Philosophy of Death


Literature is defined as any creative work of man, whether written or spoken. Literature can be any published source, either in the fiction form or the non- fiction form. There are two techniques used in literature, poetry and prose. Based on these two forms and two techniques of literature philosophy, the work of poets is analyzed and then sorted out in various categories. Philosophy is the search for knowledge and truth, especially about the nature of man and his behavior, beliefs, and moral philosophy. It can also be a particular system of philosophical theories. This essay focuses on how different cultures and philosophers perceive death. 

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Soren Kierkegaard is a Christian existential thinker, who emerged with his philosophical and Christian ideas in the mid-nineteenth century. The work of Soren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death, strangely identifies with the inability to die. Kierkegaard carried out a radical and comprehensive analysis of the nature of human being in the spectrum of all the possibilities that could lead to a better human existence in the universe. He also called for Christian morality strength, which should direct people towards the defense of their faith and religion and hold them firmly. Kierkegaard combines his philosophical knowledge and insights about his poetic ability. Kierkegaard takes a different angle in the analysis of his work, where he sees the better part of spiritual levels, which drives him to analyze the Book of John in the Bible. In his biblical analysis, Kierkegaard is faced with the need to capture eternal anxiety, which leads to an individual feeling despair.

When anxiety and despair pair up and mount the element of self or ego, a lack of relation between the finite and the infinite synthesis do not form a proper relation. In this situation, there again arises an expression of anxiety, which is a mark of eternity. All this is the result of despair, which is a deeper expression of anxiety. The title of Kierkegaard’s analysis is found in the Biblical book, which is introduced in reference to the gospel of John 11:4; hence, it bases its arguments on the Christian teachings in which the Bible comes from the story of  Lazarus. When Jesus heard it, he said, “The final result of this illness will not be the death of Lazarus; this has happened in order to bring glory to God, and it will be the means by which the son of God will receive glory.” Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and, from the Christian point of view, everything done should address or serve the purpose of strengthening and improving the minds or morals of believers.

In Christianity, despair is sickness, and death is the greatest expression, which encompasses the individual’s greatest spiritual sickness. Despair is not a cure, but sickness guarantees that the cure simply means to die or to die from despair.  According to the Christian point of view, life seen as an eternity path does not have an end; this is why even if Jesus could not have raised Lazarus from the dead, this statement could still be right because Christians believe in life after death. This makes the Christian death something not to be feared or worried about. However, the true ‘sickness unto death’ barely describes spiritual death and not physical death as the only thing people should fear according to the Anti-climacus. Kierkegaard then, after extensive analysis, resorted to calling this sickness unto death as despair. According to Kierkegaard, if an individual is aligned to God, he is ‘in despair’. For the person to end up in despair, he or she would not align themselves with God’s plan. In this situation, the individual loses his self, which is defined as the “relation’s relating itself to itself I the relation.”  Humanity is thus the tension between the “finite” and the “infinite” and the “possible and the necessary” (Kierkegaard). Human beings are inherently reflective and have the virtues of self-consciousness. For one to be a true self, one must align with a higher purpose and uphold God’s plan for oneself, not only be conscious of the self.

Despair is the sickness unto death

In his book, Kierkegaard presents three types of despair. In the first type of despair, he –talks of an individual being unconscious in the despair of having a self – this is described as an absolute “inauthentic despair”, which is born out of ignorance. In such a way, one is unaware that he or she has really separated from its finite form of reality. An individual with this kind of despair does not realize that there is God; this makes him or her accept finitude, because one will be calculating the probability of being even more inherent in selfhood. The second type of despair talks about an individual not wanting in despair to be oneself; that is, virtually refusing to accept the self outside of the immediacy. Instead, the person only tries to define himself by the immediate and ending terms. Even though this state allows one to realize that he or she has a self, he will sill strive and wish to lose the painful awareness he/she faces by arranging one’s ending or finite life so as to make sure that the realization he/she is about to encounter is not necessary and the final last despair he speaks about a person wanting in despair to be oneself. In this third, or final despair, an individual is aware of the self but literally refuses to submit to God’s will. One will eventually accept the spiritual eternity or refuse to accept the existence of the creator. One may stubbornly refuse to accept the various aspects of the self that one has and even the reality that encroaches on his or her conscience, whether the self has been created to be or not.

The universality of sickness (Despair)

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Human beings are deceived by many attractive earthly pleasures, e.g., joy; or sometimes by earthly sorrows, which make the person forget that there is God; one will also be unable to become decisively conscious of himself as a spirit or as a self. Once an individual has reconciled the finite and the infinite, to exist in one’s own self and the Lord God, one will no longer be in despair. Despair has its opposite according to the believers and to Kierkegaard as faith. In faith, the power is established and acts transparently as the resting point of the self. This is when the self is finally willing to be the self and becomes free to relate itself to itself. Kierkegaard believed that the soul could only be saved by the dearly held religious beliefs.

Philippe Aries: “Western Attitudes towards Death”

There are still more other texts that display the inability to die as the pivotal role that was scheduled this semester. These texts include Philippe Aries’ text titled Western Attitudes Towards Death. In his book, Philippe Aries focuses mainly on the cultural constructs studied for over thousands of years. The meaning of death is basically understood at the individual and the community level. There are several social institutions that enable individuals to understand the meaning of death; these are both religious and cultural social institutions.

This book acknowledges that death happens to destroy and deprive an individual and other related people of their well-established and organized life. Culturally, death is associated with fierce and terrifying creatures, such as wild beasts and all the other meaningless monsters. Death is understood in the context of the lurking monsters which have the intention to kill and destroy all the attributes and meanings that people attach to their life. In the medieval Europe, the Christian religion tried and managed to domesticate this monster of death by establishing sets of beliefs and regular practices known as the “tame death.”  According to Philippe Aries, death was a mere transition from an active form of life to eternal life; and an individual was understood as part and parcel of the community, and not in isolation. According to these explanations, death and the process of dying were seen as communal events, which calls for communal and group participation to address various challenges of trying to overcome the same in future through communal prayers and practices, such as the “ars moriendi”, which were practiced by special community members to tame the unknown monster believed to cause death.

Later on, the work of Philippe Aries evolved through some stages and came into the different radical and cultural conceptions of death that the Western society, especially the American form of death, has witnessed today. All these changes towards the conception of death in the Western society have been due to the impact of a radical individualistic lifestyle. People in the Western societies have moved from the community-oriented personal identity to impersonal identity, which is also due to the influence of urbanization and industrialization. This has made the concept of death in the Western world today distantly related to ordinary experience. People nowadays perceive death as the “invisible death”, because the beast and monster of death is free to rein in the midst of the people. It is difficult for individuals today to “tame” death because they literally deny its existence. Consequently, this is laden with the negative effects, as people no longer sacrifice their personal and communal resources to give it its meaning. Therefore, the terror of death increases due to its invisibility and leads people to live in a death denying society. 

Plato: Phaedo

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According to the main themes of Phaedo, the soul is living forever and never dying – this is the immortal part of the human being. Man has no right to kill himself because he is the property of the gods. The arguments about the soul’s immortality are that the forms are eternal and always unchanging. Hence, the soul brings life, so it should not die or perish. The body is bound to die, which means the soul must be its indestructible opposite form, which will prevent the body from the physical death and reduce the pain resulting from physical death. In the Affinity Argument, the explanation of death is that the immortal things are different from mortal things; the human body is mortal, while the human soul is immortal. When the human body dies and is then subjected to decay, the human soul will remain in its original form and continue to live. The last Argument explains that the Form, incorporeal and all the static attributes function as the causal agents of all things in the universe. Besides, all things always participate in the Forms; for example, the number three participates in Form of the odd, the soul participates in the Form of life, which guarantees its immortality.

Paul of Tarsus was another person who contributed to the study and analysis of human life in the Christian context. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, finished his exposition on the Christian doctrine. He also gave a lengthy exhortation to the Roman people whom he advised on proper ways of living a Christian life. Paul was very concerned about harmony, humility, and love among the Christians. In this period, the new church did not have a distinct religion with a hierarchy of authority and defined dogma like the one we have today, as a conglomeration of separate communities. In his evangelical work, Paul taught that, by believing in Jesus Christ, an individual will attain salvation. One’s soul will not die, only the bodily death will occur. Paul’s teachings call for individuals to become believers in Jesus Christ.

Sigmund Freud is one of the philosophers who contributed to the analogy of human life. He clarifies the differences between “mourning and melancholia” mourning, which is a general reaction that one has towards the loss of his or her loved one. After an individual has endured difficulties but has eventually come to agree to the facts that his/her loved one is gone, the subsequent feeling is known as melancholia. Death here is experienced as a painful experience, which later fades away with time and the remaining individuals cope up gradually.   

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