Does Death Render Life Absurd?

Thomas, Joshua Lewis (2019). Does Death Render Life Absurd? Southern Journal of Philosophy, 57(3) pp. 428–453.



In this paper, I assess the claim that death renders life absurd. First, I characterize absurdity as something we perceive in situations involving extreme disharmonies which strike us as unexpected or unacceptable. Next, I outline several potential disharmonies which death might introduce into our existence (such as the disharmony between our dignity and capacities, and the undignified annihilation which death promises), but suggest that these examples need not be seen as necessarily absurd; there are perspectives available to us from which these facts can appear to be acceptable aspects of life. Finally, I consider a more problematic case of absurdity—that human beings allegedly fail to grasp the truth of their mortality—but suggest that the underlying disharmony here can be eliminated provided we develop an authentic attitude toward death (and that this is possible, despite some objections). In short, I argue that none of the most obvious potential absurdities which might arise from our mortality are strong enough to entail the claim that death inevitably renders life absurd, at least on one plausible and interesting interpretation of that claim.

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