[lit-ideas] Shadows, fog, and money

  • From: Robert Paul <robert.paul@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 13 Jun 2005 21:19:25 -0700

Paul Stone wrote:

My questions comes not because I believe in a tooth-fairy. And... I'm 
not religious, if you mean that I adhere to any religion. I am only 
guided by the steadfast refusal to accept that when I die, that will be 
the end of me. I have no imagination of what it might be, but I simply 
cannot imagine not being. If I could, then I might as well get off the 
ride. What would be the point of caring about anything. What possible 
motivation could I have to do anything good or bad or judge things 
thereby. If you say 'for the good of society' or 'to stabilise the 
society you live in so that you do good and help others' I say "why?" 
"what is the point?"

*I'm sorry for stepping back in so late. My Reed mail was down over most
of the weekend, and my Yahoo account is unduly cumbersome when it comes
to cutting and pasting.

*PS wonders what the point of living would be (a) if there were an end 
to what he calls 'life,' and (b) why, if one believed there was an end, 
one should care about what one does with respect to other people and
oneself. It would be unfair perhaps to note that some who were, if
anyone ever was, religious, thought that living on pillars,
flagellating themselves, and doing the vilest things to those who held
other views, were not, merely because they believed in the possibility 
of eternal life, living the sorts of lives that exemplify meaning and 
purpose. Of course it could always be said that they smote the infidels 
because infidels are infidels and should be smitten, or even that they 
had a duty to smite them.  But in saying this one is not thereby saying 
that it is smiting infidels which gave purpose or 'meaning' to their 
lives. That would be a further step.

*But these sorts of people aside, I wonder about less remote and
simplistic examples, and what I wonder is this: why should there be a
puzzle, why should it be puzzling, that one should want to live,
all things considered, if one thought that human life (or some hazy
notion of the self) did not go on 'forever'? Why is this a puzzle?
PS has not explained that.

Human life ends at some point; and so, I believe, does mine.
Therefore, there is no reason why I should live this way or that during
the finite time I am alive.

*If this is an argument, it wants better premises. I suspect that there 
are no premises which could be added to it that would not succeed in 
making it a good argument while at the same time making it circular. But 
I'm willing to wait.

*What seems plain is that insofar as I have and have had plans and 
purposes, they would still be and would have been my plans and purposes, 
whether or not I'd heard of the possibility that life had an end, and 
that the sudden realization that it had would not thereby drain the 
interest, pleasure, or concern from what I had done and from what I 
might have (before this realization) intended to do.

*If David Ritchie were to ask me to meet on the Mutton College lawn for 
a picnic to which he would bring some wine from his famous cellars, I 
doubt that it would help to point out to him, poor, deluded wretch, that 
picnics are no fun because, well, you know, life comes to an end. I say, 
'But David, life comes to an end, you know.' 'Well, what of it?' would 
seem an intelligible reply. When I was young and agile, I enjoyed hiking 
cross country, climbing modest peaks, walking my Terriers on a fall 
afternoon; waiting for snow…doing stuff; anyone could come up with such 
a list. I'm still interested in, and challenged by discussing philosophy 
with my students and colleagues; listening to Mathis der Mahler, every 
five or six years; cranking up the volume on 'Naima.' And so on. 'But 
what's music to me or indeed to anyone if we're finite creatures?'
I don't understand the question.

*This is a superficial list, for it leaves out anything having to do 
with friends and family, or with my inner life, such as it is, i.e., 
most of the stuff that matters. The only point of giving it is to 
suggest how absurd it would be for someone to maintain that I didn't and 
couldn't care for such things while at the same time believing, as I do, 
that life comes to an end. The motivation for any such challenge remains 

*So my response really comes to this. I am interested in and care about 
many things, many possibilities, many books, many people, many rocks and
toadstools, and I believe that life comes to an end. Someone who wants 
to maintain that it is impossible to be interested, to care, to prefer 
one course of action to another, etc., because of the latter belief has 
to do some work beyond merely asserting that the second sentence of this 
paragraph is a contradiction.

*As somebody once said:

'Death is not an event in life; we do not live to experience death.

'Not only is there no guarantee of the temporal immortality of the human 
soul, that is to say of its eternal survival after death; but in any 
case, this assumption completely fails to accomplish the purpose for 
which it has always been intended. Or is some riddle solved by surviving 
forever? Is not this eternal life as much of a riddle as our present life?'

I remain, briefly,

Robert Paul
Reed College

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