Facing Death: Theme and Variations

Facing Death: Theme and Variations

Facing Death: Theme and Variations

Facing Death: Theme and Variations


F. David Martin (Ph.D. in Philosophy, University of Chicago) taught atBucknell University until his retirement in 1983. A Fulbright Researchscholar in Florence and Rome from 1957 through 1959, he was arecipient of seven other major research grants as well the ChristianLindback. Award for distinguished teaching.


Death—The Leitmotif of Philosophy
Music—The Leitmotif of Memory
Mystery—The Leitmotif of Sublimity

OVER A LIFETIME OF TEACHING, I TRIED TO PRESENT PHILOSOPHY FROM the perspective of the philosopher we were studying. When teaching Plato I was a Platonist; when teaching Aristotle I was an Aristotelian; and so on. My students often had no clear idea where I stood and I’m not sure I did either. Philosophy for me always has been the systematic examination of our fundamental beliefs, the great rolling questions: Why is there something rather than nothing? Is there a God? Can there be a sacred or Holy without a God? Do we have souls? Why must we die? How should we die? Are we immortal? Do we have free will? What is evil? What are the Good, the True, the Beautiful? Science and Truth? The Arts and Truth? Who are we— specks on the earth, the earth a speck on the universe? The meaning of it all? Such questions inevitably draw answers from multiple perspectives. Answers lead to more questions. Aging hasn’t weakened my interest in these questions, but it has focused my attention more sharply on death, the Big Event. C. G. Jung:

It is just as neurotic in old age not to focus upon the goal of death, as it
is in youth to repress fantasies which have to do with the future.

Death: undeniably ubiquitous and incomprehensibly unique; the most obvious of phenomena and the least understood. Socrates: “True philosophers make dying their profession.” Seneca: “To die well is to escape the danger of living ill.” Montaigne: “To philosophize is to learn how to die.” When I published Facing Death at Eighty: Memory and the Holy (Soundings, Summer 2000), I wondered . . .

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