[ExI] "death gives meaning to life"

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Tue Jun 10 05:51:51 UTC 2008

Antonio wrote

> There is a simple argument to this which is the following:
>  Most children don't care or are even aware of death,
> and still most of them have more meaning in life than
> most "older children". 
> So I would say "death gives A meaning to life", but
> by no means THE meaning to life, as implied by the
> statement in the subject. You can have lots of those =]

I agree, but perhaps mainly in the sense that death
literally "adds meaning" to the concept of life, the
way people use "life" in some sentences e.g. that "one's
life should be saved". You might indeed, for example,
help children understand what is often meant by "life"
by giving them examples of death.

I also agree with you strongly that we really cannot
charge the author of this wicked phrase with claiming
that death gives the only meaning to life, or even
that death gives the primary meaning to life.

We are obliged both (a) to take the most charitable
interpretation of the phrase, or claim, that we can and
also (b) to try to understand what actual thought or
sentiment truly lies behind it.

This (entirely misguided) claim, i.e. "death gives meaning
to life", feels good and right to some people because
they're confusing it with

        the possibility of death gives spice to life

And one can see that this latter is not without sense: after all,
hunger makes the taste of a good meal all the more satisfying,
doesn't it?  NOW of course, yes, I *do* understand that
the worst (and standard) logical interpretation, namely, that

        death does make life meaningful

is something else entirely.  In this latter case, I think it's
mostly sour grapes. Were an immortality tablet developed
tomorrow that would take effect only if you continually
took it almost every single day for five years, then we'd see
who is suffering from sour grapes, and who is an actual idiot.


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