The Philosophy Of Death- Fear It Or Embrace It

Posted on June 10, 2012 in Inter-faith

By Mahanshu Prashar:

Let us consider about how we ought to feel about death. Is it a good thing, a bad thing, or neutral? We are talking about how it’s reasonable to feel about our own death — not so much about other people. Should we look forward to the prospect of death with terror, sorrow, indifference, or relief?

Obviously it depends on what death is. If there is life after death, the prospect will be grim or happy depending on where your soul will end up. But the difficult and most philosophically interesting question is how we should feel about death if it’s the end.

There are different ideas about it. Non-existence, being nothing at all, can’t possibly be either good or bad for the dead person. A view can be that if death comes eventually and not too early then death is a blessing because it would be unbearably tedious to live forever. Since in itself it is nothing, it can’t be either pleasant or unpleasant. If it’s good, that must be because it is the absence of something bad (like boredom or pain); if it’s bad, that must be because it is the absence of something good (like interesting or pleasant experiences).

“Darkness is only absence of light, nothing else; it cannot be good or bad”

Now it might seem that death can’t have any value, positive or negative, because someone who doesn’t exist can’t be either benefited or harmed: after all, even a negative good or evil has to happen to somebody. But, we know of a lot of cases where we can associate a sense of negative good or evil with the death of a person. For instance, for a person suffering from a terminal disease for many years and suffering agony and unbearable pain with no promise from medical science of a possible cure; Death seems to be a negative good. So, time to time some unfortunate people are given ‘mercy killing’ to save them from more agony.

And the fact that he’s not around to enjoy that negative good doesn’t mean it’s not a good for him at all. The same kind of thing could be said about death as a negative evil. When we die, all the good things in your life come to a stop: no more meals, movies, travel, conversation, love, work, books, music, or anything else. If those things would be good, their absence is bad. Of course we won’t miss them. But the ending of everything good in life, seems clearly to be a negative evil for the person who was alive and is now dead. When we think of our own death, the fact that all the good things in life will come to an end is certainly a reason for regret. We want to enjoy more and experience more out of the infinite possibilities existing out there. For some people, the prospect of nonexistence in itself is frightening, which can’t be adequately explained by what we have been discussing. The thought that the world will go on without us and we will become nothing, is very hard to accept.

It’s not clear why. We all accept the fact that there was a time before we were born when we didn’t yet exist and the world was functioning perfectly well so why should we be so disturbed at the prospect of nonexistence after our death? But still it doesn’t feel the same. The prospect of nonexistence is frightening, to many people, in a way that past nonexistence is not. The fear of death is very puzzling, in a way that regret about the end of life is not. It’s easy to understand that we might want to have more life, more of the things it contains, so that we see death as a negative evil.

But how can the prospect of our own nonexistence be alarming in a positive way? If we really cease to exist at death, there’s nothing to look forward to, so how can there be anything to be afraid of? If we think deeply and logically, death should be feared only if we survive death, and perhaps undergo some terrifying transformation.

But, still we can see even in animals which seem to be not that developed in terms of consciousness and logic, fear death and defend them against foreign attack naturally. The reason for this natural fear of death is not clear so is not the exact meaning of Death.

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