Heidegger’s moving yet, at the same time, terrifying portrayal of Dasein’s self-enlightenment only on the cusp of death and oblivion, is critical to an appreciation of Heidegger’s own understanding of being and where others might take this understanding.
Heidegger wanted to understand the meaning of being starting from Dasein, and Dasein appeared to him as a Sein zum Tode: being toward death. His concept allowed him to understand the human from a thanatological perspective. That moment on the cusp of death is, for him, the moment of true authenticity. All else is a falling away from this truth; a state of fallenness in a flight to das Man.
Despitethe fallenness, which Heidegger understands to be the usual state of Dasein in the world, Heidegger’s point is that the self is at least capable of understanding that true nature of being.
He,in his own terms, achieved a philosophical self-containment that denied the Platonistic separation of subject and object. However, Hedwig Conrad-Martius recognised that this came at a price. By accepting that Dasein has the capacity for understanding the nature of being, Heidegger cleared the way for arriving - ‘unperturbed by the critical question of how the knowing ego can reach out beyond itself - at an exhaustive analysis of this understanding of being (which forms an integral part of human existence) and thus at a comprehension not only of the human being's own being but also of the being of the world and ultimately of that divine being in which all creaturely being has its ground. But what happens? The I (Ich) is thrown back upon itself’.* Heidegger almost arrived at the point of asking about the true grounding of being, but then drew back into solipsism.
Conrad-Martius continued, explaining how Edith Stein (pictured above) imposed no such self-limitation on the understanding of being. ‘Heidegger wanted to understand the meaning of being starting from Dasein, and Dasein appeared to him as a Sein zum Tode: being toward death. His concept allowed him to understand the human from a thanatological perspective. Stein, in her search, reached the Eternal Being, and thanks to this she was able to recognize and explain the existence of human being from a trans-thanatological perspective. While for Heidegger death was the end of Dasein, Stein was able to expose the meaning of Dasein by showing the sense of death.’*
*Quotedin Rafal Kazimierz Wilk, ‘On human being: a dispute between Edith Steinand Martin Heidegger’, Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, September 22, 2007.