Death and Philosophy

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

7

DEATH AS TRANSFORMATION IN CLASSICAL DAOISM

Roger T. Ames


The unreality of death

One familiar way of thinking about death is to deny it. There has been a thick strain of such denial in the narrative of Western culture. In the ‘received’ Plato, 1 we begin from the assumption of an eternal and immutable formal order—the Realm of Forms. We then confine death by defining it as a kind of change that attends only the material aspect within the Realm of Appearance. In this Platonic model, the enduring identity of the human being—the immortal soul—is guaranteed by its affinity to what is Real. The particular human being might ‘die’ in the sense of undergoing accidental changes, but her essential ‘human being-ness’ is underwritten by the immutable ‘form’ of the human being, and its relationship with a transcendent principle that, in the interpretation of the Church Fathers, becomes the creator deity. Such a world view establishes life and death as dualistic categories in the sense that life stands independent and unaffected by death. The analogy is that life and death are as God and world, where the latter category is a temporary and imperfect reflection of the former. The human experience is stabilized and provided a cultural horizon by metaphysical and supernatural assumptions such as an immortal soul and a realm beyond.

Essential change in this ‘One behind the many’ model, were it possible, would be cataclysmic. Friedrich Nietzsche, in his well-known ‘Madman’ passage, recounts the catastrophic consequences of rejecting the underlying formal principle of order in our killing of God:

‘Where has God gone?’ he cried. ‘I shall tell you. We have killed him—you and I. We are all his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the

-57-

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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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