International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue number 139 31st October 2008


I. 'Opsigeria: A Blessing or a Curse?' by Max Malikow

II. 'On Reference Failure' by Han Xiaoqiang

III. 'Society, Individual and Value' by Sanchita Bora

IV. 'Play in one act about Death' by Agne Budriunaite



We have four articles in this special bumper Halloween edition of Philosophy Pathways:

Dr Max Malikow, a practising psychotherapist and lecturer in philosophy and psychology raises the fascinating question concerning the human desire for longevity, by hypothesising an imaginary condition, 'opsigeria', which multiplies normal life expectancy sixfold. Would that necessarily be desirable or would the osipergic individual long for death?

Ever since Bertrand Russell's famous 1905 paper, 'On Denoting', philosophers and logicians have debated the question of how one analyses statements which contain terms which fail to refer to the objects they were intended to refer to. If I express a thought about X, and unknown to me X does not exist, am I still thinking or expressing any thought? If so, what is the thought about? Various ingenious solutions have been proposed. Han Xiaoqiang, a student at the Queens University of Kingston, Canada argues that there is one case of reference failure -- where things around us are changing too rapidly -- which cannot be analysed, where we have to say that a thought or statement was intended, but the attempt simply did not succeed.

Sanchita Bora, a lecturer from Assam, India offers some worthy reflections on the importance of society in defining human values, and how it is that it is only in terms of the society that we make for ourselves that what is characteristically human may be defined. The fragility of this achievement is all-too evident. That is why philosophers will continue to play an essential role.

Finally, Agne Budriunaite from Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania, has written a short one-act play which entertainingly dramatises the debate between heavyweight continental philosophers Martin Heidegger and Emmanuel Levinas over the interpretation of death. Is death the possibility of impossibility, or the impossibility of possibility? You decide.

Geoffrey Klempner



     'If only the picture could change and I could always be what
     I am now. I would give everything; yes, there's nothing in
     the whole world I would not give. I'd give my soul for that.'

     Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

     'I grow old, I grow old...'

     T.S. Eliot, 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock'

Progeria is a rare genetic disease manifesting in dramatic premature aging. The term is the result of the combination of the Greek words for 'before' (pro) and 'old age' (geria). Currently (2008), there are fifty-one known cases in the world (Progeria, 2007). Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disease that declares itself by the second year of life and ends in death at approximately age fourteen. Death is caused by heart attack or stroke. The rate of aging for someone with progeria is six to eight times faster than normal, with the full constellation of physical symptoms characteristic of the elderly, including appearance. There is no intellectual impairment with this disease. Progeria occurs in two forms, with the better known syndrome (Hutchinson-Guilford Disease) the early onset expression. The lesser known form (Werner's Syndrome) appears at puberty, with death occurring between twenty and thirty years of age.

The previous paragraph notwithstanding, this essay is not a medical treatise on progeria, but a philosophical piece concerning this disease's nonexistent antithesis: opsigeria. Specifically, the purpose of this meditation is to contemplate the meaning of life from an unusual perspective: in the context of an imaginary life. Immanuel Kant reduced the study of philosophy to four questions, one of which is: How should we live? (Katen, 1973, p. 91). The question pursued in this essay is: Would a life of 450 years be a blessing or a curse? A life of such length would be six times the normal life expectancy, the mirror opposite of progeria. The medical term for a life of such length would be opsigeria, derived from combining the Greek word for 'delayed' or 'retarded' (opsi) with the aforementioned geria.

Of the six subcategories of philosophical study, two that are relevant to the question under consideration are ethics and value theory. The former is concerned with how a life of such extraordinary length ought to be lived. (Would the recipient of an opsigeric life have any unique obligations?) The latter is concerned with the factors that determine the worth of something. The value theory question associated with opsigeria is: Would a life of four-and-a-half centuries be desirable -- perhaps so desirable -- that it would be purchased at great cost if it were possible?

The topic of longevity has a history in both science and literature. Geriatricians have maintained a research interest in men and women who have lived to 110 years and beyond. Referred to as supercentarians, the eldest of the elderly is French woman Jean Calment, who died in 1997 at age 122 (Myers, 2007, p. 178). Oscar Wilde's novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, is the story of a Faustian bargain in which an exceedingly handsome young man is able to have his portrait age while he retains his youth. Colleen McCullough's best-seller, The Thornbirds, includes an elderly Mary Carson's bold declaration of love for Father de Bricassart, a Catholic priest who is half her age:

     'I have loved you,' she said pathetically.
     'No, you haven't. I'm the goad of your old age, that's all.
     When you look at me I remind you of what you cannot do
     because of age.'
     'You're wrong. I have loved you. God, how much! Do you
     think my years automatically preclude it? Well, Father De
     Bricassart, let me tell you something. Inside this stupid
     body I'm still young -- I still feel, I still want, I still
     dream, I still kick up my heels and chafe at restrictions
     like my body. Old age is the bitterest vengeance our
     vengeful God inflicts upon us. Why doesn't He age our minds
     as well?'
     She leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes, her teeth
     showing sourly.
     'I shall go to Hell, of course. But before I do, I hope I
     get the chance to tell God what a mean, spiteful, pitiful
     apology of a God He is!'

     (1977, p.182).
Myth and history have combined to immortalize (no pun intended) the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leone (1460-1521), who sought the legendary Fountain of Youth. In various treatments of longevity and perpetual youth, it is granted that delayed aging is something to be pursued. In the United States, the current interest in cosmetic procedures is well documented in medical literature. The implied benefit of unremitting youth is present in the Genesis narrative, in which Adam and Eve are expelled from Eden and denied access to the Tree of Life, thereby initiating the ticking of their biological clocks (3:1-3, 22-23).

In what follows, it is not assumed that opsigeria would be a benefit. Rather, it is discussed in terms of its positive and negative possibilities, inviting readers to draw their own conclusion. This essay consists of a three-part sequence. First, three open questions are posed to provide a background for a discussion of opsigeria. Second, the possibilities that would make opsigeria a blessing as well as a curse are presented. Third, since the favorability of an opsigeric's life would depend upon certain conditions, several contingencies are considered.

Open Questions

There are at least three questions that are relevant to a discussion of opsigeria that are worth posing, even if they cannot be answered. The purpose of these open questions is to provide a background for considering: Since progeria is tragic does it necessarily follow that opsigeria would be wonderful?

     1. Is it possible for a life to be wasted?
     2. Is it necessary for death to be imminent if someone is
     going to concentrate on those things that are truly
     3. Would a life that spans over four centuries continue to
     hold interest for the one living it?

Is it possible for a life to be wasted? Neither a life nor anything else can be wasted unless an intended purpose is known. In other words, it can be said that people are wasting their lives only when they ought to be devoting themselves to one thing but are doing another. The question of whether or not a life can be wasted is relevant to opsigeria because more time to accomplish something might be an asset if there is something that ought to be accomplished. If someone's life has no known purpose then its length is a matter of indifference.

Is it necessary for death to be imminent if someone is going to concentrate on those things that are truly important? Samuel Johnson wrote: 'Depend upon it sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully' (Johnson, 2007). Is the awareness of death necessary for focusing one's mind on what is truly important? If so, then a life in which death will not be imminent until four centuries have passed would be a hindrance to the wonderful concentration of which Johnson spoke.

Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl advocated using death to one's advantage. He wrote that life's three unfortunate inevitabilities are pain, guilt, and death and reasoned that since they are unavoidable, each should be used to enrich life. Concerning death, rather than lamenting the brevity of life, Frankl taught that one should use death to resolve to get the most out of life. He encouraged living with deliberation and determination; thinking about how to use time optimally and acting accordingly (1959, p. 162). Could it be that the resolve recommended by Frankl would be impossible without the shadow of death?

Would a life that spans over four centuries continue to hold interest for the one living it? In the Hebrew Bible the idiom 'old and full of years' (e.g. Job 42:17) is used to describe an elderly person's condition at the time of impending death. The proper translation of this idiom is, 'having experienced all that life has to offer.' Granted, even a life of 450 years would be insufficient to allow for every conceivable activity, emotion, and thought. Nevertheless, would there be enough diversity of experience to make life interesting for an opsigeric?

The Assets and Liabilities of Opsigeria

The Chicago Cubs have not won the World Series since 1908. Clearly, opsigeria would be an advantage for the baseball fan longing to see the Cubs win a world championship. (It might even prove to be a necessity.) What other advantages might there be for an opsigeric?

In stark contrast to the abbreviated life of a child with progeria, a 450 year life span would provide enough time to consider and take innumerable opportunities. An opsigeric would have enough time to be educated and develop skills for several careers. The diversity of careers could range from altruistic human service to egoistic wealth accumulation and indulgence. (The accumulation of wealth would be enhanced by two or three additional centuries of interest on investments). Numerous long-term projects could be exceedingly long-term. World travel could be extensive with so much time to engage in it. Rarely would an opsigeric be troubled by waiting in a long line and speeding tickets should be infrequent. (How often would someone with such a long life be in a hurry?) In summary, an opsigeric would have time to try virtually everything imaginable and all that could be orchestrated into a life.

At first blush, it might seem that there would be no disadvantages to opsigeria. If there are no benefits associated with progeria, would it not logically follow that there would be no disadvantages connected with opsigeria? Psychiatrist Irving Yalom has posited that living with the awareness of death is a current that runs beneath the surface of all psychotherapy (1989, p. 5). If he is correct, an appealing inference is that delayed aging would be an unadulterated blessing. However, on closer examination, there are several undesirable possibilities for an opsigeric.

Living six times longer than everyone else would include outliving one's children and spouse (or spouses). The death of a child is unspeakably painful. Imagine a life punctuated by burying one son or daughter after another. Further, imagine watching a spouse grow old without providing companionship as an equally aging partner. Fidelity to a much 'older' spouse would require considerable self-discipline, especially if sexual intimacy is a priority for the opsigeric. How could there not be a strain on such a marriage? How many marriages and children would an opsigeric choose to have, knowing that numerous funerals of loved ones are inevitable?

Shakespeare's Macbeth described his life with these words: 'Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time' (Act V. Scene 5). King Solomon offered a similar reflection:

     All things are wearisome,
     more than one can say...
     What has been will be again,
     what has been done will be
     done again;
     there is nothing new under the sun.
     Is there anything of which one can say,
     'Look! This is something new'?
     (Ecclesiastes 1:8-10)
Solomon lived less than one hundred years, yet spoke of the tedium of life. He reached his morose conclusion in spite of immeasurable wealth, which he did not spare in his pursuit of pleasure. If Solomon were the only one whose great wealth did not provide happiness then he could be seen as an anomaly. However, this is not the case. Research shows that after the euphoria of winning millions of dollars, lottery winners have reported that they are no happier than the general population (Brickman, Coates, and Janoff-Bulman, 1978). If a life of less than one-hundred years can become tedious, this does not bode well for the opsigeric.

In addition to ennui, an opsigeric might be vulnerable to a depression driven by survivor guilt. Survivors of traumatic events in which most people were killed have reported feeling guilty in spite of their good fortune (Matsakis, 1999). Some survivors of wars, airplane crashes, automobile accidents, and the Holocaust have felt a burden of obligation. Having lived through an event that caused the deaths of many, these survivors feel a duty to make their lives really count for something. This sense of duty can be stressful. Perhaps the beneficiary of a four-hundred year life would bear an immense burden of obligation as the recipient of this unique gift.

Further, with such an extended life would come prolonged existence as an elderly person. Eventually, even an opsigeric would reach old age; having the body of a seventy year-old at age 420. The deterioration that normally culminates in death five or ten years after seventy would take six times longer. Would it be a blessing to be failing in health over a period of thirty to sixty years?


Quaker philosopher David Elton Trueblood wrote:

     Each of us is bound to die, and every rational person is
     highly conscious that his life is short, but there need be
     no tragedy in this. It is surely not so bad to die,
     providing one has really lived before he dies. Life need
     not be long to be good, for indeed it cannot be long. The
     tragedy is not that all die, but that so many fail to
     really live.

     (1951, p. 164).
Trueblood's observation that longevity is not a prerequisite to a satisfying life is shared by Stephen Vincent Benet: 'Life is not lost by dying! Life is lost moment by moment, day by dragging day, in all the thousand, small, uncaring ways' (1942).

Whether or not opsigeria would be a benefit would depend on the life conditions created by events, circumstances, and personality. Consider the contingency of good health. Three or four centuries of good health in a fully functioning body would be favorable. However, since opsigeria would not provide an exemption from accident or disease, an equal number of years in an afflicted body has little appeal. Living in a prolonged state as a quadriplegic or burn victim or with an advanced case of multiple sclerosis might make the sufferer wish for a shorter, rather than longer, life.

Another variable that would influence the quality of life is where 450 years would be lived. More than one religion proclaims eternal life in heaven as the ultimate reward for the faithful. Eternity in heaven is one thing; a very long life on earth is quite another. The biblical account describes Adam and Eve losing both eternal life and their residency in Eden (Genesis 3:23-24). Could it be that one without the other would be a miserable existence? Consider the implications of either growing old in paradise or remaining young on a continuously deteriorating earth. Granted, some parts of the world are better than others. But what if 450 years are lived out in a place plagued with disease, deprivation, or unremitting war? Also, as previously stated, great wealth does not insure a joyful life; but neither does poverty. A life in which one has insufficient resources for the provision of basic necessities is a gloomy prospect indeed.

H.L. Mencken wrote; 'The older I grow the more I distrust the famous doctrine that age brings wisdom' (Price, 2004, p. 28). Mencken is correct in his observation that life experience alone is insufficient for wisdom. Wisdom comes with age only if it is accompanied by reflection on how the years have been spent and the beliefs that have guided that spending. Soren Kierkegaard postulated that, 'Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards' (Price, 2004, p. 2). It is credible that knowledge of how life ought to be lived mixed with how life has been lived is the formula for maximizing one's life. If an incremental growth in wisdom is a prerequisite for getting the most out of a 450 year life, this would require the opsigeric to be curious and reflective. Lacking these qualities, the opsigeric would grow older, but not wiser. Without wisdom, a life of such length might degenerate into a dull existence.


The tragedy of a child with progeria is relative, not absolute. It is not the child's aging, per se, that is calamitous, but aging at a rate that is different from virtually everybody else. In like manner, almost all of the undesirable possibilities that could flow from opsigeria would result from aging out of synchrony with everybody else.

Personality is defined as, 'an individual's characteristic pattern of thinking, feeling, and acting' (Myers, 2007, p. 595). Previously noted is Trueblood's observation that, 'Life need not be long to be good' (1951, p. 164). If he is correct, then how a person lives has more influence on the quality of life than how long that person lives. How a person lives is largely determined by that individual's personality. An Italian proverb teaches, 'Quando una persona fu nato rotondo, no puo morire quadrato.' ('When a person is born round, he cannot die square.') A life in which birth and death are separated by over four centuries might not be appreciably different from a shorter version of that same life.

It is conceivable, if not likely, that an opsigeric's life would be essentially a sixfold extension of that same life lived over seventy-five years. This possibility suggests that people who lack self-discipline and certain inclinations would never get around to reading the classics, losing weight, exercising, or learning to play the piano. How much weight would an undisciplined opsigeric gain? How much debt would a foolhardy opsigeric accumulate? What would a life-sentence mean to a psychopathic opsigeric? (Regarding crime and punishment, an interesting hypothetical question is: Would you be willing to commit a lucrative crime that might result in a twenty-year imprisonment if the proceeds from the crime would set you up for life?)

If personality exerts the greatest influence on a life then some people could live blissfully for 450 years; others would multiply their misery; many would live nondescript lives; and still others would obsess interminably over what to do with so much time.


Benet, S. (1942). 'A Child Is Born.' We Stand United and Other Radio Scripts. New  York:  Rinehart and Co.

Brickman, P., Coates, D., Janoff-Bulman, R. (1978). 'Lottery Winners and Accident  Victims: Is Happiness Relative?' Journal of Personality and Social Psychology  36(8): 917-927.

Frankl, V. (1959). Man's Search for Meaning. New York: Washington Square Press.

Johnson, S. Recovered from http:--- on 02/06/08.

Katen, T. (1973). Doing Philosophy. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Matsakis, A. (1999). Survivor Guilt. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publication.

McCullough, C. (1977). The Thornbirds. New York: Avon Books.

Myers, D. (2007). Psychology (eighth edition). New York: Worth Publishers.

Price, S. (2004). The 1001 Smartest Things Ever Said. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press.

Progeria. Recovered from http:--- on 12/26/07.

Shakespeare, W. (circa 1603). Macbeth. 5.5.18.

Trueblood, D. (1951). The Life We Prize. New York: Harper and Brothers.

Yalom, I. (1989). Love's Executioner: And Other Tales of Psychotherapy. New York:  Basic Books.

(c) Max Malikow 2008


Dr. Max Malikow 528 Oak Street Syracuse, NY 13203 (315) 474-4357

Biographical note: The author is an Assistant Professor of Psychology in the Rene Crown Honors Program of Syracuse University and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Le Moyne College. His books include It's Not Too Late: Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life, Suicidal Thoughts: Essays on Self-Determined Death, Profiles in Character: Twenty-six Stories that Will Instruct and Inspire Teenagers, and Philosophy 101: A Primer for the Apathetic or Struggling Student. In addition, he is a psychotherapist in private practice in Syracuse, New York.



One of the things and perhaps the most important thing we do with language is to use it to talk about the world. We can do so because some words we use are able to be used in such a way that they, as Marga Reimer picturesquely describes, somehow 'hook on to things in the world' or 'attach to bits of reality'.[1] Proper names such as 'Marcus Tullius Cicero' and 'Barack Obama' are such words; they are often believed to be paradigmatic referring expressions, as they are used to refer to individuals in the world. But other words like 'Pegasus' and 'Zeus' cannot be so used, because there are simply no such things that actually bear the name of 'Pegasus' or 'Zeus'. What 'reference failure' describes is presumably this kind of situation: Expressions such as 'Pegasus' and 'Zeus' fails to refer to anything.

Of course, not all philosophers consider 'Pegasus' and 'Zeus' as cases of reference failure. Some think that such expressions have bearers which really exist, albeit as abstract objects.[2] Others also hold that they have bearers, but deny that the bearers of such expressions exist.[3] Now if reference is understood so broadly, then there is no such thing as reference failure, for any expression with meaning refers, that is, refers to what the expression means. So in order for the idea of reference failure makes any good sense at all, reference has to be defined as only to things in the world. It is precisely in this restricted sense of reference that 'Pegasus' and 'Zeus' may be thought as cases of reference failure, as such words cannot 'hook on to things in the world' or 'attach to bits of reality' in the way 'Marcus Tullius Cicero' and 'Barack Obama' can.

The question is, if 'Pegasus' and 'Zeus' are not referring expressions, how would the use of them cause reference failure in the first place? If an expression is really a referring expression, it cannot fail to refer, as a referring expression is precisely one that refers to something existing. Russell once said, 'If it were really a name the question of existence could not arise, because a name has to got to name something or it is not a name.'[4] But if an expression does not refer to anything, then it is not a referring expression. And a non-referring expression cannot be said to either succeed or fail to refer -- 'nothing' or 'but', for example, succeeds or fails to refer to nothing. 'Pegasus' or 'Zeus' can be said to fail to refer, only if it is used, mistakenly of course, as a referring expression.

Now as most of us would agree I think, sentences that contain expressions like 'Pegasus' can be meaningful and sometimes true, as in the case of 'Pegasus does not exist'. Arguably the neatest explanation of the meaningfulness and truth valuability of such sentences is provided by the theory of descriptions: 'Pegasus' is a disguised description and hence replaceable by something like 'the winged horse'. A significance of the descriptive analysis is that it analyses away reference failure. Expressions such as 'Pegasus' or 'Zeus' cause no reference failure, as under this analysis, they have nothing to do with reference. The sentences that contain such expressions express only some general propositions which involve no reference to particular objects.

But one may wonder whether the theory of descriptions can analyse away reference failure in all its alleged instances or whether it can give a descriptive treatment to all cases that are otherwise considered reference failure. Whatever is said of ordinary proper names, it is generally accepted that indexicals, among which are demonstratives, refer directly, that is, they are not replaceable by descriptions. If that is the case, it would appear that reference failure involving the use of indexicals cannot be analysed away. In his 'Demonstratives', David Kaplan mentions three cases of using an empty demonstrative: (1) hallucination; (2) wrong demonstratum, which is, for instance, when the subject is pointing to a flower and saying 'he' in the belief that one is pointing to a man disguised as a flower; (3) too many demonstrata, as in the case where the subject is pointing at two intertwined vines and saying 'that vine.'[5]

As I wish to show, none of these is in fact reference failure. Let me first deal with (2) and (3). In (2), since 'he' has some descriptive content (indicating the object being human and male), the subject fails not in referring, but in describing or predicating. Calling a flower 'he' is simply another way of saying 'that man' or 'that which is a man'. The subject fails to correctly predicate of the object she is pointing at, but she does not fail to refer to it, inasmuch as the 'he' she uses does single out an object, a flower, which she merely wrongly thinks of as a man disguised as a flower. In (3), as long as the subject knows which of the two intertwined vines she intends to refer to, there is no reference failure either. It is really a matter of whether the audience can successfully identify what the speaker has in mind,[6] which can be solved by imposing a 'division of reference' on 'that', such as 'that dark vine' in case one of them is darker than the other.

The case of hallucination is quite different, as unlike (2) and (3), there is no object in the first place for the subject to describe or predicate of correctly or incorrectly. When Macbeth utters, 'Is this a dagger I see before me?', the demonstrative 'this' he uses to refer fails to pick out anything -- he does not merely mistaken something which is really there for something else. Now according to Russell, demonstratives such as 'this' and 'that' are logically proper names and not disguised descriptions; they are therefore not subject to descriptive analysis. It would appear that the reference failure resulted from the use of it in the case of hallucination cannot be analysed away.

It must be noted that closely related to Russell's thesis of the descriptive non-analysability of demonstratives is the idea that the only genuine referents of demonstratives like 'this' and 'that' are sense data, and not ordinary physical objects, as the principle of acquaintance which is fundamental to his notion of reference dictates that apart from universals, the only objects that we can be acquainted with or directly aware of are sense data, and never ordinary physical objects, which are logical constructions out of sense data. This is why he could maintain that for a logically proper name such as 'this' or 'that', the question of existence does not arise. That is to say, the use of 'this' guarantees the existence of its referent, and therefore cannot possibly cause reference failure, precisely because 'this' can only refer to a sense datum -- one cannot be mistaken about the existence of some sense datum, as that a sense datum appears to exist is no different from that it exists.

However when Macbeth utters the words, 'this... dagger', surely he intends 'this' to refer to an object, not a sense datum, for it is precisely his mistaking a sense datum for an object that constitutes the hallucination. But if we accept the sense data theory as providing a good explanation for hallucination[7], the 'this' used in this context must be understood as actually, though unintentionally, either referring to a sense datum, such that what Macbeth really states is 'this represents a real dagger', or as a shorthand for 'the object represented by this', a disguised description, where 'this' refers to a sense datum. Either way, reference failure in hallucination can be analysed away.

It may be said then that what separates empty demonstratives from empty ordinary proper names with regard to the reference failure caused by the use of them is that while sentences containing empty ordinary proper names can be rephrased into sentences that involve no reference whatsoever, but only concern some general existential claims, sentences containing empty demonstratives can still exhibit some genuine reference being made in them, once empty demonstratives are shown to be empty and genuine demonstratives are located. It seems that in any case reference failure can be analysed away, that is, re-construed either as a false existential claim or as a false predication or description.

However, as I wish to suggest in the following, there can be reference failure that cannot in any way be analysed away. Consider a situation in which someone perceives, instead of a particular sense datum, but a rapid succession of many different sense data, each of which lasts for a period of time short enough to disallow an utterance of 'this' to complete. Given the demonstrative nature of the demonstrative 'this', that is, that whatever is referred to by 'this' must exist at the time when 'this' is used,[8] 'this' cannot refer to any sense datum, if no sense datum can stay to be 'captured' by 'this'. Any use of 'this' in such a situation will then always result in a reference failure.

It does not seem possible that this kind of reference failure can be re-construed as a false predication or description, for to re-construe a reference failure involving a demonstrative like 'this' as a false predication or description, one must secure a referent of 'this', initially unintended by the referrer notwithstanding, of which the reference failure is to be re-construed as a false predication or description. However, there is nothing in the rapid succession of sense data that can ever be secured as a referent of 'this'. That is to say, in no way can one make any successful demonstrative reference, as required by the dissolution of a reference failure involving a demonstrative.

Perhaps the only way to prevent the re-emergence of the demonstrative, which always reintroduces a reference failure, is to deny the non-analysability of the demonstratives and to grant that even 'this' is replaceable by a definite description, for example, 'the thing being demonstrated at the time of demonstration'[9], such that the reference failure is to be re-construed, not as a false predication or description, but as a false general existential proposition, in much the same way a reference failure involving a empty ordinary proper name like 'Pegasus' is re-construed as a general existential proposition.

However, 'the thing being demonstrated at the time of demonstration' cannot be accepted as really a definite description, and therefore capable of replacing 'this', for a definite description at least purports to by itself fix the thing it applies to, which that phrase clearly does not. The phrase may better be understood as only expressing what Kaplan calls the character of the demonstrative 'this'. The character of such an expression, according to Kaplan, merely specifies the semantic rule that dictates the correct use of the expression and by itself does not fix the thing the expression can apply to. In order for the expression to apply to anything at all, or in Kaplan's terminology to have a content, it must be supplied with a context. In other words, the referent or the content of an expression like 'this' is determined by the character of the expression together with the context which, however, is no part of the expression.[10]

Now if 'this' is analysed as 'the thing being demonstrated at the time of demonstration', the reference failure caused by a use of it would be re-construed not as a false general existential claim, but only as the denial of a semantic rule, which surely cannot be considered as analysing away the reference failure.

While such a reference failure should be recognized as ineliminable, I don't think that talk of reference failure necessarily requires a sense data theory, or that reference failure occurs only when a demonstrative is used to refer to a sense datum. Reference failure can occur when 'this' is used to refer to physical objects and their qualities. Although the sense data theory is indeed needed, in my view, to account for hallucination, it does not have to be accepted as explanatorily necessary and even useful for understanding the way how language is related to the external world, and more specifically how words 'hook on to things in the world' or 'attach to bits of reality' and fail to do so.

Nevertheless, an analogy can be made between reference failure that occurs when 'this' purports to refer to a sense datum and reference failure that occurs when it purports to refer to a physical object or a quality: The rapid succession of objects or qualities, much as the rapid succession of sense data, makes any successful reference involving demonstratives like 'this' impossible. This understanding of reference failure is by no means original. In fact it was well articulated by Plato to serve his characterization of the phenomenal world. In a number of occasions[11], Plato describes a situation in which demonstratives like 'this' (tode) or 'that' (touto), when used to refer to things in flux, fail to refer. The constant and incessant transformation between the phenomenal stuffs, fire, water, earth and air, makes it impossible to say that any one of them is really one thing (e.g., water) rather than some other. In a well-known passage in the Timaeus, Plato remarks,

     Now then, since none of these [fire, water, and etc.]
     appears ever to remain the same, which one of them can one
     categorically assert, without engrossment, to be some
     particular thing, this one, and not something else? One
     can't. Rather, the safest course by far is to propose that
     we speak about these things in the following way: what we
     invariably observe becoming different at different times --
     fire for example -- to characterize that, i.e., fire, not as
     'this', but each time as 'what is such', and speak of water
     not as 'this', but always as 'what is such'. And never to
     speak of anything else as 'this', as though it has some
     stability, of all the things at which we point and use the
     expressions 'that' and 'this' and so think we are
     designating something. For it gets away without abiding the
     charge of 'that' and 'this', or any other expression that
     indicts them of being stable.[12]

If reference is defined as necessarily involving a relation between an expression and some particular thing which exists in time, then no doubt what Plato says here can be understood as arguing that any reference or any use of referring expressions in the context of flux is fundamentally inadequate. According to Plato, in order for something to be referred to by an expression such as 'this' or 'that', it must have some sort of stability. Since nothing in flux is stable, any expression used to refer will always fail.

The sort of stability may be understood as merely a minimal stability required by the use of demonstratives like 'this'. A minimal stability, as Russell once noted, is that anything referred to by 'this' (which for him is a particular sense datum, not a physical object) must last for at least a minute or two, long enough for anyone who uses 'this' to finish talking about it.[13] Quite certainly, the time can be much shorter for a successful reference, as there is no difficulty to demonstratively refer to a flash or a bang that lasts as briefly as only a second or two. But below that minimum, perhaps 'this' or 'that' will no longer be able to perform its role. Demonstrative reference is perception-based, and is therefore temporally constrained. Surely one cannot use 'this' or 'that' to demonstratively refer to something that has already disappeared.[14]

If nothing in the world of flux has a minimal stability or permanence, there is no way language could ever 'hook on to' anything in the world or 'attach to' any bit of reality. What I have been trying to show is that there is a necessary ontological condition for language use, if language is to be used at all to describe the external world. Reference failure, understood in the sense as just described, reflects, not the deficiency on the part of language or language use, as in the case of false existential propositions and that of false description or predication -- one cannot blame the lack of application of 'the present king of France' or the emptiness of 'Pegasus' and 'this' used in hallucination on reality for failing to supply the corresponding items. Reference failure reflects, rather, the 'deficiency' on the part of reality, namely, the lack of sufficient stability and permanence.


1. Marga Reimer, 'Reference', The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, (first published 20 Jan, 2003) internet, April 2nd, 2007, available: http:---

2. See van Inwagen 'Creatures of Fiction,' American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 14, No. 4, (1979) 299-308, Zalta Abstract Objects, (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1983) and Salmon 'Nonexistence', Nous 32 (1998) 277-319.

3. Reimer, 'The Problem of Empty Names', Australian Journal of Philosophy 79 (2001): 491-506.

4. Russell, Logic and Knowledge, (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1956) 243.

5. Kaplan, 'Demonstratives', Themes from Kaplan, eds. Joseph Almog, John Perry and Howard Wettstein (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989) 490-491.

6. The reference I am considering here may be what Kent Bach calls 'linguistic or semantic reference', as opposed to 'speaker's reference' (Kent Bach, Thought and Reference, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987: 52), although the phrase sounds a bit misleading as if it has nothing to do with the speaker or the speaker's intention, which is not the case. What distinguishes speaker's reference from linguistic reference is that the former does and the latter does not involve the audience. Referring to something, understood in the latter sense, does not require the audience to identify it. When I utter 'Marcus Tullius Cicero was a Roman orator', the name 'Marcus Tullius Cicero' I use refers or is intended to refer to a particular individual in history, regardless whether or not my audience is unable to identify him, and regardless even whether or not I intend them to identify it.

7. The reason that the sense data theory has not been completely outmoded is that it provides a good explanation for hallucination, among other things. However, we need not and should not extend the application of the theory to normal perception, that is, think that what we directly perceive are always sense data, and never physical objects themselves.

8. Pointing at a picture of something in order to refer to it is, strictly speaking, not a demonstration.

9. Russell later came to hold, as did Quine, that even 'this' can be so analysed.

10. This is true of all indexicals, of which demonstratives are a special kind. For Kaplan, while every expression has a character, indexicals differs from non-indexicals in that the character of indexicals is sensitive to the change of context whereas that of non-indexicals is not. Cf. Kaplan, 'Demonstratives', 506.

11. Timaeus 49a6-c7, Cratylus 439d and Theaetetus 182c1-183b5.

12. Timaeus, 49c7-50a4.

13. Russell, Logic and Knowledge, 203.

14. One may point to the fact that at least 'that', which is unlike 'this', can be used to refer to something that was, but is no longer perceived. However this use of 'that' is not a demonstrative use, as quite simply, there is nothing or nothing any more to demonstrate. Perhaps it should be more adequately called a memory-based referring expression, or even a disguised description such as 'the noise I just heard'. In fact, even 'this' can occasionally be so used.


Bach, K. Thought and Reference, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987.

Kaplan, 'Demonstratives'. Themes from Kaplan. Eds. Joseph Almog, John Perry and Howard Wettstein. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989. 481-563.

Plato. Timaeus, Cratylus and Theaetetus, in Plato's Complete Works. Ed. John M. Cooper, Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett, 1997.

Reimer, Marga. 'The Problem of Empty Names'. Australian Journal of Philosophy 79 (2001): 491-506.

______. 'Reference'. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Online. First published 20 Jan, 2003. Internet. April 2nd, 2007. Available: http:---

Russell, Bertrand. Logic and Knowledge. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1956.

Salmon, Nathan. 'Nonexistence'. Nous 32 (1998): 277-319.

Van Inwagen, P. 'Creatures of Fiction,' American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 14, No. 4, pp. 299-308. 1979.

Zalta, E. Abstract Objects, Dordrecht: Reidel. 1983

(c) Xiaoqiang Han 2008


Department of Philosophy Queen's University at Kingston Canada



Franz Oppenheimer expresses the view that society is the totality of concepts of all purely natural relations and institutions between man and man. The individuality of a person needs society for its ample manifestation and development. Society has become a biological necessity for man. Man is also psychologically equipped to live in society. 'Man is a unique creature in the evolutionary process and society a distinctive achievement' (R.K.Mukherjee, 1950). Man's emotional development, his intellectual maturity and even his material comforts can not be thought of without society.

Man has certain innate urges in common with the lower animals. But man combines in his nature not merely instinctive urges of the animal life but also a higher spiritual principle. His native capacity of conscious reflection and inner determination, when directed towards certain ends like sex-desires and food, can divest them of their animal character and transform them into pursuits worthy of human nature. The very qualifying word human in human pursuit or human end suggests that it does not mean those ends or objects which both man and lower animals seek in common.

Human beings have higher aims than mere physical survival. Because of the human aspect of man, as put by Mackenzie man refuses to be guided by instinct alone. Only man consciously reflects upon right and wrong behaviour, approving or disapproving. Valuation is a part of man's social living. The human child gets the lesson of conduct first from parents and then from society. Out of the give and take between man and society the good life springs. Aristotle's view is that society is for the sake of good life. Durkheim also puts forward the thesis that society is a dynamic system and the seat of moral life.

It is the value-sense which distinguishes man from the other animals and makes him unique. All values refer to the human self as the agent and the enjoyer. Some represent the needs of our emotional, impulsive self, while some others reflect self-determination. Values live in and through man and his life. Human life is purposive and it implies ideals and values sought by him. Every man is faced with the challenge of the Good and the Pleasant.

Values are goals set for achievements and they motivate, define and colour all our activities. Values symbolize the generally accepted and acceptable codes of human behaviour, certain principles and standards which guide and influence the conduct of individuals and ultimately of the community. Sometimes values are described as the socially defined designs and goals that are internalized through the process of conditioning, learning and socialization. Values are standards and patterns of choice that guide persons and groups towards satisfaction, fulfillment and meaning. Earlier the word 'value' was used only as a verb meaning to value or esteem something or as a singular noun, meaning the measure of a thing, for example, the economic value of money, labour or property. But now value means the moral beliefs and attitudes of a society.

The relationship between individual and society is the most profound problems of social philosophy. It involves the question of values. Society is a group of individuals in reciprocal interaction that is value. The individual is the active agent of culture. In society values are ideals that guide or qualify ones (individual's) personal conduct and interaction with others. Values serve as channels of communication and rational discussion between members of a society. Values help individuals to distinguish what is right from what is wrong and inform him on how he can conduct his life in a meaningful way.

An individual is surrounded and encompassed by culture and societal force. 'The core of the social system, its very soul, is the system of ideals of value' (Durkheim, 1951). Therefore, the individual has to conform to the norms of the society. It is the value-system which has been attempting an integration and harmonization of the personal and social aspects of human life.

Apparently, values within society can be classified into four categories: Personal Values, Cultural Values, Social Values and Work Values. Personal values are principles that define the member of society as an individual. Personal values, such as honesty, reliability, and trust, determine how an individual will face the world and relate with people. Cultural values, like the practice of ones faith and customs, are principles that sustain connections with his cultural roots. They help the individual feel connected to a larger community of people with similar backgrounds. Social values are principles that indicate how an individual relates meaningfully to others in social situations; including those involving family, friends, and co-workers. Work values are principles that guide ones behaviour in professional contexts. They define how an individual works and how he relates to his co-workers, bosses, and clients. These principles reveal individual's potential for advancement.

The moral worth of a society is reflected on the values it cherishes, the ideals it pursues and its sincerity in upholding them. Values reflect both the actual state of society and its aspirations. They are links between the past, the present, and the future. Values serve as the authorities in the name of which choices are made and actions are taken. Values may be either preferences or principles. If values are preferences, they are personal choices and subjective. On the other hand, if they are principles, they are consistent, universal and objective. Individual sense of values is communicated from person to person through society and its institutions. Man expresses value-judgment and choice in respect of desirability and undesirability, truth and falsehood, beauty and ugliness, rightness and wrongness of behaviour. Life in society is the backdrop against which alone man can hope to actualize his aspiration for values.

Society is for awaking the creative and other potentialities of the members. The progress of society is such an evolution which satisfies a rational criterion of value. The attainment of common good is the essence of the ideal society and here lies the significance of moral and spiritual elements of the individual. The moral progression of men in society is the pre-condition of their social progress. Herd sentiment of society maintains whole system of morality; embodies approval and disapproval (of the herd) and inspires recognition.

We may consider human society-value-individual as a triangle. Society imbibes values in each individual. In return individuals' acts and behaviour reflect social ethics and cultural ethos. 'In each individual sociality is always present and that not only is the human individual apart of society but that society is also an integral part of the individual' (Max Scheler in his Theory of Inter-subjectivity, 1941-42). The 'quality of life' or the 'standard of life' is determined by the eternal values of man and society. They must be regarded as interdependent processes in a whole configuration.

The end of all moral action is a social order in which each member of the group may have a fair field for his activities and the fullest opportunity for self-development, without infringing upon the similar right of every other member of the group in the present or in future generations. Though the individuality of a man is the combination of three aspects body, mind and soul, he is interconnected with his fellowmen. If someone strives for perfection one has to shed his egoistic desires and anti-social tendencies. It is true that a civilized society or a cultured nation can continue its existence with a positive attitude towards moral and social values. Value is of such a nature that any out look of life and the universe involves some phase of it Values are conceived with reference to the need of the harmonious functioning of society.


1. Bhattacharyya, H. M. 1959. The Principles of Philosophy. University of Calcutta.

2. Bhattacharyya, H. (ed.). 1983. The Cultural Heritage of India. Vol. III & IV, The Ramakrishna Mission, Institute of Culture, Calcutta.

3. Durkheim, Emile. Sociology and Philosophy, translated by D.F.Pocock, Cohen and West, London, 1965.

4. Glass, Bentley. 1969. Science and Ethical Values. Scientific Book Agency, 22 Raja Woodmunt Street, Calcutta-1.

5. Halverson, H.W. 1976. A Concise Introduction to Philosophy. Random House, New York.

6. Hastings, J. (ed.). 1981. Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics. Edinburgh P & P Clark, 38 George Street, New York.

7. Mukherjee, R. K. 1965. The Social structure of Values, New Delhi, S. Chand,

8. Mukherjee, R. K. 1950. The Dynamics of Morals, Macmillan & Co. Ltd., London

(c) Sanchita Bora 2008


Lecturer, Dept of Philosophy Nowgong Girls' College Nagaon, Assam, 782002



Dramatis personae:

Everyman -- an 'ordinary', 'common' person (a part of all of us when we don't float into an intense cogitation and self-reflection).

Martin Heidegger -- a bald gentleman with a moustache, a strict look and a German accent.

Emmanuel Levinas -- a gentleman of an agreeable person, with a French accent.

Psychologically minded Passerby.

Place and time of the play: any place and any time in the XX-XXI centuries.

Everyman was walking in the park (or on the riverside, or through the market-square, or in any other place) and was thumbing a newspaper. Everyday he read the criminal news, the statistics of deaths in car accidents and murders, the statistics of disappeared people, and now he was thinking: 'How good that it doesn't regard me'. Then he read about a suicide of the man who preferred death to the desperate situation of his life and muttered: 'More fool he was! Life is good anyway. Death is evil indeed!'. Then he kept reading other articles and showcards about life prolonging and flattering vitamins, cosmetics and anaplasty.

Everyman saw two gentlemen sitting on the bench. They were thumbing a similar newspaper and debated about something. Everyman came closer.

Martin. Look Emmanuel! There's a lot of impersonal news about death and no sign of its authentic consciousness. People think 'everybody dies' and understand by this 'somebody dies somewhere, but not me', 'I will die some day, but not now'. Such way of thinking runs away from the true meaning of death and from the very essence of existence. Death is at hand all the time.

Emmanuel. Yes, indeed! They don't think neither about death nor about life. This is indolence and fatigue, the fundamental states of impersonal and inauthentic existence. The indolence is the inability to begin or even the negation of the beginning. By the fatigue I mean the impotent joyless rejection of the very being as a burden. I don't mean they all fly into death but rather reject death as well as life. The inability to begin could suggest the inability to finish as well.

Everyman. I can't overpass, gentlemen. Of course, death and decay is an inherent part of nature. But Epicurus said that we should not be troubled about death. Empirically death as a fact of my being can't be present at the same time as I am. I can't experience my death, so I can't describe it. Why should I think about something what will happen when I don't exist any more? According to Sigmund Freud, I can't even imagine my death and my non-existence.

Martin. But you have to think about death so that to live authentically.

Everyman. Okay. I think about death sometimes. I read about it in the newspapers. I see it in the horror films, war films and thrillers. I see it even in the cartoons. I talk about details of accidents with my neighbour. So I think about death!

Passerby. Now, now, gentlemen! This is already 'the fetishism of death' as philosopher Robert C. Solomon calls it. According to him the increased interest in everything concerned with death, the glorification of death experience and a perverted heroic attitude towards death (for example, in the war films or thrillers) are pointed at the abolition of a personal death. You think about death rather as about a film trick than an event of your life.

Martin. You are right. People do pry about circumstances and various trivial matters of death to no purpose. This is an insensible look at death and life -- 'a prying' (German Neugier). Only the personal consciousness of death (consciousness of my death) is the substantial qualification and precondition of authentic existence. Death individualizes a man and defines him as being-here (German Da-sein). The death of other person and even of the whole nation doesn't help to reveal a secret of my death as well as the authentic life of the other doesn't make my life authentic. Being-towards-death is the most personal and own possibility of a man (German Dasein) and opens a general potency of existence. It is the possibility of impossibility. This potency of existence is not relative to other people: it should be realized by the person. Death can't be other's death, it is always mine. So you have to think not about death as such but about your death.

Everyman. Oh, man! You are such an egoist! I have heard little about authentic existence. It is something good, I think. The concentration to one's own death and forgetting all other people is a pure egoism so it can't be a part of the authentic existence. A self-murderer focuses all his attention to his death too. Would you call a suicide or a granny thinking only about her funeral the authentic Dasein?

Martin. Of course not! You haven't understood. A man is not only being-here and being-towards-death but being-with as well. The recognition of my death doesn't separate me from other people but forms the basis for the authentic relationship.

Emmanuel. You are both wrong. The death of other is the most important for authentic existence, not my own death. Thinking about the death of the other is the only authentic way to think about death as such. The death of the other (French l'autre) is my affair. My death is my part in the death of other and I am responsible for it. Moreover, death is the essential and one of the most important manifestations of the totally Other (French Autrui), that means of everything -- Being, God, Absolute. There is neither subject nor object left in the death. There is no control in it. It is the impossibility of possibility. There is always an abyss stretching in death between the subject and the event. We can't know our death directly. We can try to know death only through knowing other manifestations of the Other -- the otherness of another person, his mortality and his death. So you should care about the death of the other rather than of your own.

Everyman. How can I accept and perceive death as my death if it is totally Other, i.e. unknowable? Whereas exactly about the death of others I am thinking quite often but this gentleman has said this is wrong. Which of you is right? Such talks give me shivers. I feel a total impotence towards my death and life. Or maybe shouldn't I? I can only try 'to overmaster' my death by choosing to die right now. This is the only way to influence the time and place of my own death though there is no assurance. And it is the one-way possible action. I can choose a suicide, euthanasia, alcoholism or another faster or slower way to die but I can't choose to live when my time is up. I feel fear of death. How should I live thinking about it all the time?

Emmanuel. A general fear of death masks the fear that your friend or relative will die. It is not my non-existence that causes anxiety, but that of the loved one, the other, more beloved than my being. The fear of death of the other is prior to the fear of my own death even ontologically. There can be no fear of death at all without existence. So the first and main fear is a fear of Being not a fear of death. Existence as such is tragic regardless of its transience, death can't tackle this tragedy.

Martin. I don't agree, my friend. Death is not something that 'tackles' the tragedy of existence. It is rather something that embodies it. The awareness of one's mortality can help to live authentically, yet doesn't guarantee this. There is a clear distinction between the fear of something or for something, for example the death of other person (German Furcht) and the underlying anxiety originating from the awareness of your own mortality (German Angst). The existential anxiety (German Angst) is the fundamental state of a man, i.e. the being-towards-death. It signifies the essential turn from the observation of the death of the other or your own death as an impersonal fact to the existential awareness of your own death. So the simple fear of your own death as a fact and, moreover, the fear of the death of the other should be understood as a sign of an inauthentic existence.

Everyman. This seems to me a kind of egoism again. Should I try to get at the existential anxiety and think about my death any time when I worry about the death of my beloved in order to live authentically?

Passerby. The doctor of psychology Ignace Lepp appealing to his practice notices that the fear of death of others can be perfectly 'normal', sincere and 'pure' fear of the death of the other without the additive of egoism. However, the fear of somebody's death often masks the fear of my death or other danger to my existence. So the fear of death (my death or the death of the other) can be the sign of an authentic as well as an inauthentic existence. The determinant thing here is my attitude not towards death as such but towards life and towards others in my life. Of course you can say that a relationship with others is possible in life only but not in death where I stay totally alone. What do you think about loneliness, gentlemen?

Martin. Loneliness in the face of death is inevitable. Death is the face of Nothingness. At the same time death is the hidden face of Being. It is the ownmost and non-relational possibility what makes it the ground and the cause of your existential loneliness. You are always alone because you are mortal.

Emmanuel. No way! I think that this tragic loneliness doesn't come from Nothingness but rather from absence of others accented by death. The very essence of death lies in being Other. Therefore death doesn't confirm the existential loneliness but breaks it. 'I' never stays alone. I am always in the relationship with Other.

Everyman. It is difficult to understand what you mean by saying this. People say that everybody dies alone. I agree with Martin.

Passerby. But psychologists state that it is very important to feel a human being aside when dying. For example doctor Irvin Yalom asserts that the majority of dying patients had a dread not of death itself but of dying alone. The strength of other person to stay together to the very end helps to overcome or at least to undergo the existential anxiety and not to feel lonely even in the face of death. The close friend or relative near the deathbed makes the dying person believe that he will meat a fellow-man on the other side of death. You are talking about this side of death only. What do you think about the other side of it?

Everyman. What's the idea? We can think about this side of death only. Nobody has returned from the grave and has told about the other side of death.

Emmanuel. You are lost in your thoughts (or maybe in ours?). The absence of empirical investigation isn't the reason why we can't know anything about death. Death is always on the other side of our consciousness. Death is incognizable because it is absolutely Other than I am. The incognizability of death is not given to me like Nothingness but it is closely connected with impossibility to retreat from Being into Nothingness. It doesn't mean that death is the zone from which nobody returns and which remains incognizable accordingly. It means that the relationship with death happens 'not in the light'. The subject enters the relationship with something that doesn't emanate from him. He gets in touch with mystery. The Other (French Autrui) never uncloses, never enters the present and we can't possess or control it. Nevertheless, it appears continually as mystery. Death is one of the 'clearest' signs of other-side-ness as such.

Everyman. Again! You are talking about death as a mystery and still request to think about it. What for?

Martin. I would not agree that everything is so misty. Death is something that changes man (Dasein) towards clarity. The acceptance of death can help existence and world to become transparent (German durchsichtig).

Emmanuel. I think that you are wrong therefore. You are talking about this-side-ness all the time. Death signifies my death only in the sense of my annihilation in your theory.

Martin. No. I am talking about this-side-ness right now and in some of my writings. My theory of Dasein is dedicated to philosophy of human being as being-in-the-world. So it should be concerned with this side of being that ends completely after death. But when I talk about death in a broader context I see death (mortality) as inseparable from deity (immortality) and other-side-ness.

Passerby. I suspect Martin is talking about mortality, i.e. the anthropological aspect of death, while Emmanuel is talking about the ontological aspect of death. The main distinction of your theories lies here, I think.

Everyman. I thought they are talking about the same...

Passerby. Probably it is not so important if we call death the impossibility of possibility or the possibility of impossibility. Both definitions complement one another. We can't define death in the conceptions of time, but the event of death (dying) is our unquestionable future. It overwhelms us totally to the very depth as our mortality and it lurks only in the future as an event and the outcrop of mystery. The mortality as the face of death is always the present. Namely through awareness of one's mortality and temporality a person can experience death existentially as here and now present reality and live authentically. Remembering the words of Epicurus I can say, that my death is never the present for me as an event, but it is present as far as I bestow meaning to it, and cognize that it will become the event of my life one day.

I would agree that one can see one's own death from the perspective of one's own mortality and the death of the other is absolutely relevant to this. But if we look into the very essence of death we will see some aspects of death not highlighted by both of you. It is death without dying first of all. In everyday life we don't often come into contact with the physical aspects of death. The potentiality of non-being consists in every form of life and in every relationship. A parting with a beloved is the most common face of death. Not only social and psychological roles are 'dead' after the separation but the very relationship and moreover the significant part of me that was created during this relationship.

Another non-physical aspect of death is forgetfulness. You can easily remember some old friends who are 'dead' for you and you are 'dead' for them. Eventually other person (as well as we ourselves) can change, 'die' as he or she was formerly. The change is one of the most important features of death. To die means something completely different than to live. It could be said vice versa: death is one of the most important aspects of any change. The old state dies and the new one is born. The mystics and the investigators of the mysticism call the spiritual death the primal condition of the mystical experience. But this would be another discussion.

Martin. Your theory doesn't challenge the main idea of my philosophy of death, i.e. the transformation towards authenticity. The result of the mystical experience is that what is called an authentic life when one's own mortality is seen as an inherent part of existence but death is not a value per se.

Emmanuel. I agree. The conception of spiritual death doesn't contradict the ontological conception of death as totally Other. There is no division in to subject and object left in the mystical experience. There is no Ego in it but some kind of personality remains. You neither can control it nor understand it but you still get some kind of knowledge of it. You can't 'grasp' the Other in the mystical experience as well as in the relationship with death, it appears to you anyway.

Passerby. I am not sure. I am not a mystic. The qualitative research of the consciousness of death in the mystical experience would be interesting. Let's go to find a mystic and ask about the consciousness of death, mortality and other-side-ness.

Everyman. Oh no. I am tired of all those talks. Let's go to the bar and get some easy joy of life.

Everybody disperses:

Passerby is absorbed in his own thoughts. Everyman walked away happy that he is alive. The two gentlemen proceeded the next problem.


(For those who doubt whether this piece is based on true events)

Sigmund Freud, 'Civilisation and its discontents (1930 [1929])' in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (London: The Hogarth Press. 1964. Vol. XXI).

Sigmund Freud, 'Wir und der Tod', a lecture from year 1915.

Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit (Tubingen: Niemeyer, 1993).

Martin Heidegger, 'Einblick in das, was ist' in Gesamtausgabe, III. Abteilung (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1994).

Ignace Lepp, Death and its mysteries (trans. by B. Murchland. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1972).

Emmanuel Levinas, Le Temps et l'autre (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2001).

Emmanuel Levinas, Time and the Other (Pittsburg: Duquesne University Press, 1990).

Emmanuel Levinas, God, Death, and Time (trans. by Bettina Bergo. Stanford University Press, 2002).

Emmanuel Levinas, Existence and Existents (Pittsburg: Duquesne University Press, 2001).

Emmanuel Levinas, De Dieu qui vient _ l'idee (Paris: Vrin, 1992).

Robert C. Solomon, The Joy of Philosophy: Thinking Thin versus the Passionate Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).

Irvin D. Yalom, Existential Psychotherapy (New York: Basic Books, 1980).

Irvin D. Yalom, Love's Executioner: & Other Tales of Psychotherapy (New York: Penguin Books Ltd, 1991).

(c) Agne Budriunaite 2008


Agne Budriunaite, PhD Department of Philosophy Vytautas Magnus University Kaunas

© Geoffrey Klempner 2002–2020