"Be ahead of all farewells" – one of his lectures twenty years ago dealt with "Our fear of death" under the Rilke motto. This title, Ernst Tugendhat said, implies that the lecturer also has it. Not as fear of mortality, because that is a characteristic, but one can only be afraid of an event. In the meantime, the fear of a court that would be held over one after death had receded. Today, on the other hand, the fear of nothingness emerges. For death is not a farewell, not a loss in which the one who suffers it still remains. The fear of death is anchored in the biological conditions of human life, which is a caring, forward-looking life. The desire to continue living is part of the way, the evils of life would have to be immense in order not to be afraid of stopping. At the same time, it no longer has a biological function in dying to cling to life, which could explain why many accept death calmly.

Juergen Kaube


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If you want to know what Ernst Tugendhat thought, you should listen to this lecture from the Munich Carl Friedrich von Siemens Foundation on YouTube, which deals with death without any reference to religion. We hear a philosopher who is not interested in the entrenched distinction between continental and Anglo-American analytic philosophy, from which so much has been made ever since. He often argued quite non-terminologically, the interest in everyday language was one in everyday attitudes.

With reference to Henrich and Theunissen

In 1976, Ernst Tugendhat presented a major introduction to the philosophy of linguistic analysis, without indulging in jargon and without severing ties with the European tradition. This also applies to his 1979 study "Self-Confidence and Self-Determination", which dealt very critically with subjectivity thinking. His points of reference were always the work of colleagues such as Dieter Henrich and Michael Theunissen, with whom he first taught in Heidelberg, with Theunissen from 1980 to 1992 also at the Free University of Berlin. He previously worked at the Max Planck Institute in Starnberg, headed by Jürgen Habermas.

Ernst Tugendhat was born in Brno in 1930 and grew up as the son of textile manufacturers in a villa built by Mies van der Rohe. In 1938, the Jewish family emigrated via Switzerland to Venezuela. When he returned after the Second World War, he was initially drawn to the circle of Martin Heidegger. He and Edmund Husserl were the subject of his 1965 habilitation thesis in Tübingen, which dealt with the question of what "truth" should mean.

Tugendhat's style of discussing them was already influenced by the reading of American texts, which were less about "clearing" and "unconcealedness" than with lapidary statements of the type: "The statement 'snow is white' is true exactly when snow is white". Whoever uses the concept of truth, according to him, in short, gets involved in the need for justification of statements and in a corresponding way of life of sober, phrase-hostile argumentation. In the Munich lecture on death, the sentence is uttered that for Heidegger reasons played only a minor role. For Tugendhat, truth is therefore ultimately a practical concept rather than a theoretical one. Or to put it another way: theory is a practice.

Consequently, Ernst Tugendhat published much on ethical questions while he was politically involved in the peace movement of the eighties. The distinction between "actual" and "unactual" life is that according to the freedom one has in a narrowed and expanded, scattered or centered lifestyle. The prospect of death makes this distinction plausible. Because relative to the world one is unimportant, it does not end in death "my" world, because even the continuing existence, the objective world is partly mine. This does not eliminate fear, but it relativizes the horror, relativizes it "laterally", as Tugendhat called it. This self-relativization is no longer an argument, but a step. Ernst Tugendhat died in Freiburg on 13 March 2023 at the age of 93.