P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 48
29th December 2002
I. 'Is it Reasonable to Fear the Death of Life?' by James Martin
II. 'The Inevitability of Philosophy' by Henk Tuten
III. Letter from Kazakhstan: Yevgenia
I. 'IS IT REASONABLE TO FEAR THE DEATH OF LIFE?' BY JAMES MARTIN
And what I know of death
I took from her last breath.
Cold to the touch, an
Essence not before be known.
I do not fear my death,
Or will ever die alone.
That's the best I can know of death. From observation no less. Secondhand. The
observer it seems. All else is foolishness: speculation, rational explanations,
or reasonable expectations. Almost at least. Yet, being near or close to death
helps, you might say. Perhaps seeing down that mystic funnel filled with a
warm, beckoning glow of acceptance and even anticipation that a glory awaits.
Not merely a chemical glow. I know. I've been there. And welcomed death at 21.
Nearly floated away by it one afternoon in April. But thankfully,I didn't. It's
easy when one pint of blood remains. Easy to feel light-footed, dancing on
clouds heaven-sent perhaps. But then years later I was told that the sensation
of near death was a chemical reaction, a feeling of well-being setup by the
closing down of vital systems, to lull us to final sleep. How thoughtful. It
worked. Death-dealing was easy then. When I was 21. My mind and body again in
perfect harmony even at the almost-end.
Experience is lean -- yet wins again easily. At least over the past 36 years I
have known. That time of nearly losing myself for all time, yet returning
again. What a lovely surprise! Even a revelation. If you consider a revelation
worthy of promoting an awareness of what it means to live out a life with some
purpose and meaning that would suit me, myself and I. For those who are
terrified of death -- let them not become petrified and rage at that dying
light. I felt no terror on my death bed, and saw no terror in the eyes of my
beloved on hers. And so these events of near-death, and then to its full
completion,lay the foundation for what is to come within my own conscious
perception of finality's place for me. This is my practical reality. And all I
really need to know. Yet there is no romantic notion here. Not in last breath.
Only loss and longing for what was once so bright and beautiful that the
heavens would sing it home. That is my remembrance and my knowledge of death.
Limited. But limitless.
I would not consider a 'soul' be known. One that is self-contained and lives on
after me. Too often, death and morality wind up in a big brawl because of the
necessity of most fundamental religion that tells us Immortality vs.
Immorality. Good vs. Evil. Man vs. God. God vs. Man. Nature vs. Man, Man vs.
Nature...a very funny religion. Everybody and everything is in opposition to
the other. 'You better be good for goodness sake'. Even Santa Claus is bitching
the message: fear. Fear of human behaviors labeled forthwith by sad parents,
molesting Catholic 'fathers', and prudish diminished teachers. And fat-assed
old hypocrites from the religious right. It appears most of us do not have the
luxury of inquiring into the 'fear of death'. It's already been done for us.
With the exception of Henry VIII -- and a few others. If you 'f* up' too much
in life, death is going to bite you in the ass. And it will hurt forever. So be
good for goodness sake. That's Morality talking. Not philosophy, so-called
logic, or experience. That's fundamental religion. All over the place. That's
what happens when the natives were forced to betray their own gods.
Nature is natural. What is not natural is belief in the unknown, the
irrational, the not-now, the never-was, and the 'isn't it so' version told by
the 'believers' we are told to listen to as children. Children believe
anything. Almost anything, anyway. Worst of all, anything that is told by
adults, or anyone two or more years older than we were as children. Would 'fear
of death' be part of our psyche without a morality tale? Told by the fearful who
do nothing but fear most things: strangers, races, religious varieties, abstract
cultures. Ask your dog of 'death and fear'. Most should be so lucky. Most fear
death because they have been 'bad' examples on Earth. Or at least that's what
they have been told. 'Imperfection is the fear of humanity as is.'
One of the big problems in philosophy is making it, or attempting to define its
structures in scientific language which drones like endless constipation over a
fertile field of manure-rich roses (which is the substance of our lives). By
the end of the process of definition and defining, there are no more roses to
clutch close to the heart. Have all been driveled on by pseudo science?
Descartes was a lovely man perhaps, but mathematicians seem not the most
clarified in the language of words. One takes what he knows best (numbers,
mathematics) and attempts a parallel complement: philosophy. Constipation is
painful when it is never-ending. And that's what happens in the discourse of
the love of language. It becomes an impersonal object and forgets its subject.
Hence, what logic need there be in 'death to fear'? What exaggeration is there
in comprehending immortality? We simply can't comprehend what we have not
experienced. Observation first hand is the best we have. We take our cues from
our experience of death of others. Past and present. Do we or do we not?
It seems a long life is better than a shortened one. Nature's full cycle and
all that. Be careful and not offend too much and you will live long and be
fulfilled. Rewarded for doing 'right things'. You need not fear death if you
'obey' someone, something. But never yourself. You only need fear 'life'. The
no-risk version. The Platonic one. Hands off. Don't touch. Or feel too much. Or
stand up for yourself against the rest. 'Fear. Fear. Fear. Fear of Death is
here.' So we spend our days looking for the rational way to live. And believe
that life is a good thing because we are in it. Maybe even contribute to it.
Someone somewhere needs us. Father, Mother, Sister, Brother. Respect is due.
Don't tread on you. The less we tread on you, the more sacred our mission here.
I once read that 'what we don't experience positively we will experience
negatively'. Wow. I wish I said that. If we experience the negative in a
positive way we prove to ourselves and moreover the world, that we belong in
it. And have overcome our fear of what can hurt us by denying that it ever did.
Moreover, the more we do what we are told, the better it is for us, our
The best way to defeat a 'fear' is to deny it has ever been here. So we 'put
off our fears' of death, or of living creatively. Or attempting to. But it
(fear) never goes away. I think that's why the old demented woman at 85 tells
me she is 'not done living yet, and wants more of the experience to come.'
Though blind, blabbering, loose-bowled and wheelchair bound. It seems
acceptance of death is paramount to 'giving up' on life to her. That's the
story I hear. Life is precious, and a miracle, we better do what we are told.
Or it's all going to fall down around us like a 'death'. That's morality
talking. Not our common humanity. Not our better natures. Or our chaotic ones.
Fear is an unwelcome gift bestowed by all those people, groups and institutions
instilled by the same ethos. But hopefully not by all poets and philosophers.
All that follows from that fear is 'fear and loathing of fear'. A never-ending
cycle. Or so it seems.
Emerson said it best. He often did:
Our housekeeping is mendicant, our arts, our occupations,
our marriages, our religion we have not chosen, but society
has chosen for us. We are parlor soldiers. We shun the
ragged battle of fate, where strength is born.
I think he was thinking about the 'fearlessness' of each individual and what it
means to be 'truly alive'. And what it means to choose your own fate and not
allow it be chosen for you. A recipe for a fearless life, and a fearless death
perhaps. There is so much 'habit' to living that I know it gets in the way of
living large -- especially by the compromises we make, beginning with avoiding
the fate that is not known in every new act of creation. A mother gives birth
because she has no choice. That baby is going to 'drop' one way or another.
Mother accepts her fate. And will not pull back. I wonder in my own life, am I
the coward of my fate? Perhaps I will know soon. I hope so. If I am not
frightened of death, how can I be afraid of what awaits me while on Earth. It
is a 'rugged battle' we are engaged. My fate is calling. So is yours. Do you
hear the call. Or are we afraid. Of life. Of death?
There is an almost universal idea that 'our life isn't quite played out yet.
Our story is still being told. It isn't over yet. And there's a good ending to
it if we just hold out long enough.' No matter our physical and mental
deterioration is 98 per cent complete. Or that if we fear death enough, we will
obey 'that which must be obeyed' . For many, the 'fear of death' is the major
requirement for a long and boring existence wrapped in the pursuit of
'obeying'. To fear death is the 'right thing' because it shows our humility for
being provided with a consciousness and a body. You must be careful and patient,
and thankful, and compassionate. Then you're showing the right skin, the one
that is ever-grateful, and mindful of the gift of existence. The fear of death
is the acknowledgement we offer ourselves and everyone we know of how grateful
we really are for the gift of life. If we were not thankful for the gift of
life, surely we deserve to rot somewhere. And when the time of our life comes
to its end, we better shake and rattle our bones for fear of what lies beyond
in a place we cannot yet visit. Or never will. Black is not beautiful for those
who fear death. Ones last breath holds no eternal beauty, nor tells a complete
story in its silence. We will be forgotten by the Spring by all but two or
three at most? That's hard to endure as a reality of sorts -- until you think
of yourself over the past four-plus billion years of evolution. And know your
place in that evolution(yet it is nice to have an ego that enjoys its presence
on Earth in our own time -- and necessary for survival in some degree of
I think of all who passed before us. Especially the young men and women in wars
great and small. Those who sacrificed their lives early on that we may make
mortal asses of ourselves: the greedy, the slothful, the self-absorbed, and the
mean spirited bastards that dominate the landscape in one degree or another so
often these days. They fought for a cause, a country, an ideal. Their time to
fear was not long. Yet all are dead. I wonder if they feared death. I know they
did. Yet, they did it anyway. And we remain to forget --too many of us anyway.
Except for our own mortality, many hear no message in their sacrifice in wars
they did not choose but were chosen for. Yet we live in fear -- fear of
authority, fear of rule, fear of elders, fear of going broke, and finally fear
of death. I am struck awfully by the sacrifice in war and in family. I often
wonder if anyone else is so taken by this notion. How many mothers silently
gave their best efforts to a son or a daughter that their child's life render a
fullness not experienced by her?There is a fearlessness in that. Large as the
love in her heart I imagine. And for the father who toils from 8 to 5 -- is he
not a hero too? Marching into a battle he cannot control or ever fully defend.
What would it be like if we lived our life as 'principle', correct for us.
Would if be so different than it is today? Would we die on a moment's notice
(like the terrorist defending his faith)? Save a stranger from certain death
from a passing car? And what of 'tolerance' in a fearless society? Would there
be more or less? based on the need to act out our belief systems. Would the
world be an ever-revolving set of back doors and exit wounds. Or is the fear of
fear a 'rational' or at least a reasonable act of 'endurance' so that we do not
'act of principle' at the expense of an early demise in the name of an ideal,
belief, or strong position. And is fear actually a 'restraint' placed on man, a
self-defense mechanism almost that saves him from an early extinction. A
necessary cautionary tale to live by. But not to die by. Is it part of
'survival of the fittest' or a self-survival rule of thumb. At the end of the
day, or of a life, there is a 'freedom of will' that takes part in such a
decision. But is it quantitative, based on survival in months and years, or by
necessity do we choose 'not to fear' over fear irregardless of its
There is an immense thought thrown around everyday by almost everyone: 'to live
in the moment'. I and others like what Wittgenstein said: "Eternal life belongs
to one who lives in the present" ('Tractatus' 6.4311). Sometimes life is worth
living when you hear or read something you have clawed at for years. And
sometimes, 'it's simply a good day to die'. How can it not be so? If the fear
of death is reasonable for some, is it cowardly for others? Each of us must
find ways to dictate behavior that is meaningful and fulfilling. It is not
unreasonable to 'fear' a thing. And it is not absurd to be 'fearless'. We need
only look over our lives and experiences to make sense of our choices. What a
wonderful world to which we belong, however briefly. It just hurts -- because
we do not always know what to fear and what to be fearless of. If only we could.
And when I fall at last from mortal
Earth, and all is still,
I will not wince or grind my teeth,
In Heaven or in Hell.
In my not-so-mortal-self at last,
I'll take the time I've always dreamed
And search for Benny Hill.
(c) James Martin 2002
Poet James Martin has contributed a virtual postcard to the PhiloSophos
Philosophy Lovers Gallery, at:
II. 'THE INEVITABILITY OF PHILOSOPHY' BY HENK TUTEN
Philosophy is often called useless. Not seldom in circles of 'exact' science.
This observation is completely opposite to my 'intuition'. Therefore I wrote
Splitting mental processes in understanding and reasoning is quite artificial,
but for Kant this was necessary to distinguish knowledge based on experience,
and judgements based on reason alone.
In Kant's view:
In science we try to understand, while reason gives us metaphysics. Or science
was considered as objective mind-modeling of reality using concepts, and
metaphysics seen subjectively as pure reasoning.
The border between physics and metaphysics became common sense, but in fact it
is nothing but a since long outdated concept. This border was quite useful in
an ever more rational world, but it is merely a rational invention by thinkers
like Descartes and Hume.
Splitting presumed objective experiences from so called subjective thought fits
perfectly in a 100 per cent rational view. It's like calling somebody a
terrorist, when this person sees themself as fighting for life.
Kant invented the suspect concept of 'a priori' to fit the rational concept
'subjective' in his world of thought. Maybe Kant was the last of the really
great non-rational thinkers. Yet he admired Hume, and tried to make the
metaphysical world work according to rational rules.
Since Descartes the influence of rationalism only grew. Capitalism afterwards
made it even stronger. That's why the strict line between physics and
metaphysics lasted so long.
In my view, every 'science' is in fact a 'mind-world' (see my article
'Mini-Tractatus', Philosophy Pathways Issue 44, 3rd November 2002) and of
course often triggered by experience. So all science is pure reason, and
therefore also is philosophy.
For the sake of clarity it is better to speak of philosophy 'of' mathematics,
and (especially) of the philosophy of physics, and so on. This to stress that
they study a view of the world, based on basic concepts. So only INSIDE such a
mind-world, can one objectively USE the concepts of this system of thought.
Much of this internal view has after ages on earth became common sense. But
when we take a different view it appears merely subjective.
Popper said about this that there are no 'hard' experiences. These only get a
context by using some suitable theory and as such never can be can be more than
triggers of scientific 'knowledge'. In other words such knowledge is not
objective outside human thinking, and is nothing more than a human-made
product. It should be labeled 'made on the earth'.
Thus there is no general need for a border between philosophy and 'science'.
And there is no metaphysics, because no thought is objective outside its own
mind-world. So for people studying physics everything that does not fit their
way of thought is metaphysics and vice versa. Meta only means 'outside', and
thus physics is meta-metaphysics.
Humans have views, part of these became common during evolution, and the rest
diverge. There are limitless views, some based, some not based on what Lakatos
called 'research fields', a scientific and difficult way to describe experience.
Of course the difference between a technical approach (based on experience) and
pure reasoning remains useful. It's like the contrast between psychology of
human doings and philosophy of thinking.
'Intelligence' is something we hope one day to find outside the earth. In our
world this is the ability to show other than linear behavior. In other words,
to act unexpectedly, and not in the line of experience. In the latest part our
evolution that ability came to be known as philosophy.
(c) Henk Tuten
Engineer Henk Tuten suffered a severe brain stem stroke three years ago which
left him paralysed. He has contributed a postcard to the PhiloSophos Philosophy
Lovers Gallery at:
III. LETTER FROM KAZAKHSTAN: YEVGENIA
My name is Yevgenia. I am 17 and live in Kazakhstan. I would like to talk with
people who think about world, life, future and happiness. Because I can't find
such people here, in my town. I have wonderful parents. My dad all of his life
wants to become philosopher, but can't find people understanding him. I don't
know what I must do. All people around me think about food, love and so on.
They only live - no they only exist. I want to be useful for world. When I look
in people's eyes I see emptiness. They look like robots. I feel pain. I think
that anybody would be absolutely happy only then when all will be happy. I mean
each man, each animal and finally each particle. And I hope people will do that,
but in the future. We must only help them: don't kill, be good, love all around
us. That idea of my dad. He told me and I understood. But I can't find anybody
who thinks so too. I'm young and I must do something. I don't know what? Maybe
you can help me. I want to do all possible in order to be good. Please I need
to know - What are you thinking about? Tell me your ideas. I hope you help me
with your words.
P.S. I don't know English very well. And it's difficult explain my thinking in
my language (Russian), all the more in English. And I'm sorry for my mistakes.
Goodbye. I wait for your letter.
Submitted to 'Ask a Philosopher' 27th December 2002. Jenia's question is posted at:
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