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If this definition is known to us all, it can be enlarged. Indeed, in its medical sense, it is the end of brain function defined by a flat electroencephalogram.

A New Philosophy of Life and Death

In its philosophical sense now, it was considered successively by a number of authors. Plato was thus defined as the end of a terrestrial life and access to an ideal world. Epicurus or Lucretius , have defined it as the dissolution of soul and body. Heidegger sees it as the very form of human life considered in its finitude; this form before and assumed, allows access to its authenticity.

Finally, Sartre saw death as a fact without any ontological question. Thus, the sore that is most thrilling is nothing for us, since as long as we exist, death is not, and that death is where we are not. This is not the life that recoils in horror at the death and preserves pure destruction, but life is death, and remains even in death, which is the life of the mind. Death is a way of being human reality that assumes, as it is: When a human comes to life, it is already old enough to die. All of this is not grand metaphysics or 'fundamental ontology' but petty selfishness wrapped up in enigma.

It is what I call morbid solipsism, an image of death solely in terms of the self.

What I have been arguing toward, and what I believe has been neglected in philosophy, is the social dimension of death. To appreciate the importance of this, it is not necessary to abandon the first-person posture that is basic to the philosophical question, nor is it in any way to compromise our robust sense of individual life and the personal concern about death.

Philosophy and Death

But it is to say that we are, first and foremost, phenomenologically and ontologically as well as biologically, social animals. One's own death is always, except in the most lonely of cases, a disruption one hopes, not too minor of a network of relationships. And even in those lonely cases, one's death is, in one's own thinking, a disruption of past or possible relationships, or, at the outer reaches of pathos, a lament that one is, quite unnaturally, dying all alone.

What Heidegger marks off as the 'uniqueness' of being-towards-death seems to me to be a version of morbid solipsism, a denial of the obvious in favour of an obscure and mock-heroic philosophical theory. And Sartre, too, as much as I agree with him, seems to me to be falling into the same solipsistic trap, talking of 'my projects' and juxtaposing my mortality with that of 'the Other'. When I think of my death, I cannot help but think of what others will see in me, how others will think of and remember me.

When I imagine myself at my own funeral, a la Freud, it is the eyes of others I am imagining, not my own whether or not 'my perspective' is, logically and irreducibly, mine and mine alone.

What is it

When I imagine my body on a slab, or bloodied in the street, or frozen from terminal pain, it is others I imagine thus seeing me, not I. When I worry about how I will die, bravely or badly, it is for others that I am concerned. Of course, it is my reputation, my character, my ego that concerns me, but here, more dramatically than anywhere else, the social nature of the self is in evidence. After all, what difference could it make to me, in that attenuated philosophical sense, whether I exit the hero, the coward or the clown?

Most societies, of course, would consider this obvious. Their mourning rituals take it for granted.


  • NPR Choice page.
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But in our advanced decadent philosophies, such thinking is all but ignored, or explicitly denied. How many philosophers outside of this volume have looked at grief and mourning as aspects of death, rather than cultural artefacts that belong rather to the anthropologists?

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How many philosophers have taken nothing less than the whole narrative of a life as the essential 'moment' in death apart from morbid Silenus, for whom all of life was dying? In cartoon wisdom, on the other hand, it has long been a cliche that, as one is dying, the whole of one's life flashes before one's - inner - eyes. In place of the 'death is nothing' argument, philosophers should argue that it makes a difference to me whether I live or die not because of the phenomenology of experience but because of the particular phenomenology of social experience.

I want to live because of other people. I want to live because I love, because I am steeped in my projects - social projects, as Sartre above all would be the first to appreciate. I want to live, perhaps because others need me, but, for the most of us, because we care for and about others. I am part of their world as they are part of mine. What I really care about are the people I leave behind, in part for the sake of myself, my pride, my vanity.

How will my death affect them? This is not altruism. It is also self-interest, vanity, pride, shame, and the fear of loss of control the real horror of No Exit.

Death and Its Concept - The Philosophers' Magazine

Death is what individuates us only in so far as it targets the vulnerability of intimate and significant relationships. In itself, death is nothing and dying is nothing worth celebrating. Death is not nothing, but it surely can be made into something. A noble death, a death not just 'one's own' but with others in mind, for the sake of others, an 'inauthentic' death such as the Homeric heroes might have contemplated. That is the way our philosophies should once again take us - away from morbid solipsism, away from death fetishism, away from nothingness.

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