The Aesthetic Life

On Death

Posted in Uncategorized by jonflynn on October 20, 2009

Death is not a good thing. What is obvious to a child is considered naive to many philosophers or theologians. Death makes our time here precious, says the erudite. It makes life meaningful. Just as black cannot exist without white, life cannot exist without death. Many excuses have been made for death, and to me, and they are designed to console us for what has been an unchangeable fact throughout the history of mankind.
Evolution, contrary to popular belief, does not work towards perfect solutions (if a perfect solution can be said to exist at all), but merely good enough solutions. For most animals, it is good enough to have there bodies last until shortly after they reach the age of reproduction. Many die while reproducing, the little and big death happening at the same time. Social animals tend to last a little longer. There is some evolutionary benefit in helping the group for a while after breeding, passing knowledge to grand children that helps them survive to become grandparents. Humans, the most social of all animals, are some of the longest lived. The average mammal’s heart beats a billion times in their lives. A human’s beats closer to two billion times before finally halting. The evolutionary process has seen fit, or rather, we have been fit enough to double our life spans. But we are still built for death from the ground up, and until recently, there was nothing that we could do about it other than cope emotionally with it. We have gotten quite good at it, with every religion and almost every philosophy coming up with innumerable reasons as to why death is actually good, but not quite good enough that killing ourselves is a good idea.
I like to run this thought experiment when I talk to people about this cultural phenomena. Imagine a world where, on every Saturday, you get hit with a baseball bat. This happens to everyone, and there is nothing that you can do about it. This has happened for as long as culture can remember. Is it difficult to imagine that similar justifications as those made for death would inevitably arise? For example: pain builds character, pleasure can’t exist without pain and thus this allows us to feel more pleasure, our moments without being hit are made sweeter by the blows, etc. And it is easy to imagine the massive uproar from the philosophers/theologians were a technique developed to lessen or stop the blow of the baseball bat, just as we see on life extension techniques now.

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  1. DRS said, on October 22, 2009 at 11:57 am

    “Death is not a good thing.” If it were the case that the whole point and purpose of life is to learn how to connect, in a total and loving way, to nature and other people and our knowledge of all that, then perhaps death could be a necessary condition, like timing a test, to ‘shape souls.’ This is a classic response to the problem of evil–Ignatius’ “soul-making argument.” It would appear to be the case that certain good things, e.g. courage, would not be possible if it was not possible to risk life and necessary to face death (or at least only in a very diminished and radically altered form). I think this is part of the Socratic reason for thinking he “does not know” if death is an evil, much less the ultimate evil (as Hobbes and nature seem to insist). Is life a good thing? Was the Epicurean argument that we cannot judge these liminal states, but only good and evil within life? I do know this: the fear of death is a terrible fear, and Socrates and the ancients were surely right to argue that in some respect, the art of living involves preparing oneself to die.


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