Death and Philosophy

By Jeff Malpas; Robert C. Solomon | Go to book overview

4

ON THE PURPORTED INSIGNIFICANCE OF DEATH

Whistling before the dark?

Ivan Soll


The dialectics of dying

Philosophical reflection upon the fact that we face an inevitable and unpredictable end has most often resulted in extreme positions. Consideration of the radical way in which death concludes life has regularly led to radical conclusions concerning the significance of our mortality. And it has produced with respect to the question of how much our mortality matters not only radical, but radically opposed positions, positions that confront one another dialectically at a distance.

Both the idea, that there is no aspect of being human more hopelessly problematic than mortality, and the diametrically opposed idea, that one’s impending death should be a matter of complete indifference, have been well-represented in our tradition. In fact, these rather one-sided positions have been much better represented than more moderate and complex assessments of the way in which we are, and are not, oppressed by our mortality. 1

A number of respected thinkers have insisted upon the uniquely catastrophic character of death, arguing that the mortality of human beings challenges and burdens them like nothing else. Tolstoy, Heidegger, Sartre, Camus and Ernest Becker, among others, have presented mortality as being perhaps our deepest and most worrisome concern. 2 They tend to view death as an omnipresent and ineluctable shadow that darkens our existence, and whose constant threat is so intolerable that we inevitably tend to repress it. They consider the full acceptance of one’s own mortality, if possible at all, to be extremely difficult and rare. Nevertheless, they argue that such acceptance is a crucial condition of living in an authentic manner, and that it produces a deep and irrevocable transformation in anyone who manages to accomplish it.

Since these writers could hardly have presented death in a more catastrophic light or coming to terms with it as being any more difficult, the question that naturally suggests itself with regard to them is whether they have not overstated the case. Once one frees oneself from the hypnotic charm of these dark, dramatic claims, a number of suspicions naturally arise: Even if death often is a catastrophe,

-22-

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Death and Philosophy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • 1 - Death and Philosophy 1
  • 2 - My Death 5
  • 3 - Against Death 16
  • 4 - On the Purported Insignificance of Death 22
  • 5 - Death and the Skeleton 39
  • 6 - Death, the Bald Scenario 50
  • 7 - Death as Transformation in Classical Daoism 57
  • 8 - Death and Enlightenment 71
  • 9 - Death and Detachment 83
  • 10 - Death and Metaphysics 98
  • 11 - Death and Authenticity 112
  • 12 - Death and the Unity of a Life 120
  • 13 - The Antinomy of Death 135
  • 14 - Death Fetishism, Morbid Solipsism 152
  • Notes 177
  • References 198
  • Index 203
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