Most Western philosophical views on death have been singularly human-centered, driven by the assumption of human uniqueness. Even atheistic existentialists, for whom God is displaced altogether from the universe, seem lost with no center, and substitute human beings and a kind of humanism as their moral center.
We have only just begun to explore the post-Darwinian implications of regarding human beings as a natural kind— as creatures like other creatures known to us, evolved from simpler life forms without conscious direction. The moral implications of such a change in worldview are getting considerable attention from philosophers at present—in reflections on ecology and the moral status of nonhuman animals, in more sympathetic treatments of rational suicide and euthanasia, in greater openness about the difficulties of dying—but the larger ontological and metaphysical consequences are infrequently addressed. If there is to be any substantial breakthrough in our philosophical thinking about death, it might well come only with the displacement of human self-centeredness, with seeing human beings as one among many natural kinds on a solitary planet in an ordinary solar system that is on the fringes of one of many billions of galaxies in an apparently infinitely expanding universe. Such a potentially revitalized naturalism need not imply that life is meaningless for solitary, mortal human beings, nor does it guarantee significant life, but it might suggest that our plight is not unique, not unshared by others, and not, finally, to be resolved (or dissolved) by exclusive self-centered speciesist concerns.
But maybe not. Even such a revitalized naturalism might prove to be but one more variation on one side of the recurrent debate between those who seek a satisfactory means to reconcile each of us to the finality of death, and those who, on the other hand, seek to sustain the hope that life does not end with death and that individual consciousness continues beyond the grave.
RICHARD W. MOMEYER (1 995) REVISED BY AUTHOR
SEE ALSO: Anthropology and Bioethics; Autonomy; Body: Cultural and Religious Perspectives; Care; Grief and Bereavement; Harm; Holocaust; Human Dignity; Infanticide; Life; Life, (Quality of; Life Sustaining Treatment and Euthanasia; Literature and Healthcare; Narrative; Palliative Care and Hospice; Pediatrics, Intensive Care in; Right to Die, Policy and Law; Suicide; Triage; Value and Valuation; Virtue and Character; Warfare; and other Death subentries
Was this article helpful?