For the most part philosophers have had little to say about death, being content to leave discussion of the topic to theologians and churchmen. Following Plato and St. Paul, most Christian teachers have emphasized the concept of death as a release of the soul from the body. Reminiscent of Eastern religious teaching is the philosopher Georg Hegel's definition of death as "the reconciliation of the spirit with itself, a reuniting of the individual with cosmic matter."3
The antitheological notion that death is personal extinction goes back at least as far as the Greek philosopher Epicurus, while Stoicism in the face of death was emphasized by Zeno of Cyprus. Another idea, that the only way to diminish the fear of death is to think about it constantly, was proposed by the Roman statesman Lucius Seneca. Seneca was apparently something of an early behavior modifier who attempted to apply the principle of response extinction to death anxiety. Unfortunately, he seems to have dwelled on it too much, because he committed suicide, albeit at the ripe old age of 90.
Benedict de Spinoza's statement that "a free man meditates on life rather than death," and Ludwig Feuerbach's statement that "life must be lived fully in spite of death" are counters to Seneca's preoccupation with it. Existential
2The Ars Moriendi was a written treatise, apparently prepared by a group of German monks in the Middle Ages, which provides details on how to die in a dignified, holy manner.
3This definition of death and those following are paraphrased from Choron (1963) and Bardis (1981).
ists such as Martin Heidegger, who maintained that "a person's life becomes more purposeful or meaningful when he faces his own death" and Jean-Paul Sartre, who stated that "constant awareness of death intensifies the sense of life," emphasized the importance of death as a driver of life. According to the philosophy of existentialism, rather than death being the antithesis of life, only by accepting and confronting their mortality can people come to appreciate what it means to be alive and engage fully in creative efforts.
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