Demise, the Fallen and Annihilation

In Being and Time Heidegger makes a distinction between death and demise: death is the ending of Da-sein, or Being, and demise is physical perishing. I think this is a good distinction and since I break up ontology into 3 sorts of things – commitments, objects & descriptions – I will have three ways to die:

  1. Fallen: the perishing of all commitments of a living person.
  2. Demise: the perishing of physical attributes of a living person (traditional death).
  3. Annihilation: the perishing of all descriptions that a person has made.

Now Heidegger’s use of death was meant to be a fundamental orientation that Da-sein ‘has’ towards its own end (Those are his quotes around has, not mine- see p. 247 of B&T, p. 229 of Stambaugh) and demise was as above. Hence death and demise are somewhat separate because demise is the physical end and death is the way we are oriented to the end of being.

My view is that demise is one kind, a subset, of overall metaphysical death. I am less concerned here with the existential questions about death (though these are important) and more concerned with the ontological relationship between demise and other sorts of perishing. What follows is the insight separating overall metaphysical death from the three particular ways of perishing.

I’m using fallen in a (only somewhat) technical sense to mean the loss of all commitments. If you lose all capability to have commitments, then you have fallen, almost as in ‘fallen off the map.’ “Gone” is similar- you may not be physically dead, but if you are gone (e.g. to some foreign place never to return) you are dead to those with whom you had made commitments. Comatose, but without physical symptoms, is another example. You’re body may still live and for all anyone knows your mind may be as sharp as ever, but you are incapable of keeping commitments and are therefore ‘dead to the world’.

Demise is death as is traditionally defined: when you have met your demise your body is destroyed. Of course there may be some afterlife in which you may keep your commitments (think Ghost, the movie) or your descriptions of the world may continue (Plato will live forever through his writings – I wonder if someone, somewhere is discussing Plato at every instant of every day), but you’re physically dead as a doorknob after your demise.

Annihilation is the destruction of a person’s descriptions of the world. Describing things is perhaps the most basic of human accomplishments – we reward babies (and philosophers) handsomely for accurate descriptions – and if this is taken away from a person, then that person will not have even achieved the simplest of human accomplishments. Annihilating someone is making the world forget that he or she is a person: it is to become nameless. Perhaps the way to think of it is as in Kafka‘s Metamorphosis: Gregor is changed into a vermin/bug that has a working body and (for a while) can fulfill some commitments, but eventually is unable to communicate how his/its world has changed. At this point any future that Gregor had has been annihilated: the thing he became could continue living, but its life would bear no resemblance to what was formerly Gregor. If all evidence of Gregor’s history was erased, even if the thing he turned into still lived, then Gregor would be completely annihilated.

So to completely metaphysically die, you need to be dead (traditional), gone and forgotten.

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