Being, Courage, and Love

By Olds, Mason | The Humanist, January-February 2007 | Go to article overview

Being, Courage, and Love


Olds, Mason, The Humanist


TWENTIETH CENTURY GERMAN PHILOSOPHER Martin Heidegger reminds us in his major work, Being and Time, that the ancient Greeks were interested in the question of being. Later philosophers moved on to different problems, so Heidegger accepted as his task a return to the ancient question of being. As he did so, he was forced to address other problems such as non-being and the relation of being to existence. It is not my purpose to explain Heidegger's thoughts here, but rather to reflect on the question, what does it mean to be?

It is in old age that one becomes most acutely aware of the fact that life moves inexorably toward death. Of course we all know intellectually that humans are mortal, but that is a bit different than knowing existentially that we are mortal. Some among us refuse to accept this stark reality by taking flights of fantasy into other realms where disembodied spirits dwell. For some absurd reason they think our species is special. And they reason incorrectly that since we were our parents' darlings, we must be the favorites of the universe. How dare the power of eternal death threaten not only the body but the mind and spirit as well? In our more sober considerations we move beyond our arrogance and fleetingly accept the fact of our total physical and mental extinction. Perhaps it is in such moments that anxieties arise. After all, I know the Grim Reaper will arrive; I simply don't know how and when. Though this may be my personal experience, it certainly isn't unique; others experience it also.

Sigmund Freud thought that we are driven by two antithetical drives. On the one hand there is the "life instinct," or eros. It is very strong in normal youth, for it is the drive that leads a young man and young woman into each other's arms. It is the drive for life and self-preservation that expresses itself through the reproduction of the species. On the other hand there is the "death instinct" or thanatos. In the normal healthy person this drive is weak. But as people live long and productive lives, they see friends and loved ones die. There comes a time when they are forced to acknowledge that the strength of their body and the brilliance of their mind are not what they once were. It is in such situations that thanatos begins to push its way to the surface. Evidence is seen in a very old grandparent who poses the question: "Why doesn't the Good Lord take me? I'm ready to go."

Thus, Freud thought that within each of us there were these dual drives of eros and thanatos. In fact, he speculated that they operated throughout all living nature and perhaps in inorganic nature as well. He certainly was on target when he referred to human beings: for aren't eros and thanatos the psychological expression of the ontological conflict of being with non-being?

In a literary context one is quick to recall those familiar words of Hamlet: "To be, or not to be--that is the question." There are also modern writers who share Heidegger's interest in the question of being. Perhaps Eugene Ionesco has probed as deeply as any playwright the conflict between being and non-being in a number of its manifestations. Ionesco draws a kind of distinction between physical death and death of the personality. In his play Rhinoceros, for instance, he depicts a small, provincial town whose citizens turn into a huge herd of conforming, unfeeling, and unthinking rhinoceroses. The one exception is Berenger, a kind of everyman character. By allowing Berenger to escape the transformation, he suggests that one need not be spiritually dead though the whole town might be. Ionesco was frightened during the Hitler era by the transformation of people in his native Romania into a herd of sympathizers with the Nazi military machine. Ionesco suggests that one of the ways non-being expresses itself is by sucking out what is good and decent in a human being and leaving only a biologically alive beast.

Ionesco has also examined the reality of physical death. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Being, Courage, and Love
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.