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February 15, 2007



I've had occasion to give this some thought from a personal perspective as well as philosophical. Seven years ago I was diagnosed with cancer. Obviously I survived, but at the time it wasn't clear that this would be the case. I have always considered myself a physical coward and was therefore more than a little surprised to discover that the imminent prospect of death did not frighten me. It was certainly inconvenient at that time - as a single parent I still had one older child living with me (aged 21) but suitable arrangements could be made and plans laid for the things I still wanted to do. A close friend, puzzled, asked why I was so calm. I really didn't know, but guessed that it was probably because of my life-long atheism - I had simply never considered death to be of any interest.

I now again find myself facing serious illness, and although not cancer it is more probably terminal. This time around I have the same reaction: it is inconvenient, and although I now live alone there are things I still want to do. I suppose I'm lucky - life would have to be pretty bad for death to be considered convenient.

For what it's worth, my serial near-death experiences have brought me to believe that we should not tolerate religious belief on the grounds that some people cannot live without that support - a rather patronising view anyway. I believe most people can live without it, and live better. They are just afraid to try, like the smoker who won't quit because he can't imagine coping without the weed. Perhaps we need to design something like 'religious cessation' classes?

Downside? Yeah, recklessness. Think I'll go into town today and buy a new guitar on the off-chance that I won't be here when the credit card statement comes in.

The Barefoot Bum

I don't know that philosophy does or ought to teach us to accept death.

I personally have never been afraid of death, but that might well be just me; it's a well-known fact that I'm a seriously weird person.

But as unafraid as I am of death, I don't accept it, and I certainly don't accept the tiny span we're currently allotted. I really wouldn't mind a thousand years or so to ponder the issue in considerable depth.

Nevertheless, I certainly don't see the incoherent and puerile traditional religious notion of an eternity in the Big Rock Candy Mountain to be at all appealing. I'd rather be eaten by worms.

Justin R. M.

Great stuff Nigel. I can’t say that I share all your sentiments towards death. Quite frankly, thinking about non-existence is enough to send chills down my spine. I know I didn’t exist for billions of years preceding my existence—those billions of years just flew by!—but it doesn’t help console me now since I’m able to contemplate my own utter annihilation. (And it certainly doesn’t help to read Sartre which only inflames my existential worries.) I know it seems silly, I won’t have any negative feelings: anxieties, pains, or worries when I’m dead. What’s even worse is that I’m only twenty-two years old! Yet, I can’t help but worry. I envy the Stoic philosophers—Seneca comes to mind—but I can’t emulate them. It’s a damn shame.

Will K. T.

I have to say I share Justin's feelings on this. There's obviously nothing to fear IN death, but there are literally No Things in death. I like things, I like them an awful lot. I like sensations, and people, and being conscious. I like being conscious an awful lot, and the prospect of never feeling or thinking ever again is not one that gives meaning to my little flicker of consciousness. The black eternity before I was born isn't as troubling because it's Over. I am not concerned with the black eternity after I'm dead, I'm concerned with the cessation itself. Not its mechanics, or what it'll feel like, but that the universe will essentially cease to exist, forever. Apocalypses don't get any more total than that.

Michael E. Hunter

Perhaps it's time to stop thinking of death as one great cataclysmic event. In all lives there are a multiplicity of deaths many of which are never noticed or mourned. The eternity that some speak of as only behind them is also in, through, and beyond them. The fleeting moment itself is death in its attachment to the other that we call life. Indeed, here they are hardly to be distinguished.

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