BPB on Immortality

BPB on Mortality & Immortality

As a student of Philosophy, I spend a hell of a lot of my time talking about people that died ages ago. What lives on? Their work, their writings, their ideas. Of course, it is true that they themselves don’t literally continue to live, but they are still very much a part of the back-and-forth discussion (with others ‘forth-ing’ on their behalf). Their ideas are held in our minds and in our societies — even those who weren’t a big ‘hit’ in their own time now hold a proud place on the syllabuses around the world. Don’t we all wish we were like them? Don’t we all wish to invent something or discover something or come up with some brilliant, wise theory that no one else has ever thought of? Yes. We do. We desire immortality as we desire goodness and beauty — or at least, Plato seemed to think we did (and he’s definitely still part of the discussion).

One of my favourite Platonic dialogues is The Symposium, in which Plato has his players try to coherently describe the nature of love. Arguably the biggest, most definitely the juiciest philosophical question. WHAT IS LOVE? (Baby don’t hurt me). In The Symposium, Socrates recounts his conversation with Diotima, about the nature of love. Diotima describes the spirit of love as ‘intense’ and a ‘formidable hunter’ with ‘tough and hardened skin’.[1] Love is human nature’s companion and it is love that drives us towards goodness and beauty. We are driven towards beauty, Diotima suggests, because it is in the presence of beautiful things that we can give birth.

Diotima is considering more than the literal birthing of babies, although, of course there is a link between the desire for immortality and the birthing of children. Diotima describes procreation as ‘the closest mortals can come to being permanently alive and immortal’.[2] We have the urge to make miniatures of ourselves so that we might continue to exist somehow within them. Animals also do this. They leave a young one to replace the old. It’s the circle of life and it moves us all (okay, that one wasn’t Plato).

Like I said, Diotima is not exclusively considering sexual reproduction and the birthing of actual children as contributions towards the human goal of immortality. What do all my dead philosopher friends have that we all desperately want? They are remembered and renowned for their wisdom and ideas. In ancient Athens, where Plato was writing, renown was something to strive for. The Greek term ‘Kleos’ — ‘Live so that others will hear of you’ — was deeply embedded in Athenian culture, and is undoubtedly still embedded in our western culture today. (We must suffer through the X Factor every Saturday night). Rebecca Newberger Goldstein writes in her book ‘Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away’: ‘Kleos is only a tweet away’ which I just think is absolutely brilliant. (Twitter handle below.)

So, how does one achieve renown, and subsequently, immortality; the perpetual position in the memories of generations to come? Diotima tells Socrates: ‘People look enviously at Homer and Hesiod and other good poets, because of the kind of children they have left behind them, which provide them with fame and remembrance by being immortal themselves.’ The ‘children’ Diotima speaks of are those great poems; born in beauty to which Homer and Hesiod were driven to by love. Everyone else is extremely jealous because those metaphorical children are far greater and will certainly outlive their own non-metaphorical children. Homer lives on, with Plato and Aristotle and Descartes and Hume and all those guys — they live on through their ideas and they have ‘Kleos’ coming out of their ears.

So, if you thought the only certain thing in life was that you were going to die, then you are technically right. BUT, surely the desire for immortality might just push you to write some amazing book or to produce some amazing child. Keep working on your unfinished novel, keep striving to be the best in your field and persevere with your children — or just keep trying to compose the most hilarious tweet; the tweet that is so funny, it’s featured on, like, six Buzzfeed articles. Don’t let your dreams die before you do.

[1] Plato, The Symposium, trans. Christopher Gill (London: Penguin Group 1999).

[2] Ibid.

Originally published at bedpostblonde.tumblr.com. (05/12/2015)