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Death and Dying

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First off I'd like to say hello. This is my first post, but I've been reading from this forum for a few months. There are a lot of bright individuals here and the conversations are very civil. Great job to everyone!

Well on to my topic now. I've been struggling with the reality of death for a few years now. I know that the inevitability of death is what gives value to everyday life, but sometimes death really isn't fair. Life was going great for me for a long because of Objectivism. The philosophy has solved the chronic confusion I once had. But just a couple of months ago someone close to me passed away in a car accident. The weather was not good and the car lost control due to the icy road. The car swirved into the opposite lane and was hit by incoming traffic. This person was a great man and worked hard everyday of his life. He had his own business and overall enjoyed life greatly. His death caused so much emotional stress for me. All the time leading up to the accident I was becoming happier everyday because life was making sense and I was successful. But after this accident everything was turned upside down. I was starting to believed in a benevolent universe , but after this tradety how could I. This man didn't deserve it and I became aware that anything could take my life also. So since his passing I've been thinking about him and death a lot. I guess my question is how do objectivists deal with death and dying? How can I still believe in a benevolent universe when this horrible incident is in my head? :)

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Because death isn't important.

When you think of this man, who as you say was a good man, a wonderful man, do you really think that you'd have been better off without him? That it would have been better if he'd never lived at all? What is important, is that he lived. The proof that the universe is benevolent is that this good man could exist at all, for any length of time.

Death is meaningless: it's a return to a null-state, a void, a zero. What matters is life, for whatever length of time you have it. Remember the joys your friend had in his life; those existed, they were real, they were important.

That being said, I'm sorry for your loss. Grieve hard and embrace your life again before it gets away from you.

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I like Jennifer's answer as well, but wanted to add some thoughts on my own. When thinking of the benevolent universe, do not think of it as an entity with the ability to act on its own. The universe did not take your wonderful friend from you, and it doesn't have anything to do with what a person deserves. The universe itself has no means to "act".

The universe is merely everything that exists. That which makes it benevolent is that heroic men can and do exist. But even heroic men, by no fault of their own, cannot avoid the causality of living in an environment where sometimes accidents happen. The interactions between man, nature and machines are far from perfect yet, and perhaps they never will be.

Honor who he was by reflecting those virtues and values that you admired in him.

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Great answers by all of you. I totally understand your reasoning, it's just really hard to think of death as unimpotant when confronts you in this way. I think it's just going to take time to get passed this.

Because death isn't important.

When you think of this man, who as you say was a good man, a wonderful man, do you really think that you'd have been better off without him? That it would have been better if he'd never lived at all? What is important, is that he lived. The proof that the universe is benevolent is that this good man could exist at all, for any length of time.

Death is meaningless: it's a return to a null-state, a void, a zero. What matters is life, for whatever length of time you have it. Remember the joys your friend had in his life; those existed, they were real, they were important.

That being said, I'm sorry for your loss. Grieve hard and embrace your life again before it gets away from you.

very inspirational, thank you

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$Prometheus$,

I've little to add to what's been said, but wanted to say: Welcome to the forum.

thank you ..I'm glad to be here

Of course. Knowing that the universe is not against you doesn't mean that losses don't hurt. If it didn't hurt, how terrible would that be?

yup...to know happiness is to know sadness. I'm a young guy, I just want to be able to accomplish certain things in my life before it ends. Seeing something like this happen just opened my eyes to how short life can be.

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Seeing something like this happen just opened my eyes to how short life can be.

Yeah, I just visited my friend's grave who died in '97 at the age of 18 yesterday. It's a weird feeling knowing one of your friends are six-feet below your feet, but I just concentrated on thinking of the fun things we used to do. And it made me appreciate being on this side of the ground still a little more than usual. It puts life's value in stark perspective.

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Interesting thread topic. I have been meaning to start a thread of this sort for a while now, but have not had impetus to start one.

Personally, I am much like yourself $Prometheus$, in the sense that I have felt successful at the integration of Objectivism into my life and have been rewarded by living according to the proper philosophic principles -- not to say I still don't struggle with my own psycho-epistemology at times (which is an ongoing process).

My trouble with death comes to me due to the nature of my profession. I am a nurse and I work in critical care where I see death occur regularily. Not only death, but the seemingly sheer injustice that people face: suffering, pain, anguish, grief, hopelessness. (I realize the invalidity of attributing "injustice" to reality -- reality is what it is and has no volition).

Unlike many philosophies, and especially religion -- which is still very dominant in our culture -- Objectivism doesn't offer any consolance such as promise of "going to a better place". Since many of us acquired an Objectivist view of life and death after many years of implicitly accepting the notion of God and afterlife, I think that death will remain a very difficult thing to deal with because deep in your mind you wish it were true -- that is, you wish there really was a heaven in which justice takes place beyond this life.

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Why do you wish there to be an afterlife?

I work in a tissue bank, and I see more dead bodies every week than most people see in their entire lives. It can be sad sometimes, especially when we get the 11-year-old suicide/gunshot victims. Sometimes there's nothing to do but sit down and cry.

The thing is, I think there's something wrong with trying to put the brakes on the hurt in your life by telling yourself a comfortable fiction. You can't comprehend the pinnacle unless you can see the pit.

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Interesting thread topic. I have been meaning to start a thread of this sort for a while now, but have not had impetus to start one.

Personally, I am much like yourself $Prometheus$, in the sense that I have felt successful at the integration of Objectivism into my life and have been rewarded by living according to the proper philosophic principles -- not to say I still don't struggle with my own psycho-epistemology at times (which is an ongoing process).

My trouble with death comes to me due to the nature of my profession. I am a nurse and I work in critical care where I see death occur regularily. Not only death, but the seemingly sheer injustice that people face: suffering, pain, anguish, grief, hopelessness. (I realize the invalidity of attributing "injustice" to reality -- reality is what it is and has no volition).

Unlike many philosophies, and especially religion -- which is still very dominant in our culture -- Objectivism doesn't offer any consolance such as promise of "going to a better place". Since many of us acquired an Objectivist view of life and death after many years of implicitly accepting the notion of God and afterlife, I think that death will remain a very difficult thing to deal with because deep in your mind you wish it were true -- that is, you wish there really was a heaven in which justice takes place beyond this life.

Here is a relevant poem I recently wrote on this topic:

Life and Death

My life and my desire

Are one fulfilling fire,

And nought of death have I,

Not even when I die.

No light will follow death,

No breath come after breath,

And I'll not sorrow this,

Who won't be here to miss.

Yet some there are who say

There's life beyond Death's day,

And jewels will come their way,

And happiness will stay.

And praying so in woe

For wants they dare not know,

They kill each "low" desire,

Run off from Joy's great fire,

And sacrifice self-gain

To priests who preach abstain.

Their lives have half a span

Who cross themselves in ban,

Their hours but halfish hours,

Their powers but dried flowers.

But I, who love life whole,

How near or far each goal,

My mirror says "Well done"

Each rise and set of sun.

Before I came to birth

All riches had no worth,

Life's Meaning was a thing

Without a voice to sing.

I opened wide my eyes,

Fanned glory to the skies,

Skipped light on ground my feet

And made a sound most sweet!

"I am" is what I thought;

Something, and nothing nought;

However long I be

Is perfect song for me.

What more could I desire

But life's fulfilling fire?

For nought of death have I,

Not even when I die.

___________________________

Brian Faulkner

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JMeganSnow:

It's not that I wish there was an afterlife because I understand in rational terms what this means ie. the alternative life and death that gives rise to the concept "value" etc... However, I have to be honest in saying that integrating that rational understanding into my subconscious is quite difficult. It's like deep inside, any remnance of nominal religious belief that has not fully faded away still pulls at my emotions and creates a desire for things like "heaven" and "afterlife".

Regarding your point on working in a tissue bank, your point is well taken. The only difference I would say, when it comes to my perspective, is that in my position I often deal with patients when they are living, conscious, and awake, and then they die in my presence. To see a living person, to see them suffering, to see them die, and then to see the family and all the grieving, it hits you pretty hard sometimes. Not to diminish the emotional impact of what you do, please don't take it that way. The difference I find when dealing with corpses is that they tend not to evoke the same emotional response -- it's so much easier to look at a dead body and see it for what it is: inanimate matter.

B. Royce:

That poem was awesome! Very touching and it contained plenty of meaning. I really, really liked it.

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drewfactor, I know you know this, but remember, when you were younger and heard stories about Heaven, you were not hearing stories about an afterlife, but about someone's imagination. If your emotions respond positively to the Heaven "ideal" it's probably because it was represented as a state of happiness. To cut that connection in your mind concretize you being in Heaven as clearly as you can, then decide if you would really be happy if that state existed on earth. Personally, I would be extremely bored, and UNhappy, sitting around day after day, year after year with no goals, no desires, nothing to think, learn about or pursue. It would boring enough to be given things I actually wanted, but not even to be able to want anything?! Heaven IS Hell.

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In one of the Q&A sessions of Peikoff's lecture course, "Founders of Western Philosophy: Thales to Hume," someone asked the question: What is the role that man's awareness of his own mortality has played in philosophy?

Here was his answer:

...I could either answer in a sentence or a volume, but I think I prefer a sentence: It depends what period of philosophy you're looking at.

In periods where men are happy--comparitavely happy with life on earth--mortality is not an issue. Aristotle and Epicurus, represent, in effect, the Greek attitude (not Plato, who is untypical and unhappy with this life on Earth): Life is great, let's enjoy it; we're gonna die, but so what? We won't be there so it doesn't mean anything. Now, on the other hand, in proportion, as men are opposed to life on Earth, and/or they feel insecure or unhappy, they regard death either as a glorious escape, which is the typical Platonic, supernatural, medieval approach to it, or they regard death as a horrifying threat, because it puts an end to there life before they've had a chance to make some meaning or sense of it; and that's the existentialist, modern plaint.

The concern with mortality as such is an aberration. It comes either from hatred of life or terror of one's own inadequacies. It is therefore, a peripheral issue in philosophy, a pathalogical phenomenon.

I transcribed this myself from the CD. I'm pretty sure I got it all right, but any errors are mine.

[Edit - Moved part of this post to another thread on a different topic - RC]

Edited by RationalCop
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In response to Pekoff's point, a question would be, "how can we determine cause and consequence with regard to man's enjoyment of life on earth and his ideas about death?" What I mean is, how do we know that since we are born into a culture and society full of opportunity and affluence that our rejection of religion and afterlife are not a mere convenience -- a luxury for those of us who do not face the hardship and suffering that dominated much of history and dominates the current world?

I hasten to answer my own question, however, I would say that our affluence, opportunity, and happiness are a consequence of embracing the correct premise -- namely, the primacy of existence.

When debating people with a theistic premise, I find that the above question is often implicit in their arguments. It's an argument from intimidation and also an argument for determinism, and therefore invalid. If you think about it, theists often try to undermine an atheistic premise by appealing to emotion, ie. "you say you don't believe in god, well wait until you face your own death, or face the death of a loved one... then we'll se how convenient your athiesm is."

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  • 1 month later...

[Note: Merged with an earlier thread - softwareNerd]

I'm new, so I'll make the obligatory apology for bringing up a topic that may have been previously discussed. I am curious as to everyone's thoughts on death as it relates to an objectivist's life. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe as an objectivist and atheist, it is only logical that following death there is nothing (ie no afterlife), as one's consciousness must surely cease to exist when the biological processes fueling it no longer function. How does this affect the life lead by an objectivist? Is death to be met, then, as it is by Kira in We The Living? Or is it something to be accepted as a logical inevitability and given no greater thought? Also, does anyone know what caused Rand's death? Google has let me down on that one.

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I think it is only natural to want to live as long a life as possible, if Life is your ultimate value. If you can extend your lifespan by reasonable means, I think it is good to do so. However, death is one of the facts of reality that is inherent in our nature as mortal beings, so it is not really something unnatural that should be feared. I consider it merely as something that will one day happen to me, but I must say that I do not give it much attention :)

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I believe it is the fact that I am going to and can die that gives my life value, because my life is not automatic, I have to work to keep it, because death is always a possibilty, even an inevitability when one is stagnant. If I were immortal no values would be possible because there would not be an alternative to life. Nothing would make a difference to me. I enjoy life, because it is the opposite of death, but avoiding biological death is not everything. For man the standard value of life is life as a rational being, when that is no longer possible, when biological survival means intellectual death, then no life for man is possible and biological death would be welcomed by me.

Death is a part of my nature as the above poster said. I think it will only be bad if I die without fulling living, because I only have this one chance at it, and if I miss it, I'll never get another one.

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That is, coincidentally, one thing that bothers me about most after-life doctrines. It just takes the whole point out of living right now, and it is very easy to become lethargic when you believe such things, because you still have X more lives to go, or you can spend eternity in paradise, or whatever.

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