"Why do we want to -- or is it need to?-- personify Death? We don't personify
Life, we just live it. But Death? Well, we can't live it (I wonder what
Grice would say about that?)"
Well, Witters (not Grice) has a famous proverb on that (he didn't call them
proverbs, but neo-Wittgensteinians, like McEvoy, do): "Death is not part of
life: we don't live to experience death". And then Witters died.
It is true that artists, especially Dutch and Flemish, turned to personify
Death. Italian Renaissance painters less often. I don't recall a marble statue
of The Grim Reaper in the Uffizi, for example. But Palma may.
I liked Geary's distinction, "want" or "need"? Surely a sea of difference.
Physicians, interestingly, have philosophized on that. Euthanasia, for example,
now a branch of meta-ethics, concern physicians, and in some historical studies
of 'approaches to death', the personifications of death have been analysed: in
painting, mainly, and in literature.
I would ask an iconologist (Gombrich distinguish upper iconologists from lower
iconographists) as to whether "Vita" has been personified. In any case, "what
would Grice say about that?". Grice said that when it comes to death, but not
life, we tend to use personification as metaphor. He once collected all idioms
(metaphors), for that ('joined the angelic choir', 'he is fertilizing the
daffodils,' 'helping the grass to grow'"). Oddly, when he wrote his memoir, he
chose, "the life and OPINIONS", not "the life and death" of Paul Grice. But
"the life and death of" occurs in many titles of the lives (and deaths) of many
people. I actually once wrote an essay, "The life and death of Paul Grice". He
died of emphysema and dropsy, and there is a memorial bench outside Moses Hall
-- the philosophy hall -- on the Berkeley campus. Since he was an Aristotelian,
I'm not sure he believed in an afterlife. For Aristotle, the 'psyche' is like a
breath, and hence 'ex-pire'. For Aristotle, body-and-soul form a hylemorphic
unity. But Grice was not merely Aristotelian, he was Kantotelian (always citing
Kantotle and Ariskant) and I'm less sure about what Kant said (in German, alas)
about the afterlife. He possibly said very complex things, and the fact that he
used the old German calligraphy did not help. On top, unless you are a German,
you are not really _into_ all that Kant wrote. He possibly forgot all that he
wrote himself after he wrote it all.
So, there is an asymmetry, "We just live life", and "we cannot experience
death, because death is not part of our lives" (a paraphrase of Witters,
The Italians are obsessed with death, though, or Death, if you must. The two
main gems of Italian literature are that Canto in the Aeneis when Aeneas goes
to hell -- near Naples -- 'hell' thus called after a pond out there -- he meets
with Didone, and all the other people he knew. This gave the inspiration to
Dante (or Alighieri, if you must) for his "Inferno". He meets Paolo and
Francesca and Ugolino. But Death herself -- for "La Morte" is feminine -- seems
less of a _personified_ character in the 'literature of midi', as Auden called
it. The Italian and Roman ideas about death all originate from the Greeks,
although the Etrurians should also be blamed for part of them too. The Romans
thought, and rightly, too, that the Etrurians were, to use Cicero's
description, 'slightly savage'. The implicature is that since the Roman DNA
consists of a big percentage of Etrurian DNA, there you go. But the Etrurian
conception of death is an interesting one. Again, I don't recall seeing a
statue of "The Death" (I wonder if Death is feminine in Etrurian).
Grice would be interested in Strawson's Subject and Predicate in Logic and
Grammar. "He died," "He is dying", "Death becomes Electra". "Death embraced
Electra", and so on. It seems that the root of it is a verb, "to die", which
although it shouldn't, IS _a-_symmetric with "to live". We say, "live and let
live", unless you want to be witty, "live and let die" (but hardly, "Die and
Since Geary loves algebra, and we represent L to mean "living" and D to mean
"dying", it might be argued that
L =df ~D
but McEvoy will find the definition stipulative and otiose. Note that if the
above holds then also
D =df ~L
But the nominalisations of the verbs 'to live' and 'to die' remain a mystery in
Tagalog. For those who belive in resurrection -- as cats do ("This is my fourth
life, only") -- the conjugation of the verbs become more difficult. Cats tend
to use subscripts: "I live-1", "I live-2", etc. "Are you living-3?" "No, I'm
already living-4". "Wow". Dogs cannot do that. The implicatures of cat
conversations about life and death is the topic of Old Possum's Book of
Practical Cats, a Nobel Prize winner.
In any case, the unpublication by Grice is entiled, "Prejudices and
predilections, which become the life and opinions of Paul Grice", and not JUST,
"the life and opinions" (not death) of Paul Grice" and so on.