Behavioural

Facing One’s Own Mortality: the Perspective of a 97-Year-Old Philosopher

27 January 2020

When Herbert Fingarette wrote about death in 1996, he argued that there was no need to fear one’s own mortality. After death ”there is nothing”, he wrote, and so fear of what we by definition cannot experience was irrational.

If there is indeed nothing waiting for us after death, it is difficult to disagree with Fingarette’s logic. Yet humans are not inherently rational creatures, and as the years wore on, the prospect of his own death began to haunt him.

It haunts me, the idea of dying soon, whether there’s a good reason or not. I walk around often and ask myself, ‘What is the point of it all?’ There must be something I’m missing. I wish I knew.

Perhaps we fear death because we, as humans, have evolved to fear the unknown. We can take actions that will prolong our lives, but ultimately have little control over when they come to an end. There is also the matter of the progressive loss of ability that comes with advanced age, as well as the loss of our loved ones. For those with decades of life ahead of them, it is difficult to truly understand the concept of facing one’s own demise.

It’s very difficult for people who have not reached a state of old age to understand the psychology of it, what is going on in a person.

As Fingarette struggled to accept his mortality, he also found new appreciation in simple things, such as the beauty of the trees in his garden, saying that he regrets not having truly appreciated them ‘until now’.

Perhaps that is another part of facing death that we often forget: the less time we have remaining, the more precious it becomes, and the more we begin to realise how we took it for granted.

Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain.
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.

Lyrics to Time by Pink Floyd

Fingarette passed in 2018. While pondering ‘the point of it all’, he admitted feeling that perhaps, there was no good answer.

I think the answer may be… the silent answer.


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