Immortality: A Dialogue.

Arthur Schopenhauer

(Tr. by Saunders and Kline)

Thrasymachos. Tell me, Philalethes, since you are a leading philosopher and thinker, briefly, what will I be after my death? Tell me clearly and precisely, please.

Philalethes. Well, we're all and nothing.

Thrasymachos. I thought so! I gave you a problem, and you give me a contradiction. That's a lousy trick!

Philalethes. Certainly, but you've raised transcendent questions, and you expect me to answer them in language that is only made for immanent knowledge. No wonder we have contradictions!

Thrasymachos. What do you mean by transcendent questions and immanent knowledge? I've heard these expressions before, of course; but I'm not quite sure... .

Philalethes. Okay. Transcendent realization is an insight that goes beyond the bounds of possible experience. It strives to determine the nature of things as they are in themselves.

Immanent knowledge is knowledge confines itself entirely within the bounds of the here and know. So that it cannot apply to anything but actual phenomena.

As far as you are an individual, death will be the end of you. But your individuality isn't your truest, innermost being: it's only the outward manifestation of it. It is only the phenomenon presented in the form of time--or spacetime--therefore something with a beginning and an end. But your true being knows neither time nor beginning nor end, nor the limits of any given individual.

It is everywhere present in every individual. No individual can exist apart from it. So when death comes, on the one hand you are annihilated as an individual; on the other, you are and remain everything.

That is what I meant when I said that after your death you would be all and nothing. It is difficult to find a more precise answer to your question and at the same time be brief. The answer is contradictory, but only because your life is in time, and the immortal part of you in eternity.

Or you could say it this way: Your immortal part is something that does not last in time and yet is indestructible; but there you have another contradiction! You see what happens by trying to bring the transcendent within the limits of finite knowledge? Screws things up!

Thrasymachos. I don't give a damn for your immortality unless I can keep my individuality.

Philalethes. Well, perhaps I may be able to satisfy you on this point. Suppose I guarantee that after death you shall remain an individual, but only on condition that you first spend three months of complete unconsciousness.

Thrasymachos. That wouldn't be a problem.

Philalethes. But remember, if people are completely unconscious, they take no account of time. So, when you are dead, it's all the same to you whether three months pass in the world of consciousness, or ten thousand years. In the one case as in the other, it's simply a matter of believing what is told you when you awake. So you can afford to be indifferent, whether it's three months or ten thousand years that pass before you recover your individuality.

Thrasymachos. Yes, if it comes to that, I suppose you're right.

Philalethes. And if by chance, after those ten thousand years have gone by, no one ever thinks of awaking you, I fancy it would be no great misfortune. You would have become quite accustomed to nonexistence after so long a spell of it--following upon such a very few years of life. At any rate you'd be totally oblivious of the whole thing.

Thrasymachos. Indeed! So you think you're quietly going to do me out of my individuality with all this fine talk. But I know what you're up to. I'm telling you I don't want to exist unless I can have my individuality!

Philalethes. Hmm... . You mean, I suppose, that your individuality is such a delight--so splendid, so flawless, so perfect, and beyond compare-- that you can't imagine anything better. Aren't you ready to exchange your present state for one which may possibly be superior and more endurable?

Thrasymachos. Don't you see that my individuality, whatever it is, is all that matters? To me it's the most important thing in the world,

For God is God and I am I.

I want to exist, I, me. That's the main thing. I don't care about an existence which has to be proved to be mine, before I can believe it.

Philalethes. Think what you're doing! When you say I, I, I want to exist, it isn't you alone that says this. Everything says it-- everything that has the faintest trace of consciousness. It follows, then, that this desire of yours is just the part of you that is not individual--the part that is common to absolutely everything. It is the cry, not of the individual, but of existence itself. It's the intrinsic element in everything that exists.

This desire craves for nothing less than existence in general-- not any definite individual existence. No! that isn't its aim. It seems to be so only because this desire realizes consciousness only in the individual. Therefore it looks as if it were concerned with nothing but the individual. There lies the illusion--an illusion, it's true, in which the individual is held fast: but, if he reflects, he can break the fetters and set himself free. It is only indirectly that the individual has this violent craving for existence.

The effect of this is to make the individual careful to maintain his own existence; and if this were not so, there would be no guarantee for the preservation of the species. From all this it's clear that individuality isn't a form of perfection, but rather of limitation; and so to be freed from it's not loss but gain. Don't worry about it, okay? When you really understand what you are, what your existence really is, namely, the everyday urge to live, and the whole thing will seem childish, and ridiculous!

Thrasymachos. You're childish yourself, and most ridiculous, like all philosophers! and if a man of my age lets himself in for a ten minute talk with such idiots, it's only because it amuses me and passes the time! I've more important business to attend to, so Good-bye. Asshole!