philosophy and death

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Re: philosophy and death

Postby iambiguous » Thu Jul 02, 2020 6:33 pm

Sooner or later we all face death. Will a sense of meaning help us?
Warren Ward from AEON website

Despite all our medical advances,’ my friend Jason used to quip, ‘the mortality rate has remained constant – one per person.’


Unless of course you are convinced that you have existed in past lives. Or are likely to be reincarnated into a new life. Then the quandary revolves more around the extent to which this is an incarnation/reincarnation of "I" [as you know yourself to be here and now] or the embodiment of a reality that is not able to actually be put into words.

Jason and I studied medicine together back in the 1980s. Along with everyone else in our course, we spent six long years memorising everything that could go wrong with the human body. We diligently worked our way through a textbook called Pathologic Basis of Disease that described, in detail, every single ailment that could befall a human being. It’s no wonder medical students become hypochondriacal, attributing sinister causes to any lump, bump or rash they find on their own person.


This reminds me of one possible take on an observation John Fowles made in [I believe] The Aristos. Human existence, he noted, is analogous to sitting at a desk awash with telephones. Big ones. Small ones. In between ones. They represent all of those different things above that can afflict our bodies. Our minds. We sit there waiting for the next one to ring...hoping that this time it is just one of the small ones. Or not more than one at a time. But we know that among the phones is the one that we dread the most. The one that, in ringing, ushers in the Big One. The physical ailment that culminates in our death. And, clearly, "a sense of meaning" here can be many different things to many different people.

Jason’s oft-repeated observation reminded me that death (and disease) are unavoidable aspects of life. It sometimes seems, though, that we’ve developed a delusional denial of this in the West. We pour billions into prolonging life with increasingly expensive medical and surgical interventions, most of them employed in our final, decrepit years. From a big-picture perspective, this seems a futile waste of our precious health-dollars.


That's how it works all right. Only, when the Big One has pounced on any particular one of us, the "big picture" can quickly be whittled down "in our head" to "me", "myself" and "I". Not the philosophy of death but our own.

What then of a "sense of meaning"? Why one and not another?

And what will yours be?
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: philosophy and death

Postby iambiguous » Thu Jul 09, 2020 6:50 pm

Sooner or later we all face death. Will a sense of meaning help us?
Warren Ward from AEON website

Another old friend of mine, Ross, was studying philosophy while I studied medicine. At the time, he wrote an essay called ‘Death the Teacher’ that had a profound effect on me. It argued that the best thing we could do to appreciate life was to keep the inevitability of our death always at the forefront of our minds.


It's one thing to imagine "death the teacher" when you have thought yourself into believing that, one way or another, death is not the end at all. Then what death teaches you is that in order to attain what you imagine your fate to be beyond the grave, there are certain requistes propelling you to choose particular behaviors in this side of it.

But what does death teach you when you have instead thought yourself into believing that what awaits you on the other side of the grave is oblivion...the utter obliteration of "I" for all time to come.

Many of course will see the lesson here as revolving around behaviors that sustain your existence. And that becomes problematic because you can find yourself not choosing to do things you would like to try because these behaviors bring with them an increasing possibility that one's life is endangered. Or you can find yourself in situations where others expect you to act in certain ways that you hesitate to choose because there is in turn increasing dangers involved. Someone might threaten those that you love but you note the risk that in intervening your own life is put at risk.

There are in fact countless existential contexts in which what you believe about death can have a profoundly problematic impact on how you react to them.

When the Australian palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware interviewed scores of people in the last 12 weeks of their lives, she asked them their greatest regrets. The most frequent, published in her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying (2011), were:
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me;
I wish I hadn’t worked so hard;
I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings;
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends; and
I wish that I had let myself be happier.


Same here. Ask that question to scores of people living in different historical, cultural and experiential contexts and you are likely to get different "top 5" answers. That some answers will occur more often than others reflects the continuities that all of us share as human beings. But individual regrets would seem to be manifestations of dasein. Each of us will regret different things for different reasons. And philosophers would not appear able to pin down the most "rational" things that one ought to regret.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: philosophy and death

Postby iambiguous » Thu Jul 16, 2020 6:03 pm

Sooner or later we all face death. Will a sense of meaning help us?
Warren Ward from AEON website

The relationship between death-awareness and leading a fulfilling life was a central concern of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, whose work inspired Jean-Paul Sartre and other existentialist thinkers. Heidegger lamented that too many people wasted their lives running with the ‘herd’ rather than being true to themselves. But Heidegger actually struggled to live up to his own ideals; in 1933, he joined the Nazi Party, hoping it would advance his career.


Indeed: How would being associated with fascists and Nazis not be the existential equivalent of being associated with but one more historical "herd"?

How is political and racial ideology not just another manifestation of the inauthentic man?

And, in fact, isn't the whole point of ideology to subsume death in the authentic life? Okay, you die. And maybe that's all there is. But at least your life came to reflect necessary truths on this side of the grave.

Despite his shortcomings as a man, Heidegger’s ideas would go on to influence a wide range of philosophers, artists, theologians and other thinkers. Heidegger believed that Aristotle’s notion of Being – which had run as a thread through Western thinking for more than 2,000 years, and been instrumental in the development of scientific thinking – was flawed at a most fundamental level. Whereas Aristotle saw all of existence, including human beings, as things we could classify and analyse to increase our understanding of the world, in Being and Time (1927) Heidegger argued that, before we start classifying Being, we should first ask the question: ‘Who or what is doing all this questioning?’


In regard to either life or death, what can it mean philosophically to speak of a "fundamental flaw"? After all, as soon as the focus becomes "who or what is doing all of this questioning" we are immediately confronted with all of the many, many historical, cultural, and individual narratives there have been. And that's just so far. Sometimes they overlap, other times they are very much at odds.

Instead, it is basically the objectivists who set philosophers to the task of "classifying and analyzing" human interactions as though they too were just one more function of the "scientific method". Thus philosophers like Ayn Rand came to champion Aristotle. And for her there was absolutely no distinction made between the either/or and the is/ought world. Even human emotions could be analyzed and classified as either the right or the wrong emotion to have in any particular context.

As for death: https://atlassociety.org/commentary/com ... 4280-death

Sure, if, as an Objectivist, someone is able to think him or herself into approaching death "objectively" in this manner, and, thus, is able to learn not to fear it, more power to them. That just doesn't work for me.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: philosophy and death

Postby iambiguous » Thu Jul 23, 2020 6:14 pm

Sooner or later we all face death. Will a sense of meaning help us?
Warren Ward from AEON website

Heidegger pointed out that we who are asking questions about Being are qualitatively different to the rest of existence: the rocks, oceans, trees, birds and insects that we are asking about. He invented a special word for this Being that asks, looks and cares. He called it Dasein, which loosely translates as ‘being there’. He coined the term Dasein because he believed that we had become immune to words such as ‘person’, ‘human’ and ‘human being’, losing our sense of wonder about our own consciousness.


Not just being there. But existing "out there" in a particular world that is embedded in a particular historical and cultural context. And what makes our own consciousness a "wonder" along side the "rest of existence" is our awareness of death. The knowledge that we ourselves will one day die. And, assuming some measure of human autonomy, this awareness is understood by each of us as individual daseins.

In other words, there are many, many different ways in which to think about death. Our own and others. And to the best of my knowledge philosophers are unable to "think up" the most rational manner in which mere mortals are obligated to think about it. This "existential contraption" can then precipitate human behaviors that rationalize everything from the taking of one's own life to historical instances of genocide.

Heidegger’s philosophy remains attractive to many today who see how science struggles to explain the experience of being a moral, caring person aware that his precious, mysterious, beautiful life will, one day, come to an end. According to Heidegger, this awareness of our own inevitable demise makes us, unlike the rocks and trees, hunger to make our life worthwhile, to give it meaning, purpose and value.


For some, sure. But what of those who have come to conclude that this meaning will be derived largely from within the existential parameters of the life that one lives. That one cannot merely assume that what he or she concludes encompasses a "moral, caring person" is the template that all others are required or compelled to embrace in turn. For example, my own understanding of dasein in the is/ought world.

Indeed, the "search for meaning, purpose and value" can bring some to conclude that there is no overarching moral narrative able to be reconfigured into an overarching social, political and economic agenda. A few in fact coming to conclude that the most reasonable frame of mind here will lead one to suicide.

That someone like Victor Frankl survived the death camps enabling him to make that constructive leap forward in his own "search for meaning", does not entail that others in similar or very different sets of circumstance are being irrational if they choose a very different outcome.

When it comes to death, there appears to be only a frame of mind that one's lived life predisposes one toward. Unless of course someone here is able to convince me that this is not the case at all. Having already convinced himself.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: philosophy and death

Postby iambiguous » Tue Jul 28, 2020 4:53 pm

Sooner or later we all face death. Will a sense of meaning help us?
Warren Ward from AEON website

Ten years ago, I was diagnosed with melanoma. As a doctor, I knew how aggressive and rapidly fatal this cancer could be. Fortunately for me, the surgery seemed to achieve a cure (touch wood). But I was also fortunate in another sense. I became aware, in a way I never had before, that I was going to die – if not from melanoma, then from something else, eventually. I have been much happier since then. For me, this realisation, this acceptance, this awareness that I am going to die is at least as important to my wellbeing as all the advances of medicine, because it reminds me to live my life to the full every day. I don’t want to experience the regret that Ware heard about more than any other, of not living ‘a life true to myself’.


Can you say that?

But that's always my point. We think and we feel and we say what we do about death based largely on our own personal experiences with it. With our own death and with others.

Think about it this way...

One day in your youth you come to think about death in a way that you had never thought about it before. Given whatever context, you have an experience that for the first time propels you into thinking --- really thinking -- about death.

My experiences emanated from the jungles of Vietnam. Yours from situations that, no doubt, were entirely different.

Okay, but what can we learn about it by probing the minds of all the great thinkers who have, down through the ages, themselves written about it. Scientists, philosophers, theologians. Is there a frame of mind that seems to encompass it the most rationally? Are you convinced that there is a way that reasonable men and women are most likely to accept as the most profound, least problematic assessment?

Or, instead, is your thinking far more likely to be derived from a personal experience such as is described above by the author?

And if that is the case how can you adequately respond to the assessments of others who have not had your own experiences? And how can they adequately respond to you not having had your experiences? What you share in common is the fact of death. But the facts embedded in any particular death can vary in ways that may well be beyond our capacity to communicate.

As for the cliche about dealing with your own death by living whatever is left of your mortal existence to the fullest -- and on your own terms -- that to is no less an existential contraption embodied in the lives of others that we may or may not be able to grasp with any real degree of empathy. Or even sympathy.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: philosophy and death

Postby Meno_ » Tue Jul 28, 2020 5:47 pm

My experiences were more varied, biggy.
I did actually survived a major conflict -WW2 , in Hungary. ( as a baby) Then a revolution, then illegally crossing a border, then capture and imprisonment, into a 'lager' for what seemed like eternity, then almost death and a revival from LSD ingestion, then nearly dying on an almost crashing air force jet.

So , death and dying has always been a process by which I was always surrounded and involved in, the current pandemic notwithstanding.

We all have our battles, and my current ones appear the most radically profound, and enigmatic, lead ing me to the search for and.through gnosis.

The fear has.caused me to search : and to try to arrive at some logos , through which a catapault may enable a jump , a transcending jump into self realizing methods by which to access the intent that the supposed higher realm can re position the conflicting venues between background, and foreground, that may become the focus , rather then the object.

In some manner, the jump becomes the ultimate contrast between the inception and the extinction it's self.

The more impersonal such sensation becomes , does not imply a corresponding caveat that the less personal situation necessarily should loose significance.

On the contrary, or even without using opposing forces as if the will has.to obey , in likeness to field mechanical , pre-transitional Newtonian laws. (Integrating them, rather then disqualifying them).

The battles within overwhelmingly overbear those that are without, in both sense.of the word.
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Re: philosophy and death

Postby Fixed Cross » Wed Jul 29, 2020 7:56 pm

I did actually survived a major conflict -WW2 , in Hungary. ( as a baby) Then a revolution, then illegally crossing a border, then capture and imprisonment, into a 'lager' for what seemed like eternity, then almost death and a revival from LSD ingestion, then nearly dying on an almost crashing air force jet.

Holy cow.

Speaking of which, what do you all think of belief in reincarnation as an ethics, which prepares the believer for death in a natural way?
It doesn't even have to be true to be useful in that sense.
The strong do what they can, the weak accept what they must.
- Thucydides
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Re: philosophy and death

Postby iambiguous » Wed Aug 12, 2020 11:13 pm

Sooner or later we all face death. Will a sense of meaning help us?
Warren Ward from AEON website

Most Eastern philosophical traditions appreciate the importance of death-awareness for a well-lived life. The Tibetan Book of the Dead, for example, is a central text of Tibetan culture. The Tibetans spend a lot of time living with death, if that isn’t an oxymoron.


But grappling with the importance of death-awareness merely becomes another manifestation of how as a proponent of Eastern philosophical and religious traditions, it is juxtaposed to how one construes the "spiritual" contours of life-awareness. How does that really get us any closer to connecting the dots between life and death insofar as how we actually choose to live that life and experience that death.

The East’s greatest philosopher, Siddhartha Gautama, also known as the Buddha, realised the importance of keeping the end in sight. He saw desire as the cause of all suffering, and counselled us not to get too attached to worldly pleasures but, rather, to focus on more important things such as loving others, developing equanimity of mind, and staying in the present.


Still, the manner in which one comes to approach his or her own death appears to be no less the embodiment of dasein. Instead, we simply have any number of conflicting religious/spiritual denominations providing the faithful with endless assumptions about how one is expected to love others, develop equanimity of mind and stay the present.

When? where? how? why? In what actual set of circumstances? Let's not go there, okay?

In other words, spiritually. As a way of thinking of human interactions in a world where the reality of conflicting goods is simply subsumed in general description intellectual contraptions like this.

As for detaching oneself from worldly pleasures that become considerably more attainable if you are able to think yourself into believing that, to the extent you focus instead on spiritual growth, you will be rewarded on the other side. And, of greatest importance of all, that there is existence beyond the grave. And, thus, that connecting the dots between morality/enlightenment here and now and immortality/salvation there and done becomes by far your greatest concern.

On the other hand, if one is actually able to believe this sort of thing...

The last thing the Buddha said to his followers was: ‘Decay is inherent in all component things! Work out your salvation with diligence!’


...how exactly is that to be made applicable to the behaviors you choose? Behaviors predicated on the moral and political values [prejudices] one comes to embody existentially as the personification of dasein out in a particular world historically, culturally and circumstantially.

I know: let's not go there either.

Or, for the objectivists among us, sure, go there, but wholly in sync with their own trajectories.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

Start here: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=176529
Then here: viewtopic.php?f=15&t=185296
And here: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=194382
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