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Does the fact that I know I am going to die make me superior in a sense to all the other living creatures that have no understanding of this event? Is the fact that I know that one day I am going to die a good thing for me?

One could argue that because I know that one day I am going to die I have an incentive for doing more than just attending to my very short term needs. Therefore, because I can estimate the duration of my life I know it's smart to do some planning for the future and prepare for the comming years of my life. If I had no knowledge of this coming death I would've been a prisoner to the present moment and fallen victim to all sorts of events that can only be avoided through careful planning.

However, one could perhaps also argue that because I know that one day I am going to die and that my time is limited, I can't fully appreciate the present moment. Simply put my ability to experience happiness in the present moment is severly impaired by the pain or fear that I have of the future/coming death.

How does one creature's understanding of death affects the quality of that creature's life? Is my knowledge of the coming death making my life better or is it making it worse?

I am a beginner and I do not pursue philosophy at an academic level. I am merely fascinated by philosophy and like to dabble in such topics ocasionally. I've recently remembered a subject discussed in a philosophy class I took a long time ago. I can't remember which philosopher was quoted back then but I remember he said something like: "Human's knowledge of death makes him superior to all other creatures who have no such understanding". I was just hoping that by posting this question here I would get some references which discuss this matter in more detail.

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    Your premise that all other living creatures have no understanding is somewhat questionable. There are a variety of animals that engage in behavior appropriate for impending death (whether it is an animal whose reproduction is fatal, e.g. octopi, or in social animals where an ill animal will tend to leave the group in advance of actually dying). However, animals' appreciation of this event is surely different in important ways from ours. Therefore, I think it is wiser to simply focus on how knowledge of eventual death influences our lives without worrying about animals' capabilities. – Rex Kerr Dec 27 '11 at 17:40
  • @Rex Kerr I am not necesarilly interested in whether any other living creature has this understading or not. I don't know if my phrasing was wrong, but when I said "superior to all the other creatures that have no understanding of death" I didn't mean that all the other living creature have no such understanding. I was just trying to compare a creature who knows about it's own death to one who does not. I am just curious to find out more about the effect this "own death awareness" has on life. – Cristian Dec 29 '11 at 1:18
  • I might suggest broadening the question somewhat to see this clearly -- the fact that you know you can die is not isolated; it means you know any animal can die, and in particular that entire species could potentially go extinct. What you do with this information is of course up to you, but it definitely offers a radically different perspective when you are able to consider the (possible lack of a) future of your own species. – Joseph Weissman Jan 19 '14 at 19:11
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Read Heidegger and his thoughts on Dasein.

This is from wikipedia on Heidegger's being-toward-death

Heidegger states that Authentic being-toward-death calls Dasein's individual self out of its "they-self", and frees it to re-evaluate life from the standpoint of finitude. In so doing, Dasein opens itself up for "angst," translated alternately as "dread" or as "anxiety." Angst, as opposed to fear, does not have any distinct object for its dread; it is rather anxious in the face of Being-in-the-world in general - that is, it is anxious in the face of Dasein's own self. Angst is a shocking individuation of Dasein, when it realizes that it is not at home in the world, or when it comes face to face with its own "uncanny" (German Unheimlich: "not at home"). In Dasein's individuation, it is open to hearing the "call of conscience," which comes from Dasein's own Self when it wants to be its Self. This Self is then open to truth, understood as unconcealment (Greek Aletheia). In this moment of vision, Dasein understands what is hidden as well as hiddenness itself, indicating Heidegger's regular uniting of opposites; in this case, truth and untruth.

Basically to sum up Heidegger would say that as a being that knows its going to die, this provides insight into oneself andthe world. Allowing that person to become who they really are and be an individual.

So if you believe Heidegger and you want to be an individual then yes knowing that you are going to die influences your life in a good way.

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Jacques Derrida has a wonderful book on the subject (with particular reference to Heidegger), entitled Aporias; however, it is a dense and difficult book, and the fact that your question is framed without reference to a particular philosophical tradition leads me to suspect that you haven't delved deeply into this area already.

The thematics around mortality have been a constant in philosophy since the time of Socrates, at least; it would probably be easier to make a list of philosophers who have not dealt with the issue than to list those who have.

If I am guessing correctly, and you are a beginner, I'd recommend Simon Critchley's delightful The Book of Dead Philosophers, which should give a good overview of the philosophical tradition on this matter.

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Does the fact that I know I am going to die make me superior in a sense to all the other living creatures that have no understanding of this event?

No human is superior or inferior than any other human. No animal is superior or inferior than any other animal. At the deepest level of our being we are all part of one living being made up of billions and billions of different living beings.

Is the fact that I know that one day I am going to die a good thing for me?

Is it good? If that is going to help you accomplish your goals, then yes! If you are going to be sad you are going to die, then no!

Is my knowledge of the coming death making my life better or is it making it worse?

This is something you have to answer. Only you have the ability to know.

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I don't think that the knowledge of death itself brings positive influence. It can swing both ways. It could also bring with it feelings of hopelessness and meaninglessness.

However, I think that knowledge of how death fits into the grander cycle of life & death brings with it positive influence. Because death is not only about the end of a life, but also about what is left behind for the next life or lives to come.

Personally, I believe that a person who looks at death as only being an ending, will ultimately either live life in fear or in detachment. But a who person who understands that death gives way to the next step in the cycle, which will be affected by the contributions made by him, can in a way become immortal, because he lives on through these contributions.

One could argue that there might exist a person who is so absolutely corrupted and evil, that he would use knowledge of the cycle of life and death to bring more destruction. I guess you could say that in that persons eyes, the knowledge brought "positive" influence. But you could also say that that person is slowly bringing the cycle to an end, which ultimately wouldn't be "positive". But that would by definition be detachment from the ending (or fear of the ending, if he tries to artificially delay it), which would mean that the knowledge of the cycle of life and death was negative. But maybe what follows is a new cycle?

People who try to artificially delay the ending of something important to them, are all over the world in different forms and shapes. Some people base their entire identity on a foundation that has an expiration date. Some parts of our entire civilization are based on foundations with expiration dates.

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That's actually more than a single question.

How is knowing that I am going to die influencing my life?

First this question assume that you know that you are going to die. But you may attach different meaning to "knowing something", or awareness level if you prefer. You know that you are going to die may be a vague knowledge like "first known written texts are dated 5000BCE": you heard it, you retained it, most probably you didn't try to check it, and it have little impact on your daily decisions. At the extreme opposite there are visceral knowledge: you have to drink and eat.

Probably not everybody have the same awareness of its own mortality, and with other factors, that may make considerable differences on how one is influenced by this knowledge.

Does the fact that I know I am going to die make me superior in a sense to all the other living creatures that have no understanding of this event?

To answer such a question, you have to define a criteria on which you order and a way to finitely determine a rank in this order for each being you want to order. You can of course chose criteria that fit your initial expected result, for example here "I know I am going to die (don't) make me inferior/superior to all the other living creatures". What you may ask then is "is there some non-subjective/objective ordering I could use?". To my mind, the best you may expect is an univocal consensus, which in actual problems may seems next to impossible.

How does one creature's understanding of death affects the quality of that creature's life? Is my knowledge of the coming death making my life better or is it making it worse?

You may say that self-mortality awareness is just a byproduct of a representation ability that allow one to adapt its behavior with a large range of evolving situation. In this view, it would be more that self-mortality awareness and improvement of your own life by mind simulated scenario selection have a common cause, but not that the second depend on the first.

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