Tuesday, September 17, 2019


The Thought of Our Non-Existence

Raymond Tallis, The Black Mirror: Looking at Life Through Death (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015), p. 3 with note on p. 5:
What is to be discussed is life. Lucem demonstrat umbra — 'The shadow reveals the light' — says it all. The unspeakable Nothing italicizes at least some of the Everything that is life. While death destroys us in fact, the thought of our non-existence may save us from triviality, from entrapment in secondary things — only temporally of course, but then life itself is a temporary matter. To be oblivious of death is to be only half-awake.

This is an implicit rejoinder to Spinoza's assertion that 'The free man thinks about nothing less often than about death, and his wisdom is the preparation not for death but for life.'4 The free man (and woman) who is preparing for life may think more deeply and, indeed, more freely by thinking about death. In order to live like a philosopher, it is necessary to die like one — that is to die in thought and in imagination before you die in body. Few, if any, can philosophize while panting for breath, or vomiting, and none while confused, or comatose. No argument or revelation will save me when, as will surely happen, I shall be utterly broken and my body will embark on a one-way journey to extinction. No sentence will reach to the bottom of my grief, my pain, or my nausea. And this is why Montaigne enjoined us to 'banish the strangeness of death' and 'always keep the image of death in our minds and in our imagination'.

4. Spinoza, Ethics, 4, Prop 67.
Spinoza, Ethics 4.67:
PROPOSITIO LXVII. Homo liber de nulla re minus, quam de morte cogitat, et eius sapientia non mortis, sed vitae meditatio est.

DEMONSTRATIO. Homo liber, hoc est, qui ex solo rationis dictamine vivit, mortis metu non ducitur (per prop. 63. huius), sed bonum directe cupit (per coroll. eiusdem prop.), hoc est (per prop. 24. huius) agere, vivere, suum esse conservare ex fundamento proprium utile quaerendi. Atque adeo nihil minus, quam de morte cogitat, sed eius sapientia vitae est meditatio. Q.E.D.

Sundial, York Minster

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