I understand that the analysis of authenticity is part of his attempt to find the meaning of Being. But I'm not quite getting what it means to be authentic in today's somewhat nihilistic world.

Is the idea that we can establish the meaning of our death? But then, so what? Or is it is more of a +ve reflection on the authentic person's character, that they encounter their own death and not flee from that anxiety?

What's the point of authentic being towards death?

  • the only answer i ever saw that was clear was "living as if it were your last day" but really this was just said to dismiss the idea that it mattered that much... i guess the idea is that go to a death that is your own then your LIFE is your own, but i don't quite get the connection there
    – user6917
    Sep 15, 2014 at 0:51

2 Answers 2


Heidegger was reacting to Being as objective and theoretic; that is the being of science - atoms, matter and forces. Cassirer for example his most prominent opponent saw science as the culmination of philosophy; Heidegger wanted to re-orient philosophy to being here in the world - throwness and this gives a different aspect onto notions of time, space and ethics.

Authentic derives from the Latin authentes, one acting on ones own authority; and from the greek auto, the 'self' and hentes, doer and being.

Primarily it is only Dasein that can be authentic or not.

We are not talking about the authenticity of a forged or not painting by Van Gogh.

Daseins possibility of being authetic or inauthentic is rooted in the fact that Dasein is always mine...Since it is mine I can lose it or grasp it, for the fact that it is mine does not mean that it is 'properly' ones own.

To have a hammer, but not to know how to use it, is in a sense not to have a hammer. Thus to have Dasein is not to grasp Dasein 'properly'.

Dasein doesn't lose itself as it might lose an umbrella. It does so by 'falling concern'. It falls into and is absorbed by the 'world', so that it forgets itself as an autonomous entity and interprets itself in terms of its current preoccupations...Despite all this, Dasein is still concerned about itself. If it ceased to itself to matter at all, it would cease to 'Care' (Sorge) and would lose all concern (Besorgen) for anything.

The 'world' I suppose can be an inner as well as an exterior world.

Inauthenticity is only a 'modification', not the extinction of care. Dasein is never irretreivably lost in inauthenticity. If it were, it would no longer be 'inauthentic' as it would no longer be Dasein.

Dasein is defined as that Being that cares about being. Thus to no longer care is no longer to be Dasein.

"Is the idea that we can establish the meaning of our death"?

I don't think that this is Heideggers concern with authenticity. At least its not mentioned by Innes in the entry for authenticity; its remarked on in his entry on Being; and then not even as a separate entry and not hugely relevant:

Heideggers preoccupation with death does not survive the BT period...and did not advocate obsession with death...It does not affirm nihilism or the senselesness of being.

But then, so what?

"Not everyone need perform Being-toward-Death and assume the Self of Dasein in this authenticity; this performance is neccessary only in connection with the task of laying the ground for the question of being; a task which is of course not confined to philosophy. The performance of Being-toward-Death is a duty only for the thinkers of the other beginning, but every essential man among the future creators can know of it". (LXV 285).

Innes comment on this is that running ahead to death primarily secures the integrity and the self-constancy of the individual and not to questions of Being; or rather indirectly so; for those in which it is a duty ('thinkers of the other beginning') Being reveals itself - but it is unclear to Innes how this is so or happens; it is only clear that detachment from 'everydayness' (an aspect of Authenticity) is a necessity.

This counts almost everybody out. Authenticity is more about the meaning of life and not death; in living as though it was your first day and not your last. Innocence and its fullness when one is alone and not alone in the world as in Shelleys Spirit of Solitude; the 'green world' of Shakantula. In the everyday trite phrase self-fulfilment or in the Greek eudaimonia.

Or is it is more of a +ve reflection on the authentic person's character, that they encounter their own death and not flee from that anxiety?

In part yes, in part no. Innes says:

Inauthenticity is not a moral or a theological notion (XXI 232;LXV 302)

Thus its converse - authenticity - one supposes is also neither a moral or a theological notion. Thus not a reflection on an 'authentic persons character'. For the individual, encountering their own death, 'running ahead to death' in Innes terminology 'secures their own integrity' as a person (integrity is not being used here in its moral sense) or as you say 'not fleeing from that anxiety'. Its referenced in Blakes poem The Book of Thel.

What's the point of authentic being towards death?

The main point is as you say to secure the integrity of the person - that is for most; and I'm speculating here that this would be confirmed by a close examination of the anthropological literature on rites-of-passage; for a few ('thinkers of the other beginning') its related to the discovery of Being; in Badious terminology Being as an Event. This is neccesarily obscure; as its encounter can only be for those who have a 'duty' to meet it: In the Christian tradition, this is exemplified by Abraham/Isaac & Christ on the Cross; in the Islamic tradition of the Miraj which influenced Dantes Divine Comedy; in the Western philosophical tradition by Parmenides, Pythagoras, Plato, & Plotinus.

(Quotes from Michael Innes Heideggers Dictionary)

  • not really sure how this answers the question but enjoyed reading it anyway :)
    – user6917
    Sep 15, 2014 at 1:56
  • Where am I missing the point of the question? Sep 15, 2014 at 4:12
  • granted it's neither a moral nor theistic integrity... but is it psychological? or of the individual's life ? or the comprehension of Being ?
    – user6917
    Sep 15, 2014 at 4:44
  • ts psychological if you are using scientific categories; but note that Blake explained the same using myth - and this is because his sensibility was religous; yes, the main effect is on ones own life - its 'integrity' ie 'its wholeness'; as for the comprehension (or an illumination) of Being is only granted to a few who bring it back to be absorbed into the world - an Event; and in a sense this is its 'proof'. Sep 15, 2014 at 5:43
  • If the answer is 'closer' then you should vote it up. Not much point asking for site citizenship if it isn't reciprocated...:)! Sep 15, 2014 at 5:45

I'll respond first to the part of your question which asks for clarification about Being-towards-Death, then say something about how it furthers the inquiry into the meaning of being.

Heidegger sees existence as primarily inauthentic. Existence is characterized by a structure Heidegger calls falling. When we are falling through our given world, everything appears to us as pre-interpreted - the meaning of everything in our world, including our own being, is constituted by definitions that are extrinsic to us and extrinsic to the essence of the things they define. We cannot prevent this - the world first appears to us in this inauthentic form.

The question Heidegger poses at the beginning of the second division of Being and Time is whether it is possible for Dasein to overcome this primordial inauthenticity. This would mean that we overcome the inessential, arbitrary meanings which first present themselves to us, and uncover meanings which would be essential and our own. This is why Heidegger uses the word eigentlich, which is translated as authentic. He frequently points out that it includes the word eigen, German for one's own.

Being-towards-death is necessary for authenticity because it brings Dasein to a realization of its own essential finitude, and the finitude of being. Heidegger points out that in everything one does in the world, one can be represented. This may mean that a third party is actually standing in for me, but it can also mean simply that whatever I do or however I am interpreting or representing my being, I do so on the basis of these received, inauthentic meanings and values. Death supersedes these because it is the complete collapse of my world, and thus gives me nothing to be as actual. Because my death can never present or represent itself in the world, being-towards-death (being in such a way that I recognize the essential finitude of my world and of being, that I anticipate the possibility of their collapse) brings me face-to-face with possibilities which are my own (authentic).

The point of articulating being-towards-death for Heidegger is to advance the project of Being and Time: the uncovering of the meaning of being. In the first division, it was established that the meaning of being is care, and thus that falling or inauthenticity belongs to Dasein primordially. The second division questions whether authentic being is possible, and leads up to the articulation of the structure of authentic temporality.

Authentic being-towards-death is by its nature hard to picture - because it gives us nothing to be as actual. Rather, it draws us back from actuality (which for Heidegger is always inauthentic) and causes us to dwell with possibility. In order to understand how one can then actualize oneself while remaining authentic, it is necessary to read the following chapter on conscience.

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