Death: Philosophical Soundings

Death: Philosophical Soundings

Death: Philosophical Soundings

Death: Philosophical Soundings


No one who reads this book will ever again think of their own death in the same way.

Fingarette faces up to the reality of death and demolishes some popular errors in our thinking about death. He examines the metaphors which mislead us: death as parting, death as sleep, immortality as the denial of death, and selflessness as a kind of consolation.

He thinks through some of the more illuminating metaphors: death as the end of the world for me, death as the conclusion of a story, life as ceremony, and life as a tourist visit to earth. Fingarette goes on to discuss living a future without end and living a present without bounds. The author offers no facile consolation, but he identifies the true root of fear of death, and explains how the meaning of death can be reconceived.

"All of Herbert Fingarette's books are enormously personal voyages that explore with philosophical honesty real life dilemmas: self-deception, cultural alterity, the role of ritual, the achievement of personhood, justifications for alcoholism, and now death. One of Fingarette's most important career accomplishments". -- Roger T. Ames Philosophy East & West


True, death itself is nothing; but the thought of it is like a mirror. a mirror, too, is empty, without content, yet it reflects us back to ourself in a reverse image. To try to contemplate the meaning of my death is in fact to reveal to myself the meaning of my life. in this connection I think of one of the most powerful attempts to probe the meaning of one's own death, Tolstoy's story “The Death of Ivan Ilyich.”

Initially, Ivan Ilyich reacts to the possibility of impending death in a way that I suspect most of us do: with denial. Maybe, he thinks, this isn't death after all. Maybe this pain is merely the effect of some malfunctioning organ. the doctors can probably put it right. Ivan Ilyich soon realizes these hopes arc feeble straws. But he's impelled to grasp at them, impelled to continue hoping. He clings desperately to any sign that this is not It.

The final phase of the story begins when at last the evident futility of the doctors and his increasing suffering compel Ivan Ilyich to confront his terror. the confrontation begins abruptly. a voice within him suddenly speaks and asks: “What do I want?”

“To live,” he answers instantly.

“How do you want to live?”

“Pleasantly, as before.”

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