The Significance of Insignificance
: Two Ways to Learn to Die in an Egocentric World
J. Jeremy Wisnewski
Journal of Philosophy of Life Vol.5,
No.2 (August 2015):42-61
The claim that philosophy is training for death has an astonishing pedigree. In both the East and the West, the oldest philosophical traditions maintain that philosophy’s central function involves coming to terms with mortality. My aim is to sketch two approaches to this question, both of which involve a recognition of one’s insignificance. I will first present a therapeutic reading of the Socratic/Epicurean tradition, suggesting that the arguments surrounding mortality should be understood as tools for developing certain attitudes rather than simply as tools for ascertaining the truth. I next present some basic traditions of meditation in outline, arguing that they are similar in certain fundamental respects to pursuing the ‘life of reason,’ understood therapeutically. In both cases, we find practical techniques for cultivating awareness of one’s insignificance, as well as a recognition (and acceptance) of one’s mortality.
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