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Death

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Posted (edited)

I want to start a philosophical discussion on death. I am 73 years old, somewhat infirm but my wife and myself are working on that, and I have intimated in this website, because of my faith in Jesus, death holds no fear for me or my wife. Sometime ago I referred to death as the ultimate experience ("Death must be an awfully big adventure" - J. M. Barry in "Peter Pan") but DavidM asked me not to be flippant, or words to that affect. My reference to death seemed to disturb him. My apologies for not providing the links to the discussions, at the moment I am writing off the top of my head!

My wife and myself are now experiencing the business of being in "the departure lounge", as we attend funerals quite regularly. In this website I have been advised, and for that I am most thankful, to read fiction rather than philosophical discourses, and that is working.

"The Brothers Karamazov", Emily and Charlotte Bronte novels, C. S. Lewis, Charles Dickens, "Gulliver's Travels", "The Pilgrims Progress", "War and Peace" and others by Leo Tolstoy all come to mind.

However, in my infirmity (I am nearly wheel-chair bound) I am not getting any nearer to understanding the business of death, even as I read these stories.

My faith tells me I will be with Jesus (an analysis of His words on the cross which He spoke to the other criminal, "Today you will be with me in paradise", tells it all - for me.

However, I am attempting to open up a philosophical (not religious or any other human orientations) discussion on the business of death. Is it important that we should even bother to consider what happens after death, and live our lives according to our beliefs, or should we accept that we "just do not know", and wait until it happens?!!

Edited by Mathsteach2

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Posted

Well, I think we do know what happens when we die – we cease to exist.

Belief in an afterlife of some kind is a pretty cost-free emotional and metaphysical investment, because it is unfalsifiable. If, when you die, you cease to exist, you won’t know that you don’t exist, and so you won’t know you were wrong about there being an afterlife. Believing in an afterlife is kind of the opposite of Pascal’s wager, because, unlike that wager, it is free of consequences if one is wrong.

Where you are, death is not. Where death is, you are not.

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Posted

I was going to copy and paste my second post, but I have not found out how to do it!

Death2.rtf

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Posted

I'd like to suggest that you add a few books by W.G. Sebald to your list of books, especially The Rings of Saturn and Austerlitz. In the manner of Sebald's work, I think your attempt to understand death is best approached obliquely, especially with your faith already having given you a direct answer, so to speak.

From a philosophical perspective, what do you think of this section of Wittgenstein's Tractatus?

As in death, too, the world does not change, but ceases.

Death is not an event of life. Death is not lived through.

If by eternity is understood not endless temporal duration but timelessness, then he lives eternally who lives in the present.

Our life is endless in the way that our visual field is without limit.

The temporal immortality of the human soul, that is to say, its eternal survival after death, is not only in no way guaranteed, but this assumption in the first place will not do for us what we always tried to make it do. Is a riddle solved by the fact that I survive for ever? Is this eternal life not as enigmatic as our present one? The solution of the riddle of life in space and time lies outside space and time.

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I did read  your attachment and will respond later. You should be able to copy and paste the text directly into the post response box, though I have been having trouble doing that very thing since the software upgrade, so maybe you tried that and were unable to do so. However, I'm not actually sure whether that problem is with the software upgrade or here at my end. 

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I'm not sure there's much that can be said about this topic that hasn't already been said. You might want to check out the semester-long "philosophy of death" seminars at Yale, the entirety of which is online in both video and text format, though that course looks at death from a strictly secular context and assumes the non-existence of an afterlife.

Anyone is perfectly free to bring spirituality, Christianity, anything you like, into a philosophical discussion of death. Many philosophers are and have been Christians or had alternate ideas of what happens when we die. Materialism is not the only choice or even the default choice.

I was quoting Epicurus in a half-remembered way, but to me, if you are a materialist/physicalist, I think the point is pretty salient. Death is not to be feared (though of course one may be afraid of the prospect of dying, since dying is often painful and messy) because where death is, we are not. There is nothing to fear about non-existence -- you cannot be afraid, or feel or experience anything else, in a non-existent state. As Mark Twain put it (again, quote from memory), "I do not fear death. I was dead for billions of years before I was born, and it did not inconvenience me in the slightest."

It is funny to me that people posit an afterlife, or suppose that something, be it soul, or disembodied mind, or whatever, survives death, when in fact we die every night. Every night we enter a stage of dreamless sleep called deep sleep, in which all perception, thought, and experience ends. So every  night we have rock solid evidence of Nothingness. The only difference I can see between deep sleep and death is that the former is temporary and the latter permanent. But ask yourself whether you care about anything, or are afraid or unhappy, in deep sleep. Of course you aren't because if you were, you would by definition not be in that condition. The same will be true of death: you won't be there. That is the upshot of the Epicurus observation, it seems to be.

Put more simply, it seems odd to me that people should suppose that something of us "survives" death when, whatever that something is supposed to be, it can't even survive going to sleep at night.

Whether the universe is fully mathematically describable, or infinite in time and space, does not, or so it seems to me, have much bearing on our mortality. It is true that in a sense you will "survive" in virtue of the fact that your material substance will pass into a different state -- matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed. But I don't suppose that really meets the point, for the idea here is that our identity, in some sense, might, we hope, survive the death of the body. 

Perhaps when we die, we will re-experience our lives over again from the beginning, without any memory of having lived this same life an infinite number of time before: the Eternal Recurrence of Nietzsche.

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