The Ernest Becker Foundation
|Of Recent Interest: Death - Philosophical soundings|
|Monday, 01 January 2001 03:00|
Published by Open Court (1996), this book is among the very few available that really brings together concerted philosophical reflection with issues of death and dying. (Awareness of Mortality, edited by Jeffrey Kauffman [Haworth 1995], being another rare example. )
The book is divided into two parts. Part 1 contains Fingarette's own reflections on death. Readers familiar with his earlier books, such as Self-Deception (1969) and Heavy Drinking: The Myth of Alcoholism as a Disease (1988), will not be surprised that Fingarette offers here a lucidly written and penetrating analysis that does not hesitate to cut across cherished lines of sentimentality. He notes that just as we have no fearful recollection of nonbeing before our birth, there is no reason to fear the nonbeing after our death. Yet we certainly do fear it, as Ernest Becker so clearly defined our situation.
After examining a panorama of views on death, Fingarette suggests that the richness of living is found in the ability to view life from multiple perspectives and to hold these perspectives in creative tension, even when, perhaps especially when, they clash with each other. Death in this sense is the same as life - there are multiple perspectives that cannot be either dismissed or reconciled. Confronting the fact of our death and mortality "...is the test Par Excellence of one's ability to live with multiple perspectives." Therefore, like Becker, Fingarette concludes that this confrontation is both our greatest fear and potentially the very door through which richer levels of life may be found.
The second section of the book collects excerpts on death from the works of twelve great thinkers, Tolstoy, Pascal, de Unamuno, Russell, Chang Tzu, Ionesco, Camus, Schopenhauer, the Bhagavad Gita, Freud, Aurelius, de Montaigne and Hume. It is not clear why these particular selections were made, or why others were excluded, but this does not detract from the pleasure of reading this fine book.
Becker on Otto Rank
"Rank's thought always spanned several fields of knowledge: when he talked about, say, anthropological data and you expected anthropological insight, you got something else, something more. Living as we do in an era of hyperspecialization we have lost the expectation of this kind of delight: the experts give us manageable thrills—if they thrill us at all."
From the preface to Denial of Death
more on Otto Rank here