Sunday 14 January 2018

The meaning of death, and life - conscious knowing of the realities

Some say death is the primary issue for Men - in a sense it is; in another sense our understanding of death is entirely dependent on our understanding of life.

Because how can we have anything meaningful to say about death until after we know what it is? What happens when people die?... Well, the meaning of an individual person's death - its timing and circumstances - surely depends on that what that specific person's life was for.

Any answer to this question of death - what makes a death good or bad - immediately references back to the larger context of life - death happens in a context of first being-alive; so we can't know about death until we know about life, its meaning and purpose; what our life has to do with us.

Neither death not life are abstractions - they come down to personal events. My life is the primary event, my death happens after my life...

We cannot forever keep kicking the can down the road: that is we cannot live on the basis of means being substituted for ends, or by pretending to regard means as if they were ends... I mean it is insane to live 'for' some value like education, fitness, health, money, power... while continually deferring the question of 'for what?'. Education to do what? Getting fit to do what? 

With respect to dying - values such as dignity when dying are obviously usually good - but clearly not absolutes (many valuable things are undignified - like giving birth to a child). Peacefulness when dying... okay, but as-such peacefulness is just an evanescent emotion - it is good to be peaceful so that we can... what?

And that which peacefulness may assist is dependent on the meaning of death, and of life.

Such questions as the meaning of death and life are mainstreamly regarded as unanswerable, or a matter of opinion... But that is to prejudge the issue as meaningless.

To know that they are unanswerable is to assume as a matter of conviction that they have no meaning - if they had a meaning, it could potentially be known and then there would be an answer.

To regard the meaning of death and life as a matter of individual opinion is to assert that there is no meaning - since opinions change, and are manipulable, culturally dependent; most people's opinions are shallow and worthless...

To regard the meaning death and life - My death and My life - as matters of opinion; is to have an already-formed conviction that life is meaningless - and therefore death too. 

Can we, personally, ever know what our own life is for; and therefore potentially understand the meaning of our own death?

To ask that question is to answer yes - implicitly; If there is to be meaning. To have a meaning that we can't possibly know, would be a meaningless situation - which is incoherent.

Yet if knowing the meaning of death and life is important, perhaps vital - why don't we all already know it?

Well, let's say we do already know it - implicitly; and our job is to make this explicit. Part of the meaning and purpose of life (among those of us who are aware of these issues, who think-about these issues) is precisely the becoming-conscious of that which (perhaps) everybody implicitly but unconsciously already-knows.

But why would we have to achieve this, and by effort - over time?

The best reason for a gap between implicit and conscious knowing would be that positive effort over time, decision, choice... was the only way it was possible to achieve conscious knowing.

Could it be that some things can be built-into us; but other things can't - and can only be achieved by our own personal efforts, choices, will etc.

And that life is perhaps (partly, but significantly) about this process of getting-more-conscious?

(I mean my life, not everybody's life who ever lived - including the majority of people who died in the womb or as infants or in other ways. But my life, and yours who read this.)

And conscious about death too? I presume so. Whatever we think about dying needs to be in a context of the meaning and purpose of death; and what we think about dying can only be coherent if there is indeed meaning and purpose to death.

The meaning and purpose of life and death are therefore not abstract - and they are personal. They are personal, but they are a matter of reality, not of opinion.

The reality of meaning and purpose in my life, your life, every life - is there. Meaning is there, whether we know it or not.

And our task (yours and mine - but not everybody's task) is to become explicitly, consciously aware of that reality.

(But whether or not we want-to, or can, communicate that consciously-known reality to some specific other-people, under the prevailing constraints of time, space and personal interest and attitudes... is a very secondary matter.)


David Balfour said...

I agree that death is meaningful in the context of Christian faith but I still fear it or feel perplexed by it in contemplation. The finality of the thing is difficult to fully accept but I know I must. It does tend to play on my mind quite often If I am honest. Either the morbid contemplation of my own death or more often that of a loved one. Perhaps I will feel different when it comes to that inevitable day if it happens in a way that enables preparation for it. Of course, sometimes death comes suddenly and without warning and we cannot prepare for it, only go through it, or adjust to the suddenness of a death of someone we know or love. I think that as a Christian, the issue should no longer be charged with such emotion or occasional dread, as, if I really believe what I claim to believe then I can be reassured that something better awaits beyond mortal life and death is not the extinction of being accepted as inevitable by modern culture. I hope thats true. I believe it is true - and yet I still fear death. Can you relate to this? Or have you reached a point of understanding that has left these residual human tendencies behind - to meet death with confident acceptance and faith that it is a door to the next stage of the souls journey. I imagine most of us will feel a deep-seated fear of death, especially in a culture that avoids acknowledging it and makes little preparation for it in life.

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - I suppose the best is not to expect feelings to be consistent at all times - we have our ups and downs; and that seems to be part of the plan, part of what we need to learn.

But each death is different - some feel 'right' and others not.

Clearly death is not necessarily easy and often very difficult indeed; even for Jesus, who knew what lay on the other side.

Chiu ChunLing said...

The fear of death is deeply instinctive to humans, much like the desire for sexual satisfactions. Remove the intellectual foundation for treating such instincts as undeniable truth, and you provide a basis for resisting them, but only a basis. The actual work is still left up to the fortitude and will.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL _ I think there is a lot of variation according to age, for example - and the mode/ reason for death - as well as the nature of the dying. But as a generalisation, yes, humans certainly do fear death.