Precis Presentation by KA

Thesis: In “The Idea of Death in Existentialism” J Glenn Gray argues, through the use of Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers, that acknowledging death and the finality of human existence is the only way that one can live in truth and give meaning to an otherwise meaningless existence.

Starting Quote:

“In life everything attained is like death. Nothing completed can live. In so far as we strive for completeness, we are striving toward the finished, the dead…As a drama for others a life can appear to be complete; in reality it does not possess this character. Life is tension and goal, inadequacy and unfulfillment” – Jaspers

  • Most people live wasted lives
  • Who do you think Jaspers is talking about here? What kinds of people? What have they done with their lives?
  • Life has nothing to do with petty fulfillment – many people fulfill themselves in superficial ways but they have not found meaning
  • It is not about striving for a goal
  • One must live so that life has fulfillment – non-wasted lives


What meaning and significance can be attached to the fact that man must die?

What literature in this course can you connect these ideas to?

What values are to be derived from regarding it at all as contrasted with forgetting about it and living as through death does not exist at all?

  • Early philosophers – everything defined by reason – thus death is of no concern to people because it can not be explained by science or reason
  • 20th century death is rediscovered as a philosophical problem central Heidegger and Jaspers interpretation of human existence

Two main idea presented in existentialism according to Gray

  • Feeling of Homelessness
    • Society is not able to provide the proper environment to nurture our spiritual needs
    • “We are in the world but not of it”
    • There is no predetermined reason for man to exist in this world
    • Every individual must create their own meaning and rational for being on earth… “meaning of life or existence”
    • Each individual must create new meaning for life – there is NO universal meaning it is different for everyone
  • Being, Non-Being and Nothingness
  • DEFINE DREAD—great fear or apprehension – feel dread towards death??
    • Nothingness is part of all Being – there is nothing before being and nothing after being
    • The feeling of Dread is able to uncover the truth about the Nothingness of existence
    • Dread is something to be sought not avoided
    • Only by experiencing Dread can we overcome the “sin” of just “vegetating” in existence
    • Nothingness – allows us to see the truth way of living because it allows one to see that there is nothing before or after their existence and their pure existence is all that is given to them at birth — NAUSEA
    • The true way of living is to live completely exposed to the world and authentically
    • The salvation of finding meaning can only come by the experiences one has while living in truth
  • Boundary experiences—Death, guilt, suffering, conflict, chance – unavoidable experiences in life but these are the only experiences that lead to a genuine life BECAUSE they are unavoidable.
    • These experiences cannot be understood by rational thoughts or ideas
    • Experiencing these things open and unguarded let us experience truth
  • Experiencing death open and unguarded…
    • One must recognize that death is inevitable and that human life is finite – leads to a meaningful life
    • One must view death as PART of life not the END of life
    • Death is a purely individual experience!!!!
    • Everyone must die alone and will have a very unique death and therefore the meaning of death is different for everyone (Ivan Ilyich)
    • However, it is also important to realize that the time and place of death remains unknown and will always remain unknown THEREFORE we must learn to live constantly in the face of death.

Two Different Approaches in analyzing the failure to live in the genuine state of being

  • Jaspers
    • Do not fear the physical act of dying but they fear no longer being – “existential dread”
    • Therefore most refuse to accept the reality of death
  • Heidegger
    • We make death a universal, public event – individuality of death is lost
    • It becomes a mundane everyday thing that happens to everyone and not an individual event that happens to “me”
    • We must use every moment to live so if we were to die suddenly our death would not make our lives meaningless
    • Meaning – meaning to the individual
    • Inauthenticity signifies “blunting of all intense feeling, an escape from personal responsibility, a refusal to regard death as something of profoundest concern to the individual personality”
    • Prefer forgetfulness to awareness – Ivan Ilitch
    • Responsibility to differentiate between the essential and inessential, true and false
  • death is the only way that you can have a genuine experience and gain illumination about the nature of the world
  • Heidegger’s time
    • Must not view time as a linear progression
    • Internalize time and therefore internalize the future
    • The future must become part of the present therefore you are living everyday in the moment
    • Not goal oriented – meaning is not derived from completing different goals but the intensification of life in each individual moment
  • Conclusions
    • Through realization of death life shows its true meaning
    • Live in the moment
    • Exposing one’s true being allows one to live in truth by acceptance of death
  • Author’s contradictions
    • Social aspects of life cannot be overlooked
    • Hard to maintain the perfect individual existence within a crowded world
    • Rather be part of the crowd than an individual
    • Must follow the conventional rules of time (doesn’t see a way to internalize time especially when we need to accumulate existential moments in order to create meaning)
    • Believes gaining understanding of self is also a process of time
      • (If a baby dies as soon as its born does its life have any meaning? It did not have enough time to create any meaning for itself…)
  • I think that the author contradicts himself to show the practical side of the ideas. He wants people to see that there are some ideas that these existentialists present that sound amazing but are potentially impractical when it comes to actually carrying them out in a society
  • Discuss (Critical Analysis):
  • The use of time to try and find meaning
  • The need to strip away everything in order to find truth – eliminate personas – a very hard thing to actually do when faced with the issue of doing it – do you think this is what Antione has done in Nausea?
  • I think the meaning that is created through the acknowledgement of death is a personal meaning. Your life does not have to meaningful to others; it has to have been meaningful to yourself first. If you live life for others YOU are not living life in a meaningful way

Full group discussion about questions above and questions raised by class

Precis Presentation by KA

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