Irvine’s new book, A Slap in the Face: Why Insults Hurt--And Why They Shouldn't, was just released. It is a follow-up to his book A Guide to the Good Life.
Jim Fleming: Although it can be uncomfortable, to look death in the face, contemplatives and philosophers have been doing that for a millennium. Zen Buddhists and Hindu Mystics, the Hedonists of Ancient Greece, the Cynics of Rome, when philosopher William Irvine went looking philosophy of life, he wandered those obvious paths. Then he stumbled upon the Stoics. Irvine says Stoicism teaches that minding our mortality can help us live a more joyful life.
Irvine: Stoics thought a lot about death. When you tell people that, they think it’s a horribly morbid thing to do. The thing about death is, if you fully realize that your days on earth are limited, it can have the effect of making you want to maximize your use of those days. You want to reach a stage where we wake up in the morning; it is a cause for excitement and joy.
Jim Fleming: Yeah, that is really a wonderful thing; it is exactly the opposite of the way an awful lot of people do it. You wake up in the morning and you think, “OK, I have one day less.” The end is coming closer, your saying forget about it. Not exactly forget about it. Acknowledge it and take joy in the fact that you are still here.
Irvine: Yeah, you don’t dwell on death. You contemplate it. The contemplation consists of flickering thoughts that go through your mind. Suppose I’m doing something utterly ordinary. Suppose I’m taking a walk with my wife, simple enough a thing, but while I’m doing it, I find myself, trying to imagine what this event will seem like retrospectively. I can easily imagine a situation where I have outlived my wife, or that I’m old and bed ridden in a nursing home and can’t walk. Under those circumstances, I would find myself wanting to go back in time, to that very walk, then the thought to return to the present, but here I am, actually experiencing the thing that I someday might really wish I could experience.
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