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That is a fact of circumstances beyond our control. Yet to become or not to become what we are meant to be is for us to decide. Therein, dear Hamlet, lies our true identity, and our strength to survive the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Camus wrongly reasons that the fundamental question of philosophy is whether or not life is worth living. No one seriously raises that question except in uncommon, particular cases.
Why should I continue to live? Camus should have consulted Mother Nature. The empirical evidence is clear. It is to be. There is a survival instinct. It is visibly operating in, for instance, conditions of slavery, where a continued existence in a degrading state of injustice, no liberty, scant pursuit of happiness, brutal punishment, and back-breaking labor, is still preferred to death. It is manifest in the clinging to life of the old and infirm whose time is short; and in the same clinging to life of the young and infirm whose time to suffer is long. Many with terminal illness who plan suicide find they cannot will themselves to do it.
The survival instinct is not something we reason out. It is in us as a result of aeons of evolution. Nature answered that question for us. War might be the chief evidence to the contrary.
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However, most have to be conscripted or pressured to fight. I might question my continued existence in the face of terminal illness. I would never question it just because someone suggested that life seems absurd. Even if it were proved to be so, we still are driven to live, and so we will. And if we need meaning in our lives, somehow, almost all of us will find it. Conscious thoughts are due to complex electrochemical reactions in the brain, which, when deconstructed, are essentially interactions of matter and energy.
This means that nothing is absolved from this immortality, because everything has energy-identity. But will we still experience a sense of life after death — especially since our sense organs will no longer have the capacity to work as we anthropocentrically perceive them to? To conceptualize post-death consciousness is to plunge into a conjectural dreamscape.
In his Myth of Sisyphus , Camus calls this leap to belief in an afterlife a hope that transcends human understanding, an escape from reality that is akin to philosophical that is, intellectual suicide. The possible implications of quantum entanglement, universal sentience, parallel worlds, and a myriad other rabbits, beg to be chased.
To Be Or Not To Be, What Is The Answer? | Issue | Philosophy Now
My preference is to shimmer in the probabilities, blink from one to another without settling, without collapsing. I will continue this relentless run to touch the horizon of human knowledge until I am enlightened by hidden variables, by inevitable natural death, or never, by nothing. Until then, the only significance any of us can give to these primeval yearnings for absolute identity are personal morality tales of ideology and imagination.
In practice, suicide is rarely the result of a process or reasoning, but rather of a loss of reason. It is an outcome of depression, of schizophrenia, of alcohol or other drug abuse. Two-thirds of suicides visit a doctor in the month before their final act. A depressed young friend of mine tried to admit himself to hospital the day before he killed himself, and was turned away.
So suicide is usually the consequence of an untreated illness; an illness that leads as surely to death as untreated cancer. Every year, across the world a million people kill themselves, and fifteen times as many try. In the developed world it is a leading cause of death in the unreasonable young. The old, and sometimes wiser, having still a little reason, eschew it, for reason cannot drive us to suicide. Camus writes The Myth of Sisyphus towards much the same conclusion, encouraging us to battle on in an absurd world.
Thomas Nagel agrees that if all life is pointless, then suicide is as pointless as anything else. It will be neither justified nor condemned by reason. However, David Hume long ago taught us about the limits of reason for motivating action. Reason cannot prove that night follows day, nor that the world exists, nor that I have a self.
And yet I daily preen myself, and in the day that follows night, I go out into the world. I may also kill my unreasonable and unjustified self. We are not perfectly rational beings, like angels or gods. We are apes, and if we kill ourselves it is not because reason has shown us the way, but because we have become temporarily wonky. The brain — that highly irrational organ — that struggles to convert sensation into something bearable, has given up trying for a moment.
And in that moment — and it only takes a moment, it does not take thought — we do the non-undoable. As for Hamlet, he was all words, words, words , and he was driven to murder and suicide because he had seen a ghost.
Thought over the act of self-killing has persisted for millennia alongside entrenched religious anathema against it, as well as certain religions which require it on occasion, for example, in the immolation of widowed Hindus. Hume argued that circumstances that lead to a human being living in constant pain and suffering mean that that person is leading an existence worse than death. Hume thought that the our natural fear of death ensured that the person who chooses to commit suicide would only do so after substantial deliberation. However, a person embroiled in dreadful circumstances may not be in the optimal frame of mind to make the choice.
Giving the choice to someone else, a close relative, for example, appears to be a better alternative. However, the threat of extraneous factors affecting the decision always remains. For example, the person chosen to choose might abandon her duty to prevent an impulsive suicide in order to advance her own interests. Regardless of the checks which we might presume operate, a set of practices has yet to be devised that prevents manipulation and abuses of the potential victim.
But are such tests able to reveal a difference between a soldier laying her life down for her county and a suicide bomber at the end of her life? Whether life is inherently positive, negative, or neutral is an issue faced by many philosophers, but few confronted it with such force as Arthur Schopenhauer. For Schopenhauer, all organisms are all driven by a Will to survive that often drives them into conflict, meaning that life is essentially suffering.
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Even in the brief respites when Will is not pushing us forward, there is little more than boredom. Life is therefore overall negative in nature. This is the philosophical stance of Pessimism. This Pessimistic stance leads Schopenhauer to another rather shocking conclusion — that human reproduction is morally reprehensible, and cannot be justified through reason.
If life is suffering and negative, then it follows that to create life is a cruel act, as it condemns a new being to a life of suffering. Creating another being is not something that should be undertaken lightly, and our reasons for doing so should be carefully considered, perhaps more than for any other act.
For while we may not accept that life is inherently or simply negative, it is evident that our world is one with a great deal of suffering. With the awareness that one is bringing innocent life into an at times hostile world, parenthood is then a great duty. And on a broader scale, if society supports childbirth to sustain its own existence, then education and other investments in the future should be prioritised as a debt owed to the life that has been created.
Let me try to answer the question by recounting a harrowing episode from three years ago. Facebook is a strange place to try to talk someone out of suicide. But through an instant message I checked in with a young friend, who I knew outside of Facebook. She was not doing well and threatened to end her life.
I am a philosopher, not a counsellor, so I was not trained for this. Nevertheless, I had to keep typing. I told Nancy not her name that she needed to stay in the world, that her presence, no matter how miserable for her, was nevertheless good and significant. I asked her to remember her place in the hearts of her family and friends. I added that her life might get better unexpectedly. I gave her links to articles that might awaken her desire to live.
All the while, I was frantically Facebooking to try to get through to her family. I had a significant problem, though: Nancy is an atheist, who thinks that life has no objective meaning. But since even nihilists cannot escape the truth that some things have meaning to some people, I tried to remind her of value outside of her own suffering. Love could hold her back and lead her on.