Language, Metaphysics, and Death

Language, Metaphysics, and Death

Language, Metaphysics, and Death

Language, Metaphysics, and Death

Synopsis

This standard work in thanatology is updated with ten essays new to the second edition, and features a new introduction by Donnelly. The collection addresses certain basic issues inherent in a philosophy of death.

Excerpt

This second edition of Language, Metaphysics, and Death deletes eight essays from the first edition, retains nine, and adds eleven. the authors of the twenty essays analyze various fundamental themes inherent in a metaphysics of thanatology, involving the meaning and nature of death and dying and the prospects for survival and postmortem existence.

Despite Epicurus' admonition in his Letter to Menoeceus that we "become accustomed to the belief that death is nothing to us," most of us are skeptical about his caveat and even a few of us, in his words, "crave for immortality." the volume's contributors are at one with Plato, who reminds us in the Phaedo that true philosophers are regularly occupied in the practice of dying. Construed as a descriptive statement about the philosophical life, the Platonic view is no doubt false, yet interpreted as a regulative prescription, it would appear profoundly insightful. in facing foursquarely our own mortality and reflecting on the meaning of death and dying formally analyzed as the irreversible loss of those characteristics that are essentially significant to a living human being, we are simultaneously enabled to ponder the meaning of life and living.

Metaphysics is a difficult subject to study and to teach. and a course that explores the metaphysical issues inherent in thanatology is perhaps even more pedagogically burdensome, not just because of its somewhat rarefied themes and puzzles, but also due to the fact that typical undergraduate students are often reluctant to engage in serious reflection upon death-related issues. Granted: abortion, euthanasia, suicide, and capital punishment pass conventional muster as highly discussable socio-moral issues involving public policy (and staples of undergraduate courses in applied ethics); but as Tolstoy reminds us in his novella The Death of Ivan Ilych, a young person can easily grasp the hackneyed example of a paradigmatic deductive argument that Socrates is a human being, human beings are mortal, therefore Socrates is mortal, yet not realize that this now-trite example is not really so vacuous after all. Somewhat repressing the thought of a first-person account of death, a young person often vicariously acknowledges that, of course, Socrates in the abstract was mortal, but I'm not Socrates but a creature quite set apart. Feeling invincible, if not immortal, young people see death as something that happens to others. Unfortunately . . .

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