Being capable of death

phenomenological remarks on the death of the animal

Christian Sternad

pp. 101-118


In this article, I investigate how phenomenologists have analysed the relation between man and animal with respect to death. The common tendency of most phenomenologists is to grant man a specific mode of being and to attribute a parallel but deficient mode to the animal. In this way, phenomenology fails to accomplish a positive phenomenological description of the animal’s mode of being or of animality as such. I turn to Heidegger’s decisive analysis of human/animal death since Heidegger would constantly hold on to the idea that the animal, in contrast to man, has no explicit relation to death and is therefore not capable of death as death. This leads to his very provocative claim that only man “dies” whereas the animal just “perishes.” Hence, the problem of the man/animal-relation becomes a very distinct problem in relation to death since death concerns the very way in which a certain form of being relates to the world. I aim to shed light on the genesis of the problem in order to put the question of the animal’s death in a proper perspective. I argue that it is precisely death where phenomenology loses its firm grip on the differentiation between man and animal and hence it is this distinction that has to be put back into question.

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