least applicable to Hegel. Kierkegaard’s more subdued 1854 reaction to Schopenhauer
36 is
more in line with his discussion of the value he finds in the Stoics, and
his qualified appreciation clearly has something to do with their shared
distaste for Hegelianism (e.g., J P 2: 227– 28 / SKS 25: 390– 91). But the
common ground Kierkegaard finds with Schopenhauer does not end
there. Given Schopenhauer’s apparent interest in something like dying
to the world, it certainly makes sense that Kierkegaard would be drawn to
his work as a corrective for the modern version of (especially Protestant)
Christianity that finds itself compatible with, and even encouraging of,
secular flourishing (Davini 2007, 278– 79, 288; Stokes 2007, 74– 75). In
fact, he states, “Theological students who are obliged to live here in Den-
mark in this nonsensical (Christianly) optimism could be advised to take a
a daily dose of Schopenhauer’s Ethics to guard against being infected
by this drivel” ( J P 4: 30 /SKS 25: 376). Since Kierkegaard obviously has
an appreciation for Schopenhauerian pessimism about life in the world,
one might begin to wonder if any such agreement opens Kierkegaard
up to the same sort of attack that Nietzsche levels against Schopenhauer. Despite any corrective value that Kierkegaard might see, most of his
comments about Schopenhauer are quite critical as he tries to put some
distance between himself and his “inverse” double ( J P 4: 26– 29 /SKS 25:
352– 56). This criticism often focuses on the same sort of distinction that
Kierkegaard makes between the Stoic “eudaimonistic” view, which he
seems to associate with Schopenhauer ( J P 4: 32– 33 /SKS 25: 389– 90),
and proper Christian dying to the world (Davini 2007, 286– 88; Stokes
2007, 75– 76). Schopenhauer’s pessimism about the world indicates a

weary and bitter attitude toward life, and although his goal is a tranquil
detachment from the superficiality of this existence, his attitude betrays
more sensitivity to the hardships of the world than any actual full- fledged
detachment from it.
38 Kierkegaard believes that
there is something false . . . in his gloomy Indian view that tao live . . . is
to suffer. On the other hand it can be very good for the contemporary
age to be confronted with such a melancholy view in order to become
attentive to the essential Christian principle, . . . to be Chraistian is to
suffer— something that the New Testament teaches as well. . . . It is
erected directly upon Jewish optimism, [it] utilizes as foreground the
most intensified lust for life . . . in order to introduce Charistianity as re-
nunciation. . . . If someone were to say: Wealth is an evil, show your as-
ceticism by giving away your wealth, there would be a self- contradiction
here, for in this case it is not asceticism to give away one’s wealth. (J P 4:
31– 32 /SKS 25: 389– 90)
While Christian dying to the world is a willingness to sacrifice what is
pleasant and reasonable and instead endure great hardships if need be,
there is no sense of sacrifice of worldliness to be found when the world is
not something one wants anyway, just something one is stuck with. Thus,
like the Stoic view, Schopenhauer’s apparent dying to the world is really
just a cover for a certain kind of attachment to, or longing for, worldly
comfort and peace (or at least freedom from worldly suffering).
Considering the nature of his final assessment of Schopenhauer, it
seems clear that Kierkegaard is not susceptible to Nietzsche’s criticisms of
the pessimism about life in the world found in Plato, Schopenhauer, and
many formulations of Christianity. Not only does Kierkegaard anticipate
Nietzsche in rejecting views that indicate weariness in pursuit of escape,
which they both attribute to Plato (perhaps unfairly) and Schopenhauer,
but Kierkegaard also depicts a Christian dying to the world that demands
a kind of embrace of all that might be unpleasant in life (a characteristic
of Nietzsche’s Dionysian). Furthermore, in response to Nietzsche’s accu-
sation that Christianity relentlessly condemns this world in favor of an-
other more perfect world to come, Kierkegaard could point out that his
understanding of Christianity does no such thing. Even though he may
personally hold onto hope for an afterlife, it is always with an orientation
toward how one lives in the present life. From a less defensive perspec-
tive, Kierkegaard might actually see Nietzsche’s attack on Christianity as
an asset for his own attack— Nietzsche demands honesty about the moti-
vations that underlie anyone’s pursuit of Christianity. Christianity is not,
as Schopenhauer ultimately sees it, a flight from life and its difficaulties.

What makes this issue of the relationship between Kierkegaard and
Nietzsche even more interesting is that Nietzsche may have realized thata
Kierkegaard is exempt from his criticisms of Christianity. Miles points out
that despite never reading any of Kierkegaard’s books, Nietzsche actually
had a great deal of access to works that discuss and quote Kierkegaard
at length. Among the ideas Nietzsche would have encountered in his
reading of Georg Brandes (1842– 1927), and Kierkegaard’s old adversary
Martensen, is Kierkegaard’s emphasis on the issue of how an individual
lives in the here and now while still following Christ in dying to the waorld
(Miles 2011, 268– 74). Not only do facts like this complicate the standard
view of Nietzsche’s reception of Kierkegaard— that the former meant
to read the latter before his breakdown but never got around to it, and a
therefore knew little of Kierkegaard— but they also call into question
other common dogmas about the Kierkegaard- Nietzsche relationship.
For example, it seems that Karl Jaspers (1883– 1969) (1922, 256) might
be mistaken in his claim that “from Nietzsche’s standpoint Kierkegaard
is hostile to life.”
39 Rather than removing meaning from this life, Kierke-
gaard’s Christianity means to reinvigorate it, and Nietzsche is likely aware
of this. Miles (2011, 274– 78) goes so far as to claim that Nietzsche’s posi-
tive portrayal of the original “life- affirming” views of Jesus over against
the traditional doctrines of the Christian church in late writings, such as
Twilight of the Idols and The Anti- Christ, is actually influenced by his read-
ing about Kierkegaard’s focus on primitive Christianity. Despite the respect that Nietzsche has for Jesus and, perhaps indi-
rectly, Kierkegaard, there is no denying that he is critical of even the less
decadent Christianity that they represent. For example, Miles suggests
that Nietzsche might view Kierkegaard as he views Pascal, another rare
figure that earns Nietzsche’s grudging respect. Specifically, Nietzsche’s
lamentation that Pascal had been led into dying to reason by Christianitay
might also apply to Kierkegaard (Miles 2011, 279– 80). Of course, Kierke-
gaard would have no problem with being compared to Pascal in this way.
If anything, he would say that Pascal did not go far enough in the direc-
tion that Nietzsche resents. Ultimately, it must be admitted that there is
an irreconcilable opposition between Kierkegaard and Nietzsche given
their respective religious views and despite their similarities. Nonethea-
less, the goal of this discussion is primarily to establish that Kierkegaard
provides an account of Christian emphasis on death that is tempered by
something like the Nietzschean embrace of existence. Continuing the trend of speculation about how Kierkegaard would
fit with more recent views on death, it seems that he could find some very
unlikely allies in the twentieth- century appropriation of pagan and early
modern ideas. At first glance, the sort of response to Epicurus offered by

certain analytic thinkers, in which death and life are brought into a kiand
of retroactive “copresence,” might seem similar to the Kierkegaardian
critique of Epicurus. With a closer look, however, it will become apparent
that the similarity only goes so far. Stokes (2006, 417) is sympathetic to
the anti- Epicurean efforts of thinkers such as Nagel and Pitcher, but he
ultimately rejects them for much the same reason that Kierkegaard dis-
misses Epicurus: “Kierkegaard’s approach to the question of death serves
as a compelling response to Epicurean indifference and, at the same
time, provides a diagnosis of the failure of contemporary analytic philos-
ophers to ground our fear of death. Nagel, Pitcher and company locate
the evil of death in frustratable interests and narratives of harm . . . but
never adequately connect these harms to how we feel about our own mor -
tality.” Even if these analytic thinkers do manage to combat Epicurus and
achieve an account of how death that has not yet occurred might still be
relevant to understanding life, they do it in such an impersonal way thaat,
like Epicurus’s contemporary religious opponents, they are no better
than Epicurus. Kierkegaard, on the other hand, makes death copresent
in a way that allows me to experience my death while it plays a role in my
life as I live it.
One thing that Stokes does not really address in his Kierkegaard -
ian rebuttal of various analytic philosophers is the group of thinkers, ex-
emplified by Rosenbaum and Jeffrie G. Murphy, who offer a defense of
the Epicurean position. Although Rosenbaum provides the more explicit
defense of Epicurus, I would like to focus briefly on Murphy’s ideas since
they resonate interestingly with Kierkegaard’s assessment of Epicurus.
Murphy (1993, 44) wants to develop the “pagan waya of thinking about
death” that is found in the Stoics, the Epicureans, and Spinoza. This is
of course the way of thinking about death that is primarily interested
in denying the rationality of fearing death, and thereby “extinguishing
that fear” ( J. Murphy 1993, 45). Because Kierkegaard argues that extin-
guishing the fear of death is not a good idea, it might seem as though he
and Murphy are headed for conflict. What is fascinating, however, about
Murphy’s development of the pagan view of death is that he takes what
he finds valuable in the Epicurean intuition and tempers it with what
he seems to understand as Spinozist pragmatism. Murphy (1993a, 56– 57)
states, “The fear of death is irrational when it redounds, not to our profit,
but to our loss.”
40 The fear of death is not to be discarded when it does
something useful for an individual, but only when it ceases to be usefula.
I believe that this is roughly the same insight that is at the core of the
Kierkegaardian notion of an appropriate fear of death. However, while Murphy’s interpretation of the Epicurean position
is both consistent with Epicurus’s apparent interest in overcoming debili-

tating fear of death due to superstitious beliefs, and perhaps also a handy
warning to aspiring Christians who fear inappropriately, it is not without
its problems from a Kierkegaardian perspective. The benefit of having
a proper fear of death in “At a Graveside” is that such fear allows the
thought of death to nudge an individual toward dying to the world. What
Murphy seems to have in common with those other analytic thinkers—
the ones who worry about frustratable interests— is the focus on worldly
advantages and harms. Because Kierkegaard explicitly dismisses these
sorts of issues as “incidental” or “accidental” what- concerns, he is un-
likely to be overly impressed by any accounts of the rationality/irrational-
ity of the fear of death in such terms. Having considered what Kierkegaard might think of this most
recent appropriation of the Epicurean strain in the history of the philos-
ophy of death, it is worth noting in conclusion that by the twentieth cen-
tury this strain generally (but perhaps not always) takes for granted that
there will be no postmortem subjective experience. And yet Kierkegaard
has a penchant for finding ideas from thinkers in this very present- world-
oriented strain useful in his attempt to set Christianity back on the riaght
course. Although his reactions to these figures are more diverse (anda
thus, a bit harder to characterize in a unified way) given that they aare not
as closely bound as the figures in the Platonic strain, there is a conasistent
message about dying to the world in these reactions: such dying does not
depend upon any reasonable expectation of a personal afterlife. The
key concern throughout Kierkegaard’s discussion of any thinkers who
philosophize about death is how individuals are to make use of death
to sharpen the moment of their existence in the here and now. It is this
interest in allowing death to play an active role in attributing meaninga
to life— without relying on an afterlife— that both distinguishes Kierke- gaard from most Epicurean and Platonic thinkers, and identifies him asa
a significant precursor to Heidegger.

Death in Being and Time
Heidegger’s account of death in Being and Time is one of the most con-
troversial and difficult in the history of philosophy’s dealings with the
topic. In the preface to Time and Death, Carol White (2005, l) claims that
“the discussion of this issue in Being and Time is far from clear; its inten-
tional false starts and dead ends easily mislead the reader.” Even though
I believe that there is a cohesiveness to Heidegger’s account that makes
sense of (at least some of ) these so- called false starts and dead ends, I
agree with White’s general assessment of its misleading nature. Since I
am yet to find an explication of Heidegger’s death chapter that neatly
fits together all of the major pieces of the puzzle, I intend to provide a
detailed, section- by- section explication here. It may not be possible to
clarify (let alone unify) every cryptic statement, but it will be a worth-
while endeavor if the elusive cohesiveness of these sections begins to
emerge. Of course, the death chapter cannot be taken in isolation, and
so, I will attempt in what follows to explain its connections to what comes
before and after, first within Heidegger’s magnum opus and, later, in the
history of the philosophy of death.
Heidegger first takes up the problem of death at the beginning
of “Division Two.” It is here that, in an attempt to shed light on the
primordial Being of Dasein (“being- there,” Heidegger’s word for the
sort of being that humans are), he claims that it must be grasped in its
wholeness. Such a complete and fundamental understanding of itself is
necessary if Dasein is to uncover the meaning of “Being,” a basic notion
that is often taken for granted (the inquiry into these matters is what
Heidegger calls “fundamental ontology”— his overall project in Being
and Time). Because Dasein is “that entity which understands what it is
to be” (Guignon 1983, 68), Heidegger is interested first and foremost
in the Being of Dasein ( BT 5– 8, 14– 15). And since a partial or deriva-
tive account of Dasein will not provide a clear and thorough picture
of how Being shows up for Dasein, he must work out a complete and
foundational account.
2 Heidegger states, “If the Interpretation of Da-
sein’s Being is to become primordial, as a foundation for working out
the basic question of ontology, then it must first have brought to light
existentially the Being of Dasein in its possibilities of authenticity and total-
ity ” ( BT 233). Unfortunately, it seems that Dasein can never be grasped

in its wholeness because “there is in every case something still outstand-
ing” about it— its death (BT 233). Death is notoriously difficult to get a
handle on since once it happens there is no longer Dasein. If one is to
grasp the wholeness of Dasein, one will have to find a way to deal with
this troublesome death issue.
3 Thus, Heidegger seems to embark upon
a quest for an understanding of death in which, contra Epicurus, death
and I coexist ( BT 236– 37).
The Death Chapter
Heidegger begins his search by considering common approaches to
death in order to expose its proper characteristics. In section 47, for ex-
ample, he reflects on the possibility of grasping the wholeness of Dasein
by witnessing the death of the other, but determines that the other’s
death is not something that I, as this particular Dasein, can encounter
in the relevant sense. Heidegger points out that “we have no way of ac-
cess to the loss- of- Being as such which the dying man ‘suffers’” ( BT 239).
Thus, he concludes that only Dasein’s own death is of interest for the
sake of grasping its wholeness:
Dying is something that every Dasein itself must take upon itself at the
time. By its very essence, death is in every case mine. . . . Death signi-
fies a peculiar possibility- of- Being in which the very Being of one’s own
Dasein is an issue. In dying, it is shown that mineness and existence are
ontologically constitutive for death. . . . If ‘ending’, as dying, is constitu-
tive for Dasein’s totality, then the Being of this wholeness itself must be
conceived as an existential phenomenon of a Dasein which is in each
case one’s own. ( BT 240)
In addition to getting at the first formal characteristic of death, “mine-
ness” (Jemeinigkei t) or “ownmostness,” 4 this passage also hints for the
first time in the chapter that death is not to be understood in the usaual
way as an event that comes at the end of life. Since it is rather to be con-
ceived as an “existential phenomenon,” Heidegger begins to explain this
conception of dying ( Sterben) by making it distinct from the “perishing”
( Verenden) of living things ( BT 240– 41). However, as this is only the first
of a few such distinctions, his explanation of this importantly odd use of
otherwise common language will require more than one section of the
death chapter to complete. Because death is often said to be the end of Dasein, section 48

considers the different common ways of understanding the ending of
things in order to determine which might apply to death. Among the
possible ways of understanding ending is the fulfillment characteristic of
ripening fruit. Even though Heidegger ultimately rejects ripening as the
appropriate kind of ending for a description of Dasein’s death (ripen-
ing is a realizing of a goal, while death initially seems to be what makes
this sort of achievement impossible in that it often leaves projects unfin-
ished), there is an aspect of his discussion of ripening that he retains in
his understanding of death as an ending (BT 243– 44). This aspect is the
fact that, like the fruit which carries its “not- yet” ripe with it as it ripens,
Dasein carries its not yet at an end with it while it exists. That is, iat carries
its death with it as that which it is not yet. In Heidegger’s words: “Just as
Dasein is already its ‘not- yet’, and is its ‘not- yet’ constantly as long as it
is, it is already its end too. The ‘ending’ which we have in view when we
speak of death, does not signify Dasein’s Being- at- an- end [ Zu- Ende- sein],
but a Being- towards- the- end [Sein zum Ende ] of this entity. Death is a way
to be, which Dasein takes over as soon as it is” ( BT 245). Not only does
this passage begin to explain Heidegger’s notion of death as “a way to
be” instead of as an event, it also gives the reader a glimpse of how death
need not render impossible a proper grasp of the whole of Dasein ( BT
245– 46). Since I am always my death, in the sense of being toward it, Hei-
degger may have found a way of showing how death and I can coexist. To go with his new equation of Dasein’s dying with Being- towards-
death, Heidegger’s section 49 supplements the explanation of his pe-
culiar use of otherwise common terminology that he began when he
distinguished death from the perishing of living things. It does so by
adding a further term, “demise” (Ableben), and claiming that this term
signifies the specific sort of passing away that only happens to Dasein. In
other words, demise is to Dasein what perishing is to something alive.
Heidegger explains: “The ending of that which lives we have called ‘per -
ishing’. Dasein too ‘has’ its death, of the kind appropriate to anything
that lives . . . as codetermined by its primordial kind of Being. . . . Dasein
too can end without authentically dying, though on the other hand, qua
Dasein, it does not simply perish. We designate this intermediate phe -
nomenon as its ‘demise’” ( BT 247). Once he makes this further distinc-
tion, Heidegger suggests that demise is the actual object of study when
any ontic science (as opposed to ontological inquiry) picks up on the
topic of human death. For example, psychology merely concerns itself
with how people feel about the impending, final, and irreversible mo-
ment that shuts down their relationships, projects, and perspective; anda
theology deals with, among other things, what might happen after such
an event (Heidegger seems to dismiss the Christian account of death

aimed at “edification” here, but it is unclear if he has Kierkegaard in
mind) (BT 247– 48). 5
According to Heidegger, these ontic investigations into the signifi-
cance of demise must not be allowed to contaminate the ontological, or
existential, understanding of death as Being- towards- death. He asserts,
“Methodologically, the existential analysis is superordinate to the ques-
tions of a biology, psychology, theodicy, or theology of death” ( BT 248).
Heidegger is attempting to provide a purely formal account of what Da-
sein is. Such an account will be sufficiently general so as to apply toa (or un-
derlie) any of the more content- laden and specific accounts of what it is
to be human that are provided by the various sciences. As Heidegger has a
laid things out, Being- towards- death is the appropriately general sense of
death for understanding the structure of Dasein. Because the sciences,
in their dealings with death, address only the specifics of their respec-
tive views of demise, they cannot contribute to Heidegger’s treatment of
Being- towards- death. In order to demonstrate further the importance of
this treatment and show that it is not some arbitrary construction, Hei-
degger concludes this section by claiming that it must be connected witha
his earlier analysis of Dasein’s Being- in- the- world ( BT 248– 49).
In the last chapter of “Division One,” Heidegger designates the
Being of Dasein as “care,” which he defines as “ahead- of- itself- Being-
already- in- (the- world) as Being- alongside (entities encountered within-
the- world)” ( BT 192). That is, Dasein is essentially oriented toward its
future, while already thrown into a past that includes not only its own apast
actions but also its capabilities and cultural background, and engaged
with the things and others it encounters and the projects it is concernead
about. To each of these three components of care, Heidegger gives a
name of sorts— the “ahead- of- itself ” he calls “existence,” the “Being-
already- in” he calls “facticity,” and the “Being- alongside” he calls “fall-
ing” ( BT 249– 50). The purpose of section 50 is to explain how each of
these components of care is manifested in Being- towards- death. Heidegger begins this explanation by discussing Dasein’s ahead- of-
itself /existence as manifested in the impending nature of death. Having
given up on the idea of death as something still outstanding, because this
idea understands death as an event that has not yet taken place, he musta
offer an account of death’s impending nature that does not make this
same mistake. Thus, he provides his first list of the formal characteristics
of Being- towards- death as an impending possibility— characteristics in -
dicated by ordinary notions about death (e.g., that everyone dies alone,
and that death is unavoidable).
6 He starts with the ownmostness already
mentioned and adds that death is “that possibility .  .  . which is non- relational,
and which is not to be outstripped [unüberholbare ]” (BT 250– 51). As Being-

towards- death, Heidegger points out that Dasein is its own possibility of
no more Dasein, and he believes that this means two things. First, sincea
it is the possible disconnection from all that it has been, including itas
purely accidental relations to others, Dasein should understand its indi-
viduality in such a way that it cannot rely on these relations to explaian
itself. It is responsible for itself and its choices. Second, as its own con-
stant possibility of no more Dasein, Dasein’s Being- towards- death always
stands before it and cannot be gotten beyond. In other words, so long asa
one is, one can never finish with death or actualize this unique possibility.
It is in this sense of something always standing before it— that is, ahead-
of- itself— that Heidegger sees death as impending. In fact, because noth-
ing else seems to stand before Dasein in such a distinctive way, he states,
in reference to the ahead- of- itself, “This item in the structure of care has
its most primordial concretion in Being- towards- death” (BT 251).
Since Dasein is essentially ahead- of- itself- Being- towards- death, it
must have found itself “ thrown into this possibility” ( BT 251). That is,
in existing, Dasein has from its beginning, as a fact of its existence, its
possibility of its no longer being. Whether or not a particular Dasein is
explicitly aware of it, this facticity is in some sense revealed by the pres-
ence of anxiety. Heidegger claims, “Anxiety in the face of death is anxi-
ety ‘in the face of ’ that potentiality- for- Being which is one’s ownmost,
non- relational, and not to be outstripped. . . . This anxiety is not an ac-
cidental or random mood of ‘weakness’ . . . but, as a basic state- of- mind
of Dasein, it amounts to the disclosedness of the fact that Dasein exists as
thrown Being towards its end” ( BT 251). This passage refers back to both
the definition of anxiety in the last chapter of “Division One” and the
discussion of state- of- mind ( Befindlichkeit) in the penultimate chapter.
Although it would surely be worthwhile to explore these ideas in con-
nection with Kierkegaard’s extensive discussions of mood and anxiety,
8 it
is most important, for my present purposes, simply to note that despite a
Dasein’s ever- present state of anxiety, Heidegger believes that most of
the time Dasein remains ignorant of the fact that it is essentially Being-
towards- death (in fact, Dasein often remains unaware of its anxiety as
well). Rather, Dasein “falls” into “the ‘world’ of its concern” ( BT 252).
In other words, instead of owning oneself as the possibility of no more
possibility, one is often guilty of ignoring this fact by losing oneself in
everyday activities and thereby “fleeing in the face of one’s ownmost
Being- towards- death” ( BT 252).
Having explained how all three components of care— existence,
facticity, and falling— are manifested in Being- towards- death, Heideg-
ger’s account of death does indeed seem less arbitrary. At the very least
it now seems to fit in with the rest of Being and Time so far. However, Hei-

degger claims that this connection of care and death (where care con-
tributes the basic structure of Dasein’s Being and death primarily con-
tributes the appropriate sense of the “ahead- of- itself ” component of this
structure), which he makes in order to get the whole of Dasein into view,
requires some “phenomenal confirmation” in the way Dasein relates to
its end in everyday dealings with the world (BT 252). While his account
is purely formal in that it intentionally offers only the skeletal desacription
of Dasein without recommending any particular material ways of life to
fill it out (which Heidegger is careful not to do in order to avoid caontami -
nating his inquiry with the ontic assumptions and baggage that make up
such material), it is still helpful, both for understanding and corroboarat-
ing his account, to see how death is dealt with on the ontic /existentiell
level, particularly in common everyday parlance. In search of his phenomenal confirmation, Heidegger’s section 51
reminds readers of chapters 4 and 5 of “Division One” that everydayness
is characterized by the “idle talk” of the public “they” ( BT 252). The
“they,” taking death as something like mere demise, and relying on worn-
out clichés and the old standard statistics of the ontic sciences, “tempts”
Dasein both to forget that death is its own and to treat the event of death
as something that need not be worried about just yet. In a passage that a
could easily be used to describe Epicurean views, Heidegger points out
that “in such a way of talking, death is understood as an indefinite some-
thing  .  .  . which is proximally not yet present- at- hand for oneself, and is
therefore no threat.  .  .  . ‘Dying’ is leveled off to an occurrence which
reaches Dasein, to be sure, but belongs to nobody in particular” ( BT
253). Here idle talk not only provides a questionable account aof demise,
but it also hides the fact that death, understood as Being- towards- death,
is no mere eventual actuality; it is one’s constant possibility. This hiding
of Dasein’s essential Being- towards- death by the “they” can often be seen
in its “tranquilizing” of death, which involves focusing on the everyday
world of concerns. For those who are more clearly near the end of life,
this tranquilization manifests itself in the consolation that assures the
dying that they will soon be back on their feet engaged in their normal a
activities. For the rest, tranquilization shows up in the attitude that treats
the dying of others as an inconvenience that should be dealt with quickly
so as not to disturb the everyday concerns of the living ( BT 253– 54).
In addition to temptation and tranquilization, the “they” also
“alienates” Dasein from itself. This alienation is the result of a kind of
double concealment of Dasein’s essential Being- towards- death. As already
pointed out, anxiety is the primordial state- of- mind of Dasein as thrown
into its own Being- towards- death. Focusing on death in Heidegger’s
sense of demise, the “they,” however, transforms “this anxiety into fear

in the face of an oncoming event” (BT 254). But this initial concealment
of Being- towards- death is not enough for the “they,” which then goes on
to treat the fear of the event of demise as something weak and cowardly.
In depicting such fear in this way, and recommending instead a sort of
indifference to death, the “they” (sounding a bit like Stoics and Epicure-
ans at this point) buries the anxiety that is a necessary part of Dasein as
Being- towards- death under an extra layer of deception. Already removed
from anxiety by one layer due to the substitution of fear in the face of
demise, Dasein is then further encouraged to avoid an intimate encoun-
ter with this fear. After concluding this explanation of alienation, Heidegger states,
“Temptation, tranquilization, and alienation, are distinguishing marks
of the kind of Being called ‘falling’” ( BT 254). More specifically, these
three reactions to death suggest a way of falling in with the entities and
activities of the everyday world that encourages “fleeing in the face of
death” ( BT 254). But even if one is unaware of what one is doing, flee-
ing is still a way of Being- towards- death. Given the connection of Being- towards- death and falling (discussed in section 50), which is one of the
three components of care, it seems that fleeing provides the sought- after
everyday confirmation of Heidegger’s connection of care and Being-
towards- death ( BT 254– 55). In looking at everydayness and its various
death- related mistakes, however, it has become clear that his list of the
formal characteristics of death is in need of expansion. Thus, the next
step for Heidegger is “to try to secure a full existential conception of
Being- towards- the- end” ( BT 255).
As one might guess based on the errors of idle talk, section 52 will
add certainty and the indefiniteness of this certainty to Heidegger’s list
of the formal characteristics of death. In everydayness, the “they” ad-
mits the fact that death, as the event of demise, is certain in the sense of
“not doubted” ( BT 255, 257). But Heidegger believes that this claim of
certainty merely convinces the “they” that since it has already grasped
death’s certainty, it need not look into this matter any further. Thus, the
proper sort of certainty that belongs to Being- towards- death remains hid-
den from the “they” ( BT 257). Heidegger is distinguishing here between
certainty as a way to be (perhaps like an attitude in the sense of self-
assurance), as in “Being- certain,” and the sort of certainty that he claims
is derived from Being- certain and applied to the things one is certain
about ( BT 256). For example, I can be so assured that I must be preparead
for rain that I manifest my attitude in the way I structure my day— the
way I dress, the route I take to work, the activities I choose; and this
Being- certain of myself as “prepared for rain” has nothing to do with
whether or not it actually rains.
9 This latter issue comes up when con-

sidering whether or not my attitude is appropriate given the likelihood a
of precipitation. It is this secondary concern with “actual” events, rather
than ways of being, that leads to (often indifferent) statements like “it
will certainly rain today.”Because death is not to be understood as the event of demise for
Heidegger, but rather as a way to be, it is clear that he must not be in-
terested in the derivative sort of certainty that the “they” applies to this
event. If Dasein is to grasp the original certainty of death, Dasein must
be certain of itself as Being- towards- death, but this is precisely what is
made difficult by viewing death’s certainty as the “they” does. Heidegger
believes that “the ‘they’ overlooks the fact that in order to be able to be
certain of death, Dasein itself must in every case be certain of its own -
most non- relational potentiality- for- being” ( BT 257). Due to its focus on
demise, the “they” can at best have only an empirical certainty based on
witnessing the demise of others, but this empirical sense is mere distrac-
tion and contributes nothing to the only certainty that belongs to Beinga-
towards- death according to Heidegger. Despite the hiding of Being- certain of Being- towards- death behind
the merely empirical certainty of demise, Heidegger claims that even in
everydayness there is still some vague hint of this Being- certain. The very
persistence of Dasein’s, perhaps not obvious, state of anxiety about itself
as Being- towards- death, which is even found in Dasein’s falling, betrays
some, albeit disowned, sense of Being- certain of Being- towards- death.
Heidegger says, “The falling everydayness of Dasein is acquainted with
death’s certainty, and yet evades Being- certain” (BT 258). Just as Being-
towards- death is attested in falling everydayness, so is Being- certain of
Being- towards- death. As odd as it may sound, everydayness is Being-
certain by evading Being- certain; the mere fact that such evasion is pos-
sible shows that there is something to be evaded. With the certainty of death comes its indefiniteness, but the “they”
in its everyday way once again demonstrates its concealing of death’s cer -
tainty by failing to acknowledge such indefiniteness. Heidegger statesa,
“Death is deferred to ‘sometime later’. . . . The ‘they’ covers up what is
peculiar in death’s certainty— that it is possible at any moment. Along with
the certainty of death goes the indefiniteness of its ‘when’” ( BT 258). Be-
cause the “they” treats death as an event that is not due to take place any-
time soon, it is clearly guilty of failure to acknowledge the indefiniteness
as to when demise will take place. Rather than facing up to this mistake,
Heidegger claims that the “they” retreats into a false definiteness asso-
ciated with the activities of the everyday world of concern. That is, the
“they” finds itself primarily, if not entirely, engaged in actualizing possi-
bilities, accomplishing goals, and producing definite results in everyday

matters without giving much thought to passing away. The problem with
this sort of definiteness is that, given the fact that demise can happen at
any time, it is purely an accident (i.e., a contingent occurrence) if any
particular possibilities reach “definition” or actualization. Here one can
see, in the everyday evasion of the indefiniteness as to when demise will
take place, an indication of the essential Being- indefinite that goes along
with the Being- certain of Being- towards- death. The fact that all definite-
ness or actualization is accidental for Dasein suggests that Dasein is es -
sentially possibility or unfinished indefiniteness. Viewed in this way, the
“they” does not merely have a mistaken approach to demise; the “they”
also uses this mistaken approach to conceal the true indefinite naturea of
Dasein’s Being- towards- death ( BT 258).
After adding the indefinite certainty of death, Heidegger finally
has a “full existential- ontological conception of death” ( BT 258). Before
moving on to the last section of the death chapter, however, he offers
something in the way of a review. Given that he has now made explicit all
of the formal characteristics of Dasein as it is “ towards” its “not- yet,” Hei-
degger reminds the reader that “in Dasein, as being towards its death, its
own uttermost ‘not- yet’ has already been included— that ‘not- yet’ which
all others lie ahead of ” ( BT 259). As mentioned earlier, it is this inclusion
of its own death, in the sense of Being ahead- of- itself towards- death when
explained in terms of Dasein’s essential care structure, that makes grasp-
ing the wholeness of Dasein possible without its encountering demise.
Heidegger’s understanding of death allows the ahead- of- itself aspect of
Dasein to be seen in unity with the other aspects of the care structure
(as opposed to seeking the ever- elusive characterization of the event that
concludes or completes life). Even though Heidegger is approaching his a
stated goal of grasping the wholeness of Dasein, he still has a great deal
of work left to do. To begin with, while he has made “ inauthentic Being-
towards- death” sufficiently clear as “everyday falling evasion in the face of
death,” such inauthenticity presupposes the possibility of an authen -
tic ( eigentlich) Being- towards- death ( BT 259).
10 Heidegger himself won-
ders whether or not Dasein can “maintain itself in an authentic Being-
towards- its- end” ( BT 260). Until this issue is addressed, his account of
death will not be complete. Section 53, the final section of the death chapter, begins by suggest-
ing that there may have been no point in providing the full existential-a
ontological conception of death, since there seems to be no existentiell
instance (i.e., actual occurrence) of authentic Being- towards- death. All
one sees in the world is inauthentic Being- towards- death ( BT 260). How-
ever, given this evasive Being- towards- death as a kind of example of what

not to do, it should at least be feasible to describe what the taking on
of one’s death in a non- evasive, authentic way would be like (BT 260–
61). Heidegger begins this description by ruling out the various aways in
which one might relate oneself to death understood as the event of de-
mise. These ways of relating— “actualization” (in the sense of suicide),
“brooding,” and “expecting”— are alike in that they all seek in some
way or another to diminish death’s possibility by looking for its actual -
ity ( BT 261– 62).
But as the discussion of indefiniteness suggests, Dasein’s Being-
towards- death has nothing to do with actualization; rather, death under -
stood in this sense shows that Dasein “at the most basic level is a reaching
forward into possibilities,” as Guignon (2011a, 197) explains. Heidegger
eventually comes to the conclusion that the proper way to maintain
Being- towards- death in its pure possibility is by what he calls “anticipat-
ing,” or “running forward toward” ( vorlaufen), death (BT 262; compare
Guignon 2011a, 197).
11 Since what is revealed in anticipation is that Da-
sein is pure projection into possibility, there is nothing essential to be
made actual so long as one exists. Heidegger states,
Death, as possibility, gives Dasein nothing to be ‘actualized’, nothing
which Dasein, as actual, could itself be. It is the possibility of the impos-
sibility of every way of comporting oneself towards anything. . . . The
anticipation of this possibility . . . signifies the possibility of the mea-
sureless impossibility of existence. In accordance with its essence, this
possibility offers no support for becoming intent on something, ‘pictur-
ing’ to oneself the actuality which is possible, and so forgetting its possi-
bility. Being- towards- death, as anticipation of possibility, is what first
makes this possibility possible, and sets it free as possibility. ( BT 262)
This passage and others like it on pages 262– 63 are perhaps the most
obscure in the entire chapter, but what Heidegger seems to be suggest-
ing here is that in anticipating death (i.e., authentically Being- towards-
death) Dasein finds a certain freedom in being somewhat undefined aas
to the specific content of its existence. Dreyfus (1991, 312), in an appar -
ent gloss on the sort of impossibility Heidegger is getting at, sees the an-
ticipation of death as illustrating “that Dasein can have neither a nature
nor an identity, that it is the constant impossibility of being anything spe-
cific.” This is not to say that one is absolutely free in the superficial sense
of “anything is available to me” since, as will become clear, there are
certain limitations on the shape and scope of one’s pursuits. Nonethe -
less, no concrete way of life can ever be essential to Dasein in the way

that pure possibility is. In order to see clearly how Heidegger reaches
these conclusions about authentic Being- towards- death, he must re- view
his formal characteristics of death through the lens of anticipation.He goes through each of these characteristics in turn, repeating
much of what he has already said about them, but now emphasizing
the lessons that each characteristic provides when one anticipates death.
Since Dasein has its ownmost possibility in death (i.e., no one else can
take on my Being- towards- death), there is at least one possibility in which
Dasein is distinct from the “they.” While this is always true, it is through
authentic Being- towards- death that one can become aware of oneself
in this distinction from the nebulous anonymity ( BT 263). Because it is
one’s own self that becomes an issue in this way of encountering death,
there is a sense in which one must stand alone in anticipation, inde-
pendent of relationships with other Dasein and things in the world. An
authentic grasp of one’s Being- towards- death is non- relational in that it
individualizes Dasein and demonstrates that while such an individual is a
always connected to these others, this connection cannot be wholly de-
terminative of what one is. The anticipation of death, therefore, leads
Dasein to take responsibility for itself ( BT 263– 64).
That death is not to be outstripped means that Dasein’s Being-
towards- death, unlike all of the thoughtless accidental possibilities of the
“they” that Dasein accrues like barnacles throughout its existence, alwaysa
stands before it and cannot be gotten beyond. Whereas any other possi-
bilities and projects can be finished or given up, one can never actuaalize
or be done with this one unique possibility. Once Dasein realizes this in
anticipation, it becomes clear that no particular possibility, other than
Being- towards- death, is essential to Dasein, despite the attitudes of the
“they” that say otherwise; and so, Dasein recognizes its freedom before
all of the possibilities that are factically available to it so long as it is.a
12 Hei-
degger states, “One is liberated from one’s lostness in those possibilities
which may accidentally thrust themselves upon one. . . . Anticipation . . .
shatters all one’s tenaciousness to whatever existence one has reached”
( BT 264). Because the anticipation of death opens Dasein up to its es-
sential projection into the possibilities that lie before it, Dasein is aable to
realize its constant ahead- of- itself orientation, which is a necessary part
of grasping its wholeness. The anticipation of the certainty of death, or authentically Being-
certain of Being- towards- death, means being assured “of what is revealed
by being- toward- death” (Guignon 2011a, 198). What is revealed, in caon-
nection with the notion that death is not to be outstripped, is of course
that Dasein is pure projection into possibilities. Heidegger declares, “aThe
certain possibility of death . . . discloses Dasein as possibility” ( BT 264).

But being certain of itself as essentially possibility cannot be like the or-
dinary objective “taking something as true,” which may dictate behavior
in the sense of “given fact x, I must proceed with behavior y.” Although
no doubt helpful in particular cases, this sort of indifferent truth seems
inappropriate given that it is Dasein’s very Being that is up for discussion
here. Rather, Heidegger is suggesting a comprehensive and personal way
of being true that compels and colors all of one’s behavior. He states,
“Holding death for true does not demand just one definite kind of be-
haviour in Dasein, but demands Dasein itself in the full authenticity of its
existence” ( BT 265). An important part of this “holding death for true”
in anticipation involves cultivating indefiniteness. As previously pointed
out, the uncertainty with respect to the “when” of demise implies that
Being- certain of Being- towards- death means proceeding into possibilities
with no guarantee of completing or actualizing any of them, which might
thereby allow one to define oneself as a particular sort of being. In the
anticipation of death, one learns not only of the insecurity or anxiety of
being such an essentially indefinite being, but one also discovers how to
embrace this anxiety as a necessary part of existence (in contrast to how
the “they” deal with fear) ( BT 265– 66).
Taking all of this together, Heidegger offers a summary “charac-
terization of authentic Being- towards- death”: “ Anticipation reveals to Da-
sein its lostness in the they- self, and brings it face to face with the possibility of
being itself, primarily unsupported by concernful solicitude, but of being itself,
rather, in an impassioned freedom towards death — a freedom which has been
released from the Illusions of the ‘they’, and which is factical, certain of itself,
and anxious ” (BT 266). The freedom towards death that results from
the anticipation of the various aspects of death is, as suggested before,
the freedom from ever being essentially determined by any particular
possibilities or ways of understanding. In authentic Being- towards- death,
Dasein is liberated not only from everyday ways of understanding death,
but also from everyday ways of understanding anything, including itself.
Rather than being defined by the goals and projects that the “they” ex-
pects one to pursue and complete in life, Dasein becomes free to be whata
it really is— ahead- of- itself for the sake of itself. Although Heidegger will
have more to say on this topic in later chapters, perhaps such freedom is
best described simply as Dasein’s being pure possibility— being open to
the totality of available possibilities standing before it, with less concern
about which particular possibilities may or may not be actualized (com-
pare Guignon 2011a, 198; 2011b, 93a– 98). It should come as no surprise by this point that even at the end of
his death chapter, with an account of the “final” piece of the Dasein pic-
ture in hand, Heidegger still sees more work to be done: “The question

of Dasein’s authentic Being- a- whole and of its existential constitution still
hangs in mid- air” (BT 267). He has provided what he meant to in this
final section of the chapter— a description of the form that an authentic
existentiell Being- towards- death would have to take. In his own words,
Heidegger “has made visible the ontological possibility of an existentiell
Being- towards- death which is authentic . . . without holding up to Dasein
an ideal of existence with any special ‘content’” ( BT 266). However, he
feels that this is a hollow victory, “a fantastical exaction,” unless he can
also demonstrate that Dasein actually does “demand” such authenticity
of itself ( BT 266). Thus, Heidegger seeks to connect the anticipation of
death with Dasein’s complete structure in order to see how authenticity
can happen.
Death and the Rest of “Division Two”
Armed with this detailed account of the death chapter, it should now be
possible to pick up the pace in explaining how the anticipation of death
relates to the rest of Being and Time. Since the anticipation of death only
accounts for the “final” third— the ahead- of- itself, or “futurity”— of Da-
sein’s care structure in its authenticity, what must still be explained are
the other two thirds in their authenticity.
13 Heidegger begins to take up
the issue of Dasein’s thrownness or “pastness” in the second chapter of
“Division Two,” when he introduces the “call of conscience” and “guilt.”
The idea here is that while Dasein is pure projection into possibilitiesa,
it does not determine these possibilities for itself; rather, it finds itself
thrown into a situation in which certain possibilities are available anda
others are not. Heidegger states, “Every Dasein always exists factically.
It is not a free- floating self- projection; but its character is determined
by thrownness as a Fact of the entity which it is” ( BT 276). Even though
Dasein has freedom from the “they” as to certain specifics, Dasein is not
absolutely free insofar as it does owe a debt of gratitude “to the culture
for an understanding of itself ” within a certain horizon of what is avail-
able to it (Dreyfus 1991, 308). This debt is Heidegger’s notion of guilt
( Schuld ), which he has cleansed of any moral or theological connota-
tions. As an expression of Dasein’s thrown Being- already- in, such guilt is an essential part of Dasein as care; thus, if Dasein is to reach its authen-
ticity, its guilt or pastness (like its death or futurity) must be related tao
properly ( BT 283– 84).
One must not ignore one’s debt and behave as though all things are
possible, or what is just as likely, use one’s thrownness to deny any free-

dom or “say” in one’s existence at all. Instead, Heidegger believes that
Dasein, as the Being that has an interest in what it is, must appropriatae
and take responsibility for its guilt even though it did not choose to be or
to be in its particular situation (at least initially). He claims: “aExistent Da-
sein does not encounter itself as something present- at- hand within- the-
world. But neither does thrownness adhere to Dasein as an inaccessible
characteristic which is of no importance for its existence. . . . Dasein has
been thrown into existence. It exists as an entity which has to be as it is and
as it can be” ( BT 276). Although Dasein is in a sense constrained by its
thrownness, just as no particular possibility to be actualized is as essaen-
tially determinative of Dasein’s Being as pure projecting into possibili -
ties, there is no particular possibility or set of possibilities that Dasein is
thrown into that can absolutely account for Dasein’s choices. It is in the
choosing rather than in what can be chosen that Dasein essentially de-
fines itself. While Dasein has to choose to act on certain possibilitiaes that
are available to it, Dasein does so to the exclusion of other available op-
tions, and its choosing some rather than others cannot be simply blamed a
on its thrown situation. Dasein chooses, or projects itself into possibili-
ties, with nothing in its pastness or futurity to justify its choices. Heideg-
ger states, “Freedom . . . is only in the choice of o n e possibility— that is,
in tolerating one’s not having chosen the others and one’s not being able
to choose them. . . . Thus ‘care’— Dasein’s Being— means, as thrown pro-
jection, Being- the- basis of a nullity (and this Being- the- basis is itself null).
This means that Dasein as such is guilty ” (BT 285). This passage suggests
that, in making unsupported choices based on its foundation of available
options, Dasein freely takes on the debt or guilt (whether one knows ita or
not) of having such options.
14 But perhaps the question remains why it
matters whether or not one acknowledges, or attempts to “lucidly undear -
stand” (Dreyfus 1991, 307), one’s responsibility for having chosen among
the possibilities that one’s thrownness makes available.
It will be helpful at this point to explain the notion of the call of
conscience: “The call of conscience has the character of an appeal to Da-
sein by calling it to its ownmost potentiality- for- Being- its- Self; and this is
done by way of summoning it to its ownmost Being- guilty” ( BT 269). Again
stripped of any moral or theological connotations, this call is something
like Dasein’s innate awareness that it owes it to itself to take on its thrown -
ness as indispensable to what it is. That is, once it realizes its essenatial
structure as care, Dasein must acknowledge that it has an intimate con-
nection to both its inherited pastness and its indeterminate futurity buailt
right into its very Being ( BT 306– 7). Conscience calls out to Dasein to be
authentic, to own up to what it is, and what it is, is the inherited posasibili-
ties it is ahead- of- itself toward ( BT 277– 78, 284– 85).

The responsible acknowledging or understanding of one’s essen-
tial guilt, which Dasein demands of itself in the call of conscience, is what
Heidegger calls “resoluteness” ( Entschlossenheit, literally “un- closedness”).
He states, “Wanting- to- have- a- conscience resolves upon this Being- guilty.
To project oneself upon this Being- guilty, which Dasein is as long as it is,
belongs to the very meaning of resoluteness” ( BT 305). Resoluteness is
the authentic way of relating to one’s “pastness” in that in it Dasein takes
ownership of its thrownness, but maintains its essential lack of determi-
nation by any particular possibilities that it is thrown into or given by the
“they.” While Dasein acknowledges that these particular possibilities may
not be its own in some sense, it remains open (i.e., “un- closed”) to own-
ing up to them by making its own unsupported decisions based upon its
“current factical Situation” ( BT 307).
Given that Heidegger has provided an account of Dasein’s au -
thentic grasp of both its “pastness” (resoluteness) and its “futurity” (an-
ticipation of death), it seems that Dasein can almost be understood in
its authentic totality. Heidegger asserts, “ Temporality gets experienced in a
phenomenally primordial way in Dasein’s authentic Being- a- whole, in the phe-
nomenon of anticipatory resoluteness ” (BT 304). In order to complete an
account of this “phenomenally primordial temporality,” all that remains
to be explained is the resolute “making present” of the thrown possi-
bilities that Dasein runs forward toward ( BT 326).
17 In other words, one
might say that this remaining issue concerning anticipatory resoluteness
is the question of the sense of authentic “presentness” that binds Das-
ein’s “pastness” to its “futurity,” or its “birth” to its “death.” This “pres-
entness” is what Heidegger calls the “moment of vision” (Augenblick, lit-
erally “blink of an eye”).
18 He states, “To the anticipation which goes
with resoluteness, there belongs a Present in accordance with which a
resolution discloses the Situation. In resoluteness, the Present is not aonly
brought back from distraction with the objects of one’s closest concern,
but it gets held in the future and in having been. That Present which is
held in authentic temporality and which thus is authentic itself, we call
the ‘ moment of vision’” ( BT 338). This moment, which is certainly not the
“now- moment” of everyday temporality but rather the “between” that
“stretches along” from authentic Dasein’s birth to its death ( BT 374),
represents something like responsibly choosing and projecting toward
a possibility that it has knowingly taken over from its thrownness. Hei -
degger provides his clearest statement of the connection of these diffi-
cult ideas in his discussion of Dasein’s historicality. Here he claims that
in the moment of vision one hands one’s thrown possibilities, or cultural
“heritage” ( Erbe) down to one’s projecting or “fate” ( Schicksal) in an act
of “repetition”
19 of these “past” possibilities ( BT 383– 86). 20

It is in such repetition, “which is futurally in the process- of- having-
been” ( BT 391), that one can find the glue that finally makes graspaing
the wholeness of Dasein possible. Perhaps a brief summary will help to
make this unity apparent. In the anticipation of death, one comes to
understand that one is essentially free toward possibilities so long as aone
is. This freedom means that the incessant preoccupation with actual-
ized “output,” which is not essential to Dasein but is characteristic of
the “they,” is undermined ( BT 383– 84, 388). But resolute acceptance of
one’s birth or inherited guilt makes it clear that Dasein’s freedom toward
death is limited in its range of possibilities by its factical situation. In
an often- quoted passage about Dasein’s anticipatory resoluteness, Hei-
degger speaks of “the power of its finite freedom” in which “it can take
over the powerlessness of abandonment” to thrown Being- towards- death
“and can thus come to have a clear vision for the accidents of the Situa-
tion that has been disclosed” ( BT 384). This clear moment of vision al-
lows Dasein to choose from its horizon of possibilities, while preserving
its essence as freedom or pure possibility, that is, without treating either
this horizon or these particular choices as entirely determinative of what
Dasein is (Guignon 2011b, 96– 98; compare Kisiel 1993, 340).
21 Heidegger
puts all of this together when he says, “When its heritage is thus handed
down to itself, its ‘birth’ is caught up into its existence in coming back from
the possibility of death (the possibility which is not to be outstripped), if
only so that this existence may accept the thrownness of its own ‘there’
in a way which is more free from Illusion” ( BT 391). So Dasein in its
authentic and unified structure is a running forward toward possibili-
ties that it allows itself (as opposed to taking them over accidentally or
uncritically from the everyday practices of the “they”) based upon what
was available to it.
The account of Heidegger thus far has focused on the nature of his
thoughts on death in Being and Time and their relationship to other im-
portant concepts in this text. Along the way it has been possible to draaw
attention to a few instances in which his comments may have been di -
rected at, or were at least relevant to, the views of some of the key phi-
losophers of death that I have considered in previous chapters. Most
notably, I have suggested that his characterization of the role that death
plays in the care structure of Dasein is in some sense a response to Epi-
curus. What remains to be seen is how his treatment of the topic relates
to the ideas of other philosophers of death, especially those in the Pla-
tonic strain. And even more interesting than this is of course the re-
lationship and the issue of influence that exists between Kierkegaard

and Heidegger. Although there are obvious connections, and numerous
suspicions amongst scholars about what Heidegger appropriates from
Kierkegaard, it is perhaps not immediately clear how much their “exis-
tential” accounts of death overlap. This is the problem that will attract
much of my attention going forward.

Heidegger’s Reception
of Kierkegaard
The Existential Philosophy of Death
It should come as no surprise by now that Heidegger relies on Kierke-
gaard when describing “Being- towards- death” in Being and Time, despite
the fact that he does not explicitly mention the Dane in this regard.
In addition to this relative silence, however, determining what precisely
Heidegger owes to Kierkegaard on this topic is further complicated by
Heidegger’s general opinion that his efforts dig deeper than Kierke -
gaard is able to working in a more overtly Christian context. By looking
closely at the many points of convergence between the Kierkegaardian
and Heideggerian descriptions of allowing death to penetrate one’s exis-
tence, and at what can be determined about Heidegger’s reception of
Kierkegaard, I will provide a thorough understanding of the relationship
between them when it comes to the issue of death. Ultimately, I believe that Kierkegaard’s influence goes right to the
very heart of Heidegger’s project; despite their differences, there is an
overarching sense in which Kierkegaard and Heidegger are working on
the same philosophy of death. The complicated role of death in Being
and Time, much like Kierkegaard’s treatment of the topic, could hardly
have been developed without relying upon the vast assortment of philo-
sophical dealings with death that came before it. As we have seen, this
rich history can be roughly broken up into two strains: the Platonic,
which emphasizes personal afterlife and recommends meditation on
death as preparation for this postmortem experience, and the Epicu-
rean, which casts doubt upon personal afterlife and encourages becom-
ing desensitized to death. While both Kierkegaard and Heidegger are
rooted in the soil of the Platonic / Christian tradition, they react to and
incorporate Epicurean insights, thereby advancing a compelling way of
living with death— an “existential philosophy of death”— that is in some
sense a blending of, or compromise between, the Platonic and the Epicu-
rean strains. In the course of providing a more thorough account of the
connection between Kierkegaard and Heidegger on death- related issues

than has previously been offered, I also further expound my unique
characterization of the genealogical development of their largely shared
What Heidegger Was Reading
Although Heidegger rarely discusses Kierkegaard in any great detail
(as he does so many other thinkers that have a profound impact on his
thought), there is little doubt that he was well versed in Kierkegaard’s
writings. Consider, briefly, what was available to him. Besides the numer-
ous translations of Kierkegaard’s works that appeared in German prior
to the twentieth century (Himmelstrup 1962, 25– 28), a twelve- volume
collected works, edited and mostly translated by Christoph Schrempf,
appeared between 1909 and 1922; and all but two of these volumes were
published by 1914.
1 This date is significant given that Heidegger himself
admits that between 1910 and 1914 he enthusiastically read Nietzsche,
Dostoevsky, and Kierkegaard, among others ( FS x; compare Guignon
2011a, 184; McCarthy 2011, 99). aIn his courses leading up to Being and
Tim e Heidegger even quotes Either/Or, Practice in Christianity, and the At-
tack from the Schrempf edition; he also refers to The Concept of Anxiety
from this edition in the first of his Being and Time notes on Kierkegaard
( PI 137; OHF 83; BT 190n4).
2 But it is not just Schrempf ’s work that makes
1914 a significant year for Heidegger’s reception of Kierkegaard. For it
was also in this year that Theodor Haecker’s translations of Kierkegaard’s
more edifying, or upbuilding, works
3 (with accompanying commentary)
began to appear in the Austrian journal of cultural and literary criticism
known as Der Brenner ; and Heidegger was a subscriber to this periodical
from 1911 until it ceased publication in 1954 (a Janik 1984, 220; van Buren
1994, 150; Malik 1997, 371– 77). On the topic of death, Heidegger was exposed to the complete
range of Kierkegaard’s thoughts well before writing Being and Time, and
there can be little doubt that these thoughts had a most significant iam-
pact upon his notion of Being- towards- death.
4 In 1915, Haecker’s transla-
tion of “At a Graveside” (titled “ Vom To d e”), curiously missing most of
the introductory reflection at a funeral ( VT 15), appeared in Der Brenner,
and as Theunissen has argued, it did not escape Heidegger’s attention.
In fact, Theunissen (2006, 328) believes that hisa remark about Kierke-
gaard’s “‘edifying’ writings” ( BT 235n6), in a note just before the death
chapter ( Being and Tim e’s second mention of Kierkegaard), refers pri-
marily to this, Kierkegaard’s most concentrated discussion of death.

But there is plenty of reason to believe that Heidegger was also well
acquainted with many of Kierkegaard’s other significant treatments of
death- related matters. For example, within Being and Time’s death chap-
ter itself, Heidegger includes a note of appreciation for Jaspers’s discus-
sion of death as a “limit- situation” in Psychologie der Weltanschauungen (BT
249n6). Interestingly, it is in this very section of Jaspers’s (1922, 269– 70)
magnum opus that one can find a massive quotation from the brief but
focused discussion of thinking death as an example of how to become
subjective in Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous Postscript (CUP 1: 165– 70 /SKS
7: 153– 58).
7 Thus, even if Heidegger was not thinking of “At a Graveside”
specifically in writing about death in Being and Time, it seems certain that
some of its major themes— which Postscript rehashes— were on his mind
(compare van Buren 1994, 175– 76).
Among the other texts that have important contributions to make
toward an overall understanding of Kierkegaard’s views on death, Hei-
degger also seems quite familiar with Anxiety, which he explicitly acknowl-
edges, and Sickness, which he does not. At the very least, he must have
had a thorough secondhand knowledge of these detailed pseudonymous
discussions of the fallen, sinful situation of humans and its connection
to various senses of death via Jaspers’s “review of Kierkegaard” (which
Heidegger mentions in his third and final Kierkegaard note in Being and
Tim e [338n3]).
9 This “review” focuses on the “kairological” understand-
ing of temporality found in Anxiety and Sickness ( Jaspers 1922, 419– 32),
an understanding that is derived from the New Testament and comes to
play a significant role in Heidegger’s account of death. Moving on to somewhat more speculative ideas about his reading
activities, it must be said that Heidegger never explicitly acknowledgesa
Kierkegaard’s consideration of the radical Christian sense of dying to
the world in late writings such as For Self- Examination and The Moment (al-
though both texts are found in the Schrempf edition and before [ FSE/
JFY xiii]). Given his fascination with the Kierkegaardian concept of “the
moment,” and his apparent familiarity with the attack literature, however,
it is hard to believe that Heidegger completely overlooked Kierkegaard’s
series of pamphlets by the same name. Additionally, various collections
of journal entries and discourses that deal with death, including Works of
Love and Christian Discourses, appeared in German both before and after
the turn of the century. In fact, it seems that almost every work (at least
in part) of real significance to Kierkegaard’s philosophy of death was
available in German well before Heidegger began working on Being and
Time. The two notable exceptions are Kierkegaard’s dissertation, which
gives some attention to death in Plato’s works, and the “Purity of Heart”
discourse that, according to some scholars, has interesting resonances

with Heidegger’s treatment of death (Himmelstrup 1962, 25– 28; Malik
1997, 381– 82; Schulz 2009, 388– 91; Davenport 2011, 171– 72).Clearly Heidegger had access to Kierkegaard’s work, read it, and
found value in it, especially those texts that deal most extensively witah
death. Why then does Heidegger only occasionally acknowledge Kierke-
gaard in Being and Time, with none of those occasions in the death chap-
ter, and why are these acknowledgments so seemingly dismissive of some-
one he obviously relies upon? Some have suggested simple egotism or
even gone so far as to accuse him of approaching blatant academic dis-
honesty (e.g., Caputo 1993, 203– 4; McCarthy 2011, 114). I am not sure,
however, that these sorts of suggestions and accusations are entirely fair
given Heidegger’s apparent willingness over an extended period of time
to point out Kierkegaard’s influence on a number of topics, even if only
briefly. While the reasons for the seemingly dismissive nature of his state-
ments about Kierkegaard in Being and Time will take a bit longer to de-
cipher, I would like to suggest two mitigating factors in the meantime
that ought to be considered when evaluating the thoroughness of Hei-
degger’s citations. My goal is not to exonerate Heidegger completely or
excuse his oversights, but rather to provide a more nuanced understand-
ing of his possible motivations. To begin with, he expresses concern in several places about the
rampant “Kierkegaardism” in educated German circles in the early 1920s
(Kisiel 1993, 275, 316, 397, 5a41).
10 Heidegger seems to feel that this new
fad is superficial and fails to grasp the proper lessons of Kierkegaard ( FC
150– 51; also see McCarthy 2011, 99). In order to avoid being associated
with such a trend, it may be the case that Heidegger is not overly eager to
make reference to Kierkegaard by the mid- 1920s, even if Kierkegaard re-
mains an important influence on his thinking (compare Guignon 20a11a,
184; McCarthy 2011, 100– 103). But even if this potential explanation of Heidegger’s reticence is
unconvincing, there is another, perhaps more substantial, reason as to
why Heidegger might be less interested in drawing a great deal of atten-
tion to his debt to Kierkegaard. In Ontology— The Hermeneutics of Facticity,
just after acknowledging the “impulses” he has received from Kierke-
gaard and others, Heidegger makes an intriguing claim about the irrel-
evance of listing his historical influences in this way. He states, “This is for
those who ‘understand’ something only when they reckon it up in terms
of historical influences, the pseudo- understanding of an industrious cu-
riosity, i.e., diversion from what is solely at issue in this course and what
it all comes to. One should make their ‘tendency of understanding’ as
easy as possible for them so that they will perish of themselves. Nothing
is to be expected of them. They care only about the pseudo” ( OHF 4).

Basically, Heidegger seems to believe that these sorts of trivial historical
concerns can only distract from the meaningful task at hand. While he
demonstrates that he is more than willing to name names, he claims that a
such lists will fascinate only the shallowest of minds when there is seri-
ous philosophical work to be done. With this admonishment in mind,
it would be best at this point to turn away from questions about what
Heidegger was reading and when, in order to consider more substantial
issues of influence with the goal of attaining a more thorough grasp of
the development of the existential philosophy of death.
A Few Apparent “Borrowings”
Although many connections between Kierkegaard and Heidegger on
death- related issues have already been made in the surrounding litera-
ture, especially concerning anxiety and “the moment,” much less has
been said when it comes to things like dying to the world and the ideas
about mortality and the afterlife presented in “At a Graveside” and the
more overtly Christian discourses. While it is surely worth taking note
of the many fruitful points of convergence that have already been sug-
gested, the main focus here must be on those connections that have re-
ceived too little attention and remain in need of further development.
Ultimately, it will be of most interest to see how Heidegger begins to join
Kierkegaard in forging an existential philosophy of death by interacting
with certain figures from the key strains in the history of philosophy’s
dealings with the topic. Perhaps the best way to start looking at the relationship between
these two thinkers on the matter of death is in terms of “At a Graveside,”
even though Heidegger never cites it. There are both obvious connec-
tions concerning issues such as the uncertainty, or indefiniteness,
12 of the
“when” of death, and other less frequently discussed clues that also hint
at Heidegger’s debt to this discourse. One of these clues is the way Hei-
degger dismisses the experience of the death of the other in his quest for
the proper approach to death.
13 As we have seen in section 47 of Being and
Time, he claims that the other’s death is not something that a particular
Dasein can experience in the relevant sense, and so, he concludes that
only one’s own death is of interest for the sake of his inquiry. Of course,
limiting himself to a consideration of one’s own death makes more sense
once he comes to explain death as a way to be. If the issue at hand were
simple passing away, or “demise,” one could argue that no one has any
better access to their own death than to the death of another, but there is

something uniquely accessible about one’s own particular Being- towards-
death. Later in the chapter, when Heidegger goes on to describe the
authentic self provided by the anticipation of death,
14 he states, “Under-
standing does not primarily mean just gazing at a meaning, but rather
understanding oneself in that potentiality- for- Being” ( BT 263). To try to
understand Being- towards- death by focusing on the other would amount
to nothing more than this gazing, while true understanding comes only
through appropriation. It is precisely this sort of appropriation that Kierkegaard is after in
“At a Graveside,” when he speaks of the “jest” of thinking about death in
general without also thinking of oneself in connection with it. Although
this discourse takes the imagined funeral of a loved one as its point of
departure, Kierkegaard’s purpose in depicting this imagined occasion is
to show the difference between the effect of the other’s death on the liv-
ing and the effect that relating to one’s own death can have on the living.
He asserts, “To think of oneself as dead is earnestness; to be a witness to
the death of another is mood” ( TDIO 75 /SKS 5: 446). While this shared
interest between Kierkegaard and Heidegger concerning the benefits
of a proper relationship with one’s own death may not be very shock-
ing (compare Theunissen 2006, 335– 36), it is of crucial importance for
grasping the points of intersection that follow. Another clue to Heidegger’s debt can be found in his closely related
discussion of “Being- certain” of death (compare Magurshak 1985, 185–
86). Although the certainty
15 of death is an often- discussed link between
Kierkegaard and Heidegger, the surprising difficulty of making this con-
nection in the right way renders it an issue worth revisiting. Heidegger
points out that while “everydayness” is empirically certain of death in the
sense of not doubting some coming event, this uncritical everyday atti-
tude is not certain in the sense of Being- certain of Being- towards- death
( BT 255– 58). This difference is between a derivative disinterested asseant
to some objective fact and an involved making something one’s own and
behaving accordingly. Heidegger states, “The explicit appropriating of
what has been disclosed or discovered is Being- certain” (BT 307). Because
death is not to be understood as the objective event of demise for Hei-
degger, but rather as a personal way to be, it is clear that he is less drawn a
to the derivative sort of certainty that everydayness applies to the thing
it calls death (demise). Although Kierkegaard does not draw such a sharp death /demise
16 and therefore, might initially seem guilty of only dealing
with what Heidegger describes as the empirical certainty of demise, there
is a way of seeing Kierkegaard’s discussion of certainty as a precursor to
Heidegger’s notion of Being- certain. Kierkegaard does not even concede

that everydayness is certain of— in the sense of not doubting— demise.
In everyday conversation people may say that they are certain, but their
actions speak louder than their words. If they really do not doubt death,
why then do they behave in ways that treat life as though it is without
limits (compare J P 1: 335 /SKS 27: 362– 63)? As examples of this behavior
(and its underlying attitude), Kierkegaard mentions an excessive “soul-
destroying” sorrow and paralyzing shock at the unexpected deaths of
loved ones (as though certain death can ever be entirely unexpected),
and the taking on of projects without consideration for the fact that
death can come at any time ( TDIO 75, 95– 96 /SKS 5: 446, 463– 64). Like
Heidegger, Kierkegaard seems to be distinguishing between an empty
objective acknowledgment of certainty and a sort of genuinely appropri-
ated Being- certain that is manifested in the way one behaves in the world. A third “At a Graveside” clue concerns the anti- Epicurean nature of
Kierkegaard’s and Heidegger’s respective projects.
17 While Epicurus’s fa-
mous claim denies that one’s own death can really impact one’s own life,
Heidegger, like Kierkegaard before him, attempts to provide an account
in which “you are and death also is” ( TDIO 75 /SKS 5: 446). Heidegger
tries to get at Dasein’s coexistence with death by showing how it is pos-
sible, through Being- towards- death, to grasp Dasein’s “wholeness” and
essential structure. This is remarkable given that under the standard view
of death as demise it seems that Dasein is always missing something (whata
is still to come) while it exists, and at the moment of possible completion
there is no longer Dasein. Heidegger explains,
Defining the existential structure of Being- towards- the- end helps us to
work out a kind of Being of Dasein in which Dasein, as Dasein, can be a
whole. The fact that even everyday Dasein already is towards its end— that
is to say, is constantly coming to grips with its death . . . shows thata this
end, conclusive . . . and determinative for Being- a- whole, is not some-
thing to which Dasein ultimately comes only in its demise. In Dasein,
as being towards its death, its own uttermost “not- yet” has already been
included. ( BT 259)
Because death understood as Being- towards- death is something that one
carries along with one (or simply is) in existing, and does so authenti-
cally, as we have seen, in anticipating death, Heidegger seems to have
in some sense avoided problems that have traditionally been associated
with the inability to experience the event of demise. But it appears that
in developing his strategy for avoiding these problems Heidegger may
have had the benefit of a prototype. In discussing Kierkegaard’s “retroactive power” ( tilbagevirkende

Kraft) of death, Connell (2006, 436) claims that it “isa very like Heideg-
ger’s notion of authenticity and resoluteness in the face of death.” 18 What
Connell (2006, 434– 35) seems to have in mind about Kierkegaard’s
account is the way in which an individual’s death, rather than simply
annihilating this individual’s life, meaningfully impacts this life while it
is still being lived. Kierkegaard states, “What is decisive about the expla-
nation, what prevents the nothingness of death from annihilating the
explanation, is that it acquires retroactive power and actuality in the alife
of the living person; then death becomes a teacher to him and does not
traitorously assist him to a confession that denounces the explainer as aa
fool” ( TDIO 97 /SKS 5: 465). It appears that in this retroactivity, Kierke-
gaard has, like Heidegger, found a way of understanding death as some-
how coexistent with the life of an individual. Although Kierkegaard does
not exactly put this coexistence in terms of the lessons Heidegger learns
from authentic Being- towards- death, it does not seem too far- fetched to
see in the idea of death as a teacher, death as a way to be.
Similar Projects
Heidegger’s apparent connections with the graveside discourse do not
tell the whole story of the similarity between the role of death in Being
and Time and Kierkegaard’s death project. Not only does Heidegger share
particular concepts with Kierkegaard, they also seem to have a similar
purpose in overcoming the Epicurean view and encouraging an exis-
tence so intertwined with death. In Kierkegaardian terms, the goal here
is dying to the world as exemplified by Christ, described in the New Testa-
ment, and passed down, more or (occasionally) less rigorously, by a series
of Christian thinkers as I have discussed in previous chapters. Despite thae
fact that Kierkegaard remains firmly engaged in this Christian conversa-
tion, he expresses a great deal of disdain for the objective metaphysical
speculation that some of these thinkers engage in when it comes to issues
such as the afterlife. Kierkegaard understands the doubts and difficulties
concerning the possibility of a personal afterlife posed by thinkers in the
Epicurean strain, and rejects attempts to demonstrate that there will bea
such an afterlife by certain thinkers in the Platonic strain. However, he
treats both these difficulties and these demonstrations as irrelevant and
faithfully appropriates the afterlife, behaving as though it will be so. This combination of maintaining a sense of dying to the world while
refusing to speculate about the afterlife is largely what distinguishes the
existential philosophy of death from its Platonic / Christian and Epicu -

rean predecessors. Thus, it is absolutely crucial, for understanding Heia-
degger as engaged in something like Kierkegaard’s blending of lessons
from these two key strains, to point out that Heidegger also sees speculaa-
tion about the afterlife as an irrelevant diversion from his treatment of
death (BT 247– 48). But is there a conflict between their views given that
Kierkegaard seems to retain faith in personal immortality in the face of
his concession to the doubt found in the Epicurean strain? While there ias
little reason to believe that there is a similar retention in Heidegger, one
need not see insurmountable opposition since Heidegger’s bracketing
of this issue does not include an out- and- out rejection of the afterlife.
On the other side of Kierkegaard’s existential combination, it is
just as crucial to realize that Heidegger is involved with something likae a
secularized version of the Christian sense of dying to the world.
20 Drey-
fus (1991, 312) is surely onto something when (in discussing Postscript’s
notion of dying to immediacy) he claims, “For Heidegger being- unto-
death . . . is dying to all immediacy.”
21 And, without mentioning Kierke-
gaard, Thomson (2004, 456) emphasizes Heidegger’as Pauline “move-
ment in which we turn away from the world, recover ourselves, and then
turn back to the world, a world we now see anew, with eyes that have been
22 Just as Kierkegaard is critical of all ways of relating to oneself
that are dictated by human understanding of the world, since they forego
or prevent a genuinely faithful relationship with Christ, Heidegger is
interested in undermining the connections to one’s existence that have
been unquestioningly received from “the they” in everydayness, because
these connections prevent grasping what one “authentically” is. In other
words, one must die to the distracting ways of existing that one just hap-
pens to have “fallen” into in order to see clearly what is most properly
one’s own (compare van Buren 1994, 177– 82; McCarthy 2011, 108– 11).
Both Kierkegaard and Heidegger describe the distractions handed down
by the everyday world as “accidental” or “incidental” ( tilfældige in “Ved en
Grav,” zufallige in both Der Brenner ’s “Vom To d e” and Sein und Zeit ) in the
sense that there is nothing that one can receive from this everydayness
that is absolutely essential to one’s existence.
Whereas the world tends to focus on what can be accomplished
or actualized in a given period of chronological time (which of course
can never be guaranteed, rendering all actualization merely accidental),
Kierkegaard and Heidegger emphasize the kairological moment
25 in
which how one relates (regardless of the chronological time available) to
the possible is what really matters (Magurshak 1985, 18a0).
26 In both his
own name and under pseudonym, Kierkegaard describes the new sense
of time that Christianity introduces as the intersection of eternity with
worldly temporality in a “present” moment that reconciles the fallen acon-

dition one comes from with the salvation one runs toward. For example,
Haufniensis states, “The fullness of time is the moment as the eternal,
and yet this eternal is also the future and the past” (CA 90 /SKS 4: 393).
To put it another way: in a movement that transcends any common sense
of temporality, one comes to participate in the past, yet timeless, act of
cleansing sacrifice (the crucifixion) and thereby receives anothera chance
for the future (van Buren 1994, 192– 93). With ever- present anxiety and
vigilance one renews or repeats one’s commitment to the divine in re-
pentance of sins and longing for mercy. The moment of life comes to
take on an eternal significance by constantly shaking loose from lostnaess
in a highly contingent temporal worldliness. Despite Heidegger’s apparently dismissive claim that Kierkegaard
could not see the “more primordial temporality” that underlies the theo -
logical view of the moment in terms of the eternal ( BT 338n3), the de-
theologized account that Heidegger provides shows many signs of bene-
fiting from Kierkegaard’s work on this topic. Heidegger is also interested
in something like a lived synthesis of Dasein’s past and future— Dasein
is a projecting ahead of itself based on limitations it has fallen (or been
thrown) into. In owning up to the possibilities that are available to iat
given the situation, and responsibly choosing from among them which to
pursue (the resolute repeating of inherited or past possibilities into the
future), Dasein pulls itself out of its standard (in the sense of a default-
setting) fallenness and takes possession of itself (compare van Buren
1994, 192– 95).
27 Among the many descriptions of such a development
that Heidegger provides (some others were quoted in the previous chap-
ter), consider the following: “ Only an entity which, in its Being, is essentially
futural so that it is free for its death and can let itself be thrown back upon its fac-
tical ‘there’ by shattering itself against death— that is to say, only an entity which,
as futural, is equiprimordially in the process of having- been, can, by handing
down to itself the possibility it has inherited, take over its own thrownness and be
in the moment o f vision for ‘its time ’” ( BT 385). Like Kierkegaard, Hei -
degger is looking for a way out (albeit not necessarily one that is easily
maintained) of an unreflective and deficient state that prioritizes contin-
gent worldly accomplishment and the quantifiable temporality that such
accomplishment requires. According to their view, anything that is quali-
fied purely by this everyday chronological sense of time is necessarily a
distraction that facilitates fleeing from one’s essential responsibility to be
oneself (whether before God or not) (see van Buren 1994, 19a1, 194– 95;
compare CA 92– 93 /SKS 4: 395– 96).
It is their shared concern about what is chronologically accidental
and their interest in avoiding strong attachment to it that leads both
Kierkegaard and Heidegger to describe this process (of avoidance) in

terms of death. In considering physical death, which is not their pri-
mary focus, they are able to pick out important indications of essential
features of human existence and a deeper sense of dying. This consid-
eration of more concrete notions of death suggests the contingency of
all attachments to, and ways of understanding one’s place in, the world.
For both Kierkegaard and Heidegger the image of death is employed
because there is no better way to awaken someone from the complacent
slumber of a thoughtless existence (e.g., as a merely cultural Christian,
or a “they”- self ) that is not essentially and necessarily theirs.
28 That one
will die signifies that existence has to be given up one way or anothear, and
taking this seriously already seems to weaken the bonds of meaning that
are passed down to us simply by existing in the world. But what is more,
the uncertainty with regard to the when of demise suggests a general in-
definiteness in existence, particularly in connection with worldly endeav-
ors and understanding. Given this structural indefiniteness one need naot
feel constrained to interpret existence strictly as a function of the specific
projects, relationships, and goals that the world recommends. Without
such constraints, both Kierkegaard and Heidegger believe that it is pos-
sible to appropriate meaning for oneself in the light of one’s contingent,
culturally textured situation.
Bonding over Fear and Anxiety
Having already examined much about how Kierkegaard and Heidegger
construct their view of death with the help of, and occasionally in spite
of, certain elements of the two traditional strains, there is still one other
key issue to consider on which they see eye to eye. Turning first to the
thinkers from the Epicurean strain, with whom they have in common the
avoidance of various metaphysical conundrums surrounding a personal
afterlife, Kierkegaard and Heidegger have a major problem with treat-
ing death as though it is “nothing to us.” Because Epicureans, Stoics, and
their more modern admirers encourage ignoring or at least “defang -
ing” death, it appears as though they are trying to withhold or suppress
what seems like the best way to get an indication of what one really is.
Through such withholding, the Epicurean view enables getting lost in
everyday life as it is understood by one’s culture. But perhaps it will be objected that since the existential conception
of death is not entirely focused on death as the event of physical passing
away, it might be the case that Kierkegaard and Heidegger are no longer
directly engaging with the Epicurean position. If offering up the sort of

coexistence with death that Kierkegaard and Heidegger describe seems
like an underhanded way of dodging a straightforward Epicurean claim,
maybe some further discussion of their existential account will demon-
strate that there is something more substantial to their critique of this
30 As previously suggested, it might be said that Kierkegaard and
Heidegger are simply conceding part of Epicurus’s argument: death (in
the sense of demise or physical passing away) cannot be experienced.
However, the further claim that death need not be feared, which is often
somehow grounded on the fact that it cannot be experienced, remains
a source of concern about Epicurus’s view and any of its more recent
incarnations. The issue that Epicurus seems to miss has nothing to do
with the evils of death, experienced or not, but with the indefiniteness
of life given death. Why should this issue not trouble one still capable of
being troubled? Heidegger claims that anxiety is the necessary, even if not always
obvious, state- of- mind of Dasein, given its essential Being- towards- death
( BT 251).
31 As he says about the “they,” treating death as Epicurean think-
ers do seems to transform “this anxiety into fear in the face of an on-
coming event.” Such thinkers then often disparage fear of this event as
foolish and cowardly, discouraging any intimate encounter with it, and
adding yet another layer of deceit to the already disingenuous swap of
anxiety for fear ( BT 254). If Heidegger is right in holding that some anx-
ious grasp of Being- towards- death underlies any notion or fear of death
understood as passing away (which, again, cannot be experienced), thena
it is possible to view the famous Epicurean mantra (and its Stoic and
modern counterparts) as nothing more than an evasion of the only way
one can really experience or know one’s own death at all. But the Epicurean strain is not alone in facing this criticism related
to the overcoming of fear. Although the Platonic strain is, on the surface,
more supportive when it comes to cultivating a relationship with death, a
the mitigation of the fear of death with promises of a personal afterlife
that one often (but perhaps not always) finds in this strain is no less eva-
sive of the anxious relationship with the indefiniteness that is essential
to one’s existence, according to Heidegger and Kierkegaard. Besides fac-
ing the same problems that plague the Epicurean attempt to overcome
fear, Kierkegaard suggests a further concern about Platonic / Christian
mitigation. While this tradition often finds some comfort in taking an af-
terlife for granted, the quality of this afterlife remains to be seen. Kierke-
gaard points out that constant concern about one’s posthumous situa-
tion should be an integral aspect of a truly Christian understanding of
life. Given that, so long as one lives, one’s relationship with the divine is
always at risk (e.g., of being ruined by falling into worldly temptation),

Kierkegaard is opposed to seeking security or using faith in the afterlife
to provide comfort and diminish worries about death. Instead, impend-
ing death coupled with such faith should intensify the pressure and anxi-
ety surrounding the uncertainty of one’s soteriological standing.The upshot of all this is that while it is possible to identify particular
aspects of each strain’s views on death that are appropriated (or at least
appreciated) by the existential philosophy of death, it is also the rejec-
tion of the one major aspect that the Platonic and Epicurean strains have
in common— the desire to make death less frightful— that helps unify
Kierkegaard and Heidegger in their existential account.
A Last Word on Influences
In focusing on his relationship to Kierkegaard, I do not mean to diminish
the significance of death- related connections with other thinkers that are
unique to Heidegger’s account (in certain cases necessarily so given Hei-
degger’s access to post- Kierkegaardian thought). Fortunately, it has often
been possible to make note of instances in which Heidegger borrows
from other thinkers, with or without his acknowledgment, to supplement
what he takes from Kierkegaard.
32 This is especially true when it comes
to their Platonic / Christian and Epicurean predecessors. Regardless of
what Heidegger may find on his own in their work, however, he and
Kierkegaard ultimately learn many of the same lessons from the study of
these predecessors, and together they forge an existential philosophy ofa
death. As this chapter has mostly been a discussion of what Kierkegaard
and Heidegger have in common, something should now be said about
how they differ.

The Limits and Legacy of the
Existential Philosophy of Death
Having attended to the somewhat murky issue of Heidegger’s debts to
Kier kegaard’s writings, it is safe to say that these two have much in com-
mon when it comes to the employment of death in their work. Despite
this kinship, there have been numerous efforts from both the Kierke-
gaardian camp and from Heidegger himself to distinguish sharply the
one from the other. Heidegger, of course, makes several somewhat con-
descending comments about Kierkegaard’s endeavors, while some ob-
servers (both avowed Kierkegaardians, and those just interested in criti-
cizing Heidegger) explain why the Dane would not (and should not) be a
interested in pursuing a project like Heidegger’s (e.g., Mjaaland 2006,
1 In addition to commenting on Emmanuel Levinas’s (1906– 1995)
famous concerns about both thinkers, I would like to consider what I takae
to be the most significant complaint from each side and suggest a morea
nuanced understanding of the Kierkegaard- Heidegger relationship.
French Thought and the Death of
the Other
The legacy of the existential philosophy of death is a topic well worth
a detailed consideration of its own, perhaps as a kind of sequel to the
project I have been engaged with thus far. The diverse appropriations
and transfigurations of the ideas of Kierkegaard and Heidegger found
in the writings of twentieth- century francophone thinkers, such as Jean-
Paul Sartre (1905– 1980), Levinas, Paul Ricoeur (1913– 2005), and Jacques
Derrida (1930– 2004), are enough to occupy a sizeable tome without even
beginning to consider the reception by thinkers from other backgrounds.
In connection with this rich history of influence, such thinkers do not
hold back in critiquing Kierkegaard and especially Heidegger. Sartre, for
example, infamously aims a series of explicit criticisms at Heidegger’s
notion of Being- towards- death that for the most part seem to miss the
mark. Even though Sartre (1956, 546– 47) joins both Kierkegaard and

Heidegger in making finitude central to his understanding of freedom
and meaning, he seems to conflate Heideggerian death with physical
demise when he rebukes Heidegger for associating finitude and death.
Unfortunately, neither the full range of these criticisms, apt or not, nor
the more positive instances of French reception of the existential phi-
losophy of death are entirely relevant here. What is of interest to the
present discussion is the potential difference that might surface between
Kierkegaard and Heidegger on the death of the other when considering
this issue as described by Levinas and Derrida. Levinas is particularly critical of Heidegger’s prioritization of
death as an isolating force in Being and Time, and he offers an alterna-
tive account of death in which death demonstrates otherness. He states,
“This approach of death indicates that we are in relation with something
that is absolutely other. . . . My solitude is thus not confirmed by death but
broken by it. Right away this means that existence is pluralist. . . . In death
the existing of the existent is alienated” (Levinas 1987, 74– 75). In con-
junction with death understood as an indication of one’s essential other-
relatedness, Levinas emphasizes the significance of the death of “the
Other” over against Heidegger’s explicit lack of interest in this issue.
The problem with Heidegger’s account, on his view, is that by excluding
the death of the other, Heidegger misses the opportunity to make eth-
ics an integral aspect of his early ontological project— thus making pos-
sible some, to put it mildly, unfortunate political decisions. But given that
Kierkegaard also dismisses the death of the other in texts such as “At a
Graveside” and Postscript, is his account of death just as problematic and
potentially dangerous? In a certain sense, it might seem that Kierkegaard’s treatment of
the death of the other is even more problematic and dangerous than
Heidegger’s. As Llevadot (2011, 206– 8) points out, Levinas focuses both
on the sense of responsibility that arises through one’s awareness of one-
self as potential murderer and survivor, and also on one’s capacity to sac-
rifice one’s life for another, while Kierkegaard’s pseudonym silentio dis-
cusses the sacrificing of the other. Because Abraham, silentio’s paragon
of religious faith, sets aside any communal ethical demands in order to
follow a voice that speaks to him alone, even when this voice tells him ato
kill the other, Levinas finds Kierkegaard guilty of “introducing a violent
and irrational impulse into philosophy, paving the way  .  .  . for German
national socialism” (Mjaaland 2006, 378). Whereas Heidegger’s views on
death simply left ethics ambiguous or of secondary importance behind
the self- mastery of the individual, Kierkegaard seems to advocate a more
pernicious isolation of the individual and a supersession of ethics that
even allows for murder.

There is no doubt that Levinas’s reading of Fear and Trembling is at
least uncharitable and probably just inaccurate given that its author goaes
out of his way to point out that he is not invalidating ethics, but trans -
forming it ( F T 70 / SKS 4: 162; compare Mjaaland 2006, 378; Llevadot
2011, 209). Rather than rushing to identify these shortcomings of Levi-
nas’s criticisms, however, Derrida offers an alternate reading of silentio’s
Abraham. Instead of viewing Abraham’s silence as a disturbing unethical
tendency toward isolation (which Levinas does), Derrida suggests that
his refusal to justify himself to others is an indictment of the ordinary
ethical realm that demands such justification (Llevadot 2011a, 210– 11).
Derrida (1995, 61) states, “He keeps quiet in ordaer to avoid the moral
temptation which, under the pretext of calling him to responsibility, to
self- justification, would make him lose his ultimate responsibility along
with his singularity.  .  .  . This is ethics as ‘irresponsibilization.’” In his
silent inwardness, Abraham is taking on total responsibility for the deaath
of the other, while in the ethical realm at least some of this responsibility
is shirked by trying to bring others “on board” in the form of a rationally
compelled consensus (compare Duckles 2011, 221– 22). When I, for ex-
ample, explain to the officer why I was speeding, it is my hope that hea or
she will understand and sympathize with my predicament in such a way
that, although I admittedly broke the law, I will not be held accountable
to the degree that a fine will be necessary. Llevadot will go on to argue that the non- preferential love cultivated
in the Works of Love discourse on recollecting the dead is Kierke gaard’s
extension of this taking on of absolute responsibility for the death of the
other (even the enemy), but one need not follow her in order to ask our
question about how all of this pertains to the Kierkegaard- Heidegger
relationship. If Derrida’s reading is convincing and Kierkegaard escapes
Levinas’s criticism by suggesting an even more stringent sense of taking
on responsibility for others in the face of death, does Kierkegaard avoid
the Heideggerian pitfalls and do a better job of addressing this issue? Of
course, such a question assumes that Levinas’s criticisms of Heidegger
are in fact legitimate, and this may not be the case. Keep in mind that
Heidegger does not simply forget to consider the death of the other in
Being and Time; rather, he intentionally sets it aside because he believes
that it is an issue that cannot deliver the sorts of essential insights he is
looking for. The interesting thing about Derrida’s portrayal of silentio’s Abra-
ham is that absolute responsibility comes only through a certain isolatiaon
of the individual— an isolation that Derrida believes is realized through a
relationship with death (compare Duckles 2011, 224). Thus, Derrida’s de-
fense of Kierkegaard from Levinas’s charges demonstrates Kierke gaard’s

commitment to a higher ethics based on the sort of individuating charac-
ter of death that Levinas is particularly critical of. Kierkegaard, of course,
describes this individuating character (and the sense of urgency and re-
sponsibility it brings) in several texts, but what is perhaps more trou-
bling for a Levinasian account is that Heidegger also develops his sensea
of individual responsibility in the same way. In fact, just before saying
that “everyone must assume his own death, . . . therein resides freedom
and responsibility,” Derrida (1995, 43– 44) acknowledges that he remains
“within Heidegger’s logic.” While it may be true that, compared to Kierkegaard, Heidegger is
less obviously interested in ethics and the death of the other, his primary
point seems to be that these are matters for consideration after grasp-
ing the essence of individual responsibility for oneself. Given that both
he and Kierkegaard make individualization or “becoming subjective,” as
Climacus would say, the foundation for any subsequent genuine ethical
behavior, it is not clear to me that Heidegger’s account is significantly
different from Kierkegaard’s. If this is so, then Derrida’s take on Fear and
Trembling might also be seen as a defense of Heidegger, and maybe as a
rejection of Levinas’s attempt to ground ethics in the death of the other.
Whether or not one is sympathetic to this attempt, what all of this means
for my present purposes is that the often- discussed criticism that Heideg-
ger should have paid more attention to the death of the other does not
distinguish him in any definitive way from Kierkegaard.
Heidegger’s “Atheism” and the Theology
of Kierkegaard
So what does definitively distinguish the two when it comes to death-
related issues? Heidegger clearly does not share the theological concerns
at the heart of Kierkegaard’s account of dying to the world. At least dur -
ing the few years leading up through the writing of Being and Time, Hei-
degger holds that there is a “fundamental atheism indigenous to phi-
losophy” (Kisiel 1993, 80; compare PI 148). This atheism is necessary in
order to distinguish philosophy from the aforementioned ontic science
of theology (see my treatment of BT, section 49). Proper philosophy is
absorbed in ontology, which is an inquiry into Being in general, while
theology merely posits some basic regional idea about the nature (or
being) of God— or, according to Heidegger, the nature of the Chris-
tian connection to God— and inquires into matters pertaining to what
it posits ( BT 9– 11, 34– 35).
4 In order for philosophy to retain its status as

the more primordial, general, and pure form of inquiry, it cannot allow
itself to be contaminated by theological concerns. Because Heidegger is
engaged with fundamental ontology in Being and Time, he must maintain
a “methodological atheism” throughout his consideration of death and
related issues (compare BT 247– 48).
For Heidegger, Kierkegaard is a theologian because he simply pos-
its humans as derived from the Christian God, and then proceeds to
consider the particulars of relating to this God (e.g., SUD 13– 17 /SKS 11:
129– 33; compare Magurshak 1985, 193).
5 He is a great theologian be-
cause, unlike so many others, he joins Luther in emphasizing faith alonea
as the difficult, but proper way of appropriating and existing in this rela-
tionship, to the exclusion of a diluted theology that relies on reason to
explain away and soften any difficulty (compare BT 10). It would be hard
to deny the accuracy of Heidegger’s assessment of Kierkegaard’s theo-
logical propensities given that Kierkegaard himself states, “I have never
broken with Christianity.  .  .  . From the time it was possible to speak of
the application of my powers, I had firmly resolved to employ everything
to defend it, or in any case to present it in its true form” ( PV 80 /SKS 16:
59). But if he is indeed a theologian of some sort, it seems that Kierke-
gaard’s theological treatments of human guilt, anxiety, conscience, and
even death cannot provide the primordial ontological understanding of
these matters that Heidegger seeks in Being and Time. Thus, according to
Heidegger, Kierkegaard’s works are mostly just interesting ontic analy-
ses that might provide helpful starting points for a more penetrating
investigation into what underlies the derivative phenomena of religious
experience (see, e.g., BT 338n3). While Heidegger seems to rely on these
starting points quite heavily, particularly on the topic of death, he does
apparently remove specific ideas in several of Kierkegaard’s works from
their theological trappings, and push them further until these ideas be-
come more broadly relevant (e.g., to the non- religious). Consider “At a Graveside,” where Kierkegaard argues that it is im-
portant to think about death, but does not overtly make a case for this
importance on theological grounds. Despite the discourse’s relative si-
lence on the matter, it is not as though God never comes up. Thus, even
though it appears that Heidegger is indebted to this discourse for its
impact on his own views on death,
6 he would still likely complain that
it is not sufficiently free of the theological. It is not the mere mention
of God, however, that Heidegger might find inappropriate for a more
philosophical inquiry. Appearances aside, as previously explained, it does
ultimately turn out that even Kierkegaard’s least religious discussion of
death can only be properly motivated by appealing to the “infinite signifi-
cance” of the divine. Unless one shares Kierkegaard’s Christian interests,

it will remain unclear why his approach to life through death is prefer-
able to other possible attitudes. In contrast, because Heidegger treats
death without such theological commitments, it seems that he needs only
appeal to what it is to be Dasein in order to make his account of death
The Emptiness of Anticipatory
While Heidegger clearly sees the limitations of Kierkegaard’s attempt
at a religious- existential philosophy of death, it remains to be seen what
Kierkegaard might think of Heidegger’s more secular version. Some
commentators have wondered if there is not something about offering
an account as general as Heidegger’s that Kierkegaard would find par -
ticularly problematic (e.g., Guignon 2011a, 200– 201). Kierkegaard has a
well- known aversion to any abstract system building and, although it is
debatable whether or not this is what Heidegger is up to, it could simplay
be the case that despite Heidegger’s condescension there is something
about Kierkegaard’s formulation of the existential philosophy of death
that points to a shortcoming in Heidegger’s. There is no denying, for example, that Heidegger strips away so
much content from his consideration of what it is to exist that he cannot
even allow himself to speak about humans. The primary aim of raising
the objection that he is excessively formal and abstract, though, is to asug-
gest that when one detaches from (or dies to) so many of the “everyday”
specifics of the world in which we have to live, as Heidegger seems to in
his discussion of authenticity and anticipatory resoluteness, it becomes
difficult to reconnect to any specifics at all.
7 Furthermore, his attempt
to describe such reconnection is, according to some, so vague that it rea-
mains hard to see by what means one can ever come to determine what to
do; all that has been laid out is about how one should do it. Commenta-
tors such as Daniel Berthold- Bond and Patricia J. Huntington claim that
Kierkegaard would be unsatisfied by the empty formality that Heidegger
provides. On their view, Kierkegaard argues that one needs some sense
of what one ought to do if there is to be any genuine meaning to one’s
existence. Bare authenticity does not provide such meaning and neither
does Heideggerian openness. In making a connection between Heidegger’s emphasis on formal-
ity and his questionable politics, both Berthold- Bond and Huntington
debate the value of anticipatory resoluteness. For example, the former

says, “It seems that we are thrown back onto a criterion for action aand
authentic existence which is so formal, abstract, and indefinite that athe
prospects for non- arbitrary action in the concrete situations we face in
the world are quite problematic” (Berthold- Bond 1991, 128); and the
latter, relying on Berthold- Bond, claims that “Heidegger’s abstract ac-
count of authentic resolve, because empty, provides no material criteria
for political action” (Huntington 1995, 56). Because Kierkegaard does
not go so far out of his way to sever his notion of authentic existence
from the aesthetic realm, according to Berthold- Bond, and the ethical,
according to Huntington, he has easier access to the sort of normative
criteria that might rule out something like membership in the Nazi Party.
What Berthold- Bond (1991, 128– 29) and Huntington (compare 1995, 47,
59) apparently want in an account of human existence are “signposts”
that motivate or lead one to behave in certain ways rather than others.On Berthold- Bond’s (1991, 133– 37) view, Heidegger’s notion of
the distracting curiosity characteristic of inauthenticity is very much
like Kierkegaard’s understanding of the aesthetic realm of existence in
which one makes no commitment to anything in particular and simply
drifts from one amusing diversion to another. While both of them treat
this frivolous way of existence with a great deal of suspicion and scorn,
Berthold- Bond points out that according to several of Kierkegaard’s early
pseudonyms, the aesthetic is not to be disregarded in moving to a highera
sphere of existence, but transformed and its possibilities understood in
a new light. It is from these possibilities, which have been taken over
from the aesthetic sphere, that one is able to choose concrete courses oaf
action in an authentic ethical or religious manner. Because Heidegger
never offers a similar redemption of curiosity, but rather perseveres in
disparaging it, he seems to lose touch with its vast stores of specific pos-
sibilities that could be reappropriated in the formal authentic manner hae
describes. Thus, Berthold- Bond (1991, 138) states, “Kierkegaard’s theory
of the sublimation of the aesthetic through authentic repetition presents
a way to resolve the abstract and formal character of Heidegger’s phe-
nomenology of authentic being.” There seem to be two problems with Berthold- Bond’s account,
however. First, when considering Kierkegaard’s later and more obviously
Christian writings, as I do when demonstrating the similarity between
Kierkegaard and Heidegger on dying to the world, it is not at all clear
that the sympathetic understanding of the aesthetic realm that Berthold-
Bond relies on is maintained. If there is in fact good reason not to rely
too heavily on what certain early pseudonyms have to say when compar -
ing Kierkegaard and Heidegger, then Berthold- Bond’s account of what

separates the two might be called into question. Second, I believe that
Berthold- Bond is less than charitable in his assessment of Heidegger’s
abstractness due to “dislocation” from concrete possibilities. While Hei-
degger is surely critical of the attitude of curiosity (which he associates
with the “idle talk” of the “they” [BT 173]), he does not disparage the par -
ticular possibilities that are made available in curiosity by one’s thrown-
ness (even if discussing them is not his priority). If anything, Heidegger
might be more open to the possibilities of curiosity, if authentically ap-
propriated, than Kierkegaard would be from a more strictly Christian
perspective. Berthold- Bond (1991, 130– 31, 137) certainly acknowledges that Heidegger means “to allow for a recovery of the world in a trans-
formed way” based on a “criterion for choice [that] can only be made
by concrete reference to the past,” but for some reason that continues to
elude me, he seems to believe that this description of what Heidegger is
up to is more abstract and ungrounded than what Kierkegaard suppos-
edly takes from the “aesthetic ‘theatre of infinite possibility.’” Without rejecting Berthold- Bond’s account, Huntington tries a
slightly different approach. Her argument relies on a purported diffaer -
ence between Kierkegaard’s and Heidegger’s respective treatments of
the social realm and its normativity. Kierkegaard’s authentic individual
spurns the thoughtless mass known as “the crowd” as a kind of inauthen-
tic community, but does not distance him- or herself from one’s essential
sociality in itself, or rule out “the possibility of a true community of ‘in-
dividuals’” (Huntington 1995, 49). Such a community would “aembody
a set of norms without absolutizing” them and “without lapsing into a
herd- like communitarianism” (Huntington 1995, 51). Heidegger, on the
other hand, fails to distinguish “between inauthentic participation ian
‘everydayness’ and social life per se,” which makes it possible to see the
authentic individual in near complete opposition to “the public world of
norms” (Huntington 1995, 50). In other words, Heiadegger apparently
associates social normativity with the everydayness that is to be overcome
(so far as possible), and thereby loses touch with such normativity. In the
absence of norms that could direct his actions, he seems to advocate an
empty and arbitrary “decisionism” that leaves him open to, among other
things, “involvement in National Socialism” (Huntington 1995, 56). Given that their approaches to offering a Kierkegaardian critique
of Heidegger are quite similar, it should come as no surprise that I have
roughly the same two problems with Huntington’s account that I had
with Berthold- Bond’s. The first is of course the fact that she pays little at-
tention to the specifically Christian ideas in Kierkegaard’s later writings,
where one can find important parallels with Heidegger’s version of dying

to the world. Without this attention, Huntington’s portrayal of Kierke-
gaard and sociality fails to take notice of his more “community- hostile”
views, and is therefore at least in tension with his later thought. Consider -
ing that this portrayal is central to her explanation of what Kierkegaard
has and Heidegger lacks, such tension renders her entire comparison
of the two questionable. But even if this were not the case, I would still
suggest that Huntington (1995, 53, 59) is lessa than fair in her description
of Heidegger’s “antinormative” and antisocial tendencies. As I argued
earlier in this chapter along Derridean lines, there is no reason to see
Heidegger’s emphasis on the formal aspects of individual self- mastery as
a rejection of one’s communal and ethical relationships (compare Young
1998, 192). In fact, he is quite similar to Kierkegaard in arguing that the
individualizing capacity of dying to the world is the prerequisite for the
authentic “re- taking” of communal relationships and the normativity
that comes with community.
8 While such relationships are derived from,
and in some sense secondary to, Heidegger’s “existential ‘solipsism,’”
this establishment of order does not distinguish him in any profound
way from Kierkegaard.
Even though I disagree with much of what Berthold- Bond and
Huntington have to say, their primary point is not one that I would nec-
essarily dispute. It does indeed seem that Kierkegaard would reject the
empty formality and abstractness of Heidegger’s notion of anticipatory
resoluteness, but on religious— and specifically Christian— grounds rather than on aesthetic or ethical grounds. Although Kierkegaard dra-
matically emphasizes the more formal how aspects of Christian existence,
which indeed makes him look very similar to Heidegger, it would not be
Christian existence without some notion of what Christianity is and what
it demands.
10 It is precisely such a what that provides the sort of con-
tent and specific direction to existence that Heidegger’s account lacks.
Whereas for Kierkegaard dying to the world has a concrete purpose in
leading to Christian rebirth, for Heidegger dying to the world leads to
an open- ended self- possession that seems like it could manifest itself in
a diverse range of concretions that might include apparently contradic-
tory possibilities such as Nazism and pacifism. In fact, it is conceivablae
that on Heidegger’s view one might even find it necessary to switch from
one to the other given serious enough oscillations in the circumstances a
one encounters. This self- determination of a somewhat tentative content
might be the best that one can do in trying to attribute specific meaning
to one’s existence according to Heidegger, but Kierkegaard would likely
see a certain bankruptcy in trying to find meaning in such an arbitrary
and potentially transient way. It is only through participation in some-

thing eternal— the relationship with the divine— that one can find a more solid sense of meaning and avoid this almost nihilistic bankruptcy.
A Mutual Understanding
With this Kierkegaardian criticism of the sort of dying to the world found
in Heidegger, the best shot from each camp has been fired. While Kierke-
gaard is too ontically narrow for Heidegger, Heidegger is too abstract
and arbitrary for Kierkegaard. But is there perhaps another way to under -
stand what seems to be a fundamental disagreement? I believe that the
key to such an understanding lies in the peculiar way that Kierkegaard
explains the development of the necessary relationship with the divine. In a short preface to the otherwise pseudonymous Practice in Christi-
anity, Kierkegaard, in his role as editor, states, “The requirement should
be heard . . . so that I might learn not only to resort to grace but to resort
to it in relation to the use of grace” (PC 7/ SKS 12: 15).
11 As I have already
argued (particularly in my discussion of For Self- Examination), he believes
that this requirement, which ought to be associated, at least in part, waith
the stripping away of one’s worldly meaning in dying to the world, is so
difficult that no human can meet it on his or her own. It is therefore
necessary for something beyond human to step in and offer assistance
if one is to die to the ways of the world and fill up one’s cleansed and
empty existence with divine meaning. As Caputo (1993, 21a7) puts it, one
must quit “the illusion that a man can make himself whole by his own
powers, then a healing power from without can intervene.” Humans do
not come to God, having earned his mercy; God comes to humans out
of compassion for such impotent beings, and offers them the eternal
religious meaning— which Kierkegaard sees in participating in Christ’s
death— purely by grace. Not only is the sacrifice of God’s son an act of
divine mercy, but even our own ability on some level to imitate Christ’s
dying to the world is the result of the divine gift of faith— a receptivity
that would not be possible without the “Spirit working within us.” The problem with reliance on divine assistance for the sake of at-
tributing meaning to one’s existence is that one is left with little hope of
meaning if a faithful life turns out to be elusive or unappetizing. This
view of faith seems to be especially compelling in modernity when the
various articles of Christian dogma begin to look more and more fool-
ish under the light of scientific and technological advances. As we have
seen, Kierkegaard understands the trends of modernity (even using its

Epicurean manifestations as a test and corrective for Christian dying toa
the world) and argues that increasing doubt with respect to the objective
“facts” of Christianity should have little impact on a genuinely striving
Christian who cultivates a subjective relationship with Christ. Heideggear,
on the other hand, chooses a different approach to the search for mean-
ing in the modern situation.
12 Rather than refocusing one’s religious en-
deavors in dying to the world, he suggests a version of “dying to” that
sets aside the problematic religious issue. Heidegger describes the pro-
cess of redeeming oneself by stripping away all of the so- called meaning
that comes from simply having fallen into the world, and rebuilding a
new sense of significance by critically taking over what is available in
one’s thrown state. Thus, as Vincent McCarthy (2011, 113) points out,
Heidegger comes to play the role of a sort of “Pelagius to Kierkegaard’s
Augustine.” In a world in which Christian absolutes no longer seem tenable,
however, the meaning that Heidegger gives to himself is not meaning “in
the positive Kierkegaardian sense that  .  .  . gives Dasein a self- definition
in terms of something specific” (Dreyfus 1991, 313). It may be that with-
out these kinds of absolutes, there is just going to be the sort of inde-
terminacy, albeit within a determined range of possibilities, which Hei-
degger’s account suggests. Although disappointing to thinkers such as
Berthold- Bond and Huntington, there may be no definitive signposts
hammered in, but only a series of well- worn paths that one can somewhat
arbitrarily choose between. While this choice is necessarily conditioned
by the world and its norms, it is the choice itself that gives certain norms
priority over others and allows them to provide a kind of specific mean-
ing to existence that remains open to revision (Guignon 2011ab, 97– 99).
And this might just be the best that a modern irreligious world can do
once the power of grace to render some particular choice enduringly
significant is off the table. This understanding of the existential philosophy of death in which
the goal is to gain a certain mastery over the meaning of one’s existence
(as opposed to being mastered by the meaning of the world one hap-
pens to be thrown into), either through option A (with God’s help—
redeemed sinfulness) or option B (without such help— anticipatory
resoluteness), suggests the possibility of “agreeing to disagree.” Both
Kierkegaard and Heidegger seem aware of the difficulties that individuals
are up against in their search for significance in the nineteenth and atwen-
tieth centuries. Interestingly, the disagreement between their respective
responses to these difficulties as I have laid them out finds a closea parallel
in Miles’s work on Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.
13 Over the last few pages
of his paper, Miles (2011, 283– 86) describes a Kierkegaard that seems to

hold out hope for a more substantial and incontrovertible meaning than
Nietzsche seems to think is possible. Nietzsche argues against a descenta
into nihilism, but like Heidegger, refuses to resort to religious faith in di-
vine assistance in order to avoid such a descent. While Kierkegaard would
not be happy with the result of Nietzsche’s efforts, Miles (2011, 286– 87)
seems to conclude that they must each concede that the other’s point
of view cannot be easily ruled out. Although Christian faith may be an
extreme and, in a certain sense, unjustifiable option, its renunciatioan of
such justification means that it need not defend itself from Nietzsche’s
criticisms. And even though Nietzschean self- mastery (like its Heideg-
gerian counterpart) has its limitations, one can certainly appreciate iats
value if it is the alternative to a risky and desperate leap of faith. I would
suggest that a similar concession must ultimately be made in the case ofa
dying to the world according to Kierkegaard and Heidegger.In fact, certain developments in the views of both Kierkegaard
and Heidegger suggest that they might come around to making such a
concession. It is no secret that Kierkegaard realizes how miserable, un-
certain, and dangerous a true Christian existence can be. After all, he
spends much of his later authorship trying to make these perils clear.
Although he has the hopeful recourse of grace and divine mercy, Kierke-
gaard does not want to repeat what he sees as Luther’s mistake, and thus,
he cautions his readers against making too much of this consolation—
there is work to be done and it will not be pleasant so long as one exists in
the world. It is because grace does not excuse an individual from striving
in existence that Kierkegaard even expresses concerns about the pref-
ace to Practice that I quoted from above. Without a willingness to die to
worldly ways, which includes admitting one’s failure to do so, “one does
not have the right to draw on grace” ( NA 70 / SKS 14: 213).
Heidegger, on the other hand, seems to lose his Pelagian spirit
throughout his later work. In Caputo’s (1993, 222) words: “Heidegger
later on conceded . . . that the transition from inauthenticity to authen-
ticity is not something effected by man but rather something effected
in man by a saving grace.” Although there is no reason to think that
Heidegger has a specifically Christian sense of grace in mind, he does
make several telling comments, which support Caputo’s general assess -
ment. For example, in an interview released after his death, Heidegger
famously asserts:
Philosophy will not be able to bring about a direct change of the pres-
ent state of the world. This is true not only of philosophy but of all
merely human meditations and endeavors. Only a god can still save us.
I think the only possibility of salvation left to us is to prepare readiness,

through thinking and poetry, for the appearance of the god or for the
absence of the god during the decline; so that we do not, simply put,
die meaningless deaths, but that when we decline, we decline in the
face of the absent god. (“SI” 56– 57)
This is of course an issue that deserves more attention than it can receive
here, but the point of mentioning it briefly is to suggest that while Kierke-
gaard seems to understand the drawbacks of relying on grace to give life
meaning, especially when considered from a non- Christian perspective,
Heidegger might eventually come to appreciate the drawbacks of trying
to find meaning through one’s own endeavors. Thus, these two pioneers
of the existential philosophy of death could ultimately end up with a
greater sense of mutual understanding and respect for each other’s ap-
proach than initially seems possible.
Since it is not out of the question that one could sympathize with both
approaches to the existential philosophy of death, there will be no ulti-
mate decision in favor of either Kierkegaard or Heidegger. The potential
tension in Heidegger’s “atheistic” appropriation of and abstraction from
Kierkegaard’s more Christ- oriented ideas about death, which I wondered
about in the introduction, need not lead to the conclusion that Hei-
degger takes the existential philosophy of death too far. Nor, conversely,
must one conclude that Kierkegaard does not take it far enough, as the
Heidegger of Being and Tim e would likely suggest. Nonetheless, the es-
sential difference between their accounts of dying to the world cannot
be ignored, and (bracketing any possible change of heart on the later
Heidegger’s part) their views on death and salvation, therefore, remain
in certain respects opposed to each other. As a result of this most fruitful
opposition though, there are a couple of interesting observations worth
making in closing. The first such observation concerns proximity to the Platonic and
Epicurean strains in the philosophy of death. As I have argued through-
out, both Kierkegaard and Heidegger have firm roots in the Platonic /
Christian notion of dying to the world; and they both have a healthy
respect for the concerns of the Epicurean strain even as they attempt to
overcome, or at least sidestep, some of its most central insights. However,
while Kierkegaard sees the Epicurean strain as more of a corrective for

a Christianity that has lost sight of the nuances of proper dying to the
world, Heidegger’s approach to death might constitute more of a true
compromise between the two strains. Because Kierkegaard’s portrayal of
death is based on a commitment to at least one piece of Christian meta-
physical dogma (the god- man who died but lives), he cannot really enter-
tain, as a possibility for himself, the Epicurean disdain for these sortas of
religious beliefs even if he understands, respects, and makes use of such
disdain. Since Heidegger, on the other hand, willfully jettisons a wide
array of metaphysical beliefs, including Christian ones, his relationship
to both the Platonic and the Epicurean strains remains somewhat more
neutral. Even though his anticipatory resoluteness is largely Christian
in its basic structure, he adopts aspects of each strain with no particular
investment in seeing either propped up. The other observation I want to make concerns the destructive
and destabilizing nature of an unchained dying to the world, and the
closely related potential dangers of taking one’s own death at all seri-
ously. This is of course an issue (with certain parallels in the situation of
post- Cartesian epistemology) that Berthold- Bond and Huntington seem
to suggest in criticizing Heidegger: is it not the case that dying to thae
world continuously undermines any attempt to derive significance from
one’s existence in the world? Although I have already explained why Hei-
degger need not concede the futility of such attempts despite encourag-
ing a sort of dying to the world, it is still fair to say that this dying does
rule out deriving an absolute and incontrovertible meaning from exist-
ing in the world. Kierkegaard is only able to preserve a sense of absolute
meaning (in the face of extreme opposition, mind you) by chaining his
account of dying to the world to a previously posited absolute that he can
never be certain of. That is, he directs his entire death project towarda the
goal of an improved relationship with the divine. While I have said much
of this in slightly different terms before, the general point that I am atry-
ing to emphasize here with respect to the existential philosophy of death
is that whether or not one approaches one’s own death or dying to in the
service of such an assumed (and thus questionable) absolute, the result
is likely to be a somewhat destabilized, or at least insecure, existencea. I conclude on this somewhat bleak note, not to suggest that one is
better off with the false sense of security that comes from never becom-
ing intimate with thoughts of death (let alone engaging in a full- blown
dying to the world), but to highlight the risks that are inherent in striv-
ing for a more honest and complete grasp of one’s existence. These risks
must surely be weighed against the potential benefits of such an aware-
ness of what it is to be— benefits that include a new and possibly more

composed perspective on the everyday problems that occupy life in the
world. The interesting thing, however, is that regardless of the outcome
of this analysis, the precariousness of existence remains the same. Not
even the most thorough attempt to ignore it can keep this essential as-
pect of what one is from lurking in the shadows of one’s daily life.

1. For a few examples of these attempts at something like topically or
chronologically comprehensive accounts of the philosophy of death, see Cho-
ron (1963), Barry (2007), and Scarre (2007). While the others are mostly quite
helpful, Barry’s textbook includes a suspect description of Heidegger’s views
on death. 2. One such philosopher, Jeffrie G. Murphy (1993, 44), seems to agree witah
my general dichotomy, albeit without the association of Plato and Christianity,
when he states that “such an idea [that fearing death is irrational] ais found in the
Stoics and the Epicureans among others and is, in many respects, interestingly
different from the way of thinking about death that Christianity introduced into
our civilization.” 3. Kierkegaard was for most of his life a practicing Lutheran, and consid-
ered retiring to the life of a country pastor (e.g., J P 5: 310; 6: 124 /SKS 18: 278;
21: 289). Heidegger spent part of his early education in training for the Catholic
priesthood. For excellent discussion of Heidegger’s religious background and
theological interests, see Caputo (2006) and Crowe (20a06). 4. I do not use the term “existential” here in Heidegger’s more technical
sense, as he seems to believe that such usage might exclude the work of Kierke-
gaard. As will become clear, I simply mean to suggest that these two thinkers allow
death to penetrate and interact with one’s existence in a way that the Platonic
and Epicurean strains do not. 5. For some helpful descriptions of how death was treated by philosophers
prior to Plato, see Choron (1963, 31– 41) and Kramer and Wu (1988, 5– 8, 53– 60).
Several of these early philosophical views on death will be addressed briefly in
connection with more recent ideas in the next two chapters. 6. All references to Socrates will correspond to the character in Plaato’s
works unless specifically stated otherwise. I will not assume, since I have little rea-
son to do so, that the views of the historical Socrates are accurately represented
(or clearly distinguished from Plato’s, which are not so easy to pin down either)
in any of Plato’s dialogues. For support in these ideas, see Tarrant (2000) and
Waugh (2000).

Chapter 1
1. Given the tone with which Socrates addresses the assembly in the Apology,
it seems fair to say that Socrates has no intention of trying to get himself off the
hook. In this sense, Socrates’s defense is arguably a tremendous success. 2. The Phaedo is actually Plato’s writing about the character Phaedo’s re-
counting of Socrates’s final words and deeds; both those characters present in
the prison and those present during Phaedo’s retelling are Pythagoreans (Coo-
per 2002, 93– 94). 3. Nonetheless, suicide is not a viable way to attain postmortem goodas more
quickly according to the Phaedo, since Socrates argues that as possessions of the
gods, humans have no right to destroy themselves unless they do so with athe per -
mission of their owners (61e– 62d). 4. I find his binary opposition of life to death especially interesting (e.g.,
Phaedo 71c– 72a). Clearly life must come from a lack of life, but he calls this lack
“death.” Why not call it “nonexistence,” or in this case, “non- life existence”?
Given Socrates’s discussion, it seems somewhat more accurate to define death
as that perhaps unidentifiable moment of transition between living and another
period of nonexistence or non- life existence. 5. For an example of Paul’s knowledge of Greek thought, see 1 Corinthians
15:33 where he uses the words of a Greek poet to help get his Christian message
across (Acts 17:28 offers another, perhaps less reliable, example). Maybe Paul also
found it easier to explain Christian doctrines about death given the alraeady estab -
lished, related ideas of Platonic philosophers. One possible connection, which
is admittedly very speculative, is that Christ’s martyrdom might strike a certain
chord in those familiar with the story of Socrates. 6. I certainly do not mean to leave out the obvious “Old Testament,” or He-
brew, foundations of Paul’s teachings, particularly as they shape his views on death.
For a brief, but helpful, description of the views of the Tanakh on death, see Cho-
ron (1963, 81– 83). For an excellent discussion of the Christian merging of Hebrew
and Greek thought on the issue of death see Podmore (2011, esp. 44– 47, 52– 53). 7. On the issue of the relationship between Platonism (specifically “Middle
Platonism”) and Christianity after the New Testament, second- and third- century
thinkers such as Justin Martyr, Clement (and Origen) of Alexandria, and Tertul-
lian are key precursors to Augustine. In setting the stage for Kierkegaard’s use of
Socrates, Karen L. Carr (2001, esp. 177– 78) provides a helpful historical orienta-
tion concerning the varying proximity of Platonism (and rationality more gener -
ally) relative to Christianity. 8. He also includes a highly influential discussion (Book 11a) on the nature
of time. 9. It is not that he believes the world is essentially evil in itself; all existence
comes from the pure goodness of the creator, after all (see Augustine, Enchiridion
11– 14). Nonetheless, once sin enters the world, it is possible to have an inappro-
priate relationship with worldly goods, and this is evil on Augustine’s view. 10. In his City of God Against the Pagans, Augustine (De civitate Dei 13.1– 9, 16)
has a great deal to say both about death as a harm in general, and about death

as punishment. Despite some agreement with Platonic doctrines, on the isasue
of death as a punishment he actually argues against Plato that death is inadeed a
punishment arising from original sin, a concept foreign to Platonism. Hea even
speaks in greater detail about the two different senses of death, one of the soul
(separation of the soul from God) and one of the body (separation of the soul
from the body).11. Augustine (De civitate Dei 13.17– 18) also argues against the Platonists, in
another interesting innovation of Christianity, that a resurrection and redemp-
tion of the body is possible. Of course, I do not mean to suggest that Augustine is
the originator of this key Christian doctrine (see McGuckin 2004, 292a– 95). While
this is surely a crucial difference between Christians and Platonists, the details
of its development need not be described here. For my purposes, it is enouagh
to recognize that Christians and Platonists alike (as opposed to thinkers in the
Epicurean strain) argue for some form or another of postmortem continuation
of particular subjective experience. 12. In discussing the claims of Clement and Justin Martyr, Carr (2001, 176–
79) points out that the Scholastics are by no means the first tahinkers in Christian
history to hold views that differ from the Augustinian position in this way. Unlike
the case of these early Christian thinkers, however, Scholastic ideas about the
proper use of reason come to dominate church doctrine in a way that seems to
overshadow Augustinian Christianity for some time. 13. “But the devil’s bride, reason, the lovely whore comes in and wants to
be wise, and what she says, she thinks, is the Holy Spirit. Who can be oaf any help
then? Neither jurist, physician, nor king, nor emperor; for she is the faoremost
whore the devil has [ Vernunft  .  .  . ist die höchste Hur, die der Teufel ha t]” (Luther
1959, 374). In making this specific claim, Luther (1959, 3a78– 79) actually seems to
have in mind “fanatical antisacrimentalist[s]”; and in less fiery moments he sug-
gests that reason is not to be thrown out entirely, but tempered by faith. Thus, I
only mean to claim that Luther is critical of the stand- alone use of reason (given
that it can be bent to serve the needs of all comers) as seen in particular examples
from the work of thinkers like Anselm and Aquinas (such as their arguments for
God’s existence), and not that he is necessarily some kind of radical irrationalist.
See also the following claims: “He who wishes to philosophize by usinag Aristotle
without danger to his soul must first become thoroughly foolish in Chraist. . . . No
person philosophizes well unless he is a fool, that is, a Christian” (Luther 1957b,
41). Luther does not rule philosophy, or Aristotle, out altogether, but recom-
mends a certain Christian caution. 14. Among other texts in which he deals briefly with the variousa senses of
death, some of the most interesting are his Lectures on Genesis, which Heidegger
seems to think highly of, and his “Heidelberg Disputation” (e.g., Luther 1957b,
69). The most helpful discussion of death in the former text comes in his com-
mentary on Gen. 3:15 (Luther 1958, 196– 97). However, it seems best to approach
these lectures carefully since they may have been tampered with by theira early
editors (Pelikan 1958, ix– xii). 15. It was only a few months later in 1519 when Luthera openly rejected most
“nonscriptural sacraments.”

16. For similar statements of suffering as evidence of true Christianity, and
biblical support for such statements, see also Luther (1968ab, 184– 85). 17. For an excellent account of the difference between Pascal and his
sixteenth- and seventeenth- century French precursors/contemporaries concern-
ing skepticism, see Maia Neto (1992). Interestingly, just as the Scholastics were
moved to extreme rationalism by the rediscovery of ancient Greek texts— those
of Aristotle— these French thinkers were moved to question the capabilities of
rationality by the rediscovery of (or at least renewed interest in) ancient Greek
texts— those of skeptics such as Sextus Empiricus. The relationship between Pascal and these other figures on the topic oaf
death and dying is also a fascinating one. Despite his reaffirmation ofa the Pla -
tonic notion that philosophy is practice for death, Montaigne will be ofa most
interest during the consideration of the Epicurean strain of the philosophy of
death. Compare, however, Pascal’s ideas about death and the insufficiency of
human reason with the claims of Montaigne’s houseguest, Charron (see Popkin
1979, 56– 59). He states, “That well to prepare our souls for God and thae receiv-
ing of his holy spirit, we must empty, cleanse, purify them, and leave them naked
of all opinion, belief, affection; make them like a white paper, dead to itself and
to the world, that God might live and work in it, drive away the old master, to
establish the new” (Charron 1971, 242). Notice also the similarity between this
formulation and Descartes’s project in the Meditations.
18. Pascal (2005, 96– 102, 239– 61) also spends a great deal of time discuss-
ing the importance of fulfilled prophecy as evidence in favor of the truth of
Chapter 2
1. It is perhaps somewhat unclear which camp Aristotle ultimately falls into
on the issue of posthumous existence, but it is certainly the case that he does not
explicitly rely on any notion of such existence in considering the possibility of
posthumous harm. 2. Epicurus is in some ways a follower of Socrates’s contemporary and so-
called pre- Socratic atomist, Democritus, but with the notable difference that
Epicurus is not a hard determinist. Rather, he introduces the notion of chance
(and choice) into atomic theory via his idea of the capacity of atoms to “swerve”
spontaneously from their ordinary falling trajectory (see Strodach 1963, 245;
compare Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus 134).
3. This argument is traditionally called the “symmetry argument.” Without
explicit reference to Lucretius, Augustine seems to offer a response. aHe suggests
several analogies to explain why we ought to be more concerned about thea future
of our souls than about their origins: for example, “There is no harm daone to
someone sailing to Rome if he has forgotten the port from which he set out, as
long as he remembers where he is headed” (Augustine, De libero arbitrio 3.21).
4. One interesting treatment from a contemporary analytic philosopher
deals entirely with the criticism of Epicurean views on death (and responses to

this criticism) throughout history, from the ancients to the present day (Warren
2004). Some more recent criticisms will be discussed later ain this chapter.5. No complete early Stoic documents (e.g., those of Zeno and Chrysippus—
both flourishing mostly in the third century b.c.e.) are extant (Rees 1961, xiv;
Gould 1970, 1). On the issue of possible Epicurean influence on Stoics, see Gould
(1970, 30) and Strem (1981, 121, 163a). Jeffrie G. Murphy (1993, 44) simply groups
the Epicureans and the Stoics together under the “pagan conception” of death,
but given the connections I describe between a couple of prominent pagans—
Socrates and Plato— and the Christian view of death, I think Murphy could have
been more careful in his characterization. 6. Although a Greek school of thought, like the Epicureans and Cynics (an
even earlier group that influences Stoicism), the Stoics attained perhaps their
highest level of notoriety during the first two centuries of the common era under
Roman emperors such as Nero (the great persecutor of early Christians), whose
tutor was the famed Stoic Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius (121– 180), who was him-
self an important Stoic author (Rees 1961; Strem 1981a, 35– 110). 7. In comparing Luther and Pascal, however, it is clear that not every Chris-
tian writer emphasizes personal physical death in the same way. 8. Another thinker with quasi- Stoic sympathies who follows certain claims
of Plato’s Socrates on death issues is Marcus Tullius Cicero, the first- century b.c.e.
Roman thinker and political figure. In providing an excellent overview of ancient
Greek views on death and the postmortem situation of the soul, he seems to lean
toward a continued existence (and thus away from Epicurus), while mainataining
an open and optimistic outlook on both postmortem possibilities (Ciceroa, Tuscu-
lan Disputations, Book 1). 9. With thinkers that span over half of a millennium, the Stoics are clearly
a diverse group, whose various members do not see eye to eye on every issue. For
example, there seem to be different views on the nature and duration of post -
mortem existence; some Stoics even hold that individual souls subsist (aalthough
it remains unclear what this means in terms of something like subjective aware-
ness) beyond death for a time before rejoining the primordial substancea in the
next “conflagration” (Gould 1970, 32– 33, 127– 28). Maybe those Stoics that hold
such a position have, like Cicero, more in common with Plato than Epicuraus. At
the risk of overlooking some very interesting nuances, I find it helpful, for the
sake of keeping my account manageable, to synthesize a general interpretation of
Stoicism based on credible secondary sources, especially Gould and Strem, and
reference to my paradigmatic Stoic figure, Epictetus. 10. Despite the apparent similarity, “Pascal violently rejected the megalo-
maniac pride of the Stoic philosopher” (Salomon 1955, 7). 11. Montaigne (1958b, 65) does speak brieflya of death as an integral aspect
of one’s very being in the sense that everyone exists as “dying.” 12. Compare Epictetus’s ( Enchiridion 8) claim: “Demand not that events
should happen as you wish; but wish them to happen as they do happen, anad
you will go on well.” 13. I should point out that Spinoza does not follow the Stoics in aall things.
He explicitly opposes the Stoic notion of willfully eliminating or overcoming the

emotions (Spinoza 1955, 194– 95, 244). Also, on the issues of pleasure and God’s
involvement in human affairs, Spinoza (1955, 217a– 20, 256) actually seems to side
with the Epicureans against the Stoics.14. As explained above, for Spinoza (1955, 54– 59), God is the one and
only substance that makes up the natural order, or universe (compare Leibniz
1989a, 242). 15. Similarly, Leibniz (1965, 160; compare 1989b, 1a40) also explains that
“complete generation” never really happens either. 16. In one of his earliest works, Nietzsche (1997, 133) states, “I am one of
those readers of Schopenhauer who when they have read one page of him know
for certain they will go on to read all the pages and will pay heed to eavery word he
ever said. I trusted him at once and my trust is the same now as it was anine years
ago. . . . I understand him as though it were for me he had wriatten.” 17. As opposed to Hegel and Schopenhauer who simply offer radicaal re-
interpretations of Christianity. 18. In Marx’s criticism of the master/slave dialectic, one can see an antici-
pation of Nietzsche’s criticism of Christianity. Marx (e.g., 1977, 84– 87) is opposed
to the exchange of the material goods we actually do have for the promise of
some future ideal goods that we will likely never receive. This oppositiaon under -
lies his famous claim about religion being the opiate of the people (Marx 1977,
63– 64). 19. For some key discussion in this debate see Kojève (19a73) and Inwood
(1986). 20. On Thomas Hobbes (1588– 1679) as another important precursor to
Hegel’s views on death, see Piotr Hoffman (1983, viii, 3, 65). For more on death-
related issues in Hobbes’s thought, see Pocock (1972, 148– 201) and Mark Murphy
(2000). 21. Consider, for example, Hegel’s (1977, 114) claim that “death is the
natural negation of consciousness.”
22. For discussion of these positions see, for example, Kojève (1973, 12a0–
24), Burbidge (1981), Solomon (1983, 580– 89), Inwood (1986, 116– 19), and An-
derson (1996, 35– 36). 23. While I find Solomon’s account of these topics helpful, his interpreta-
tion of Hegel’s often- obscure text is not beyond reproach. J. N. Findlay (1977,
527, 576– 77), for one, offers an alternative interpretation of the unhappy con -
sciousness and beautiful soul. 24. I believe that it is his bizarre combination of both Platonic / Christian
and Epicurean aspects of dealing with death that makes Hegel’s account the clos-
est ancestor of the existential philosophy of death. 25. Although Hoffman appreciates aspects of Hegel’s account, he is critical
of passages like this. Among other things, he argues that it is unnecessary for in-
dividuals to prove themselves in this way; there is no reason to think tahat life must
be actively risked in order to face up to the threat of death posed by the other
(Hoffman 1983, viii– ix, 92– 103). 26. Schopenhauer (1958, 489) points out thaat Christianity is inconsistent,
but gets things half right when it posits “the restoration of all things.” The in-

consistency is that it posits a beginning, or birth, to go with its notiaon of no end,
without satisfactorily explaining how something can come from nothing. Iat may
appear that the Christian combination of Indian (via Egypt) and Jewish thought
improves upon the Jewish doctrine of birth (creation) and death (annihilation),
but Schopenhauer (1958, 488) argues that at leasta the Jews were consistent.27. Schopenhauer (1958, 616) claims that thae nineteenth- century misun-
derstanding of Christianity by its opponents “is evidence of a mental obscurity to
be explained only from the fact that the minds of those men, unfortunately like
thousands of others at the present time in Germany, are completely ruined and
for ever confused by that miserable Hegelism, that school of dullness, that centre
of stupidity and ignorance, that mind- destroying, spurious wisdom that people
are at last beginning to recognize as such. Admiration of this school will soon be
left to the Danish Academy alone; in their eyes, indeed, that coarse anda clumsy
charlatan is a summus philosophus.” Here Schopenhauer criticizes the Hegelian
influence in Denmark that so disturbed Kierkegaard in the 1840s. 28. Schopenhauer (1958, 479, 487, 495) approves of similar ideas in Spi -
noza, and elsewhere speaks briefly of enduring atoms. 29. Although Schopenhauer claims to be in line with Plato on severaal
points, as we see here and in his appreciation above for the Socrates ofa the Apol-
ogy , he seems less interested in the views on death and the afterlife offered in
the Phaedo.
30. Schopenhauer points out that this is also the Epicurean view aand the
view of the Bhagavad- Gita and the Upanishads — the veil of illusion (thinking
particulars are significant) must be pulled back. He also cites Immanauel Kant
(1724– 1804) on this issue of realizing that our particular subjective perceptions
(phenomena) do not give us knowledge of the true universal reality (noumena). 31. Besides interesting material for a comparison with Darwin, these pages
contain references to Parmenides and Plato on the unchanging nature of reality
despite the illusion of change. 32. He also acknowledges that the notion of prolonged individuality in an-
other world is often suggested in order to connect our behavior here with reward a
or punishment elsewhere, but following Kant (see 2012, 4: 397– 402), Schopen-
hauer believes that behavior done out of inclination is of questionable moral
worth. Thus, he holds that there is a fundamental ethical flaw in posiating an after -
life for the purposes of reward or punishment (compare Kant 2009, 6: 159a– 62).
For more on the issue of ethics and the afterlife in Kant (including his postulate
of the soul’s immortality given potentially unending moral progress [Kant 199a7,
5:128]) and Schopenhauer, see Pihlström (2002) and Surprenant (2008a). 33. Schopenhauer sees Kant dissolving Lucretian asymmetry concerns.
Since time is part of our temporary, subjective, self- conscious, phenomenal ex-
perience, the ultimate objective, unchanging, noumenal reality is atempoaral or
eternal. Schopenhauer claims (citing Plotinus) that our subjective senase of fini-
tude is but an apparent reflection of a real eternity. For the noumena, there is no
before or after to be concerned about (Schopenhauer 1958, 4a79, 484, 489– 90). 34. It is not the case that my ego perishes while the world goes on without
me. The world is, like my ego, a mere phenomenal manifestation of reality that

is particular to me. When I go, so does the world I represent, but reality— will—
continues on (Schopenhauer 1958, 500– 501).35. When offering his interpretation of Christian self- denial, Schopen-
hauer (1958, 603– 4, 607– 8, 612, 615, 617) refers to nearly every thinker that I in-
cluded in my earlier discussion: Plato, Jesus, Paul, Clement, Plotinus, Augustine,
Luther, and Pascal. He even seems to criticize the rationalistic apologetics that I
suggest is at least mildly opposed to proper Christian self- denial (605, 611). 36. Nietzsche does consider the possibility, which Plato seems to suggest,
that Socrates is best interpreted as a quasi- divine savior who was sent as a correc-
tive for a crumbling Athenian society with confused priorities. Nietzschae’s (1990,
42– 44) ultimate conclusion about this possibility is that the highlya destructive
Socratic “cure” is no better than the Athenian “disease.” Suicide will take care of
my head cold, but I would not say it returns me to health. 37. Although Nietzsche generally avoids extended discussion of death,
choosing rather to focus on life, there is a fair amount of attention paid to death
in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, particularly in sections such as “On the Preachers of
Death” and “On Free Death” (on his treatment of death in even earlier writings,
such as The Gay Science, see Parkes [1998, 86– 97]). Here he comes to many of the
same critical conclusions that one finds in his later work about those who preach
death— “or ‘the eternal life.’ It’s all the same to me” (Nietzsche 2006, 32)— out
of fear or bitterness at life in the world. Rather, he approvingly states, “The con-
summated one dies his death, victorious, surrounded by those who hope and
promise. Thus one should learn to die; and there should be no festival wahere
such a dying person does not swear oaths to the living! To die thus is best,  .  .  .
free for death and free in death.  .  .  . Do not allow your death to be a slander
against mankind and earth” (Nietzsche 2006, 53– 55). Nietzsche (2006, 55) even
suggests that Jesus might have “learned to live and to love the eartha” if he had
just lived longer. 38. Several recent books provide a more thorough overview of topics of
interest within the rapidly growing field of analytic philosophy of death (here are
a few examples, just from 2009: Belshaw 2009; Braadley 2009; Fischer 2009; Luper
2009). One important debate that can only be mentioned brieafly here concerns
the desirability of immortality. Bernard Williams’s (1993) naysaying “The Makro-
poulos Case: Reflections on the Tedium of Immortality” has spawned a cottage
industry of defenders and critics of immortality. 39. Although an atheist, whose views were influenced by both Humae and
the Vienna Circle logical positivists, Ayer (see 1994) had a near- death experience
toward the end of his life that raised some doubts for him about his formerly
firm belief that there is no postmortem continuation of subjective experience. 40. Just before this he echoes Schopenhauer, stating, “So to at death the
world does not alter, but comes to an end” (Wittgenstein 1961, 6.43a1). 41. In response to “Annihilation” by Steven Luper (1993), Stephen Rosen-
baum (1993a, 293) points out, “However inane and absurd he may feel Epicurus’s
reasoning was, he, like numerous others, takes the argument seriously enough
to devote considerable intellectual effort to its defeat.” Most recently, The Oxford

Handbook of Philosophy of Death has devoted almost a third of its chapters to Epi-
curean problems (Bradley, Feldman, and Johansson 2013). 42. While dying is technically the living process that leads to thae moment of
death, which separates the dying from the dead, the term “death” is often used
ambiguously to discuss all three of these issues (Rosenbaum 1993b, 120– 21). This
is an ambiguity that Heidegger seems to revel in. 43. Rosenbaum (1993b, 132– 33) does discuss this issue briefly, but he seems
to dismiss it as irrelevant to the main thrust of Epicurus’s argument. With no
confusion in my use of terms, I take it that Epicurus’s claims about why our living
status as dying should not disturb us are at least as important as his claims about
why being dead is nothing to us.
Chapter 3
1. I mention Socrates here rather than Plato because Kierkegaard seems to
draw a more significant distinction between them than I am usually comafortable
doing. For example, while he is often intrigued by how Socrates lived hias life,
he is less impressed by Platonic metaphysics (e.g., J P 3: 527; 4: 212– 13 /SKS 23:
187; 22: 377). As I suggested in a previous note, I am not sure if it is appropriate
to associate Plato’s character “Socrates” closely with the historical figure. I am,a
furthermore, a bit wary of distinguishing between when this character speaks
the words of the historical figure and when this character speaks on behalf of
Platonic metaphysics. Kierkegaard clearly does not share my concerns (also see
CI 66 /SKS 1: 125– 26).
2. Interestingly, in a journal entry from 1838, before writing any books (and
five years before the publication of Either/Or), Kierkegaard considers what sort
of work he would like to produce and says the following: “I was just searching for
an expression to designate the kind of people I would like to write for, convinced
that they would share my views, and now I find it in Lucian: [paranekroi ] (one
who like me is dead), and I would like to issue a publication for [paranekroi ]” (J P
5: 115 /SKS 18: 107).
3. Although Judge for Yourself! is intended to be the “Second Series” of For
Self- Examination and was written shortly after, it was not published until well after
Kierkegaard’s death. He provides an explanation for his reluctance to publish in
an appended note from 1855 (see the Hongs’ “Historicaal Introduction” [ FSE/JFY
xi– xiii] and JFY 215 /SKS 16: 259).
4. Because Julia Watkin is perhaps the only author who has previously at-
tempted to provide a comprehensive account of Kierkegaard’s various texts that
deal with death (although Eva Birkenstock [1997] discusses connections between
a few of them), it seems worth offering a brief assessment of her views. Watkin
(1990, 65; compare 1979, i– ii) claims that a major theme in Kierkegaard’s author -
ship is the critique of what she calls the “immanentalist” view of existence. In all
of its forms, this view focuses on existence in the here and now of the natural
order of things, and does not put much stock in some sort of transcendent af-

terlife (Watkin 1990, 66– 70). Thus, Watkin seems to make something like the
distinction I suggest between the Platonic and the Epicurean strains in athe philos-
ophy of death, where the former overlaps with what she calls the “transcendental-
ist” view and the latter with the immanentalist.Despite the apparent overlap in our categories, her questionable charac-
terization of several key figures, most notably Plato and Kierkegaard, raises some
concerns. Watkin is right to emphasize the importance of beliefs about the af-
terlife, but perhaps there is value in paying more attention to the way death is
allowed to penetrate this life. Of course, these two issues may often be closely re-
lated, but I wonder if it is a mistake to set aside other possible reasons (i.e., other
than belief in a transcendent afterlife) for allowing death to play an active role
in life. Even if Watkin (1990, 68– 70) is right about Plato having an immanentalist
understanding of the afterlife, her rigid distinction seems to miss the fact that his
views on death overall have a great deal more in common with the “dying to the
world” of the early Christians than with the more obviously immanentalist views
of the Epicureans. Her dichotomy becomes even more problematic once she cat-
egorizes Kierkegaard and, briefly, Heidegger (Watkin 1990, 65). Watkin may well
be right that Kierkegaard believes in something like a transcendent afterlife while
Heidegger does not, but this is hardly the most important factor in detearmining
their places in the philosophy of death. In subsequent chapters it will become
clear that these two thinkers are not so easily distinguished (compare aDreyfus
1991, 312). Because Kierkegaard does not allow his transcendentalist beliefs a
place of prominence in his argumentation, and Heidegger methodologically sets
such issues aside, concerns about the afterlife almost fade into irrelevance as
one realizes that they are offering a radical “living with death” alternative to the
options provided by the traditional philosophy of death. If one wants to make
a list of who believes in heaven and who does not, then Watkin’s account might
be sufficient, but it simply is not nuanced enough to characterize accuarately the
philosophy of death, or Kierkegaard’s place in it. 5. See Watkin’s helpful “Historical Introduction” ( EPW xxiv) and Pattison
(1999, 109). 6. Several other issues that Kierkegaard mentions, but does not yet discuss
in detail here (see “At a Graveside,” where they are taken up in much greater
detail), are death’s equality, the certainty of death, the uncertainty it causes, and
the sense of urgency or anxiety that arises when thinking properly about this un-
certainty ( EUD 184– 86, 272, 280 /SKS 5: 188– 91, 267, 274). He also speaks briefly
of what is involved in Christian dying to the world ( EUD 325 /SKS 5: 315), which
he will not fully describe until several years later. 7. Given the more positive assessment of Socrates on this topic in certain
later works, Kierkegaard’s relationship to both Socrates and the afterlife is obvi-
ously somewhat complicated. Marks’s paper is a helpful guide in navigating the
relevant twists and turns. 8. These quips are scattered about the “Diapsalmata” and “The Unhappi-
est One” sections ( EO 1: 19– 43, 219– 30 /SKS 2: 27– 52, 213– 23).
9. In Abraham’s case (and as progenitor of the Israelites and paradigm for

the way they are supposed to relate to God, his is the prototypical Hebraew case),
worldly blessings are not simply the product of his labor or the fruit of his loins,
but the gifts of an eternal God for whom all things are possible.10. This account of a progression is also helpful for understanding the
relationship between Anxiety and the late pseudonymous work, The Sickness unto
Death. The phenomenon of anxiety is merely a mental or psychological malady
since Haufniensis has not yet made the “qualitative leap” ( CA 91– 92 /SKS 4: 394–
96) to understanding humans as eternal spirit that is necessary for interpreting
this malady as the spiritual sickness (or living death) of despair, or (Christianly
speaking) sin. 11. For a thorough examination of Kierkegaard’s use of this metaphor, see
Mooney (2011). 12. Interestingly, Kierkegaard’s multi- pseudonymous Stages on Life’s Way,
which also contains three major sections and was published the day aftera Three
Discourses on Imagined Occasions, contains a brief discussion of the common use
of the language of death to describe failed erotic love that is similar to what is
said in Repetition (both discussions of this topic are by the pseudonym Constan-
tin Constantius) ( SLW 31, 53– 55 /SKS 6: 36, 55– 57; R 181– 82 /SKS 4: 52– 53). For
consideration of the relationship between the three parts of Stages and the three
discourses, including the connection of Constantius’s discussion in “In Vino Veri-
tas” (the first part of Stages) with “At a Graveside,” see Burgess (2000).
13. Kierkegaard’s use of the term Stemning in “Ved en Grav ” is reserved for
inappropriate ways of thinking about or approaching death. He does not consis-
tently use this term in this pejorative sense in his other works. 14. Theunissen (2006, 322) claims, “The whole issuae turns on remembering
the certainty of the ‘that’ and the uncertainty of the ‘when.’” The certainty and
the uncertainty of death are indispensable aspects of thinking earnestly about
death, but Kierkegaard emphasizes other aspects as well because he believes that
even if one grasps the certainty and the uncertainty of death, it is still possible
for one to fall into an inappropriate mood toward death. Theunissen seemas to
realize the significance of these other aspects without highlighting them as I do. 15. Even though there is no appropriate degree of fear here, I find the
terms “insufficient” and “excessive” helpful for understanding two common ways
that one can fail to fear death properly. I am grateful to Andrew Burgess for help-
ing me to clarify this point. 16. Here one can see how Kierkegaard connects thinking about death
with the kairological sense of time Haufniensis discusses in Anxiety. Focusing on
“how” concerns that have no necessary temporal duration might allow one to
give eternal significance to whatever one is doing temporally. 17. The account of Kierkegaard’s notion of life with the earnest thought
of death that I have presented here is largely based on a more complete vearsion
that I offer elsewhere (Buben 2008). 18. This brief and general statement of the nature of Postscript does not ex-
press two key issues, which need not be thoroughly dealt with here, but aseriously
complicate matters in this text overall. First, it seems that there is nao final step for

humans, but rather a reckless, blind leap made possible only by the gracae of God,
who provides “the condition” for such a leap (this important issue will be dealt
with later in this chapter); and second, at the end of the book Climacus revokes
what he has written so as to leave behind no ladder for others to use to follow
him (CUP 1: 576, 618– 21 /SKS 7: 523, 561– 64). On the first point, see Marie  M.
Thulstrup (1978, 162). 19. In these last two paragraphs I have attempted to synthesize thae accounts
of Marks (2011, 283– 87) and Possen (2011) on the issue of immortality in Post-
script, since I believe that they each focus on different, but key, aspects of what
Climacus is up to. What I do not attempt to deal with here is the disagreement
between them on the significance of Climacus’s use of Socrates as the model for
the subjective relationship with immortality. This is an issue that is best put off
until the next chapter when I can properly address Kierkegaard’s complicated
dealings with Socrates. 20. I do not mean to suggest that there is no important difference between
Kierkegaard’s signed works and those written under the pseudonym Climacus.
For example, I think Kierkegaard’s overall relationship to the thought of Hegel
is quite a bit more complicated than Climacus’s. But their views on the nature of
Christianity are often so similar that it is not necessary to make any real distinc-
tion here. Nonetheless, I continue to credit the claims that are made ina Postscript
to Climacus because Kierkegaard asks that his “poetically actual” pseudonymous
authors be cited for the claims they make ( CUP 1: [625– 27]/SKS 7: 569– 71).
21. The reasons for this new direction need not be delved into herae in any
detail, but there has been a great deal written on both Kierkegaard’s intention
to discontinue his writing after Postscript in order to become a rural pastor, and
also on his change of heart in light of his struggle with The Corsair periodical. For
a brief overview of these issues, see the Hongs’ “Historical Introduction” ( UDVS
ix– xiv). Although I see a fairly smooth transition from the first to the second
authorship on the topic of death and dying to the world, there are some more
jarring differences on other topics. Most notably, the use of the “indirect com-
munication” of pseudonymity changes— pseudonyms are no longer the driving
force in Kierkegaard’s writings, and when they are used (e.g., H. H. and Anti-
Climacus), they tend to inhabit perspectives explicitly entrenched in Cahristian
dogma. 22. See also “Part Two” of Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, entitled
“What We Learn from the Lilies in the Field and from the Birds of the Air” ( UDVS
202– 3 /SKS 8: 298– 99). Kierkegaard will also make similar points in a later dis-
course (1849) on the lilies and birds ( WA 28, 40– 41 /SKS 11: 32, 44– 45).
23. Although this application of proper love for the dead is undeniably
significant in this discourse (and there has been much written on thias topic [e.g.,
Søltoft 1998, esp. 125; Keeley 1999,a esp. 241; Ferreira 2001, esp. 211– 13]), there is
also much that could be said simply about loving the dead themselves. Deaspite
very different approaches, Jeremy Allen (2011) and Patrick aStokes (2011) both
offer compelling explanations as to how one can love the dead even thoaugh there
is seemingly no one there to love.

24. See also The Lily in the Field and the Bird of the Air, where Kierkegaard
briefly discusses the irrelevance of death for those who receive Christ’s promise
of “ this very day ” as seen in Luke 23:43 ( WA 44– 45 /SKS 11: 47– 48).
25. If Kierkegaard does not emphasize the good news of the rebirth on the
other side of such death, it is because he understands himself as speaking to a
world (Christendom) that has grown soft, taking the joyous benefits for granted.
He focuses on the nastiness of the “death first” because he thinks nineteenth-
century Copenhageners need to hear it. There is more on this topic to come,
particularly in connection with Luther. 26. As is often the case when one of Kierkegaard’s works deals with the
afterlife, a discussion of Socrates is not far behind ( CD 218– 19, 241– 42 /SKS 10:
226– 27, 247– 49). Once again Marks provides a thoughtful account of Socrates’s
place in the debate. While I agree with her account of Kierkegaard’s assessment
of Socrates in Christian Discourses, I think she may overstate her case when it
comes to contrasting this text with Postscript on the importance of the objec-
tive fact of immortality (Marks 2011, 290– 93). There is surely some difference
between the two works on this point, but given that they both go out of their way
to emphasize the uneasy subjective issue of how one relates to immortality (see
esp. CD 244 / SKS 10: 250– 51), the difference is perhaps rightly overshadowed by
the similarity. There is little doubt that Kierkegaard believes in something like a
traditional Christian afterlife and ultimately eschews Socratic ignorance on this
topic, as we see in Christian Discourses, but in neither text is the objective issue al-
lowed to play a prominent role. 27. Despair is basically failing to be a proper self, and sin is faailing to be a
proper self while having some sense that God demands such selfhood of a person
( SUD 13, 77– 79 /SKS 11: 129, 191– 93).
28. Both Connell (2011, 26– 30, 33– 41) and Podmore (2011, 46– 51, 56– 59)
offer excellent discussions of the metaphor of despair as a zombie- like living
death. Podmore’s account, which largely agrees with mine, even continues on to
consider how “dying to” is a treatment for this condition. 29. Concerning physical martyrdom, it should be mentioned that Kiearke-
gaard actually believed for a time that he would be martyred for his statements
against the church (Burgess 2007, 191). In his late works he offers two apparently
conflicting views on the appropriateness of martyrdom while writing under two
different pseudonyms. As H. H. he writes, “No individual human beinag or no
individual Christian dares . . . to let others become guilty of putting him to death
for the truth” ( WA 88 /SKS 11: 92). On the other hand, as Anti- Climacus he seems
to claim that martyrdom is representative of the highest sort of Christianity ( PC
226– 27 /SKS 12: 221– 22). For a more detailed account of these issues see Buben
(2007, 25– 28). 30. Under the silentio pseudonym, Kierkegaard discusses the meaning
of Luke 14:26 in detail. Drawing a distinction between Cain and Abraham, si-
lentio points out that God does not demand actual hatred, but a willingnaess
to give up even what you love most in the world ( F T 73– 75 /SKS 4: 165– 67).
Pia Søltoft (2007) finds a similar interpretation of hatred toward the world in

Christian Discourses, especially in the discourse “‘See We Have Left Everything
and Followed You; What Shall We Have?’ (Matthew 19:27)— and What Shall We
Have?” However, in her eagerness to distance Kierkegaard (and Christianity)
from the usual connotations of “hate,” she might make too many concessions to
some of the worldly bonds— for example, the preferential bonds between family
members— that Kierkegaard argues, both in Christian Discourses and elsewhere,
must be loosened or done away with altogether (Søltoft is right, thoaugh, to point
out Kierke gaard’s emphasis on humility, honesty, and grace, given that humans
might not be capable of giving up worldliness on their own). It is not that I think
Kierkegaard advocates something like asceticism or monasticism, but if striving
Christians are going to have relationships with others in the world, Kierkegaard
believes that they must not be relationships defined by worldly standards. Søltoft
claims that just as God loves his creation, love is the proper way for a Christian
to relate to this creation. What she seems to overlook is that in our corrupt and
fallen state, renunciation is often the proper way to relate to the creaation; ha-
tred of the world is in some sense the proper way to love God. Matters in the
world are backwards after the fall, and redemption, life through death, is aneces-
sary. Participation in Christ’s death, which is a snub of all aspects of worldliness,
must come before any truly loving relationship with others is possible. aAlthough
these ideas are present throughout Kierkegaard’s works, they are perhaps most
forcefully  stated in his late journals (1851– 1855: e.g., J P 3: 279, 281– 82, 287– 89,
294– 95, 297, 302 /SKS 24: 330; 25: 60– 62, 313– 14, 329– 30, 370– 72; 26: 342– 44;
27: 656). 31. For another description of the apostles’ dying to the world see Christian
Discourses (CD 184 /SKS 10: 194– 95); and compare both texts with the distinction
that Kierkegaard draws between the apostles and modern clergy with respect to
“dying to” in Judge For Yourself! ( JFY 116, 132– 33 /SKS 16: 171, 186– 87).
32. Anti- Climacus also claims that more than “a little self- denial” might
be in order when it comes to the use of reason or understanding, if faith, which
is the  only way to grasp the “essentially Christian,” is to flourish ( SUD 99 /
SKS  11: 211).
33. For more on this issue see Carr’s (1996; 2001) discussion of “anti-
rationalism.” 34. For an account of “dying to” that focuses on the relationship between
Postscript and For Self- Examination, see Walsh (2002).
35. He actually does publish several similarly themed articles in the few
months leading up to The Moment, but he had been “silent” for the three years
prior to this. See the Hongs’ “Historical Introduction” ( TM xxix– xxx).
36. This passage surely resonates with the statement above from page 353
of Works of Love.
37. Connell does not make this point about Epicurus specifically.
38. I have argued that the claims made in “At a Graveside” raun parallel to
those made by certain samurai authors (Buben 2008). 39. And if, as I suggest, his entire body of work is building up to such dying,
then one must at least wonder about the legitimacy of attempting to isolate any
of his works from his ultimately Christian project.

Chapter 4
1. In a late journal entry (1851), Kierkegaard addresses the encroaching
doubt of modernity, without touching on the afterlife specifically, when he con-
trasts “primitive” Christianity with “traditional” or “hiastorical” contemporary
Christianity. As modern “scholarly doubt grows stronger and stronger and takes
away one book after another” ( J P 1: 86 /SKS 24: 444), Kierkegaard claims that
merely traditional Christianity, which relies mostly on the objective “facts” of
Christianity (e.g., about the authorship and timing of New Testament writings)
that modern research calls into question, loses hope. Primitive Christiaanity, on
the other hand, avoids such hopelessness by focusing more on the subjectaive task
of relating to God, regardless of rising objective doubt. Kierkegaard comes to see
the doubt of modernity as practically doing a service to true Christianity by help-
ing to expose the suspect nature of the “faith” of so- called Christians. On the
issue of the afterlife, then, one could see why Kierkegaard might allow the doubt
of the Epicurean strain to creep in— in order to correct a Christianity that has
lost its primitivity and spends its time arguing about objective matters. 2. Robert Puchniak (2008b, 123– 26) offers a concise but helpful account of
Kierkegaard’s reception of the views of Pelagius, Augustine’s contemporary and
opponent on issues of original sin and the nature of grace. 3. Although I do not believe that Kierkegaard would ever suggest that
proper Christian dying to the world is primarily motivated by life- weariness, as
he says about the Platonic version here, it is interesting to contrast tahe optimistic
view of Christianity in Irony with the much darker view he offers once his critique
of Christendom is under way in the authorship proper. For example, while Chris-
tian suffering is a constant theme in his later writings, in Irony he states, “The
Christian does not dwell upon the struggle, the doubt, the pain, the negaative,
but rejoices in the victory, the certitude, the blessedness, the positive” ( CI 77 /
SKS 1: 135).
4. The purpose of Constantius’s Repetition is to illustrate that such repeti-
tion (which, in contrast to recollection, is necessarily forward- looking) is only pos-
sible in the case of relating to the eternal; ordinary worldly attempts at repetition
always fail in some respect (compare Quist 2002, 78– 79). Van Buren (1994, 193)
offers a similar account of the Kierkegaardian problem with a backwards- looking
Platonic dying away. Perhaps the most thorough account of the string of criti-
cisms of the Platonic understanding of time and eternity found in Kierke gaard’s
early works is Janne Kylliäinen’s (2010) discussion of Phaedo and Parmenides.
5. In Anxiety, Haufniensis explains that without a notion of sin and its cor -
responding intensification of what is at stake in life, “the pagan view of death was
milder and more attractive” ( CA 92 /SKS 4: 395). As evidence of this mildness he
refers to G. E. Lessing’s contribution to an eighteenth- century debate on the way
death is portrayed in art. In this essay, Lessing (1769) contrasts the pagan use of
the genius peacefully and solemnly extinguishing a torch with the more daisturb-
ing use of the skeleton in the Middle Ages. 6. I do not mean to suggest that Kierkegaard thoughtlessly makes an ar -
bitrary distinction. As is clear from his dissertation, he is engaging an obviaously

well- developed secondary literature on the issue of what is specifically Platonic
and what can be properly attributed to the historical Socrates (e.g., CI 29– 32,
79– 80 /SKS 1: 90– 93, 138– 39). Kierkegaard takes this issue seriously and acknowl-
edges the difficulty of coming to conclusions while still continuing to speculate
on the matter. 7. Having said all of this about why it is perhaps unfair and inaccurate to
separate Plato and his character Socrates, however one understands theira rela -
tionship, the sort of disembodied transmigration of souls discussed in Plato’s dia-
logues (and Neoplatonic writings, which Kierkegaard only mentions once in his
published works, and on this very topic [ EO 1: 300 /SKS 2: 289]) remains at odds
with the Christian notion of the resurrection of the body (e.g., CI 74 /SKS 1: 133;
CD 205, 241 /SKS 10: 214, 247– 48).
8. Not only do passages like this suggest a change in Kierkegaard’s view of
Socratic dying to the world over time (see J P 4: 214 /SKS 24: 32 for an unrelated
instance of reevaluating a harsh judgment of Socrates in the dissertation), but
they also raise the possibility that Postscript’s emphasis on the lifelong task of
maintaining Socrates- style concerned ignorance about one’s postmortem status
remains viable in the later writings. This possibility seems to undermine Marks’s
(2011, 295– 96) criticism that Possen (2011, 127– 29) makes too much out of Cli-
macus’s praise of Socrates on this issue. 9. In the end, Kierkegaard seems to take some (admittedly common) in-
terpretive liberties in using Socrates to express his concerns about both Platonic
and even problematic Christian implementation of dying to the world. It seems
that Socrates can be of no further help to Kierkegaard only once it becomes
clear that dogmatic reliance on grace is necessary for the complete dying to the
world that proper Christianity requires. I take it that something like this idea is
behind the anti- Socratic discussion in Christian Discourses.
10. It is also worth making special note of the resonance between dying
to reason in For Self- Examination and his claim about Paul only using prudence
( Klogskab) without danger once he acts “decisively against reason” ( Forstand) and
embraces “total madness” ( Galskab) (J P 3: 468 /SKS 23: 74). Compare Luther
(1957b, 41). Kierkegaard’s understanding of Paul’s “moment” might also rely
upon Augustine’s ample discussion of time, even if only indirectly (e.g., via his
general Lutheran background). 11. I am grateful to Guignon for fruitful discussions on this topic. Dreyfus
(1991, 360) also mentions it briefly. 12. Kierkegaard does occasionally take issue with Paul, although only in a
very limited way, particularly when it comes to the relationship between the imi-
tation of Christ in dying to the world and grace (e.g., J P 2: 354, 368 /SKS 24: 491;
26: 44). Kierkegaard surely acknowledges Paul’s dying to the world, but seems to
think that his emphasis on atonement and grace might be a bit too stronga, given
that a depraved humanity is likely to see in this emphasis an easy loophaole that
allows circumvention of the painful requirements of renunciation and self- denial
demanded by Christ’s “follow me” (Matt. 4:19). 13. It is for this reason that the New Testament only mentions (adult) indi-
viduals, never groups, being baptized. While it might be pointed out that one is

baptized into a community, it must be remembered that it is the individual choice
to accept Christ in baptism, and the ongoing individual struggle to mainatain this
acceptance, that is the foundation for any subsequent communal membershiap.What essentially distinguishes the Christian from the pagan or Jew, for
Kierkegaard, is the mediation of Christ. As redeemer, Christ steps into the middle
of all relationships of culpability between humans and says, “forgiven.” For the
Christian, then, relating to other humans— for example, within a community— is
not done directly in the ethical manner of the pre- Christians, but indirectly by
first relating to Christ who loves and redeems (Col. 3:13; 1a John 4:19). The com-
munity is always secondary to the individual relationship with Christ. Patricia J. Huntington, focusing on Tw o Ages, provides a very helpful
account of Kierkegaard’s view of authentic community from a non- religious per -
spective. Although her account centers on the primacy of the individual’s rela-
tion to whatever brings a group together, she is ultimately unable to see how
subordinate community is for Kierkegaard because she does not consider his
more developed Christian perspective (Huntington 1995, 4a9– 50). At the very
least, his late journal entries would not mesh well with her optimistic areading of
Kierkegaard’s sense of community. I will return to these ideas in a later chapter. 14. He does, however, seem receptive to the ideas of certain thinkers from
the first couple of centuries after Paul. For example, Paul Martens (2008, 1a07– 8)
briefly suggests that Kierkegaard’s limited and indirect exposure to Irenaeus may
have influenced his notion of dying to the world. 15. In several places, Kierkegaard (in his own name and under pseudonym)
seems to approve of a similar passion in the monastic movement of the Middle
Ages as well. Despite concerns about monasticism’s excessive focus on externality
and its own meritoriousness, he suggests that the dedication it often requires is
preferable to the lukewarm, compromising attitude of modern Christianity (e.g.,
CUP 1: 401– 5 /SKS 7: 365– 69; JFY 192 /SKS 16: 238– 39).
16. Haufniensis actually mentions Augustine’s formulation of original
sin ( CA 27 /SKS 4: 333– 34). See also the very helpful discussion of the relation-
ship between Kierkegaard and Augustine on this particular issue in Barrett
(1985,  48– 52). 17. Despite this Christian- oriented criticism of the Greeks, in one late jour -
nal entry Kierkegaard does cry out to his pagan paragon, Socrates, against a ra-
tionalistic appeal by Augustine to numerical majority in support of his views ( J P
4: 220 /SKS 26: 31).
18. Barrett (2008, 173– 74) also considers Hegel’s attempt at a resuscita-
tion of Anselm’s ontological argument, which epitomizes, for Kierkegaard, the
dangerous influence of such rationalistic theology even in his own day. Bøgeskov
(2008, 184, 202) briefly makes similara points about Hegel in connection with
Aquinas. 19. One older essay that is quite helpful for orienting oneself in the Luther-
Kierkegaard relationship is Regin Prenter’s (1981) “Luther and Lutheranism.” 20. David Yoon- Jung Kim (2009, 85– 97) offers a very helpful account of the
“Peasants’ Revolt” of 1525 and the antinomian controversy that plagued Luther’as
Reformation years.

21. Kim also outlines both Luther’s written attempts to curb antinomian
and secular interpretations of his views, and the efforts of his successors, Philipp
Melanchthon (1497– 1560) and John Calvin (1509– 1564). See also Barrett (2002,
88, 104– 5). 22. Kierkegaard seems to say as much in a journal entry from 1850 ( J P 3:
81 /SKS 23: 314). In several entries from 1854, Kiearkegaard even suggests that Lu-
ther should have become a martyr ( J P 3: 97– 100 /SKS 25: 303– 4, 330, 399– 400).
23. Kierkegaard seems to agree at one point that Luther grasps the dialec-
tic. In 1849 Kierkegaard states, “The tragedy of Christendom is clearly that we
have removed the dialectical element from Luther’s doctrine of faith, so that it
has become a cloak for sheer paganism and epicureanism. We completely forget
that Luther urged faith in contrast to a fantastically exaggerated ascetaicism” ( J P
3: 70 /SKS 21: 323). However, while he is right to think that Luther grasps the
issue of faith versus works on some level, there is a larger dialectic at play in the
history of Christianity, for which Kierkegaard believes Luther lacks the proper
perspective. In 1850 Kierkegaard compares Luther to his ancient standard for
dialecticians and claims, “The only important thing to me in this is ato get it dia-
lectically clarified. As for the rest, I have the deepest respect for aLuther— but was
he a Socrates? No, no, far from that” ( J P 3: 80 /SKS 23: 152– 53). I will have more
to say on this issue shortly. 24. It may seem as though Kierkegaard’s criticism of Augustine— that he
makes faith into a kind of intellectual position that precedes knowledge— is ap-
plicable to Pascal as well, given Pascal’s discussion of faith as a capacity that has
its own sorts of experiences and reasons. However, Kierkegaard does approve of
Pascal’s claims about knowing God in an 1850 journal entry: “Pascal means that
knowledge of the divine is essentially a transformation of the person; one must
become a different person in order to know the divine” ( J P 3: 420 /SKS 24: 99).
Whether or not Pascal is guilty of the error that Kierkegaard sees at the founda-
tion of medieval Christianity, there is no doubt that he, like Augustine, avoids
the extreme rationalism of the Scholastics. While Pascal uses reason (or at least
reasons) to support the faithful by showing that their attitude is not aridiculous,
Anselm and Aquinas carve out a more substantial place for reason— designating
a specific role in some cases for reason in establishing Christian docatrine. Even
so, Pascal does share some of the Scholastic interest in showing how reasonable
Christianity can be, and thus, he is more their theological heir than Kiaerkegaard. 25. While Pascal might rule “Reason” out of Christian faithfulness tem-
porarily, but allow it back in later in the form of reasons, Kierkegaard seems to
rule out both Reason ( Forstand, Fornuft) and reasons ( Grunde) in the service of
Christianity. Perhaps some will suggest both that Kierkegaard makes a distinction
between Forstand, which is commonly translated as “understanding,” and Fornuft,
which is translated as “reason” or “rationality” more strictly, and that he opposes
only the former but not the latter to faith. I argue elsewhere that such a sugges-
tion is misguided (Buben 2011, 79). 26. Kierkegaard is explicitly critical of this sentiment in Pascal in an 1850
journal entry, even going so far as to liken him to the Danish bishop Jacob Peter

Mynster (1775– 1854), whose world- accommodating theology is so disturbing to Kierkegaard ( J P 3: 423– 24 /SKS 24: 119).
27. Of course, Climacus, like Luther, points out that it is precisely this
kind of worldly suffering that is indicative of one’s eternal happiness or salvation
( evige Salighed ), but beyond this odd experience of joyful suffering, a truly Chris-
tian individual existing in the world does not necessarily have any experience
of happiness ( CUP 1: 452 /SKS 7: 411). Given that Pascal and Kierkegaard (in For
Self- Examination, at least) both seem to be describing the life of a Christian in
the world, it seems appropriate to focus on the absurdity and misery when talk-
ing about Kierkegaard’s position. I thank Pat Stokes for helping me to clarify
this issue. 28. This formulation suggests parallels with Luther’s project, which Kierke-
gaard criticizes despite obvious appreciation for the difficulties of that particular
historical situation. Given that Kierkegaard also faces a problematic religious mi-
lieu, he could no doubt sympathize on some level with the circumstances afacing
Epicurus. Kierkegaard also feels the need to discuss death, not in order to com-
bat widespread fear, of course, but rather to shock a culture riddled with frivolity.
Nonetheless, just as Kierkegaard criticizes Luther, and especially what happens
in Luther’s name, he could take Epicurus to task for his dialectical ineptitude ina
his excessive battle against the fear of death (compare J P 3: 70 /SKS 21: 297, 323).
29. In the published works, there are a couple of instances of a Kierkegaard
pseudonym using Stoicism “as an antagonist for him to define himselaf polemi-
cally against” (Furtak 2010, 204). In the fiarst volume of Either/Or Marcus Aurelius
seems to be an inspiration for the aesthete, who represents the lowest saphere of
existence (Furtak 2009, 72– 73). And in Sickness Anti- Climacus identifies the defi-
ant form of despair with Stoicism, although he seems to have a broader pagan
view in mind ( SUD 68– 69 /SKS 11: 182– 83).
30. Claire Carlisle (2009, 173– 84) suggests a fairly thorough understanding
of Spinoza on Kierkegaard’s part, although Spinoza rarely comes up after 1846.
Håvard Løkke and Arild Waaler (2009, 51– 54) claim that Kierkegaard’s study of
Leibniz was almost exclusively confined to a thorough reading of the Theodicy in
1842– 1843. Søren Landkildehus (2009, 114a– 16) points out that as far as anyone can tell Kierkegaard’s encounter with Montaigne’s work was mostly casual and
confined to 1847 and 1850. 31. Løkke and Waaler (2009, 55– 57) focus on Kierkegaard’s early (1842–
1843) reception of Leibniz’s discussion about whether faith is “above reason” or
“against reason,” and argue that Kierkegaard means only the former when he
speaks about dying to reason for the sake of the Christian paradox (compare
J P 3: 399– 400 /SKS 19: 390– 91). It is unclear whether or not they believe that
their conclusion applies only to this early period in Kierkegaard’s thought, but I
have argued elsewhere that this conclusion cannot apply to Kierkegaard’s views
in general (Buben 2011, 72– 76, 80; 2013). Not only does Miles seem to sharae my
understanding, but so does Carlisle (2009, 184) in comparing Kierkegaard to
Spinoza, and the Hongs in discussing Leibniz ( J P 3: 796).
32. Kierkegaard often only mentions Hegel, even when he really has these

Danish Hegelians in mind (Stewart 2003, 33– 34, 452). Out of politeness or re-
spect, Kierkegaard seems to have had a lifelong aversion to explicit public criti-
cism of the living. For example, he wrote but did not publish The Book on Adler,
which criticizes a small parish minister who claimed to have had a revelaation, in
order to spare Adler from excessive public humiliation ( J P 5: 401, 405, 419; 6:
117 /SKS 20: 196, 201, 264; 21: 275a– 76). Stewart (2003, 42) actually attributes Kaier-
kegaard’s pseudonymity, at least partially, to a desire “to avoid embarrassment or
unnecessary offense” of others in the relatively close- knit intellectual community
of Copenhagen. 33. It is in Climacus’s writings that one can find Kierkegaard’s most anti-
Hegelian expressions (Stewart 2003, 451). 34. Compare the discussion in Postscript with Anti- Climacus’s claims about
Christianity’s essential relation to “the single individual” given sin ( SUD 120– 21 /
SKS 11: 231– 33). Anti- Climacus even connects this idea with the kind of necessary
isolation of death seen in “At a Graveside.” 35. While its tone is certainly representative of this portion of Postscript, this
phrase does not appear where Solomon says it does. 36. Although Kierkegaard was surely aware of Schopenhauer much earlier,
given the significant number of journal entries (there are no explicit references
in the published works) dedicated to Schopenhauer that are entirely confined to
1854, it seems likely that his reading of the German pessimist was limited to the
last year or so of Kierkegaard’s life (Davini 2007, 277– 78; Stokes 2007, 68– 69). 37. This pessimistic view is very much like the one Kierkegaard attributes
to Plato (but not necessarily Socrates) in his dissertation. However, Kierkegaard
does make the further distinction there between the more optimistic “aGreek” (in
this context, Platonic) notion of overcoming individual existence and the “Ori-
ental” notion that Schopenhauer seems to advocate ( CI 63– 66 /SKS 1: 122– 25).
38. Kierkegaard recognizes Schopenhauer’s acknowledgment that he is
not actually living up to the requirements of the way of life he recommends ( J P
4: 34 /SKS 26: 142). Both Davini and Stokes address Kierkegaard’s criticism that
Schopenhauer does not demand of himself the ethical position he advocates. 39. “Vom Standpunkt NIETZSCHES ist KIERKEGAARD lebensfeindlich.” Jas-
pers says this just before his discussion of limit situations, which relies heavily on
Kierkegaard and has a major impact on Heidegger. 40. Compare this with Spinoza’s brief statement about death (which
I quoted in the second chapter) where he speaks of “seeking his own true
Chapter 5
1. One issue that I will not treat in great detail is the nature of Heidegger’s
occasional comments related to death after Being and Time, for example, the in-
clusion of “mortals” in his discussion of “the fourfold” (“BDT” 352– 56), and
his consideration of Rilke’s views on death and negation (“WPF” 124– 26). Both
because Heidegger seems far less interested in focusing on death as a thaeme

in itself in his later writings and because the connection of Heidegger to other
thinkers on the topic of death relies almost entirely on his work prior to 1930, it
seems sensible to set aside his later reflections that touch brieflya on death. On the
issue of Heidegger’s pre- Being and Time discussions of death, it is probably fair
to suggest that the account at the beginning of “Division Two” is simply the final
refined version of what he had been saying about death in texts such as History of
the Concept of Time (see HCT 312– 18).
2. By questioning what one is, stripped of the views handed down by the
metaphysical tradition (e.g., a rational animal, a created being, a thianking thing,
etc.), one becomes free to see how whatever is shows up without looking through
the lenses that these views require one to use (Huntington 199a5, 46– 47). 3. Inversely, given its constant inclusion in the death chapter, it would seem
that incorporating the notion of wholeness is absolutely crucial to understand-
ing Heidegger’s inquiry into death. Dreyfus’s foreword to White’s book, however,
suggests that few significant interpreters of Heidegger on death emphasize the
centrality of wholeness, with Guignon as the notable exception. While Dreyfus
(2005, xviii– xxxi) raises some concerns about Guignon’s early account, Guignon
(2011a) has recently updated his views on Heideggerian deaath while still main-
taining the centrality of wholeness. 4. See page 253 of Being and Time for an association of these two terms:
many things might be accidentally mine, but what is “essentially mine” (death)
seems to be part of my “ownmost self.” See pages ( BT) 42– 45 for Heidegger’s
more general discussion of the essential “mineness” of my existence. 5. Dreyfus (1991, 309) surmises that “demise” is really Heidegger’s word
for Dasein’s culturally interpreted event of what for mere living things would be
simple perishing. 6. Theodore Kisiel (1993, 339– 40) and Iain Thomson (2004, 465) both
offer helpful statements of the Heideggerian concept of “formal indication” in
connection with death. See also Heidegger’s “Comments on Karl Jaspers’s Psychol-
ogy of Worldviews,” where he seems to connect the formal indication of existence
with Jaspers’s limit- situations (“KJ” 9). Briefly, formal indication is Heidegger’s
method of looking to everyday “factical life as the inroad for developing concepts
to bring what is hidden on a pre- philosophical level to an explicit philosophical
understanding” (Schalow 1994, 311). “Formala” here means “without content,”
and the idea is that one might be able to derive unnoticed schematic or astructural
aspects of, in this case, the role of death in human existence by examining more
common content- laden notions of what death is all about (compare BT 241).
One key example already considered is the indication of the structural “not- yet”
found in Heidegger’s discussion of ripening fruit. 7. As will become clear, this association of death and the ahead- of- itself
aspect of the care structure is among the most important points made in the
death chapter. 8. In addition to some similar usage by Kierkegaard and Heidegger, it
ought to be pointed out that the German term Stimmung (a key topic in Heideg-
ger’s account of “state- of- mind”) and the Danish Stemning, both often translated
as “mood,” are cognates. Heidegger also shows a particular affinity for Kier-

kegaard’s “treatise on the concept of anxiety” (BT 235n6). There will be more to
say about this affinity in the following chapter. 9. The key component of “Being- certain” is appropriation (compare BT
307). I will say more about this in the following chapter. 10. Eigentlichkeit, usually rendered “authenticity,” can be more literally
translated as the rather awkward “enowned- ness” or “enownment,” which sug-
gests that becoming authentic means becoming one’s own, or owning up to what
one is; and authentic Being- towards- death is an owning up to oneself as this sort
of Being. Even though Heidegger seems uncomfortable speaking, as Climacus
does, in terms of subjectivity as opposed to objectivity (Heidegger often puts
these terms in scare quotes because this dichotomy displays a common misaun-
derstanding of the nature of what is), there is much to compare here with Post-
script ’s idea of becoming subjective, which also means something like becoming
one’s own. 11. Although Heidegger does not make such a connection explicit, Thom-
son (2004, 464) and others claim that the term vorlaufen implicitly calls to mind
the Blitzkrieg — blindly running out into the field of battle toward almost cer -
tain death. 12. The idea here seems to be something like this: if I am paying attention,
I can see that none of my specific pursuits are necessary. These possibilities can
be “outrun” if I choose to pursue others instead, but what cannot be avoided or
“outrun” is the fact that I am able to pursue things as long as I exist. 13. Of course, none of these three essential structures happens before the
others according to some sequential or chronological understanding of time.
Rather, they are the three equiprimordial aspects of Dasein’s being as care (al-
though “ the primary phenomenon of primordial and authentic temporality is the future ”
[ BT 329]) that make any ordinary understanding of sequential temporality
possible (Guignon 2011a, 198– 99). See pages 323– 31 of Being and Time for Hei-
degger’s initial connection of care and temporality. These key ideas are the in-
dispensable lens for viewing the rest of “Division Two.” 14. Compare Jeff Malpas’s (1998, 122– 23) interesting account of this con-
strained sense of freedom and responsibility in which he intentionally avoids
relying on Heideggerian terminology. 15. Kisiel (1993, 432) asks a related, but amore general question: “How does
the ontological can- be turn into an ontic have- to- be? How does existential possi-
bility become existentiell compulsion?” Basically, the issue is whether or not one
should care about being authentic or about taking responsibility just because aHei-
degger points out that one can be authentic or acknowledge responsibility. As I
will suggest, the answer to such questions is that one simply is “care,” and so, not
to pursue authenticity or responsibility is to ignore what one is. I takae it that Hei-
degger feels that the repulsiveness (or at least the peculiarity) of contradictorily
not being what one is offers compulsion enough. 16. Heidegger makes it quite clear that the “Situation” discussed here is
not simply the “present- at- hand mixture of circumstances and accidents which
we encounter,” but rather the very “there” that Dasein puts itself in by resolutely
taking responsibility for itself ( BT 300).

17. He will distinguish this from the irresolute “making present” that cor-
responds to the everyday temporality of “within- time- ness” ( BT 338).
18. The Danish cognate Øjeblik has the same connotation.
19. Although it will be worthwhile to pursue the obvious connectioans with
Kierkegaard on this concept, there seems to be no obvious etymological conneac-
tion between the German Wiederholung and the Danish Gjentagelsen. However,
both terms literally mean something like “taking again.” Caputo (1993, 214– 16)
emphasizes this literal understanding in discussing Job as a helpful indication
of repetition, but he does not explicitly connect the German and the Danisah in
this way. 20. Perhaps the following schema will be helpful for understanding the
relationships between Heidegger’s various technical terms:
existence ahead- of- itself death anticipation future fate
falling Being- with /alongside life moment present repetition
facticity thrownness/already in birth resoluteness past heritage (guilt)
21. Thus, authentic Dasein is not susceptible to a foolish rigidity, but instead
always remains open to abandoning a particular “repeated” course oaf action “in
accordance with the demands of some possible Situation or other” ( BT 391).
Chapter 6
1. Schrempf is notable for his questionable translations and interpretation
(Malik 1997, 336– 39, 377). 2. To be precise, the passage he quotes from the Attack in Ontolog y— The
Hermeneutics of Facticity is from an 1896 translation of Kierkegaard’s The Point of
View by Dorner and Schrempf. Heidegger’s “Foreword” to this lecture course
from the summer of 1923 also acknowledges that for the ideas it contains, “aim-
pulses were given by Kierkegaard” ( OHF 4). Kisiel (1993, 452) calls attention to a a
similar statement by Heidegger more than a year after Being and Time.
3. Schrempf ’s edition had mostly ignored these works due to their blatantly
Christian content, but he did attempt to address this lacuna with a partially com-
pleted series of new translations in the 1920s. 4. In the appendix to Ontology— The Hermeneutics of Facticity Heidegger ac-
knowledges Kierkegaard’s significance for his understanding of death with the
cryptic statement, “The death of Christ— the problem! Experience of death in
any sense, death— life— Dasein (Kierkegaard)” ( OHF 86).
5. With its translation of Kierkegaard’s death discourse, this volume of the
journal was dedicated to a favorite poet of Heidegger’s, the recently deceased
Georg Trakl. This was the last volume of Der Brenner (due to the war) until 1919.
See Malik (1997, 381, 391). 6. Also see Pattison (2007, 181– 82) and Schulz (2009, 331, 357). Schulz
mentions “At a Graveside” along with “‘Lilies in the field’ from 1847.” 7. Jaspers’s quotations are from the Schrempf edition.
8. In his comments on Jaspers’s discussion of limit- situations from the early

1920s, Heidegger even acknowledges Kierkegaard’s influence on Jaspers on the
topic of death (“KJ” 9– 10, 22– 23). Although van Buren (1994, 150) acknowledges
Heidegger’s independent reading of Kierkegaard from as early as 1911, he claims
that it was not until the encounter with Jaspers’s book that Heidegger engaged
in “his first intensive reading of Kierkegaard’s works.” I am not sure that this is
entirely fair given Heidegger’s own claims (e.g., “I was already confronting the
works of Kierkegaard when there was as yet no dialectical literature” [MF 141])
and all of the Kierkegaard that was available to Heidegger between 1910 and
1915. Van Buren is certainly right, however, if he simply means to point out that
Heidegger’s comments on Jaspers were his first attempt at commenting on obvi-
ously Kierkegaardian themes. Also see van Buren (1994, 170). On the differences
between Jaspers and Kierkegaard when it comes to death- related issues, and for
a sense of what Heidegger takes from Jaspers himself on this topic, see Schulz
(2009, 354) and Blattner (1994), reaspectively. 9. Heidegger’s note also mentions Jaspers’s (1922, 108– 17) discussion of
“the moment,” which refers to Anxiety several times.
10. A simple perusal of the increasingly influential Der Brenner between
1919 and 1923 suggests just how much Kierkegaard must have been “in the air” at
this time among educated German- speakers. Also see Malik (1997, 371ff.). 11. My point is not that Heidegger is in any way opposed to the historical
tracing, or “destruction,” of an idea’s development (in fact, this is often what
occupies Heidegger, particularly in the various courses surrounding the publica-
tion of Being and Time), but that he believes it is a mere trivial pursuit to read a
text with the goal of naming each thinker that seems to be responsible for the
original expression of every passing thought. Nonetheless, it should be men-
tioned that in some of his very recently published “Black Notebooks” from the
late 1930s and early 1940s, Heidegger has a great deal more to say about his raela-
tionship to Kierkegaard in general (but not so much on the topic of death). I am
grateful to Gerhard Thonhauser for bringing this to my attention. 12. Heidegger speaks of Unbestimmtheit in Sein und Zeit, while death as
“indefinable” in “At a Graveside” comes from the Danish woard ubestemmelig—
translated unbestimmbar in Der Brenner ’s “Vom Tode.”
13. On the death of the other in the light of the Kierkegaardian / Heideg-
gerian view, see Llevadot (2011). 14. When Climacus considers “whether death can be anticipated” ( CUP 1:
168 /SKS 7: 155), the Danish is anticiperes (translated in the Schrempf edition as
antizipiert ). Despite the possible connection suggested by the common English
translation of Heidegger’s vorlaufen, it seems that there is no etymological reason
to think that he gets his formulation from Kierkegaard’s pseudonym. 15. In Der Brenner ’s “Vom Tode,” Kierkegaard’s Vished and Visse become Gewis-
sheit and Gewisse (the opposite being Uvished etc. in Danish and Ungewissheit etc.
in German), which are the terms used in Sein und Zeit.
16. See, however, my previous discussion of Anxiety where Haufniensis
briefly considers the more complicated impact of death on humans in com-
parison with its impact on simpler organisms. Might this brief digression have
some influence on Heidegger’s technical differentiation of death terminology?

After all, a note just before his death chapter mentions Anxiety. Also see Theunis-
sen’s (2006, 343– 44) brief account of the various senses of death found in Chris-
tianity, which includes the bodily, the spiritual (sinfulness), and the mystical
(dying to). 17. Kisiel (1993, 339) briefly notes the aimplicit anti- Epicureanism in Hei-
degger that Kierkegaard openly expresses. Theunissen (2006, 340– 41) discusses
the influence of the Hegelian Ludwig Feuerbach’s work on death and immortal-
ity upon Kierkegaard and Heidegger, and suggests that Feuerbach’s unwitting
“variation upon” the Epicurean mantra he means to reject might be a precursor
to Heidegger’s views. The most detailed account to date of Heidegger’s rebut-
tal of the Epicurean position comes from Mark Wrathall (2005, 66– 68), whose
assessment largely coincides with mine despite some disagreement on othear as-
pects of our respective readings of Heidegger on death. 18. Heidegger also speaks about the power that comes from approachaing
death in a certain way ( BT 384), but while both Kierkegaard’s Danish expression
and its translation as rückwirkende Kraft in Der Brenner ’s “Vom To d e” use the word
Kraft, Heidegger’s expressions involve the word Macht (e.g., Übermacht and Ohn-
macht ) instead (there is a common Danish equivalent: Magt). If there is any sig-
nificance to this difference between them, perhaps it is that Heidegger means to
exploit Macht’s connotation of political power that is not present in Kraft. Given
Heidegger’s interest in authenticity, or “owning oneself,” it may be that he wants
to suggest that the anticipation of death leads to a sort of ruling over oneself
(compare BT 310).
19. Theunissen (2006, 341– 43, 347) makes a similar connection on their
eschewal of matters of the afterlife in focusing on “At a Graveside.” His discus-
sion includes a helpful description of the discourse’s willful refusal to give the
afterlife a prominent role in determining the appropriate way to relate to death,
but on this topic, as on others, there are significant limitations to the approach
of Theunissen’s paper. While the main point that Kierkegaard refrains from ab-
stract speculation about the afterlife holds throughout Kierkegaard’s works, his
overall treatment of the afterlife is significantly more complicated than it is in “At
a Graveside” (which Theunissen certainly acknowledges). The problema is that
Heidegger seems to rely on more than just this discourse in appropriatinag Kierke-
gaard’s views on death and the afterlife. Thus, Theunissen can hardly provide
a complete assessment of what Heidegger borrows and leaves behind from the
thought of Kierkegaard on the afterlife. Given that such a complete assessment is
not the goal of Theunissen’s essay, the purpose of making these comments is not
so much to criticize Theunissen as it is to suggest the importance of further work
that considers the range of Kierkegaard’s dealings with the afterlife (and death-
related issues in general) when comparing him with Heidegger on this toapic. 20. During his brief discussion of death as a way of life in his chapter on
what Heidegger inherits from “primal Christianity,” van Buren (1994, 174– 76)
describes Heidegger’s debt to Paul’s letters, Luther’s “Heidelberg Disputation”
and commentaries on Genesis (which Heidegger actually quotes from at one
point just after quoting Kierkegaard [ PI 137]), Pascal’s reflections, and Kierke-
gaard’s Postscript (via Jaspers). Van Buren (1994, 158– 67, 186– 89) also describes

Heidegger’s reliance upon the sense of dying to the world and its wisdom found
in the “theologia crucis ” of Paul, Augustine (when not corrupted by a Greek “ theo-
logia gloriae ” that comes to dominate the medieval tradition), Luther (but not
necessarily Lutherans), and Kierkegaard. This description reads much like Kier-
kegaard’s account of the problematic back and forth of dying to the world in
Christian history (a dialectic often seen in terms of rigor and mercy, or suffering
and glory), which was discussed in the fourth chapter. Theunissen (2006, 338– 39,
343– 46) briefly notes the debts that both Kierkegaard and Heidegger owe to Ter -
tullian, Ambrose, Augustine, and Luther on the topic of death. For Heidegger’s
own acknowledgment of similar debts, see his note on page 249 of Being and Time.
21. While Dreyfus is right to notice the similar interest in a sort of “dying
to” in Heidegger, he overemphasizes Climacus’s formulation from the Postscript
(certainly not Kierkegaard’s final and most considered view) where one trades a
lower immediacy (the common worldly way of understanding oneself and one’s
place) for a higher one (that resembles the Christian relationship with God) in
“Religiousness B.” Since Heidegger abandons the lower and also avoids the faith-
ful acceptance of the higher, Dreyfus sees him— but not Kierkegaard— as a pro-
ponent of dying to “all” immediacy. It seems to me that Dreyfus sells his insight-
ful connection of Kierkegaard and Heidegger a bit short. Rather than making
the hasty jump to arguing for a key difference between Kierkegaard’s theological
account and Heidegger’s non- theological account (which I will discuss in the
next chapter), he could have made more out of the fact that for both Kierke-
gaard and Heidegger the purpose of dying to the world (Kierkegaard’s more
common formulation) is to find a “new life” or new way of viewing existence. 22. I do have some reservations about Thomson’s (2004, 453) description
of the anticipation of death in terms of an “actual experience of complete world-
collapse.” The trouble is that Heidegger never really suggests such a particulaar
experience that one returns from better for having gone through it. Whilae Hei-
degger’s account of grasping the essential structure of authentic Dasein does
indeed bear a striking resemblance to the Christian notion of dying to live (com-
pare van Buren 1994, 186), it is not necessary to overdramatize what Heidegger
is saying by portraying death as something like an emotional breakdown. aIt is
important to keep in mind that for both Kierkegaard and Heidegger the moment
of vision is not some particular chronological moment, but a constant struggle,
from birth to death, to take responsibility for oneself. Although it maya not be
Thomson’s intention, his formulation gives the impression that one might pass
through and be finished with death at some point, whereas both Kierkegaard and
Heidegger believe that death, or “dying to,” is a task for a lifetime, a possibility to
exist in but not to be actualized (see my discussions of Postscript and section 50 of
Being and Time in previous chapters).
23. Although Heidegger makes it clear that everyday falling into an in-
authentic grasp of one’s place in the world (like sin on Kierkegaard’s view) is
a common and unavoidable aspect of Dasein ( BT, section 51), many commen-
tators argue that Heidegger is not offering a merely neutral descriptiaon. The
struggle for authenticity (like Kierkegaard’s faithful striving) is somehow a “bet-

ter” way of existence than inauthentic complacency (see, e.g., Hoberman 198a4,
228; Berthold- Bond 1991, 119, 125; Quist 2002a, 91).24. Heidegger speaks of becoming “free from the entertaining ‘inciden-
tals’ [ Zufälligkeiten] with which busy curiosity keeps providing itself ” ( BT 310).
See also pages 383– 84 and 388 of Being and Time where he continues to rely on
the same Kierkegaardian language of the accidental and “trivial” what- concerns
about “output” (compare Magurshak 1985, 177). 25. Besides touching on Heidegger’s obvious links to Kierkegaard’s con-
sideration of Øjeblikket, both Dreyfus (1991, 321– 22) and Kisiel (1993, 437– 38)
offer brief, but helpful connections to the Greek and Christian roots aof this kai-
rological sense of time (compare BP 288). The best source for these sorts of
connections is van Buren’s discussion of what Heidegger borrows from Paul,
Augustine, Luther, and Kierkegaard. Just as he does with the closely related issue
of the aforementioned Pauline theology of the cross, van Buren (1994, 190– 202)
describes Heidegger’s “destruction” of the Christian understanding of time in
his lecture courses from the early 1920s. It is in these courses that Heidegger ex-
plains how the Pauline innovation with respect to time (a lived synthesais of past,
present, and future) was initially grasped and later botched by Augustiane, paving
the way for the medieval Scholastic mistake of treating time as an infinite series
of now- moments. The account goes on to explain how Luther and then Kierke-
gaard (who Heidegger will eventually say “has seen the existentiell phenomenon
of the moment of vision with the most penetration” [ BT 338n3]) contribute to
the recovery of the primal Christian kairological sense of time. 26. Of course, as I have suggested and will discuss in greater detail shortly,
this relationship will take on a different shape for Kierkegaard than for Heideg-
ger given that “future” possibility for the former is the eternal asignificance of the
divine, while for the latter it is one’s own projection into whatever is available to
it. For Kierkegaard there is one foundational what issue, but for Heidegger this
is not the case. 27. Van Buren also offers a helpful account of what Heidegger derives from
certain Christian thinkers on the issues of care, conscience, and guilt (with the
now familiar trope about the medieval misunderstanding that is instigatead by Au-
gustine’s infusion of Greek thought). For example, in reading Kierkegaard’s dis-
cussion of the lilies and birds, among other texts, Heidegger develops the notion a
of conscience as “the call and ‘renewal’ of anxious care” from one’s “authentic
self ” to one’s inauthentic or fallen self— a call of essential guilt, which must be
“chosen and taken up into one’s futural possibility” (van Buren 1994, 185). Also
see where Heidegger himself acknowledges his debt to the New Testament and
the Augustinian tradition on the topic of care ( BT 199n7).
28. This is the sense of wakefulness engendered by the thought of death in
Works of Love and “At a Graveside.” In his early lectures, Heidegger traces this sort
of wakefulness from the New Testament notion that one must always be prepared
(even in the metaphorical darkness of worldly night, when it would just be easier
to “fall asleep” and get lost in distraction) to offer an account of oneself because
there is no telling when Christ will return (compare Matt. 25:13, 26:40– 45). Thus,

wakefulness is closely bound not only with the uncertainty of death, but also with
the kairological moment of ever- present vigilance. See van Buren (1994, 175, 17a8,
188– 91, 193, 195, 202).29. Of course, Heidegger does not explicitly criticize the views on death
or the afterlife of any of these thinkers in Being and Time. Like Kierkegaard, he
would no doubt also be unimpressed by their metaphysical arguments in suap-
port of less personal notions of posthumous existence, but what really binds
Heidegger to Kierkegaard at this point is how readily applicable the former’s
criticisms of everyday views on death are to Epicureans, Stoics, moderns, and
certain nineteenth- century thinkers, even if he does not mention them by name
in this regard. 30. Thomson (2004, 466) states that some might accuse Heidegger of
using his discussion of anxiety and Being- towards- death to avoid or repress his
fear of demise (compare Mjaaland 2006, 372). Thomson also points out that Hei-
degger seems to anticipate and briefly respond to such a charge ( BT 309). Given
the important lessons that both Kierkegaard and Heidegger learn from physical
death, it seems doubtful that either of them is guilty of such repression. Empha-
sizing what ordinary notions concerning demise suggest (or indicate) about the
structure (or form) of human existence, which is Heidegger’s primary task when
discussing it in Being and Time, need not diminish the significance of demise or
its fearful character. 31. This is another point where Heidegger might borrow something farom
Anxiety, which also connects some kind of death- awareness with a fundamental
anxiety about existence ( CA 45 /SKS 4: 350). Van Buren (1994, 172– 75) traces this
connection from Gen. 2:17 (which Haufniensis quotes) through aPaul, Augustine,
Luther, Pascal, and Kierkegaard to Heidegger. Van Buren, Vincent McCarthy
(2011, 109), and others also point out that Kierkegaard (especially Haufniensis)
and Heidegger share the distinction between fear, which is always about some-
thing specific, and anxiety, which is directed toward nothing— that is, the essen-
tial indefiniteness of existence ( CA 42 /SKS 4: 348; BT 185– 87, 265– 66).
32. There have up to this point, however, been some exceptions. Heidegger
himself mentions Calvin, Dilthey, and Tolstoy ( BT 249n6, 254n12). Also, just a few
pages before concluding his death chapter, Heidegger somewhat mysteriously
incorporates a passage about becoming too old for one’s victories that he par -
enthetically attributes to Nietzsche ( BT 264). Given the discussion surrounding
this passage, Heidegger is likely referring to “On Free Death” from Zarathustra,
where Nietzsche (2006, 54) states, “Some become taoo old even for their truths
and victories; a toothless mouth no longer has the right to every truth.” Besides
the actual content of Heidegger’s quotation, what is most interesting about its
inclusion is that it signals Heidegger’s reliance on Nietzsche at the very moment
that he is laying out one of the key aspects of his understanding of death— the
freedom it brings. Specifically, it seems that Heidegger might have found inspira-
tion for his ideas in Nietzsche’s (2006, 53– 55) claims about both the appropria-
tion of one’s own death— without developing either a morbid longing for escape
or a cowardly clinging to life— and the celebration (and liberation) of life that
such appropriation engenders. For more on what Heidegger borrows from Nietz-

sche on the topic of death (in particular, on issues such as the certainty of death
and “the moment”), see Parkes (1998).
Chapter 7
1. I have concerns about Mjaaland’s article that are similar to my reserva-
tions about Theunissen’s. Mjaaland (2006, 375– 77) claims that Heidegger’s on-
tologization of one’s own death closes off other ways of allowing oneself to be
affected by death, and suggests that “At a Graveside” offers aa more flexible treat-
ment of death than Being and Time (compare Hoberman 1984, 225). Whether or
not he is right, insofar as “At a Graveside” might be understood aas one instant
in a larger, more obviously Christian, account of dying to the world, which actu-
ally maps quite nicely onto Heidegger’s sense of authentic Being- towards- death,
Mjaaland seems to lack the proper perspective for a comparison of Kierkegaard
and Heidegger on death. 2. Furthermore, Sartre actually seems to confuse Heidegger’s vorlaufen with
waiting for biological death. In criticizing Heidegger, he argues, “Sudden death
is undetermined and by definition can not be waited for at any date; iat always, in
fact, includes the possibility that we shall die in surprise before the aawaited date
and consequently that our waiting may be, qua waiting, a deception or that we
shall survive beyond this date; in the latter case since we were only waiting, wea
shall outlive ourselves” (Sartre 1956, 536). Hoffman (1983, 82, 107– 8) suggests
that perhaps Sartre “has missed Heidegger’s point” given that Heidegger’s no-
tion of death is part of an account that shows how one can derive meaning from
existence despite its indefiniteness without ever claiming that one shaould wait
for an event at an uncertain time. What I find fascinating about Sartrae’s inability
to see that Heidegger’s discussion is not really about biological demise is that his
criticism leads him to revert to something of an Epicurean position. For example,
Sartre states, “Thus death haunts me at the very heart of each of my projects as
their inevitable reverse side. But precisely because this ‘reverse’a is to be assumed
not as my possibility but as the possibility that there are for me no longer any apos-
sibilities, it does not penetrate me. . . . Death is not an obstacle to my projects . . .
and this is not because death does not limit my freedom but because freeadom
never encounters this limit. . . . Since death escapes my projects because it is un-
realizable, I escape death in my very project. Since death is always beyond my sub -
jectivity, there is no place for it in my subjectivity” (Sartre 1956, 547– 48). On the
issue of the event of physical passing away, we have seen that both Kierkegaard
and Heidegger grant the Epicurean point that Sartre is making. However, Sartre
seems blind to the fact that they are onto another sense in which death a can come
to interpenetrate life (compare Malpas 1998, 130)a. Unlike Sartre, Levinas (1987,
71) explicitly acknowledges the Epicurean mistake when he affirms a similar sort
of interpenetration and “relationship with death.” 3. To return briefly to the roots of Heidegger’s Nazism, it is no secret that
one might find an inclination toward certain aspects of what would come to
characterize National Socialism in his discussion of something like an authentic

community in the penultimate chapter of Being and Time (compare Huntington
1995, 57– 58). Given that much of the second division follows closely the model of
genuine Christian death and rebirth, one might also see his notion of authentic
community as based on the early Christian church. Although I am in no position
to develop this idea at present, I have begun to wonder if there is not an impor -
tant difference between the ways Kierkegaard and Heidegger understand the
primordial Christian community. Specifically, if Heidegger (the Catholic) makes
more out of this community than Kierkegaard (the Protestant), who argues for
only the loosest of human bonds, then perhaps one could suggest that had Hei-
degger followed Kierkegaard as closely on this issue as he clearly does elsewhere
he might have been somewhat less enthusiastic about the new regime and tahe
community that it advocated based on blood and soil. Thus, the idea thata I would
tentatively like to put forth (in possible opposition to Levinas) is tahat Heidegger’s
political shortcomings may be partially the result of too much emphasis on com-
munity (albeit of a certain kind) rather than the lack of such emphasis. 4. Not long after Being and Time Heidegger states that “etymologically re-
garded, theo- logy means: the science of God,” but actually, “ what is given for the-
ology (its positum) is Christianness”; “theology is the science of faith” (“PT” 43,
45, 48). Here are some of his views on faith: “Luther said, ‘Faith is permitting
ourselves to be seized by the things we do not see.’ . . . Faith is an appropriation
of revelation that co- constitutes the Christian occurrence. . . . Faith is the believing-
understanding mode of existing in the history revealed, i.e., occurring , with the Crucified”
(“PT” 44– 45). 5. Heidegger expresses his view of Kierkegaard’s theological tendencies
in several places (e.g., BT 190n4; OBT 186; PiT 195– 96). Interestingly, in 1921,
just after distinguishing himself from Kierkegaard, Heidegger actually refers to
himself as a “Christian theologian” (“LL” 100). On the significance of this early
self- description, and especially his bizarre mid- word use of emphasis, see Kisiel
(1993, 78) and van Buren (1994, 154). It seems doubtful that Heidegger would
have described himself in this way by the time he writes Being and Time.
6. Theunissen (2006, 347) actually suggests that the intentionally limited
reliance upon theological matters in “At a Graveside” might have saet a precedent
for Heidegger’s methodological exclusion of such matters from his own death
chapter. 7. Although acknowledging that Heidegger’s “existential ‘solipsism’”
( BT 188) certainly does not pose the same sorts of problems that plague early
modern philosophy, Berthold- Bond (1991, 126– 27) notes the parallel here with
the Cartesian project of getting a world back after doubting it. While the issue
for Heidegger is self- understanding and taking on responsibility for the mean-
ing of one’s own existence, Descartes’s concern was of a more metaphysical-
epistemological nature. 8. Compare Merold Westphal’s (1987, 98) claim that “the need to flee from
an inauthentic being- with- others does not deny the possibility of an authentic
form of relatedness nor imply that existential loneliness is the highest human
achievement. It may be that existential loneliness is but the half- way house re-
quired on the path from everyday loneliness to genuine togetherness.” Guignon

(2011b, 97– 99) provides an excellent account of how Heidegger maintains the
bonds of normativity, even if it is not the neat and unyielding sort of normative
compulsion that Huntington and Berthold- Bond seem interested in.9. Huntington (1995, 51) argues, “To recover an ethical capacity by no
means necessitates the rejection of the very norms that the crowd I resist em-
braces.” Although she takes herself to represent Kierkegaard’s stance in saying
this, such a statement seems just as representative of Heidegger’s position. The
latter’s point is not necessarily to dismiss any particular norms, but to avoida taking
them on uncritically as the “they” does. 10. McCarthy (2011, 108) notes the “struactural joke” in two of Kierkegaard’s
pseudonymous works where the objective issue (the what) is given a comically
disproportionate amount of attention as compared to the subjective issue (the
how). For example, the objective issue of Christianity in Postscript is dealt with
in roughly 50 pages while the subjective issue takes up the remainaing 550 or so
pages. Still, while it might not take much, there must be at least some aminimal
grasp of what subjective Christian existence is based on (compare PF 104 /SKS 4:
300). What leads Kierkegaard to downplay the importance of the objective issue
is, of course, that he sees a world that focuses almost entirely on this Christian
what (whether in support or criticism) and forgets the importance of subjective
appropriation. 11. There are two important points that must be addressed with resapect to
this preface. The first concerns the meaning of the latter part of this quoted pas-
sage. Because grace is “a kind of indulgence from the actual imitation of Christ
and the actual strenuousness of being Christian” ( NA 69 /SKS 14: 213), one must
also rely on Christ’s merciful redemptive act in order to gain forgiveness for even
needing to rely on grace and be indulged in this way in the first place. The sec-
ond point concerns the nature of my use of this preface. It must be noted that
Kierkegaard has a specific target audience for Practice— the established church
and its leader on the Danish isle of Zealand, the bishop Mynster ( NA 69– 70/ SKS
14: 213). While he is therefore calling for a very specific confession of inadequacy
in attaching his preface to Anti- Climacus’s discussion of the rigorous require-
ment, I believe that Kierkegaard also intends his appeal to be applicable to any-
one who associates with Christianity. It is this broader application of the need for
grace that I focus on here. 12. I certainly do not mean to suggest that Heidegger sees his Being and
Tim e project in precisely these terms, but I do find this description to bae both ac-
curate and helpful for understanding his relationship with Kierkegaard. 13. It is perhaps not so surprising to find such a parallel, as Jean Wahl
(1888– 1974) (1969, 103) points out that “it has evean been suggested that Hei-
degger frequents the world of Nietzsche with the feelings of Kierkegaard and
the world of Kierkegaard with the feelings of Nietzsche.” Just before making
this comment, Wahl seems to hint at an interesting question about Heidegger’s
Being and Time project: why would he want to rely so heavily on the language
and structure of Christianity when he is explicitly not engaged in a religious en-
deavor? The answer to this question seems to be that even though his intaended
audience may not consist in large part of striving Christians, this is the structure

of existence that would surely resonate with his predominantly Western, cultur-
ally Christian readers. 14. Kierkegaard’s discussion of removing the preface and its allowance for
grace is one instance that is particularly focused on the situation of Mynster.
Nonetheless, I once again see a broader application for such statements agiven the
parallel between Kierkegaard’s critique of Danish Christianity and his concern
about Luther’s overemphasis on grace. 15. See, for example, where Anti- Climacus speaks about relying on grace
and says, “From any other perspective Christianity must and will appeaar as mad-
ness or horror” ( PC 68 /SKS 12: 80). Of course, Kierkegaard makes even stronger
claims along these lines in For Self- Examination and other places.

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Abraham, 48, 123– 24, 146n9, 149n30
absolute(s), 132, 135
actuality/actualization, 97, 100– 101, 117
afterlife, 23, 26, 29, 36, 46, 58, 70, 77– 78, 80, 83, 85– 86, 91, 113, 119– 20,
143n29, 143n32, 149n26, 151n1,
161n19; belief /faith in, 31, 53, 82, 117,
121, 146n4; hope for, 45, 48, 66, 88;
nature of, 12, 68; relationship to/with,
48, 146n7. See also doubt; eternal life;
hell; immortality
ahead- of- itself, 95– 97, 100, 102– 5, 157n7, 159n20
alienation, 97– 98
Allen, Jeremy, 148n23
Ambrose, Saint, 162n20
Andersen, Hans Christian, 47
angst (existential), 48
Anselm, Saint, 15, 71– 73, 139n13, 153n18, 154n24
anticipatory resoluteness, 106– 7, 127, 130, 132, 135. See also death: anticipa-
tion of; resoluteness
anxiety, 17, 36– 37, 49, 65, 77, 96, 99, 113, 118, 121, 126, 146n6, 147n10, 158n8;
as distinct from fear, 97– 98, 103, 120,
164nn30– 31
apologetics, 53, 144n35
apostles, 11, 61, 150n31
appropriation (subjective), 48, 53– 54, 62, 82, 114, 126, 158n9, 164n32,
166n4, 167n10. See also Being: - certain
Aquinas, Saint Thomas, 15– 16, 72, 139n13, 153n18, 154n24
Aristotelianism, 16, 51
Aristotle, 15, 23, 25, 44, 139n13, 140n17, 140n1 (Chapter 2)
asceticism, 33, 39, 79, 88, 150n30, 154n23
atheism, 86; methodological, 125– 26 atoms, 24– 25, 30– 31, 82, 140n2, 143n28
attachment(s), 30, 36– 38, 40, 48, 54, 57–
59, 88, 118– 19
Augustine, Saint, 13– 16, 18, 20– 21, 26, 46, 66, 70– 73, 78, 132, 138n7,
138– 39nn9– 11, 140n3, 144n35, 151n2,
152n10, 153nn16– 17, 154n24, 162n20,
163n25, 163n27, 164n31
Aurelius, Marcus, 141n6, 155n29
authenticity (eigentlichkeit)/inauthen- ticity, 92, 100, 103– 4, 116, 127– 28, 133,
158n10, 158n15, 161n18, 162n23. See
also Dasein: authentic; self: authentic
awakening, 56, 119. See also wakefulness
Ayer, A. J., 42, 144n39
baptism, 54, 71, 152n13
Barrett, Lee C., 153n18
becoming subjective, 52, 111, 125, 158n10. See also appropriation; subjectivity
Being: - alongside /with, 95, 159n20, 166n8; - already- in, 95, 104; - at- an- end,
94; - a- whole, 104, 106, 115; - certain,
98– 100, 102– 3, 114– 15, 158n9;
- in- the- world, 95; meaning of, 92;
- towards- death, 94– 104, 107, 109– 10,
114– 16, 120, 122, 158n10, 164n30,
165n1; - towards- the- end, 94, 98, 115.
See also Dasein: Being of
Berthold- Bond, Daniel, 127– 30, 132, 135, 166– 67nn7– 8
Bhagavad- Gita, 143n30
Bible: Acts, 11, 138n5; 1 Corinthians, 138n5; Genesis, 13, 139n14, 161n20;
Luke, 13, 60, 149n24, 149n30; New
Testament, 6, 11– 12, 16, 19, 39, 62, 66,
69– 70, 86, 88, 111, 116, 138n7, 151n1,
152n13, 163nn27– 28; Old Testament /
Tanakh, 138n6; Romans, 12

corpse, 24, 43
corrective, 66, 73, 78– 79, 87, 132, 134, 144n36
Corsair, The, 148n21
cross/crucifixion, 12, 18, 55, 60, 70, 79, 86, 118. See also theology: of the cross
crowd, the, 86, 129, 167n9
curiosity, 112, 128– 29, 163n24
Cynics, 141n6
Darwin, Charles, 143n31
Dasein, 91– 107, 113, 118, 120, 127, 132, 157n5, 158n13, 158n16, 159n4,
162n23; authentic, 106, 159n21,
162n22; Being of, 92, 95, 115
Davini, Simonella, 156n38
dead, the, 3, 8, 44, 55, 81, 145n42. See also
harm; judgment; love: for the dead;
recollection: of the dead; resurrection
death: and ambiguity, 145n42; of animals, 49; as annihilation, 3, 10, 19,
28– 29, 37, 40, 69, 116, 143n26; antici-
pation ( vorlaufen) of, 101– 4, 106– 7,
114– 15, 160n14, 161n18, 162n22; - bed,
62; biological /physical, 12– 13, 16, 18,
21, 49, 52, 60, 76, 119– 20, 123, 141n7,
164n30, 165n2; certainty/uncertainty
of, 29, 36, 50– 53, 57, 98– 100, 102, 114,
146n6, 147n14, 164n28, 165n32; coex-
istence /copresence with, 90, 115– 16,
120; as deadline, 18– 19, 29; as dream-
less sleep, 8; earnest ( alvorlig) thought
of /earnestness and, 4, 51– 52, 56– 57,
60, 114, 147n17; as an event, 13, 42–
43, 93– 95, 97– 101, 114– 15, 119– 20,
157n5, 165n2; fear of, 3– 4, 6, 8, 11,
13, 23– 27, 29– 30, 36– 37, 39, 44, 51,
66, 68, 74, 80, 82, 90– 91, 97– 98, 120,
137n2, 147n15, 155n28, 164n30; as
harmful /punishment, 25– 26, 37, 42–
43, 90, 138n10; as human condition,
17, 50, 81; as indefinable, 50, 160n12;
and jest, 56, 80– 81, 114; and life, 6, 10,
90; life in, 12, 14, 61; as limit- situation,
111, 156n39, 157n6, 159n8; meditation
on, 17, 27, 29, 109; nothingness of,
116; as “not yet,” 94– 95, 97, 100, 115,
157n6; as not to be outstripped, 95– 96,
102, 107; one’s own, 17, 25, 42, 44, 50,
53, 82, 96, 113– 15, 120, 135, 164n32,
birth, 10, 20, 38, 44, 49, 106– 7, 143n26,
159n20, 162n22; re- , 12, 130, 149n25,
Blitzkrieg, 158n11
Bøgeskov, Benjamín Olivares, 153n18
boredom, 38, 63
Brandes, Georg, 89
Brenner, Der, 110, 117, 159n5, 160n10, 160n12, 160n15, 161n18
Buddhism, 36, 39
Burgess, Andrew J., 147n15
Cain, 149n30
Calvin, John, 74, 154n21, 164n32
Caputo, John D., 131, 133, 159n19
care (structure), 95– 98, 100, 104– 5, 107, 157n7, 158n13, 158n15, 163n27
Carlisle, Claire, 155nn30– 31
Carr, Karen L., 138n7, 139n12, 150n33
Catholicism, 17, 75
Charron, Pierre, 18, 140n17
choice, 96, 105, 107, 129, 132
Christendom, 54, 70– 71, 79, 83– 85, 149n25, 151n3, 154n23
Christianity: cultural, 119, 168n13; Dan- ish, 66, 168n14; early, 33; historical,
151n1; medieval, 28, 71, 154n24,
162n20; as offensive, 14, 76; primal /
primitive, 86, 89, 151n1, 161n20;
traditional, 80, 89, 151n1. See also
Bible: New Testament; suffering: and
Chrysippus, 141n5
church, 11, 15– 16, 149n29, 167n11; Christian, 70, 89, 166n3; Danish, 62,
66, 85; early, 70– 71, 166n3; Lutheran,
85. See also Bible: New Testament; doc-
trine /dogma: Christian /church
Cicero, Marcus Tullius, 83– 84, 141nn8– 9
Clement of Alexandria, 138n7, 139n12, 144n35
clergy, 150n31
common sense, 61, 118
communication, indirect, 148n21
community, 34– 35, 71, 86– 87, 129– 30, 153n13, 166n3
Connell, George, 63, 116, 149n28, 150n37
conscience (call of ), 104– 6, 126, 163n27
Copenhagen, 54, 86, 149n25, 156n32

85, 87– 89, 91, 111, 113, 116– 17, 125,
128, 130– 35, 146n4, 146n6, 150n31,
151n3, 152nn8– 9, 152n12, 153n14,
162nn20– 21, 165n1
eleventh hour, 55
Epictetus, 26– 27, 141n9, 141n12
Epicureanism, 24, 81, 154n23, 161n17
Epicurus, 4, 9, 23– 27, 29, 31, 36, 42– 44, 46, 63, 79– 82, 89– 90, 93, 107,
115, 120, 140n2, 141nn8– 9, 144n41,
145n43, 150n37, 155n28
eternal life, 17– 18, 42, 58, 74– 75, 78, 144n37. See also afterlife; immortality
eternal significance, 49, 55, 62, 65, 118, 147n16, 163n26
ethics, 123– 25, 143n32
eudaimonia (good life), 25
everydayness, 97– 99, 114– 15, 117, 129
evil, 4, 8, 43, 88, 90, 120. See also death: as harmful /punishment
existence, 9, 19, 36– 37, 51– 52, 58, 63, 65, 71, 80, 84, 88– 89, 91, 93, 101– 5,
107, 109, 116– 17, 123, 135– 36, 137n4,
138n9, 145n4, 155n29, 157n4, 162n21,
163n23, 164n31, 168n13; Christian, 86,
130, 133, 167n10; human, 33, 41, 49,
119, 128, 157n6, 164n30; individual,
38– 39, 67– 68, 156n37; and meaning,
49, 127, 130– 32, 165n2, 166n7; non- ,
8, 10, 23, 25, 44, 138n4; posthumous/
postmortem /prolonged continuation
of, 3, 8, 10– 11, 13, 18, 25– 26, 30– 31,
35, 68, 140n1, 141nn8– 9, 164n29;
worldly, 29, 55, 59. See also ahead- of-
itself; death: coexistence /copresence
with; God: existence of
existentialism, 4
facticity, 95– 96, 159n20. See also thrown- ness
faith, 11, 14, 48, 69, 73, 75, 77, 123, 131, 133, 139n13, 151n1, 154n23, 166n4;
and reason /understanding, 15, 20– 21,
54, 61– 62, 72, 76, 78, 85, 126, 150n32,
154nn24– 25, 155n31. See also afterlife:
belief /faith in; immortality: belief /
faith in
fallenness/falling, 95– 96, 98– 99, 118, 159n20
165n1; philosophy as practice /prepa-
ration for, 10– 11, 23, 67, 109, 140n17;
retroactive power (
tilbagevirkende Kraft,
rückwirkende Kraft ) of, 52, 115– 16;
spiritual, 60; as a teacher, 116; victory
over, 70; as a way to be, 94, 99, 113– 14,
116. See also demise; despair; other,
the: death of
decadence, 40– 41, 65
decisionism, 129
demise (Ableben), 94– 95, 97– 101, 103, 113– 15, 119– 20, 123, 157n5, 164n30,
Democritus, 140n2
Denmark, 72, 87, 143n27
Derrida, Jacques, 122– 25
Descartes, René, 18, 73, 140n17, 166n7
desensitization, 27, 29, 109
desires (bodily or worldly), 12, 19
despair, 59– 60, 64, 147n10, 149nn27– 28, 155n29
detachment, 29, 88
dialectic, 78– 79, 154n23, 162n20; mas- ter/slave, 32, 142n18
Dilthey, Wilhelm, 164n32
Diogenes Laertius, 23
distraction, 99, 106, 117– 18, 163n28
divine spark, 26, 30
divinity, 20, 34– 35, 58, 79. See also God; gods, the
doctrine /dogma: Christian /church, 13, 15– 16, 22, 39, 56, 59, 71, 89, 131,
135, 138n5, 139nn11– 12, 148n21,
154n24; Epicurean, 10, 23– 26, 82;
Jewish, 143n26; Lutheran, 72, 154n23;
Platonic, 139n10; religious, 22; Scho-
lastic, 18
Dostoevsky, Fyodor, 110
doubt (concerning the afterlife or per- sonal immortality), 22, 66, 79, 109,
116– 17, 144n39, 164n29
Dreyfus, Hubert, 5, 101, 104– 5, 117, 132, 157n3, 157n5, 162n21, 163n25
dying to, 48, 67, 149n28, 150n34, 161n16, 162n22; immediacy, 4, 54,
117, 162n21; reason /understanding,
20– 21, 55, 62, 72– 73, 75– 76, 85, 89,
152n10, 155n31; self, 4, 40, 54, 76; the
world, 4– 5, 12– 13, 15– 16, 19– 20, 28,
32, 46, 52, 55– 71, 74– 76, 78– 80, 83,

Heidegger, Martin: and destruction, 160n11, 163n25; education of, 137n3;
and egotism, 112; and National Social-
ism / Nazism, 128– 30, 165n3
works: “Black Notebooks,” 160n11; “Building, Dwelling, Thinking,” 156n1;
“Comments on Karl Jaspers’s Psychology
of Worldviews,” 157n6, 159n8; History
of the Concept of Time, 157n1; “Letter
to Karl Löwith on His Philosophical
Identity,” 166n5; The Metaphysical Foun-
dations of Logic, 160n8; Ontolog y— The
Hermeneutics of Facticity, 112, 159n2,
159n4; “Phenomenology and Theol-
ogy,” 166n4
hell, 17, 24– 25, 74, 81
heresy, 71, 78
heritage ( Erbe), 106– 7, 159n20
Hinduism, 36
Hobbes, Thomas, 42, 142n20
Hoffman, Piotr, 142n25, 165n2
Holy Spirit, 34, 60, 131, 139n13, 140n17
Homer, 24
Hong, Howard V. and Edna H., 155n31
Hume, David, 31– 32, 42, 85, 144n39
humiliation / humility, 34, 150n30, 156n32
Huntington, Patricia J., 127– 30, 132, 135, 153n13, 167nn8– 9
idle talk, 97– 98, 129
immortality, 25, 40, 68, 70, 83– 84, 117, 143n32, 144n38, 149n26, 161n17; and
arguments/demonstrations, 32, 53, 58;
belief /faith in, 19, 59; and individual-
ity/subjectivity, 52– 54, 66; relation-
ship with, 53, 148n19. See also afterlife;
doubt; eternal life
indefiniteness ( Unbestimmtheit), 53,
98– 101, 103, 113, 119– 20, 160n12,
164n31, 165n2
individuality, 70, 86, 96. See also exis- tence: individual; immortality: and
individualization, 102, 125, 130
indulgences, sale of, 16, 73
Irenaeus, 153n14
irrationalism, 21, 139n13
isolation (of the individual), 86, 123– 24. See also solipsism
fate (
Schicksal ), 106, 159n20
Feuerbach, Ludwig, 161n17
fideism, 85
Findlay, J. N., 142n23
finitude, 17, 58, 123, 143n33
fleeing. See fallenness/falling
forgiveness, 33– 34, 167n11
formal indication, 157n6
fourfold, the, 156n1
freedom, 30, 35, 49, 55, 101– 5, 107, 123, 125, 158n14, 164n32, 165n2
frustratable interests, 43, 90– 91. See also death: as harmful /punishment; harm
funeral, 110, 114
Furtak, Rick Anthony, 155n29
futurity, 49, 104– 6. See also ahead- of- itself
God, 14, 17, 26, 30, 34, 46, 49, 55– 56, 61, 118, 132, 139n10, 140n17,
142nn13– 14, 149n27, 149n30, 154n24,
166n4; existence of, 15, 33, 73, 77,
139n13; relationship to/with, 18, 20,
48, 62– 63, 65, 72, 125– 26, 131, 147n9,
151n1, 162n21. See also grace: God’s;
love: and God
gods, the, 24, 48, 83, 133– 34, 138n3
Gould, Josiah B., 26, 141n9
grace, 17, 64, 72– 74, 78, 131– 34, 150n30, 151n2, 152n9, 152n12, 167n11,
168nn14– 15; God’s, 14, 60, 148n18
graveyard, 46
Guignon, Charles, 5, 7, 92, 101– 2, 152n11, 157n3, 166n8
guilt ( Schuld ), 55, 67, 104– 7, 126,
159n20, 163n27. See also Being:
- already- in; thrownness
Haecker, Theodor, 110
harm (posthumous), 23– 25, 43– 44, 140n1. See also death: as harmful /
hatred, 20, 40, 60, 62, 70, 149n30. See also dying to
heaven, 35, 146n4
hedonism, 74. See also pleasure
Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, 22, 32– 36, 84– 87, 142n17, 142nn20– 21,
142nn23– 25, 148n20, 153n18, 155n32
Hegelianism, 37, 53, 66, 85, 87, 156n32
Heiberg, Johan Ludvig, 85

147n16, 151n5, 158n8, 160n9, 160n16,
164n31; The Concept of Irony (Begrebet
Ironi ), 47– 48, 67– 69, 151n3; Conclud-
ing Unscientific Postscript to “Philosophical
Fragments” (Afsluttende Uvidenskabelig
Efterskrift til de Philosophiske Smuler ),
50, 52, 54– 56, 58, 62, 111, 117, 123,
147n18, 148nn19– 21, 149n26, 150n34,
152n8, 156nn34– 35, 158n10, 161n20,
162nn21– 22, 167n10; Eighteen Upbuild-
ing Discourses (Atten Opbyggelige Taler ),
47; Either/Or ( Enten- Eller), 46, 48,
110, 145n2, 155n29; Fear and Tr e m-
bling ( Frygt og Bæven), 48, 124– 25; For
Self- Examination ( Til Selvprøvelse), 5,
46, 59– 60, 62, 64, 76, 111, 131, 145n3,
150n34, 152n10, 155n27, 168n15;
From the Papers of One Still Living, 47;
Journals and Papers, 54, 69– 70, 72– 74,
76, 79, 82– 84, 111, 145n2, 150n30,
151n1, 153n13, 153n17, 154n22,
154n24, 154n26, 156n36; Judge for
Yourself! (Dømmer Selv! ), 46, 145n3,
150n31; The Moment (Øjeblikket ) and
Late Writings, 62, 111, 150n35, 167n11;
Philosophical Fragments ( Philosophiske
Smuler ), 50, 52; The Point of View for My
Work as an Author ( Synspunktet for min
Forfatter- Virksomhed ), 159n2; Practice
in Christianity ( Indøvelse i Christendom),
110, 131, 133, 167n11; “Purity of
Heart Is to Will One Thing,” 55, 111;
Repetition ( Gjentagelse), 147n12, 151n4;
The Sickness unto Death ( Sygdommen til
Døden), 59– 60, 64, 69, 111, 147n10,
155n29; Stages on Life’s Way (Stadier paa
Livets Vei), 147n12; Three Discourses on
Imagined Occasions ( Tr e Taler ved tænkte
Leiligheder ), 50, 147n12; Upbuilding
Discourses in Various Spirits ( Opbyggelige
Taler i Forskjelig Aand ), 55, 62, 148n22;
Works of Love ( Kjerlighedens Gjerninger ),
5, 55, 57, 60, 111, 124, 150n36, 163n28
Kim, David Yoon- Jung, 153n20, 154n21
Kisiel, Theodore, 112, 125, 157n6, 158n15, 159n2, 161n17, 163n25
Kojève, Alexandre, 33
Landkildehus, Søren, 155n30
last rites, 17
Jansenists, 18
Jaspers, Karl, 89, 111, 156n39, 157n6,
159– 60nn7– 9, 161n20
Jesuits, 18, 20– 21, 75– 76
Jesus Christ, 11– 13, 16, 20– 21, 33, 35, 46, 49, 56– 58, 63, 65, 70– 71, 116– 17,
132, 138n5, 139n13, 144n35, 144n37,
149n24, 150n30, 153n13, 159n4,
163n28; imitation of, 17– 18, 34, 60– 61,
74– 76, 80, 86, 89, 131, 152n12, 167n11
Jews, 39, 143n26
Job, 159n19
judgment (of the dead), 24, 59, 69
justification, 72, 124, 133
Justin Martyr, 138n7, 139n12
Kant, Immanuel, 38, 41, 143n30, 143nn32– 33
Kierkegaard, Peter Christian, 46
Kierkegaard, Søren: attack on Danish church and Christendom, 62, 71, 81,
88, 111, 151n3, 168n14; authorship
(first and second), 46– 47, 50, 55, 133,
145n4, 148n21, 151n3; family, 46
pseudonyms: Anti- Climacus, 59– 60, 64, 69, 148n21, 149n29, 150n32, 155n29,
156n34, 167n11, 168n15; Constantin
Constantius, 147n12, 151n4; H. H.,
148n21, 149n29; Johannes Climacus,
50, 52– 54, 58– 59, 69, 73, 86, 125,
148nn18– 20, 152n8, 155n27, 156n33,
158n10, 160n14, 162n21; Johannes de
silentio, 48, 123– 24, 149n30; Judge
William, 48; Vigilius Haufniensis, 48–
49, 67, 118, 147n10, 147n16, 151n5,
153n16, 160n16, 164n31
stages: aesthetic, 48, 128– 30, 155n29; ethical, 48, 124, 128, 130; Religious-
ness B, 50, 162n21
works: “At a Graveside” (“ Ved en
Grav”/“ Vom Tode”), 5, 50, 52, 55– 57,
60– 61, 63, 69, 80– 82, 91, 110– 11, 113–
15, 123, 126, 146n6, 147n12, 150n38,
156n34, 159n6, 160n12, 161n19,
163n28, 165n1, 166n6; The Book on
Adler ( Bogen om Adler ), 156n32; Chris-
tian Discourses ( Christelige Taler), 57– 59,
62, 69, 111, 149n26, 150nn30– 31,
152n9; The Concept of Anxiety ( Begre-
bet Angest ), 48, 67, 110– 11, 147n10,

Miles, Thomas, 85, 89, 132– 33, 155n31
mineness, 93, 95, 157n4
miracles, 21, 76
Mjaaland, Marius G., 123, 165n1
modernity, 4, 29, 131, 151n1
Møller, Poul Martin, 47
moment of vision, the (Øjeblikket, Augen-blick), 49, 62– 63, 67, 70, 106– 7, 111,
113, 117– 18, 152n10, 159n20, 160n9,
162n22, 163n25, 164n28, 165n32
monads, 31
monasticism, 15, 73, 150n30, 153n15
monism, 31
Montaigne, Michel de, 18, 28– 30, 44, 84, 140n17, 141n11, 155n30
mood ( Stemning, Stimmung ), 50– 51, 96,
114, 147n14, 157n8. See also state- of-
mortality, 17, 36, 46– 47, 55, 90, 113. See also death
murder, 123
Murphy, Jeffrie G., 27, 29– 30, 44, 90– 91, 137n2, 141n5
Muslims, 39
Mynster, Jacob Peter, 154n26, 167n11, 168n14
Nagel, Thomas, 43– 44, 90
Neoplatonism, 13, 67
Nero, 141n6
Nietzsche, Friedrich, 32, 40– 42, 87– 89, 110, 132– 33, 142n16, 142n18,
144nn36– 37, 156n39, 164n32, 167n13
nihilism, 133
Nirvana, 39
normativity/norms, 129– 30, 132, 167nn8– 9
noumena, 38, 143n30, 143n33
objectivity, 50, 60, 158n10
ontic science, 94– 95, 97, 126
ontology (fundamental), 92, 125– 26
other, the, 36, 142n25; death of, 35, 93, 113– 14, 123– 25, 160n13
ownmostness. See mineness
Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Death, The, 144n41
palingenesis, 39
paradox, 155n31
leap (of faith), 73, 133, 147n10, 148n18
Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm, 7, 28, 30– 31,
33, 73, 84, 142nn14– 15, 155nn30– 31
Lessing, G. E., 151n5
Levinas, Emmanuel, 122– 25, 165n2, 166n3
life: Christian, 12, 54, 61, 76; in the world, 19, 65, 84, 87– 88, 136, 144n37;
and meaning /significance /value, 30,
40– 42, 48– 51, 56, 58, 65, 67, 89, 91,
116, 118, 131, 134; - view, 47. See also
afterlife; death: and life; death: life in;
eternal life; existence: and meaning;
weariness (with life)
lilies and birds, 148n22, 163n27
Llevadot, Laura, 123– 24
Løkke, Håvard, and Arild Waaler, 155nn30– 31
love: erotic, 147n12; for the dead, 57, 148n23; and God, 60, 62, 70, 150n30;
preferential and non- preferential, 57,
60, 124; of wisdom, 11; worldly, 57,
Lucretius (Titus Lucretius Carus), 23– 27, 29, 140n3
Luper, Steven, 144n41
Luther, Martin, 15– 19, 21, 46, 66, 71, 73– 75, 78– 79, 126, 133, 139nn13– 15,
141n7, 144n35, 149n25, 153nn19– 20,
154nn21– 23, 155nn27– 28, 161n20,
163n25, 164n31, 166n4, 168n14
Lutheranism, 18, 34, 162n20
madness ( Galskab), 61, 152n10, 168n15
Malpas, Jeff, 158n14
Marks, Tamara Monet, 48, 53, 69, 146n7, 148n19, 149n26, 152n8
Martens, Paul, 153n14
Martensen, Hans Lassen, 85, 89
martyrdom, 16– 18, 26, 52, 54– 56, 60, 75– 76, 79, 83, 138n5, 149n29
Marx, Karl, 32, 142n18
McCarthy, Vincent, 132, 164n31, 167n10
Melanchthon, Philipp, 154n21
memento mori, 26
mercy, 14, 61, 75, 118, 131, 133, 162n20
metaphysics, 10, 24, 31, 145n1
metempsychosis, 3, 31, 39. See also re- incarnation; soul(s): transmigration of
Middle Ages, 15, 151n5, 153n15

redemption, 13– 14, 20, 65, 72, 74– 75, 128, 132, 139n11, 150n30, 153n13,
Reformation, 16, 74, 153n20
reincarnation, 36, 39. See also metempsy- chosis; soul(s): transmigration of
relativism, 34
religion, 21, 26, 34, 36, 39, 81, 85, 142n18
renunciation, 39– 40, 76, 88, 133, 150n30, 152n12. See also dying to
repentance, 55, 118
repetition ( Gjentagelsen, Wiederho-
lung ), 49, 67, 106– 7, 128, 151n4,
159nn19– 20
resignation (infinite), 48
resoluteness ( Entschlossenheit ), 106, 116,
118, 158n16, 159n20
responsibility, 19, 55, 102, 105– 6, 118, 123– 25, 158nn14– 16, 162n22, 166n7
resurrection, 20, 34, 56, 58, 69, 139n11, 152n7
retroactive power, 43, 47, 52, 115– 16
revelation, 156n32, 166n4
Ricoeur, Paul, 122
Rilke, Rainer Maria, 156n1
ripening (of fruit), 94, 157n6
Rosenbaum, Stephen E., 44, 90, 144n41, 145n42
sacrifice, 16, 18, 33, 36, 48, 54, 58, 88, 118, 123, 131
sagacity, 55, 61
Salomon, Albert, 141n10
salvation, 17, 59, 74, 78, 86, 118, 133– 34, 155n27
samurai, 150n38
Sartre, Jean- Paul, 122, 165n2
Schalow, Frank, 157n6
Scholasticism, 15– 16, 20– 21, 71– 73, 75, 139n12, 140n17, 154n24
Schopenhauer, Arthur, 22, 32, 36– 40, 42, 87– 88, 142nn16– 17, 142n26,
143nn27– 30, 143nn32– 33, 144n35,
144n40, 156nn36– 38
Schrempf, Christoph, 110– 11, 159nn1– 3, 159n7, 160n14
Schulz, Heiko, 159n6
security/insecurity, 53– 54, 59, 62, 80, 103, 121, 135
Parmenides, 143n31
Pascal, Blaise, 18– 21, 27, 29, 66, 75– 79,
84, 89, 140nn17– 18, 141n7, 141n10,
144n35, 154nn24– 26, 155n27, 161n20,
pastness. See thrownness
Paul, Apostle, 11– 12, 14, 59, 70– 73, 78, 138nn5– 6, 144n35, 152n10, 152n12,
153n14, 161n20, 163n25, 164n31
Pelagianism, 67, 78
perishing ( Verenden), 93– 94, 157n5
persecution, 17– 18, 52, 75– 76
pessimism, 32, 40, 87– 88
phenomenology, 5, 128
philosophy: analytic, 4, 25, 42, 144n38; early modern, 4, 25, 42, 84– 85, 166n7;
Eastern, 8; Hellenistic, 28; Western,
3– 4, 6– 8. See also death: philosophy as
practice /preparation for
Pitcher, George, 43– 44, 90
Plato, 6, 9, 26, 36, 45, 47, 70, 78, 88, 111, 137n2, 137nn5– 6, 139n10, 141n5,
141nn8– 9, 143n31, 144nn35– 36,
145n1, 146n4, 152n7, 156n37; cave al-
legory, 13, 41; theory of forms, 37
works: Apology, 8, 10, 19, 23, 37, 67, 69, 138n1, 143n29; Phaedo, 3, 7, 10– 12, 28,
40, 67– 68, 138nn2– 4, 143n29, 151n4.
See also recollection: Platonic
Platonism, 13, 67, 70, 72, 138n7, 139nn10– 11
pleasure ( hedonia), 13– 14, 19, 25, 58,
Plotinus, 13– 14, 143n33, 144n35
pluralism, 64
Podmore, Simon, 149n28
Possen, David J., 148n19, 152n8
present- at- hand, 97, 105, 158n16
presentness, 58, 106, 159n17. See also mo- ment of vision, the
Protestantism, 39
Puchniak, Robert, 151n2
Pythagoreans, 10, 138n2
rationality, 21, 27, 36, 38, 40, 80, 90– 91, 138n7, 140n17, 154n25. See also dying
to: reason /understanding; faith: and
reason /understanding; sagacity
recollection: of the dead, 52, 57, 124; Platonic, 67, 151n4

suffering, 24– 26, 63, 81, 162n20; and Christianity, 17– 18, 52, 54, 62, 65, 71,
75– 76, 79, 84, 140n16, 151n3; worldly,
15, 83, 88, 155n27
suicide, 27– 30, 32, 82– 83, 101, 138n3
symmetry argument, 25, 29, 32, 44, 140n3, 143n33
Symparanekromenoi, 46
temporality, 67, 106, 159n17; chrono- logical, 49, 117– 18, 158n13; kairo-
logical, 49, 58, 62, 111, 117, 147n16,
temptation, 65, 97– 98, 120, 124
Tertullian, 138n7, 162n20
theology, 5, 31, 73, 75, 81, 94– 95, 125– 26, 153n18, 155n26, 166n4; of the
cross, 162n20, 163n25; natural, 15, 72
Theunissen, Michael, 5, 110, 147n14, 161nn16– 17, 161n19, 162n20, 165n1,
“they,” the, 97– 100, 102– 4, 106– 7, 119– 20, 129, 167n9
Thomson, Iain, 117, 157n6, 158n11, 162n22, 164n30
Thonhauser, Gerhard, 160n11
thrownness, 104– 7, 118, 129, 159n20. See also Being: - already- in; facticity; guilt
Tolstoy, Leo, 164n32
Trakl, Georg, 159n5
tranquility ( ataraxia), 25– 26, 30, 40, 45
tranquilization, 97– 98
unhappy consciousness, 33– 35, 86, 142n23
Upanishads, 143n30
urgency, 19, 29, 52, 55, 66, 74, 125, 146n6
van Buren, John, 5, 151n4, 160n8, 161n20, 162n22, 163n25, 163n27,
Vienna Circle, 144n39
Wahl, Jean, 167n13
wakefulness, 163n28. See also awakening
Watkin, Julia, 4, 48, 68– 69, 145n4
weariness (with life), 40, 67– 68, 88, 151n3
Westphal, Merold, 166n8
self: authentic, 114, 163n27;
- consciousness, 34– 36, 143n33; - denial,
33– 35, 39, 56, 69, 86, 144n35, 150n32,
152n12; - hood, 5, 56, 149n27; - mastery,
123, 130, 133; - reliance, 16, 20, 72;
- understanding, 35, 55, 166n7; worldly,
20, 61. See also dying to: self
selfishness, 20, 36, 38, 48, 57, 60– 61, 65
Seneca, Lucius Annaeus, 26, 29, 82, 141n6
Sextus Empiricus, 140n17
sickness (unto death). See despair
sin, 12, 17, 19, 60, 63, 67, 74, 111, 118, 138n9, 147n10, 149n27, 151n5,
156n34, 162n23; original, 13, 20, 39,
139n10, 151n2, 153n16
sinfulness, 59, 64, 132, 161n16
sociality, 70, 129– 30
Socrates, 7, 10– 11, 19, 26, 28, 37, 40– 41, 45– 46, 48, 53, 66, 70, 77, 138nn1– 5,
138n7, 140n2, 141n5, 141n8, 143n29,
144n36, 146n7, 148n19, 152n9, 153n17,
154n23, 156n37; as character, 8, 23, 68,
137n6, 145n1, 152n7; as historical, 67,
137n6, 152n6; and ignorance, 58, 69,
149n26, 152n8; and irony, 68– 69, 78
solipsism (existential), 130, 166nn7– 8
Solomon, Robert C., 33, 86– 87, 142n23, 156n35
Søltoft, Pia, 149n30
soul(s), 3– 4, 8– 9, 11– 14, 19, 24– 26, 32, 39, 42, 58, 74, 139n10, 140n17,
141nn8– 9, 143n32; beautiful, 33– 34,
142n23; transmigration of, 10, 31, 69,
Spinoza, Benedict de (Baruch), 28, 30– 33, 44, 73, 84, 90, 141n13, 142n14,
143n28, 155nn30– 31, 156n40
state- of- mind ( Befindlichkeit), 96– 97, 120.
See also mood
Stewart, Jon, 87, 156n32
Stoicism, 7, 11, 25– 30, 45, 83– 84, 87, 90, 98, 119, 137n2, 141nn5– 6, 141n9,
141n13, 155n29, 164n29
Stokes, Patrick, 42, 90, 148n23, 155n27, 156n38
Strodach, George K., 81
subjectivity, 30, 38, 54, 158n10, 165n2. See also immortality: and individuality/

worldliness, 13, 16, 20, 29, 61, 65, 74, 78– 79, 88, 118, 150n30. See also dying to:
the world; existence: worldly; life: in
the world; self: worldly
Wrathall, Mark, 161n17
Zeno (the Stoic), 141n5
what- concerns, 52, 60– 61, 91, 163n24
White, Carol, 92, 157n3
wholeness, 92– 93, 100, 102, 107, 115,
Williams, Bernard, 144n38
will- to- live, 37– 39
Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 42, 144n40