College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

Graduation Date


Document Type


Department/Program Conferring Degree

Interdisciplinary Studies


death, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Becker, existentialism


Using an interdisciplinary approach, this thesis explores the theme of death in life. This thesis particularly examines the work of Phillipe Ariès, Ernest Becker, Terror Management theorists (TMT), Martin Heidegger, and Friedrich Nietzsche. These thinkers are united in their diagnosis of a severe and unhealthy contemporary denial of death. Death has never been repressed as thoroughly as it is in the current era in western culture, to the point that the exclusion of death may well be the characteristic that centrally distinguishes, and threatens the welfare of, our age. However, as I show in Chapter One, in a number of previous historical epochs people have understood death as a fundamental and constitutive aspect of life, making it clear that death need not be denied as it is now. In Chapters Two and Three, I describe the psychological theory and experimental research that asserts our denial of death oftentimes leads to negative attitudes and the harming of others who are different from us. Although the psychological approach succeeds in its critique of our rejection of death, I argue that its positive response proves less than satisfying. At this point, in Chapters Four and Five, the thesis turns to representatives of continental philosophy, who advance an alternative way of relating to death. These philosophers explain that it is because we die that we can take hold of the possibilities of our lives. They suggest that we have the possibility of authentically understanding ourselves as the mortal creatures we are, affirming and even expressing gratitude for death as a meaning-giving element in life. Thus, death need not be the regrettable moment of our demise, but an essential aspect of who we are as human beings.