We are wont to say, following the death of a loved one, or even an enemy, that they died too soon or if it resulted from an accident that maybe, had they been somewhere else, they wouldn’t have died. While this maybe comforting, Aurelius, the Roman statesman dissuaded us from this kind of thinking when he said we must see our lives as part of a play, each person with their acts before they take their bow.
In appointment in Samara (as retold by Somerset M), the speaker, Death, dissuades us from thinking if we acted differently, we probably wouldn’t have died.
The story is here below
There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samara and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samara.
For those studiously inclined, there is a study guide.
In the recent past, people I know have lost friends, relatives, parents and all which means I can continue with our discussions around death.
In this post, I tell you about an old movie, the ring where there is a video which if you listen to, you got 7 days to die.
I thought it would have a happy ending but there is a twist.
The question I ask is the small girl justified in letting those who see the video and do nothing die? Is it enough that she wasn’t heard and all she wants is to be heard?
If you have watched the film, weigh in below.
Epicurus would say no. In one of his famous letters, he writes death is nothing to us, for when we are, death is not with us and when death is come, we are not. Lucretius is of the same view; before we were, it didn’t bother us, after we stop being, it should likewise not bother us.
I generally believe death, sometimes, is a great good, for it is a release from suffering. For example, for those terminally ill and in pain, death is a release, even though most people even in such circumstances want to prolong their lives.
Benatar, in Human Predicament, argues that there are ways in which death is not a good, to the person who is dead. Death, he writes, deprives us of meaning, if for example, our life had meaning because of our associations or the projects we were doing.
Death, he adds, is also bad because it obliterates us. Annihilation that comes with death is a bad in the whole. It is here also that he disagrees with Lucretius. The argument by Lucretius proposes a symmetry between not having been and not continuing to being. He says the two are not symmetrical. Not having been born doesn’t cause you harm. But to stop being, as a result of death, is not a good for one, it deprives you of possible goods you would have continued to experience, among other things.
Is death a good or a not?
Suppose you had the power to choose who dies, when and how they die by simply writing their name on a paper or saying it loudly, would you do it?
This is the theme of a movie by the same name as the title of this post.
The main antagonist kills a guy who beat him up and rapidly graduates to killing bad guys across the continents and gets a girl he admires in school involved.
A detective comes to town to help local police identify the mysterious killer and this is where everything gets interesting.
The moral question, here, is can we decide that a pedophile or a thief deserves to die? Especially where we know they really are guilty? Can it be up to us?
Or is this the problem with human beings as Satan in Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain concludes.
Every word men speak, you may presume
Is more or less a fraud because, my dear,
You’ll find us humans at our most sincere
Wrapped in our nappies, later in our tomb.
Then we are wise at last, and all is plain,
We join our fathers down below the ground
And with bare bones we rattle truth around
Though some would rather lie and live again
by Herman Hesse
Reminds me of that sage, Solon, who said
He who unites the greatest number of advantages, and retaining them to the day of his death, then dies peaceably, that man alone, sire, is, in my judgment, entitled to bear the name of ‘happy.’ But in every matter it behoves us to mark well the end: for oftentimes God gives men a gleam of happiness, and then plunges them into ruin.”
On this Cicero says what will later be echoed by that great Antonine, Aurelius, and later by Shakespeare when they write the world is just a stage and each must play their own part.
Away, then, with those follies such as that it is miserable to die before our time. What time do you mean? That of nature? But she had only lent you life, as she might lend you money, without fixing any certain time for its repayment. Have you any grounds of complaint, then, that she recalls it at her pleasure?
Cicero writes in his disputations
…..it must follow, then, that death cannot be an evil; or that it must rather be something desirable; for if either the heart, or the blood, or the brain, is the soul, then certainly the soul, being corporeal, must perish with the rest of the body; ….
He then asks
What shall I say of Dicearchus, who denies that there is any soul? In all these opinions, there is nothing to affect any one after death, for all feeling is lost with life, and where there is no sensation, nothing can interfere to affect us.
I don’t know about you, but as for me, having no coherent idea of what the soul is and having had no prior idea of life on earth before I was born, the future life doesn’t interfere with how I live today.