October 2, 2012, by Stephen Mumford


In spite of all the hubris humanity has indulged, the riches and the vanity, the hopes and ambitions, an unwelcome intruder always stops us in the end. Death – that unspoken inevitableness – is our shared destination. Nothingness, our fate.

How can the rational person face it? And how do we face our preceding lives in the knowledge of death’s inescapability? Some try to deny it, seeking refuge in an afterlife, and even claim it to be a better state than the present. But suppose I think of death as final. No more. A terminus.

I have long taken solace in some brief comments made by Wittgenstein (Tractatus 6.431, and following).  With death, my world does not change but comes to an end. Neither an afterlife, nor death itself, will be a part of my experience. I see no time at which I am deceased: all known times will be times at which I live. Is this enough to give me some form of immortality? An experiential immortality? In a way, yes: but only in that one way.

Mortality intrudes on the lives of the living rather than on the dead. We bear witness to the departures of others: loved ones, friends and family, strangers. And at such points, we feel we experience something profound: the fragility of existence; the humility of our own situation; that we are in this position together; paradoxically – the wonder of life. Technology, economics and medicine may delay the final passing, but no more than delay. We each have to prepare. And more to the point, we ought each to maximise the potential that our lives give us as if we soon will reach our end: for we certainly will.

Posted in PhilosophyTheology and Religious Studies