Friday, June 26, 2009

Old fools and symmetry arguments

Since I started thinking about the Epicurean arguments against the fear of death I have been collecting 'symmetry arguments': arguments that make a point about the proper attitude to take towards post mortem non-existence on the basis of some account of our attitude to pre-natal non-existence. Yesterday I found another interesting example in Philip Larkin's 'The old fools' (in his High Windows (Faber and Faber, 1974). The second stanza begins:

At death you break up: the bits that were you
Start speeding away from each other for ever
With no one to see. It's only oblivion, true:
We had it before, but then it was going to end,
And was all the time merging with a unique endeavour
To bring to bloom the million-petalled flower
Of being here...

So, to bulldozer through the poetry for the philosophical argument, Larkin denies the symmetry between the two periods of non-existence on the grounds that the first - pre-natal non-existence - is tolerable because it will end while the second - post mortem non-existence - is to be feared or hated because it will go on for ever.

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