Care, Death, and Time in Heidegger and Frankfurt

In Roman Altshuler & Michael Sigrist (eds.), Time and the Philosophy of Action. New York: Routledge. pp. 225-241 (2016)
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Both Martin Heidegger and Harry Frankfurt have argued that the fundamental feature of human identity is care. Both contend that caring is bound up with the fact that we are finite beings related to our own impending death, and both argue that caring has a distinctive, circular and non-instantaneous, temporal structure. In this paper, I explore the way Heidegger and Frankfurt each understand the relations among care, death, and time, and I argue for the superiority of Heideggerian version of this nest of claims. Frankfurt claims that we should conceive of the most basic commitments which practically orient a person in the world and define his identity (“volitional necessities”) as naturalistic facts, foundational for and located completely without the normative space of reasons. In support of this he appeals to the supposedly foundational role played in human life by the instinct for self-preservation, what Frankfurt calls the “love of living.” The claim is that in questions of practical identity there is a definite priority of the factual over the normative. Frankfurt’s naturalistic model of volitional necessity is motivated by a misunderstanding of the temporal structure of care, a misunderstanding that helps lead him to an implausible conception of the basic structures of human identity. Heidegger advances an anti-naturalistic conception of caring, one bound up with his way of understanding how human beings relate to their own future. I argue that the existential, temporal, and normative significance that Frankfurt attributes to the naturalized “love of living” is better captured by the Heideggerian claim that human identity is defined by being “for-the-sake-of” certain projects and commitments, a way of being lived out in the way Heidegger calls “being-towards-death.”

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B. Scot Rousse
University of California, Berkeley


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