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Could anyone point me to some authors who have discussed the ideas surrounding death in western Philosophy?

(Not whether we know we exist but rather the concept of mortality and immortality).

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    Martin Heidegger talks a lot about death and its relation with Dasein. But this is not what most people are looking for when they ask questions like this. Do you have some particular type of discussion in mind? What about (im)mortality do you want to know? – Cody Gray Jun 16 '11 at 8:55
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    I think your question would benefit if you narrowed it down a bit. For example you could explain your motivation or specific aspects of the issues you are interested in – Chuck Jun 16 '11 at 8:59
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    Epicurus discussed death at length, I think. (This is a comment rather than an answer because I can't point to a source and this is second-hand knowledge...) – Seamus Jun 16 '11 at 11:37
  • @Chuck @Cody The main aspect I'm thinking of is Western Philosophy's approach versus the eastern (or specifically Buddhist) idea of death and rebirth. The question does need to be more specific I agree, but I'm generally interested in all suggestions – Chris S Jun 16 '11 at 21:48
  • Might be of interest to the original poster: Yale offers an online video lecture series (free) for their PHL 176: Death course as part of their Open Yale Courses program: oyc.yale.edu/philosophy/death . – Josh1billion Jan 19 '12 at 21:51
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If death is the unequivocal and permanent end of our existence, the question arises whether it is a bad thing to die.1

Look no further than Thomas Nagel (at least initially). There is a book called Mortal Questions which is a collection of his papers on the subject.

It opens with a true masterpiece in ethics, appropriately titled Death. This first appeared in 1970 in the journal Nous.

Here is a link to that chapter in Google Books.

Here is the full-text.

I remember really enjoying this paper the first time I read it. I would recommend it to anyone interested in an analytic philosophy perspective on the subject of death. It's also simply a great piece of writing, overflowing with great passages.

If there is no limit to the amount of life that it would be good to have, then it may be that a bad end is in store for us all.1


1Nagel T. 'Death', Nous, 1970, pp. 73-80.

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A good place to start would be Plato's Phaedo. It is arguably the first non-religious, purely philosophical treatment of death/mortality/immortality in Western philosophy. Plato tries to convince his students that they should not fear for his soul for it will live beyond his body. A very moving text too.

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A nice little book on the subject, broadly, is The Book of Dead Philosophers by Simon Critchley, who is himself a philosopher.

He takes Cicero's famous quote, "To philosophize is to learn how to die", as a starting point and then takes a look at 190 (or so) dead philosophers, what they had to say about life and death, what they contributed to philosophy's understanding of death, and how they, themselves died.

Like I say, it's a nice little book, fascinating and often inspiring to read and a good place to start an investigation into a question like this.

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Jacques Derrida's Aporias is on precisely this subject, with particular reference to Heidegger.

EDIT: Here is the Library Journal review of the aforementioned book:

In this brief but dense book, the French philosopher examines the meaning of death. He proceeds, as usual, by minute examination of texts, beginning with Diderot and Cicero but soon moving to his favorite, Heidegger. Since one cannot experience one's death, dying must be viewed as a limiting concept, Derrida argues. This leads him to compare it with other boundaries between concepts and with political borders. Death straddles the gap between nature and culture, and its peculiar qualities enable Derrida both to continue and to challenge philosophy in the style of Heidegger, whose analysis of death in Being and Time he compares with the historical account of Phillippe Aries in Western Attitudes Toward Death (Johns Hopkins, 1973) in order to show how philosophy and history relate to each other. This short but powerful dose of Derrida will be of interest to his many admirers.

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Check out Palle Yourgrau's work, here. Yourgrau argued that death opened the door to metaphysics.

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    In what way does death open the door to metaphysics? Can you give a summary of his argument here? – Cody Gray Jun 17 '11 at 6:59
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I like this little excerpt from Montaigne's 'Essays' - 'that to study philosophy is to learn to die'. Its old, yet its quite logical, straightforward, down-to-earth, and - most important - its optimistic. Not something like Camus, after reading whom, you you only think about suicide ;)

  • it starts with stating a simple fact that we are all mortal. death is unavoidable, and there is not point in lying ourselves. Yet, while its seems sad at first, - once you accept it, you can start living without illusions and fear of death, trying to get maximum within that limited timeframe, what we all spend here, on this planet. ( like the mindset of a visitor in disneyland - of course this visit will end in just a couple of hours, this is why you should not be slow, and enjoy the things that you want and can ) – c69 Sep 24 '11 at 14:28

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