Philosophy and death

To Philosophize Is to Learn How to Die
Facing death can be a key to our liberation and survival.
By Simon Critchley
April 11, 2020

From the NYT philosophy series The Stone

Clearly, these are frames of mind that are all too familiar to anyone who tends toward introspection in their lives. Sometimes it’s directed more toward the parts that involve living and sometimes more toward the parts that involves dying. And sometimes [all the more problematically] at the parts where they are clearly intertwined. Like living smack dab in the middle of a worldwide viral pandemic.

Unless, of course, like some here, these are not your thoughts at all. In fact, you are actually pumped up about it all. This is precisely the sort of calamity you have been waiting for. The crisis that will bring “the system” crashing down, allowing for the possibility [however remote] that the world will finally come around to your own political agenda.

Or, perhaps, you are among those who eagerly embrace schadenfreude as the appropriate reaction. Let others suffer as you do for a change.

Or, based on my own signature threads narrative, all the folks who over the years have been configured to see the world around them today in a very different way from the author or from you and I.

So, when someone speaks of philosophizing in order to learn how to die, I’m skeptical right from the start.

Except those who think of higher order thought, that has been around since time immemorial.
Those who dismiss Orientalism or higher higher order Buddhism prima faceae.

If one is not prevy to that kind of thinking, then, a totally different picture arises!

One simple question.

  1. Are you among those who believe that phenomenon is the primal mode of belief?

  2. Or, is the noumemal apprehension that there is a he’ll of a lot more to reality, then the modular contexts, within which we feel trapped into?

Let’s suppose this question has been haunting mankind for ever, and there is no other way to get around it then nominally. Then what in god’s name can the answer be possibly be?

this idea of philosophy being some sort of preparation for
death has lasted as long as philosophy itself…

I too am skeptical about it…….

is death something to be feared? nah, it is just another step like
puberty or old age… nothing can be done about it anyway… it is
going to happen whether we are ready or not………

just accept it as part of doing the business of life… paying the cost
as it were…

one of the questions of life is, how are we suppose to live?

and one of the answers, among many, is we live in balance…
and if you think about life as being part of an equation, then
the equation goes like this…

Life = death

there cannot be one without the other…….

the real question comes with some sort of understanding of
what it means to live…

what is this thing called life?

what am I to do? what should I hope for? what can I know?

among some of the existential questions of existence…

death is simply a boundary, a demarcation line between existence
and non-existence… nothing more…

to be honest, I am confused by people who think we should devote our
time to thinking about death, when we don’t spend enough time thinking
about life and what we should be doing in this life…let the next life take
care of itself, deal with the here and now…

“who am I” is a far more interesting question then what happens after
I am dead? and I can do something about the question, “who am I” then
I can do anything about any questions about death…

I am not afraid of death because it is a’coming,
regardless of what I do or say or become, death is a coming for me……

I bow down to the inevitable… but that doesn’t mean I don’t go without a fight…

I will fight until I die, I know, know it won’t make any difference…
but I have fought everything else, so fighting death is well within
character for me…….

philosophy isn’t about preparing for death, philosophy is about
life and what does it mean to be alive…

what does it mean to be human?


When one starts enjoying life, is when the inevitability of death occurs to us… so how to separate the two, so as not to spoil the rest of the journey/the ride?

That is the Philosophers dilemma.

that’s what it comes down to right there. that is indeed THE dilemma, and in terms of human affairs, it translates into the struggle to attain liberty, property and the luxury it affords.

man really has no deep metaphysical problems. all that nonsense is philosophical. if you’re still trying to solve philosophical ‘problems’ that were described 2,500 years ago, chances are you’ve got a pseudo-problem and don’t even know it. language is to blame for this, not you. anyway, what he has instead is an involvement and association with a system that produces wealth and luxury at the expense of wealth and luxury elsewhere. that is to say, an increase in wealth, luxury and privilege directly reflects somewhere a decrease of those things for someone else.

the greatest problem man has ever been faced with is how to distribute property between people who perform different and unequal tasks in a group that is responsible for the production of that property. in twenty-two words or less, there you have it.

man has never strived (or is it ‘striven’) to find the holy grail or the philosopher’s stone or solve the riddle of the sphincter. all this time he’s only been deeply concerned with the problem of ‘work’, more accurately, the problem of having to do it… or being able to avoid having to do it… and what happens as a result of being able to avoid having to do it. this is the number one concern. numero uno on the philosopher’s to-do list.

To Philosophize Is to Learn How to Die
Facing death can be a key to our liberation and survival.
By Simon Critchley
April 11, 2020

From the NYT philosophy series The Stone

Sound familiar?

Not likely, right? After all, how far removed are the lives of each of us as individuals going to be from his? He being a rather famous philosopher asked to make frequents contributions to the New York Times. He being but 60 years of age, and a man who may or may not be close to the actual reality of his own imminent death. Who may or may not have an intimate familiarity with death iself.

Again, does any of that sound familiar? Not likely.

Really, how could the existential reality of death be made anymore distant from folks like you and I? And what of those philosophers who actually were around at the time of those great historical plagues that have rent the species over the centuries. With hundreds dropping around them like flies, what then of the great philosophical insights?

Basically, this part:

I think not. But we shall see how he assesses this himself.

Of course it can, since it has. Notice the historiless, contextless ignorance of the writer. As if the current situation hasn’t happened before, as if people have not used their philosophies to make it easier to deal with and face what, in the past, were often more regular and consistant nightmares. None of this - the fact that people have used various philosophies to reduce their anxiety, give themselves strength and so on in the past - means that their philosophies were right (or even that that’s the right way to think of the issue), but it is so truly ignorant to think that today’s situation - however outlandish it is for we moderns, doesn’t compare to the 1917 flu, certainly not yet, or the Black Plague, or what Christians might have experienced in Rome or what poor Buddhists in Burma may be going through now and certainly Muslims there or many people who have used Stoicism (not a philosophy I like, but that is beside the point) in circumstances vastly worse than the one facing most people now who read the New York Times. To sum it up as never having solved problems is confused on so many levels, since many people have felt that their philosophies aided them in crises most readers of the NYT just like getting off on in movies like Saw and other violence porn. It also carries on the confused Philosophy is here and other disciplines are here false image, since, for example, scientific epistemology is a philosophy or a portion of one, and that has sure generated a lot of solutions - and problems also, but seriously, duh.

I get it, I do. I am sure this person who perhaps took a couple of philosophy courses in college is to be empathized with. Good old Simon probably means that philosophy has not solved free will vs determinism or proved the existence or non-existence of God. Well, modern philosophy tends to try to help people think well, and past philosophers have certainly affected governmental styles, but then more relevant to the article, how people face things that trouble them.

Of course I haven’t read the whole article. But out of context we have this wonderful bemoaning and throwing up of arms and an enormous generality that Iamb adds to by sharing his doubt that it can help. When in fact there are likely people out there using their philosophies right now to reduce their anxiety, some of these having come out of philosophy proper, some from other sources, like religion or even folk psychologies, some from their own contemplation, no doubt affected by more formal philosophers, directly or indirectly.

Did dear old Simon think that people have just started dying and now the glaring weaknesses of philosophy are shown by today’s events.

I had a significantly older friend who lived through the blitz in London, which itself is much milder than say living through Nagasaki or what portions of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos went through in a bombing campaign larger than all of WW2. He lived in NY and was there on 9/11 and of course was shocked by the twin towers. But after awhile he realized that most Americans live in a historiless bubble. They seemed to think this was some utterly new kind of horror in the world, and that this entitled them to lash out, by proxy through their government and military, and end up killing even more of their own in Iraq, say, alone, let alone others.

Simon could use a philosophy or better yet some training in philosophy, where one learns to check assumptions, at the very least to question some of the implicit now and here and I am all that exist that gets projected outward by priviledged people like him.

He keeps it general, throws up his hands, and actually isn’t trying the least bit hard to find out if what he is saying - or implying which is the cowards way of saying - makes any sense.

Note to others:

Well put!

If you know what I mean. :laughing:

So am I. Sounds overly romanticized. I always like to take a more practical approach first to answering these kinds of question, and if it seems warranted afterwards, then go deep. On the question of death, for example, seems a pretty open and shut case that we fear it due to naturally endowed instincts to fear it. Those who didn’t fear death, well, died. Those who did, didn’t. We don’t need a deep philosophical understanding of the fear of death to explain it. It’s quite simply explained by classical stimulus/response neurology. A large cliff looms in front of you, thoughts of falling to your death rush in, and that stimulates the fear centers in your brain. You take a step back and feel a bit safer. Someone arrests you for a crime of treason or some such, and you learn you’ll be taken to the death squads, a sudden feeling of panic overtakes you. This is an instinct. Your brain learns of your impending death, and right away the fear centers are triggered. It’s all just hard wiring. This is why very few of us actually fear death by old age. It’s not a threat of life being cut short by an accident or some malicious intent, but what must happen to us all inevitably. There is no point, no survival advantage, in fear a death we cannot avoid, and so we slowly approach it as we grow older with calm and serenity (or at least not constantly fretting about it).

Now the question of why we philosophize… that’s a much deeper one. I agree with Iambig that it seems silly to say we are preparing to die–it presupposes a tall order–that it’s being driven by unconscious forces, and almost depends on some overly speculative psychodynamics. I think there’s many reasons we philosophize; off the top of my head, I can think of the fact that we like to think period. We like to figure things out. It tends to help maneuvering through the world. And so what if our thinking gets abstract sometimes, or deep and profound–our brains weren’t built with sign posts that warn us not to venture too far into abstraction or depth. If we’re trying to figure something out, and our thoughts happen to lead into the abstract and profound, why stop there? Abstraction and profundity are just ways of saying generalities–that is, thought structures and concepts that applies to a whole range of more concrete scenarios–the more abstract, the more general (as a hard and fast rule)–and so there can be utility in going into the abstract and the profound–that is, so long as we also bring those thoughts back into the realm of the concrete and the specific (they have to have an application to be of any use).

As an example which concurs with what Karpel Tunnel was saying–some of the most useful philosophies turned out to have such powerful application in the real world that they ceased to be philosophy–they were so useful, in other words, that they were no longer recognized as philosophy–I’m talking about branches of thought like science, like politics, like mathematics; everyone here knows that science was once called “natural philosophy”, right? Well, that was the birth of a new discipline. Same with many of our political systems today–democracy, republicanism, and even some of the completely unpalatable ones like Marxism–that started off as philosophy too. This tendency of philosophical thought to yield new disciplines which cease to be recognized as philosophy is perhaps one of the greatest reasons philosophy is seen by some to be useless–if all the really useful stuff inevitably becomes a whole different branch cut off from philosophy proper, then of course what’s left isn’t going to seem all that useful. It’s like saying all students are dumb because all the smart ones graduate and therefore cease to be students.

This is from Socrates’

The thesis to be supported is a generalized version of his earlier advice to Evenus: that “the one aim of those who practice philosophy in the proper manner is to practice for dying and death

Whilst there is some truth to the above, I believe the Title.
“To Philosophize Is to Learn How to Die”
is not effective and misleading if taken too seriously.

Philosophy-proper is most effective to deal with the indirect Existential Angst that emerged out of the inherent and subliminal fear triggered to avoid premature death.

If ‘mortality’ is a conscious fear or anxiety and concern for a person, then s/he is suffering from a mental illness, i.e. thanatophobia.
This is why the majority of humans will openly and heroically declared they do not fear death [consciously] while being ignorant the inherent fear of death is brewing unconsciously and subliminally within their brain.

From evolution, all humans are “programmed” not to have a conscious fear of mortality except intermittently which disappear easily.
It is only the odd exceptions that have a persistent conscious fear of mortality and they are suffering from thanatophobia and they would need psychiatric help. … sychology)

All humans are programmed to avoid and fear death else they will be reckless and die easily, so this fear is suppressed subliminally and is expressed indirectly.
But the problem is the suppression is not total thus there are leakages subliminally and this is manifested as angst and anxieties where the source is not easily traceable.
Existential angst is like a terrible itch where one do not know where to scratch.
But existential angst are more terrible pains and sufferings without a spot to scratch than the worst itch.

Thus the majority of human beings rely on the hit and miss [black box] methods to try to relieve the pains of the existential angst.
Religion and theism are determined to be the best balm to soothe the existential angst. The relief is immediate. Believed and viola! one is saved. Besides theism and religions there are other modes of beliefs [shamanism, magic, etc.] which you mentioned that would relieve the existential pains indirectly.

But as we had discussed, religions and theism has terrible cons [negatives] beside being a balm for the existential angst, but the trade off at present is in favor of the need of religion and theism to relieve the terrible pains of the existential angst.

Thus Philosophy-proper is the most effective approach to deal with the Existential Angst without the associated side effects of religions and theism.

To Philosophize Is to Learn How to Die
Facing death can be a key to our liberation and survival.
By Simon Critchley
April 11, 2020

From the NYT philosophy series The Stone

Again, if there are in fact those here who have used philosophy in order to learn how to die, then for them that becomes the bottom line. I congratulate them because, well, in grappling with the literal abyss, whatever works.


But given my own philosophy of life here and now it hasn’t taught me much at all. Why? Because nothing really changes. I am still getting closer and closer to oblivion. I am still getting closer and closer to having all that I love in life snatched away from me for all of eternity. How on earth can philosophy be of any use to me in that regard?

And, really, for those who are still able to sustain the conviction that a loving, just and merciful God will one day welcome them with open arms, bestowing upon them immortality and paradise, it would be idiotic for me to claim that they aren’t far better off than I am now. And while some atheists are able to take comfort in the fact that at least they have the intellectual integrity and courage to face death squarely on their own…that just doesn’t work for me.

This is basically over my head. Sure, on threads like this one, I’ll dive into the deep end of the pool and grapple with death by struggling to comprehend it. If only in a philosophical setting. And, who knows, I might actually come upon another’s dive that yields a far less pessimistic account.

But, by far, my most successful approach to dealing with death is to dive down instead into any number of distractions. Activities that take my mind away from death. Things I enjoy doing that require my concentration in order to do them well. It’s either this or in acknowledging that sooner or later my “set of circumstances” will precipitate so much pain and misery, I am then able to view death as the only possible antidote. Wanting to die in other words.

Yes, if this is an example of utilizing philosophy in order to learn how to die, and it “works” for you, all the better. Because that’s all that really counts in the end. Finding something that makes your death less terrifying.

To Philosophize Is to Learn How to Die
Facing death can be a key to our liberation and survival.
By Simon Critchley
April 11, 2020

From the NYT philosophy series The Stone

In a sense, it basically reflects death itself. Our own death in particular. It’s out there. All too real. We can’t see it or experience it now, but we know that eventually it will encompass the structure of our own reality. And certainly with no vaccine for it. At least not for us here and now. But is there a philosophical assessment that brings us closer to situating it objectively in our lives? In each of our own particular lives which can be so very, very different?

Nope, that has just never worked for me: “I die, therefore I am free”. The fear and anxiety are instead merely construed by me to be part and parcel of the brute facticity embedded in my own essentially meaningless existence. And death just takes away for all of eternity the actual existential meaning that I have been able to sustain now for decades.

On the contrary, freedom comes into play here for me only in a sense that my life can become simply unbearable. The pain [both physical and mental] can reach the point where I will beg to die. Why? In order to be free of that for all of eternity.

What some – many? most? – of us are swimming in is a sea of death. And not just from the coronavirus. We know that we are being pulled towards death because every time we turn on the news we are confronted with all the ways in which we can die.

So, is this what constitutes a “philosophical” reflection on death? Are you able to “liberate” yourself by thinking like this? Will you acquire just the right kind of courage here to be construed by other philosophers as “wise”?

Tell us about it.

To Philosophize Is to Learn How to Die
Facing death can be a key to our liberation and survival.
By Simon Critchley
April 11, 2020

From the NYT philosophy series The Stone

Of course the last thing most do is to turn to philosophers like Heidegger in order to reduce their own death down to a “social inconvenience” or to “down right tactlessness”.

After all, what on earth does either one even mean? And, in particular, as it relates to the new number one cause of death here in America: covid-19. No getting around mortality when you tune into the news these days. And any “counterfeit eternity” will be put to the test whenever you step outside your front door and play Russian roulette with everyone you happen to come across just in the course of going to the grocery store.

Me, I can’t imagine philosophy working to put our reality today into an assessment other than the one Critchley attempts here. Far, far, far removed from the actual lives that the overwhelming preponderances of us live. A general description intellectual contraption on steroids.

But: not true at all we are told.

Does this make sense to you? Can you relate it to your life? Can you imagine attending a funeral [when that becomes possible again] and noting this to those gathered around the coffin? Again, to me, it sounds like something that elevates death into something analogous to a Platonic form. A world of words death that one expects from those who think thoughts like this for a living.

On the other hand, he does comes closer to that which rings true to “me” here:

But then in closing he has to spoil it…for me.

What “human beings” are said to be [by anyone] and how one sees oneself as a human being can be nothing short of a gaping chasm for some of us. And this is the part where, in my view, philosophers can tread if it is somethjing they feel they can contribute to. But once they reach the point where they are arguing that our “wretchedness is our greatness”, they completely alienate me. This is a “general description intellectual contraption” that is far, far removed from the manner in which I see “I” here as, instead, an inherently ambiguous and profoundly confusing “existential contraption.”

And in regard to both life and death.

Will reply to this later…

Death, Faith & Existentialism
Filiz Peach explains what two of the greatest existentialist thinkers thought about death: Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers.

Not me though, right?

My interest in death revolves far more around the actual existential implications of it. In other words, how does the manner in which we think about death [when we do think about it] impact on the behaviors that we choose from day to day as that impacts on what we imagine the fate of “I” to be when we tumble over into the abyss.

Whatever that means.

This and sustaining all of the “distractions” that one can accumulate in order to distance “I” from the reality of death itself.

At least up to the point where one way or another you find yourself eyeball to eyeball with your actual flesh and blood extinction here and now. Or just around a corner or two.

But first of course this part:

I mean, come on, let’s get real: to the extent that you are able to think yourself into believing this [or are indoctrinated by others instead], problem solved. Well, if not in the back of your mind. But the beauty of this sort of belief – or, for some “leaf of faith” – is that when others [like me] yammer on and on about demonstrating that it is true, all you have to do is to believe that it is true.

And it’s not like the No God folks can demonstrate their own conclusions.

Death, Faith & Existentialism
Filiz Peach explains what two of the greatest existentialist thinkers thought about death: Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers.

Interesting perhaps but rather routine for those who root such things in the existential fabrication of “I”. He was no different from the rest of us. Thrown adventitiously into a set of circumstances at birth, then indoctrinated as a child to see himself out in a particular world in a particular way.

God and religion being but one manifestation of that.

So, my intent would be to discover how and why, given the life that he lived, he came to write Being and Time at all. And why including some things but not others? And why with so few references to God and religion. Or, for that matter, human moral and political values.

Then the part where the “serious philosophers” among us speculate as to whether this was a “mistake” on his part. That God and religion are important factors regarding being in time…and that it may well be possible for the most rational among us to determine the precise content that would be needed in order to make his book all that much more relevant to the “human condition”.

Okay, but in what particular context, involving what particular beings moving through time for what particular reasons. Why choose these instead of those. And then all the stuff that matters most to me: identity, value judgments and political power.

Still, in regard to “human existence” in a particular set of circumstances, where does the ontic stop and the ontological begin? Or the ontological stop and the ontic begin?

As that relates to the distinction I make between beings in time interacting objectively in the either/or world, and beings in time interacting subjectively in the is/ought world.

And, no, not just in regard to the Nazis.

My behaviours are not determined by my acceptance of death because the two occupy different points in time
I accept death as inevitable and unless or until my departure from this world is going to be a painful one then it does not actually bother me at all
Even then it will not bother me since death and dying are two separate things even though one automatically follows the other as logic determines
Also I can think of nothing worse than living forever - that to me would be hell - so when the time does come it will be a relief to leave this existence

Sure, there are those able to think themselves into examining and then confronting death in this manner.

Some even their own existential death. And, indeed, more power to them. Who, unable to themselves, would not envy them?

Here though one would have to explore with them the extent to which their own actual death is more or less eminent. In other words, how “philosophical” is their assessment given what they perceive here and now to still be a great distance from their own demise.

Next, one would have to explore just how much they have to lose in dying. Is their life bursting at the seams with loved ones, accomplishments, rewarding experiences. Plentiful fulfilments and satisfactions.

Then the part regarding God and religion. Are they convinced that death is merely a transition for an immortal soul “passing on” to salvation in paradise on the other side?

And, certainly, if one had to live forever in agony, death may well be something that they might plead for. It’s not for nothing that many religions invent Hell or its equivalent.

Simone de Beauvoir wrote a novel exploring this:

“The main tension exists between the meaningless of daily life, rituals, style from the perspective of an immortal man contrasted by the seeming trivial concerns of a mortal woman: the importance and the value they put on things are at opposite ends of the spectrum. From his perspective everything is essentially the same. From her perspective even the most trivial is unique and carries significance.”

The key of course being “perspective”. And here given the profoundly complex and problematic nature of dasein, any particular individual can have a perspective far beyond that which others are able to grasp. In regard to either living or dying, life or death.

So, just out of curiosity, how does all of the above impact on your own “perspective”?

I have no family so do not worry about anyone having to watch me die
I have never achieved anything in my life and so nothing to lose there
I am philosophically dead and so I am already half way there anyway
And if there is a God and I am to suffer metaphysical hell I will do so

In a word: dasein