Death Is Easy If You’re Dead

Christopher Ketcham

There have been many philosophical inquiries into the issue of death. No less than the Buddha, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Saint Augustine, Marcus Aurelius, Thomas Hobbes, Immanuel Kant, George W.F. Hegel, Soren Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger, Emmanuel Levinas, George Luis Borges and many other philosophers, authors and theologians have commented on the subject of death.1 Many questions have been asked, including: why is death bad?2 ; is death evil?3; is life absurd because there is death?4; is life but a game?5; what has death to do with the meaning of life?6

I will contend with Martin Heidegger that since we cannot experience our own death, the existential mode of the meaning and experience of death is unavailable to us. Rather than try to extrapolate what death means, this chapter will consider issues associated with the phenomenology of existence through the experiences of Walter White who, in Breaking Bad, has been given a nearcertain date of death in the very first episode. In other words, I will be pursuing answers to the question, “What does existence mean to one man who knows that his death is near?”

Martin Heidegger took from his mentor Edmund Husserl that experience occurs in the world. Phenomenology therefore is limited to experience of being in the world. Phenomenology is on the surface straightforward—as observation, free of preconceived ideas, and free from the “natural attitude” (that our ego is separate from the world) which pervades our everyday view of the world. The science of phenomenology seeks to bracket and set aside that which we preconceive (the natural attitude) to look at what we actually see for further analysis and consideration. In other words we [bracket] any theory or meaning attributed to our previous experience of or observation of the object

C. Ketcham (H)

University of Houston Downtown, Houston, TX, USA © The Author(s) 2017

K.S. Decker et al. (eds.), Philosophy and Breaking Bad, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-40343-4_5

and set it aside until we observe the intentional object before us without preconception. The idea of mindfulness comes to mind in the phenomenological method Husserl posits, because it requires us to be in the moment with the intentional object and not elsewhere. I will attempt to show Walter White from the moment we see of his experience in the episodes of Breaking Bad.

Todd May suggests four important lines of inquiry to pursue this chapter’s question, “What does existence mean to one man who knows that his death is near?” In his book, Death, May first explains that death is the end of us and of our experience, and second, there is no goal called death—only an ending, a full stop. Third, death comes to everyone, but we do not know when it will come with any certitude. Given these three, May derives a fourth: what meaning could we reasonably ascribe to our lives when death is the cessation of meaning as we understand it?7 May builds upon thinkers such as Martin Heidegger, who said that Dasein (the human way of being) is being toward death.8 Dasein is the one being that understands its own mortality, and this affects its way of being in the world. In between birth and death, we are thrown into the world; we are beings in the world alongside and with others, finding affordances and constraints around us.

Ultimately, Dasein is no more; it ceases. It is more correct for Heidegger to say that Dasein does not die, per se, because Dasein cannot experience its own death. Death could never be a condition of Dasein; could what follows death be Dasein? No, because the condition that follows the event of Dasein ceasing to be is without experience; therefore, it is not Dasein, because Dasein is a being that experiences.

Following May and Heidegger, to summarize: there is an existence in time for Dasein, and Dasein experiences in the world. Only from experience in the world can Dasein derive any personal meaning. Others may posit meaning in my life, but it is not my meaning. As Emanuel Levinas says, the other is infinitely alterity or different from me.9 I can never know the other in itself, and vice versa. Therefore, any meaning that you may posit in me is colored through your phenomenological experience of yourself, experience that is most likely incomplete and possibly even wrong.10

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