Death is the cessation of life, the natural end of a single living being or the forcible killing of not only individuals but also whole species of animals and plants due to environmental disasters and the predatory attitude of man to nature. Since man, unlike other living beings, is aware of his mortality, death is for him as a constitutive moment of his life and worldview. In this respect, from realizing the fact and meaning of death as the final moment of human life, death was mainly considered by philosophy.
The attitude towards death largely determines the forms of religious cults. For example, for the ancient Egyptians, the earthly existence of man appears as a preparation for the afterlife. Hence – the cult of the dead, the construction and decoration of the tombs, the dwellings of the dead, the art of embalming, etc. In the East, “living” of the fact of death is expressed in the cult of ancestors: the ancient Japanese believed that a person after death continues to exist in his descendants and only in the absence of them dies definitively. With the weakening of kinship and communal ties, death is increasingly experienced as an inevitable death of its own, and the cult of ancestors is held not so much by direct feeling as by tradition. Nevertheless, even nowadays there are attempts to overcome the tragedy of death with the help of a revived cult of ancestors (for example, the idea of the resurrection of dead fathers through modern science).
In most ancient cultures, the attitude toward death is epic (an important exception is an Akkadian epic about Gilgamesh, the early version of which refers to the 2nd millennium BC, and a complete one – to the 7th-6th centuries BC). Another, tragic attitude towards death occurs in the so-called “axial epoch” (Jaspers) and is characteristic of the new religions – Buddhism in India, Zoroastrianism in Iran, Judaism (especially the era of the prophets), Taoism in China, the religious and philosophical movement in Greece, 4 centuries BC (in particular among the Orphics and Pythagoreans).
These spiritual phenomena testified to the exacerbated sense of personal being. In antiquity, one of the attempts to overcome the fear of death was the teaching of Socrates, who, according to Plato, believed that “those who are genuinely devoted to philosophy are engaged, in fact, only one – dying and dying.” Plato took the Orphic-Pythagorean view that death is the separation of the soul from the body, its release from the “dungeon”, where it resides in its earthly life. The soul and body originally belong to two different worlds – the soul comes from the eternal and immutable world of ideas, where it returns after the death of the body, the latter turns into dust and decay to which it belonged from the very beginning. The doctrine of Socrates, Plato, the Neoplatonists about the immortality of the soul later, although in a transformed form, is perceived by Christianity and for many centuries becomes the defining tradition in European life.
Another attitude toward death is in Stoicism and especially in Epicureanism. Striving, like Socrates, to free man from the fear of death, the Stoics point to its universality and naturalness: all things in the world have an end, and it is so natural that it is unreasonable to fear death. Epicurus cites the following argument: death should not be feared, for a person with it “does not occur”: when a person is, there is no death, and when death comes, the person no longer exists, so death does not exist either for the living or the dead. Despite the fact that in their content, Platonism and Epicureanism are opposite, they are united by specifically Greek rationalism in the very approach to the fact of death, connected with the understanding of being as an eternally equal cosmos. The latter or stays immobile, like the Eleatic or Plato, or makes cyclical changes in the eternally recurring rhythm (Heraclitus, Stoics). Therefore, the Greek philosophy seeks either for the eternity of the cycle of existence itself (the doctrine of the transmigration of souls) or the consciousness of the fatal inevitability of this cycle, in the humble and reasonable acceptance of its naturalness and irreplaceability. “You can not be happy when you want what is impossible … Whoever wants the impossible is a slave and a fool, rebelling against his master, God. Our master wants us to be happy, but for this, we must remember that all that is born must die…” (Epictetus: What is our benefit? -Roman Stoics: Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius).
The fact of death in Judaism and Christianity is differently interpreted. In the Old Testament, however, there is an attitude characteristic of ancient cultures for death as the completion of the path of the finite being: the way the death of Patriarch Abraham is perceived: “And Abraham died, and died at a good old age, old and full of life, and was added to his people.” But since man is understood here not as a natural, but as a supernatural being, leading a dialogue with God, a new attitude to death also appears as a penalty that befell man due to the fall: “God did not create death and did not rejoice at the death of those who live”, “God created man for incorruption …, but by envy of the devil, death entered the world. ”
Death, therefore, indicates the presence of sin in the created world: concerning sinners, death is not simply their natural fate, but the punishment for sins. The desire to overcome the meaninglessness of the eternal natural cycle leads – especially in the later books of the Old Testament, the prophets – to the emergence of faith in the future eschatological kingdom, when “death is swallowed up forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and will remove reproach from his people throughout the earth. Man, therefore, can not save himself from death, it is only God who can do it. Christianity borrows from Judaism, the attitude towards death as punishment for human sinfulness. In the New Testament, the dramatic experience of death as an end to personal being is sharpened, and in the center is the theme of man’s salvation-the overcoming of death by the God-man Christ, who by his death cross redeemed the sins of mankind and with the miracle of his resurrection put an end to the dominance of death. Since people “are involved in flesh and blood, He also took these to be deprived of death by the power of the one who has the power of death; the devil and deliver those who, from the fear of death, have been subject to slavery throughout their whole life. ” Christ became “the firstborn of the dead”, and this is the guarantee of immortality and resurrection in the flesh for all Christian believers. The miracle of the resurrection of Christ, unacceptable for Judaism, combined the Old Testament supranaturalism with a tense experience of the finiteness of human existence at the turn of the old and new era.
Together with the process of secularization, which began in the Renaissance and deepens in the Age of Enlightenment, a pantheistic worldview develops, based in part on ancient philosophy, especially Neoplatonism and Stoicism, and partly on the occult-magical and Gnostic-Hermetic tradition (GK Agrippa, Paracelsus, J. Bruno). Pantheism, realized in the teachings of Spinoza, Fichte, Hegel, Goethe, etc., leads to the denial of the transcendence of God and the Christian understanding of death as a transition from the immanent into the transcendent world. Faced with Enlightenment, pantheism moves the center of gravity from the faith to the mind. According to Spinoza, “a man who is free thinks of nothing so little as death, and his wisdom consists in thinking not about death, but about life.”
In the 18-19 centuries developed by pantheistic philosophy, the principle of immanentism, with its transfer of the semantic center to this world, was transformed by the Enlightenment into an idea of progress, developed in two versions – positivist (Comte, Spencer) and idealistic (Fichte, Hegel). The idea of progress combined the Judaic-Christian understanding of the world as history, the movement towards the future, through which the present realizes, with the understanding of the world as nature, and man as a sensible being, endowed with reason, belonging to this world. The crisis of this idea led to the disintegration of the trends that had merged in it: on the one hand, in the person of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Ed.Gartman and others, naturalism triumphed, and on the other, the aspiration for the early Christian tradition (Kant, Kierkegaard, C.Bart). The first direction, based on positivism and the philosophy of life, gravitated toward “Dionysius” with its cult of eros and death, which ultimately served as the final moment of Bacchic enthusiasm and the final merger with the dark foundation of being. Schopenhauer, admittedly, having recognized being as a dark element of the irrational will, rejected it and saw the only way for a man to leave the endless race in the circle of lusts and sufferings of unquenched will in refusing to participate in the cycle of life and immersion in the nirvana of non-existence. On the contrary, Nietzsche fully accepted the element of life in all its unrestrained might, discarding as a ruinous illusion not only faith in the other world but also moral values that bind the energy of a strong personality – the “Superman”. The Nietzschean worldview is reproduced in the 20th century – in different versions – by Spengler, Ortega-i-Gasset, Sartre, Camus, etc. Another branch of the naturalistic trend is developed by Freudianism (which, to a greater extent, however, was accented by a positivist motive) eros and death.
Opposite to this trend, highlighted with a weakening faith in progress, was the Christian tradition, for the most part, a Protestant branch of it. This tradition is represented by dialectical theology (K. Bart, R. Bultmann, P. Tillich), German and Russian variants of existentialism (early M. Heidegger, K. Jaspers), as well as M.Buber, G.Marsel, etc. Drawing on Kierkegaard, representatives of this trend try to return to early Christianity (and Shestov and Buber to the Old Testament), which allowed a person to experience his death as a religious mystery of the conjunction of the transcendental (divine) and immanent (human). Although death appears as something absurd for a person guided by the mind of “this world,” it is not absurd to Camus and Sartre: it does not arise from the meaninglessness of being, but from the transcendence and the hiddenness of its meaning from man. You can not know it; you can only believe in it. Between the two worlds there is no bridge, and from one to the other one can only jump, not knowing in advance, whether or not it will fail in the “abyss”.
Among the philosophers of the 20th century, who regarded death as the most crucial constitutive moment of human consciousness and human life in general, it is necessary to emphasize M. Scheler and Heidegger especially. Scheler attempted to apply the phenomenology method to show how in the immanent world of consciousness “transcendence” is experienced, i.e., as a person’s mortality, his finitude determines the whole structure of his theoretical thinking, his contemplation and activity. As a moment constituting the consciousness of a person, Scheler takes not the empirical fact of death itself, but the experience of it throughout human life (M. Scheler, Schriften aus dem Nachlaß).
The thesis of Scheler that only when he returns to existence in the face of death, man acquires the meaning of life, freed from the false goals and activities that the industrial civilization fills his life, appears in Heidegger’s doctrine of the “true” existence of man – in the face of death, and “inauthentic”, in which a person immerses himself in the world of an impersonal “man” where others die, but never himself, receiving the illusion of immortality and “forgetting” death as the last possibility of human existence (M. Heidegger, Sein und Zeit., Tüb .). Pointing out that man as the finite being is “being-to-end”, “being-to-death”, Heidegger, however, distances himself from Scheler, who rooted the human person in the above-the-world God: “neglected” into the world, a man in front of the face Heidegger’s death is utterly lonely. And it is no coincidence that Heidegger’s early works were interpreted in an atheistic spirit by the French existentialists – Sartre and Camus.