Some variations of the certainty of one's own death.
There are many certainties or basic convictions which are shared by all mentally healthy people, for example: "I am alive," "I have a body," "People to whom I am now speaking do exist," etc. But none of these convictions are expressed through sayings or proverbs. Admittedly, it may be objected that it is completely normal that there are no sayings about these issues, for the oddity would have been that some saying confirmed our security of being alive, having a body, or speaking right now to people who exist. After all, these convictions are so glaringly obvious that it would be redundant and absurd to mention them. These things are so evident that folk wisdom does not even address them. But paradoxically, there are certainties which are expressed through a number of sayings even though they are as unquestionable as the three convictions mentioned above. I am referring to certainties like "I will die" and "I may die at any moment," which have been reflected generation after generation in sayings like "Nothing so certain as death," "There is a remedy for everything except death," "Every door may be shut but death's door," "Death keeps no calendar," etc. Although it would be very difficult to precise why these sayings have been widely used over many centuries, I might venture that some generations have found in these sayings a way of not only expressing their anguish, but also of facilitating their resignation in the face of such an inevitable destiny. In short, it is normal that the acceptance that one has to die sooner or later generates suffering and resistances. Michelangelo, and above all Masaccio, tragically reflected Adam and Eve's suffering when the Lord God announced them "for dust you are and to dust you will return" (Gen. 3. 19) just before banishing them from the Garden of Eden. If we were certain that we will die and that we can die at any moment, and hence showed the same lack of resistance to these certainties that we show to the certainties of being alive, having a body or speaking right now to people who exist, there would be no need to express the first two certainties through multiple sayings. If people were really certain that they will die and that they can die at any instant, it should not be so unexpected to them to be diagnosed with an imminent death, for such a possibility would already be implicit and taken for granted in the assumption that one can die at any moment. This leads me to wonder whether there are many or at least some people who do not really share the certainty that they may die at any instant, so that they would have different certainties about this issue.
In order to contrast diverse beliefs or certainties about our finitude, I will shed light on the remarks that Antonio Machado made on the belief in one's own death by taking as reference Jose Ortega y Gasset's distinctions between "living faith" and "dead faith," and above all, between ideas and beliefs. (1) Thus, I will reflect on the consequences of Machado's consideration of death as an object of belief: to be precise, I will criticize Machado's claim according to which it is much more bearable to think of death than to believe in it. To complement this first approach, I will subsequently adopt the terminology of Ludwig Wittgenstein's On Certainty to develop an alternative way of understanding certainties. My aim is to analyze the possibility that many or some people currently have a given certainty about their own death which would be substituted for another one as soon as the threat of imminent death was suspected. Finally, this exposition will also help to clarify how we could understand people with different certainties about death.
2. The Belief in One's Own Death according to Ortega and Machado
Ortega considers beliefs as anything we take for granted in our current way of acting without even thinking about it, whereas he describes ideas as thoughts we consciously build at a particular moment to cover the hole that has been opened by a doubt in the layer of beliefs (IC, pp. 35-36, 42-43, 54). From Ortega's standpoint, beliefs do not arise at a particular time on a particular day, for they do not emerge due to our thinking of them. In fact, beliefs are not contents of our life, but its very container. In other words, we are our beliefs because for us, they are mixed with reality itself (IC, p. 24). According to Ortega, every adhesion to any given thought already entails the intention of thinking about something. Since this adhesion depends on our will, it automatically ceases to be reality for us, for reality is counterwill ("contravoluntad"): namely what we encounter, but not what we furnish or make (IC, p. 31). In our beliefs we are, live and move. That is why we are not usually aware of them: they are latent in all we expressly do and think. In Ortega's opinion, when we really believe in something, we do not have the "idea" of such thing, but simply take it for granted. And all those things we take for granted in our life constitute our reality (IC, p. 29).
Upon reviewing the numerous remarks that Machado makes on "beliefs" (creencias) in his work Juan de Mairena, it is evident that he uses this term in an Orteguian way. This is not particularly surprising, since Machado was a great admirer of Ortega, to whom he dedicated a poem in which Ortega is described as an "architect" (Machado, 1928, p. 165): this expression is full of meanings, of which I wish to highlight the consideration of Ortega as an architect of the structure of knowledge. In fact, Ortega defined "world" as the architecture which is made up of those very convictions (ETG, p. 29) whose nature he clarified by distinguishing between ideas and beliefs. Furthermore, both authors agree in an important issue. According to Ortega (ETG, p. 111), people sometimes do not know or do not want to know what they really believe. Hence, they should clarify what they really believe in order to become authentic and to fit in well with themselves. Likewise, Machado uses his fine irony to fight against false beliefs, that is, against "the incredulity disguised as belief' (JM, p. 227). As we can see in the following quotation, it is a priority for Machado to distinguish between what we really believe and what we seem to believe:
Below what we think, is what we believe, so to say in a deeper stratum of our mind. There are people so deeply divided with themselves, that they believe the opposite of what they think. And this--I dare say--is the most common (JM, p. 209).
It goes without saying that this discrepancy between what people think and what they really believe makes Ortega's distinction between beliefs and ideas specially relevant. For, as Ortega pointed out, we seek to build a picture of someone's beliefs when we want to understand him or his life (cf. IC, p. 23). The distinction between ideas and beliefs is, therefore, of paramount importance to discern what someone believes from what he thinks, for both things are very often confused. But among all beliefs, there is one particularly noteworthy for Machado:
(...) what is specifically human is to believe in death. Do not think that your duty as rhetors consists in deceiving people with their own wishes; for man loves truth to the extent that he accepts the most bitter of all truths in advance. (JM, p. 55)
Man has no other course but to surrender to the evidence by accepting that he will die sooner or later. Appropriately, Ortega also considers the belief in one's and in other people's death as a fundamental fact, to the extent that he claims "[t]he most basic fact of human life is that some die and others are born:" this is a fact he takes as a point of reference to provide in his late work a foundation for "the unavoidable need for changes in the structure of the world" (ETG, p. 44). But resuming the paragraph in which Machado affirms that man accepts even the most bitter of all truths, I want to stress that the fact that someone accepts in principle this truth does not mean that he really believes in it. In other words, the mere fact that someone admits in public that he will die sooner or later does not necessarily entail that this is a belief which decisively influences and is a crucial part of his world-picture. In this vein, Freud stated that nobody believes in his own death, that is, "in the unconscious every one of us is convinced of his immortality" (Freud, 1918, p. 20). But this is not the only great contribution Freud made in this field. In his own words:
We regularly lay stress upon the unexpected causes of death, we speak of the accident, the infection, or advanced age, and thus betray our endeavor to debase death from a necessity to an accident. (Freud, 1918, p. 21)
Of course, life can become more bearable for many people if they contemplate death as something that can happen only accidentally. From this point of view, we do not count at all on death unless an unexpected accident takes place; but this accident can be often regarded as avoidable: for example, many fatal traffic accidents could have been avoided by paying more attention to the road or by driving more slowly, some heart attacks might have been preventable by following a healthier diet and exercising more, etc. Although it will be a relief for many people to believe in death as if it were something that can happen only because of an unexpected accident, this relief will be even greater if it is believed that such accidents are avoidable, which may also entail to attribute the occurrence of one of these fatal accidents to fate or bad luck, among other things. So, despite every mentally healthy individual being certain that he will necessarily die, Machado remarks that people often talk about death without believing in it:
Whenever I am aware of a poet's death, it comes to my mind this thought: How many times this man has referred to death, because of his profession, without believing in it! And what will he have thought, when he has seen it rising up from his own box of surprises? (JM, p. 288)
As I said before, acceptance that one will die sooner or later is one thing, but belief in it is quite another. From this point of view, someone might refer to his own death without believing that he will necessarily die. This problem can be formulated by using Ortega's notions of "living faith" and "dead faith." According to Ortega, an individual believes something with living faith if that belief has a constant and very active presence in him, because his life is spontaneously guided by such belief. However, something is believed with dead faith when, although we have not moved away from such belief, it nevertheless has no influence on our life. Proof of this can be seen in the fact that we constantly forget that we still believe in it (HS, p. 18). The way I see it, to have dead faith means, then, that someone shares a belief only seemingly, that is, as if it were nothing more than a mere opinion. Hence, an individual would believe with living faith that he may die at any moment if such belief had become part of his reality, whilst he would have dead faith in it if he considered this as an idea or opinion he holds but without it constituting reality for him. In short, and even contradicting Ortega, I hold that whoever believes something with dead faith has really given up believing in it.
It is not an easy task to discern which are some of the beliefs people can have regarding the possibility of dying. This is a complex problem, because there does not appear to be an only answer to it: in other words, there seems to be no single belief regarding this issue. To begin with, and even though Freud pointed out that nobody can believe in his own death, it seems evident that some people can believe in it under given circumstances. To give only two examples, if someone is diagnosed with a fulminant disease, or is completely convinced that he will commit suicide, he can really believe that he will die soon. It is, however, not unreasonable to pose that many people may believe they will die so late that their possibility of dying seems to dissipate almost entirely in the short to medium term, to the extent that in such short or medium term they might only die--according to this belief--due to an unexpected accident. Therefore, the possibility of dying would be restricted either to an improbable accident or to a future so distant that it seems to dissipate. In this sense, Machado remarked that young people do not even accept the possibility of dying in the long term. That is why he says that young people imagine themselves to live indefinitely by ignoring the great abyss about which old people think (JM, p. 108). This belief in one's own immortality, however, may be violated when an unexpected event happens, which allows the individual to be aware of the possibility of dying soon. When someone is diagnosed with a terminal illness, he is often between two different beliefs: on the one hand, he hopes to die in a very distant future, but on the other, he is convinced that he is going to die soon. Not in vain Ortega describes genuine doubt as sinking into a sea of doubts, being shaken between two beliefs but without setting foot in any of them. When someone receives a fatal diagnosis, it is not unusual that he shouts "I am going to die!" as an expression of incredulity regarding the possibility of such death. In this case the individual is captured by a doubt which he cannot avoid at will. Indeed, he is then thrown back into a doubt which is as real as the reality which is grounded in beliefs (IC, p. 36). But this reality is so fearful that the individual wants to escape from it. Due to the enormous difficulty of living by believing that one might die at any moment, Machado claims we have learnt how to protect ourselves from the fear of death:
Are we so confident in our death that we have ended up not thinking about it? We think about death. Death is what we most often think about. It runs in our thoughts, in that innocuous zone of our soul where nothing is feared and nothing is hoped. The truth is that we have learnt to think of it and we have ended up not believing in it. (JM, p. 289)
Machado argues that we think about death because it would be almost unbearable to believe in it, whilst it is not so painful to take it as an idea. However, Machado is too categorical here, for he seems to leave no room for alternative options. In fact, I think that the belief in death can protect us from the fear of death much more than the consideration of death as a mere idea. After all, whenever we simply think about death and take it as an idea, we must necessarily be aware of this idea. And if we also bear in mind that Machado considers death as the idea we most often think about, it follows from here that we should almost constantly deal with the fear of death. In my view, Machado erred in taking our thoughts as an innocuous zone in which nothing is feared or hoped. It should not be forgotten that we fear and hope many things just and only when we think about them. It is not for nothing that the best way of preventing fear of something is to avoid thinking about it. Otherwise, if it is believed that one's own death will ensue so late that the possibility of an imminent or approaching death seems to dissipate into thin air, fear of death will be kept in check. Obviously, this does not in any way mean that the possibility of dying at any moment--even suddenly--is excluded; yet one will no longer need to work to convince himself that he still might enjoy a long life, for such a thing will have already been assumed. As seen before, Machado describes the belief in death as the "specifically human," so that man thinks about death in order to end up believing in it. Although Machado claimed that it was more bearable to think about death than to believe in it, he admits that death is so closely linked to the essence of the human being, that the very fact of thinking it or taking it as an idea already involves deforming it:
But death is an issue of the human monad, of the self-sufficient and inalienable intimacy of the human being. It is an issue one lives in rather than thinks about; or better said, there is hardly any way of thinking about it without unliving (desvivirlo) it. (...) Death goes with us, it accompanies us in our lives; it is a part of our body. And there is nothing wrong with imagining it as our own skeleton. (JM, pp. 161-162)
While Ortega held that our beliefs cannot be expressed without ceasing to be reality for us, Machado emphasizes that it is nearly impossible to think of death without deforming such idea. For death is as inseparable from the human being as the very skeleton which shapes us. If our skeleton were deformed, we would necessarily be deformed too; and if death is thought, we are then speculating about something that does not leave room for doubt: we will die sooner or later, and that is all we can surely affirm about this issue. Hence, Machado is unable to stop considering death as an object not of knowledge, but of belief:
We should not talk about the experience of death. Who can boast of having experienced it? It is an a priori idea; we find it in our thoughts, like the idea of God, without knowing from where and how we have received it. And this idea is an object of belief, not of knowledge. There are people who believe in death as there are people who believe in God. Some even believe alternately both. (JM, pp. 294-295)
Once more, it is evident that Machado's conception of belief is perfectly in keeping with Ortega's. According to Ortega, beliefs are a priori ideas inasmuch as they are already found but not created in our thoughts; for beliefs constitute a legacy that people receive without knowing how it became part of their lives. When Machado pointed out that death is what we most often think about, he meant that death, an object of belief, was deformed by its being considered as an object of knowledge. But Machado sheds more light on this question by saying that, even though people believe in death, they may alternately believe in God--and a life after death--too. These alternative beliefs in death and in God may well result in a state of doubt. This state of genuine doubt, which Ortega described as the immersion into a sea in which one is shaken between two beliefs without setting foot in any of them, is illustrated by Machado through the following dialogue:
--Do you believe in God?
--I want to believe; I am not able to believe. Sometimes I do not want to believe; sometimes I believe without wanting it. I believe today; tomorrow, I cease to believe. I doubt.
--But God either exists or does not exist; one has to believe in Him or to refuse Him; one cannot doubt Him.
--That is what you believe. (JM, p. 321)
Against this background, it is tempting to conclude that the individual trapped in such a crisis of belief does not believe in anything at all. But I think Machado's use of the expression "I doubt" here clearly shows that this individual's belief is just to doubt. For even though this doubt consists in being shaken between two beliefs, it places the individual before a reality that, despite its instability, does not cease to be reality for him. Hence, and however paradoxical this may sound, someone's belief regarding his own death might also be doubt. By the way, I am of the opinion that it would be interesting to consider whether this state of genuine doubt might even explain some cases of depersonalization and derealization which arise when someone is diagnosed with a fulminant and incurable disease.
3. The Certainty of One's Own Death through Wittgensteinian Terminology
Among Wittgenstein's remarks and aphorisms on death, I would now like to bring up the following one: "If in life we are surrounded by death, so too in the health of our intellect we are surrounded by madness" (CV, p. 44). But it is evident that, even though life always runs into death, our intellect does not necessarily have to flow into madness. It might therefore be concluded from this that Wittgenstein here referred to what we may call "a constant danger" (Ariso 2012, p. 186). Perhaps Wittgenstein (MS 127, p. 222) tried to emphasize this constant risk when he later substituted the words "in the quotidian intellect" (im alltuglichen Verstand) for "in the health of our intellect" (in der Gesundheit des Verstands). William James made reference to this constant danger and our attitude to it in The Varieties of Religious Experience, a book Wittgenstein knew very well. According to James (2004), what tears us to pieces is the fact that we can die and become ill; yet this anguish is not relieved even though at the present moment in time we are alive and feel good, so that we need a life that is not associated with death. Of course, I add, it is not in our power to separate life from death, but it might be a great relief for many people to share the certainty that they at least will not die in the short to medium term. Yet I would like to make it very clear at this point that the subjective certainty someone can show when having feelings like fear of death is one thing, while the objective certainty in which the possibility of a mistake--for example, regarding the certainty of not dying in the short time--is "logically excluded" from our language-games (OC [section] 194) is quite another. By the way, Wittgenstein defined "language-game" succinctly as "the whole, consisting of language and the actions into which it is woven" (PI [section] 7). Some examples of language-games are: "Giving orders, and obeying them," "Reporting an event," etc. (PI [section] 23). Hence, we just take for granted the existence of physical objects, among many other things, in the way we act and speak (cf. OC [section][section] 395, 431), to the point that the possibility of making a mistake with regard to it is not envisaged in our languagegames. If anyone seriously stated that physical objects do not exist, we would be unable to understand him, because we "would not know what such a person would still allow to be counted as evidence and what not" (OC [section] 231). That physical objects exist is one of the certainties which "constitute what we mean by reality" (Le Roy Finch, 1977, p. 222), for our certainties make up a "system" (OC [section][section] 105, 144) that constitutes a "world-picture" (OC [section] 93-95, 162). But it should not be forgotten that our world-picture is ungrounded; in fact, Wittgenstein regards certainty as an ungrounded attitude or way of acting because we cannot give any ground which is surer than the assertion of the corresponding certainty (cf. OC [section][section] 1, 243, 250).
Just as belief in Ortega's sense does not depend at all on our will, it is impossible not only to avoid "the possibility of losing any certainty at any moment and under any circumstance," but also to regain it at will (Ariso, 2013, p. 148). In fact, beliefs and certainties are shown in the spontaneity with which we use language and carry out the most basic actions. Hence, both terms seem particularly useful to account for what neuroscientists call "implicit memory." Unlike explicit memory, which may be defined as the intentional or conscious recollection of something, implicit memory is said to be at work when information previously acquired is used unintentionally or nonconsciously (Schacter and Tulving, 1994), especially for performing automated tasks like riding a bicycle or playing the piano effortlessly (Schacter, 1996). As Moyal-Sharrock (2009, p. 23) pointed out, implicit memory closely resembles certainty--and, I would add, belief in Ortega's sense--because this is "an attitudinal assurance that is either instinctual or automatic, and that should therefore be envisaged not as a product of memory (in any nontrivial sense), but more in terms of reflex action". If memory is considered as the capacity "to use any type of acquired information" (Dalla Barba, 2000, p. 138) or "the use of knowledge retained" (Bennett and Hacker, 2003, p. 156), the term "memory" proves so pervasive that it turns out to be meaningless: against this background, it would be appropriate to speak of memory only when there is "mnemonic effort" (Moyal-Sharrock, 2009, p. 22).
It would be a mistake, however, to conclude from this that the concepts of "belief' and "certainty" are identical since, according to Ariso (2011), there are important differences between both of them. To start with, for Wittgenstein it is essential to underline that at the bottom of the language-game there is "an ungrounded way of acting" (OC [section][section] 110, 204), whilst Ortega does not address the epistemological problem of how certainties can be grounded: instead, he was mainly interested in considering beliefs and ideas as vital phenomena, or rather, in revealing their role in our existence in order to show as clearly as possible that the spontaneous and authentic life is not the intellectual life characteristic of dealing with ideas (cf. IC, p. 30). Regarding the problem of ineffability, Wittgenstein (OC [section] 36) contemplates certainties as unsayable because propositions like "I have a body" constitute presuppositions so assumed and unquestionable that they have no use in our current language-games; therefore, they are nonsense too. Meanwhile, Ortega (cf. IC, pp. 29-30) holds that beliefs are ineffable because they cease to be reality for us as soon as we begin to think about them. Moreover, Ortega said that genuine doubt arises when a belief is lost, and it is just then when people begin to think (cf. IC, p. 37). Nevertheless, Wittgenstein regards the loss of a certainty as "madness" (OC [section] 281), resulting in the impossibility of being certain of any judgment (cf. OC [section] 490) because the background against which we distinguish between true and false would disappear (OC [section][section] 94, 514).
Having said this, I am going to analyze the possibility of sharing the certainty--henceforth, I will use the term "certainty" to refer to "objective certainty"--that one will die only in a very distant future, so that in his daily life he would not count on the possibility of dying in the short or medium term. To begin with, there is a peculiar feature of our language-games which seems to be closely related to the certainty of dying far in the future. Indeed, when someone suddenly says that he is frightened of dying soon, the most common reaction is to ask him why he fears such a thing: put another way, he will be asked to give a reason for this fear or doubt. As Wittgenstein (OC [section][section] 4, 122-123, 458) pointed out, we need "grounds for doubt." Naturally, it would not be a valid and sufficient ground if the subject in question retorted that his doubt or fear is justified because it is certain we will die at some time. For although it is sure that every one of us will die, dying soon is a mere possibility that cannot be considered as justified doubt. Therefore, the suspicion that one will die soon is only justified if there are good reasons, like evidence that someone is trying to kill him, or a diagnosis that predicts a fatal outcome in a few days' time, etc. While reasons like these cannot be adduced, fear of death should, at least in theory, be deferred. Of course, that does not exclude the possibility of dying at any moment; but keeping in mind that doubt will be fully consistent only when it is duly reasoned and justified, the only reason that can be discerned in the distance is to die of old age.
Nevertheless, the certainty of dying in a distant future but not in the short or medium term presents a clear problem. It is well known that every mentally sane person instinctively tends, to the extent of his possibilities, to avoid damage and, above all, his own death. Therefore, if someone were really certain that he will not die in the short to medium term, this certainty should be reflected spontaneously in his way of acting and speaking one day after another. In such a case, he would not need to worry about a fatal outcome if he crossed a street with heavy traffic, just as it should not be expected either that he would show the survival instinct we would have by attempting to protect ourselves in any manner whatsoever if our car were tossed over to the shoulder of the road and began to flip over. In view of this, it seems unquestionable that every mentally sane person is certain that he can die at any moment. Nevertheless, I would like to add an amendment to my approach by bringing up two certainties which might alternate with each other. On the one hand, it could be said that in ordinary circumstances some people do not even note the possibility of dying, for they live immersed in a world-picture in which there is only room for seriously considering such possibility if they have compelling grounds. With this background, they are willing to admit publicly the possibility of dying at any time but without assuming it as certain. On the other hand, as soon as people foresee the possibility of dying--for example, when they realize they may be about to suffer an accident--they may suddenly begin to take into account the certainty that they can die at any time. It is true I have made reference to two extreme cases--that is, to take into account the possibility of dying or not to take it into account at all--but in this way it is easier to illustrate the radically different world-pictures in which people are immersed in each of these cases. In what could be called the usual world-picture, one's own death seems to be something that dissipates into a very distant future, to the extent that daily life seems to extend endlessly, with no limits (cf. T 6.4311). Conversely, in the other world-picture the possibility of dying soon appears in the foreground, which leads to perceive life, above all, as something limited.
According to this approach, someone may alternately share the certainties "I will die in a very distant future" and "I will die very soon," to the extent that the change from one to the other might take place suddenly and even repeatedly within a short period of time. For just as someone immersed in the certainty that he will die in a very distant future may suddenly be certain that he will die very soon, he might shortly afterwards share again his initial certainty if he convinced himself that the danger had passed or that it was a false alarm. As said above, this approach has the advantage of helping to explain some important issues like the radically different world-pictures resulting from the certainties of dying soon and of not taking this possibility into account. Furthermore, this approach allows us to explain experiences typically associated with each world-picture: when someone starts to take into account the possibility of dying soon, he often realizes with amazement how unaware he had been of such possibility until then, while the impending danger of death is often forgotten as soon as one loses the certainty that he will die soon. Nevertheless, our approach still seems to be faulty in some respects. To begin with, the question arises of how someone might perceive or sense danger of an imminent death when he is certain that he will die in a distant future. But it should be borne in mind that the individual in question would count on the possibility of dying even though in the long term. It is precisely because of this that in such cases there arise thoughts and expressions like "Has my hour already come?," "How can this be?," "I still was not counting on it," etc.
A more fundamental objection I mentioned above is how to discern whether someone's conviction of not dying in the short to medium term is a subjective or an objective certainty. The way I see it, it is possible to assess such a thing, yet this assessment should be, above all, indirect. Regarding the certainty about one's own death in the short to medium term, a direct assessment could be carried out by asking, for example: "Will you die in the short to medium term?" Yet, in this case, a negative answer will not make it possible to distinguish if the individual merely hopes so or has assimilated it as objectively certain. Instead, it should rather be assessed if this certainty is in some case forgotten or if it is continually shown by the individual in his way of acting and speaking; it could also be assessed what he would consider as the discovery of a mistake about such certainty, etc.
In addition, one can wonder how people with different certainties, and by extension different world-pictures, might understand each other. Once again, it should be noted that the certainties of dying soon and of dying in a distant future converge in a common point, for in both cases it is assumed that one will die. It is of even bigger importance to emphasize that it is possible to understand someone when his certainties have been shared more than once and sometimes for a long time, although they are now not shared. In this vein, it even appears feasible to understand the child who, by being unfamiliar with the idea of death, conceives himself not as immortal but as eternal, which led Unamuno to state about adults that "only by preserving an eternal childhood (...) can one reach true freedom and look at the mystery of life face to face" (1982, p. 129).
In this paper I do not confine myself to a clearly defined line of argument or a specific conclusion, but oscillate among diverse variations of the certainty of one's own death. Not for nothing was my aim to show that this certainty is far from being a simple matter--or rather, a certainty as evident, common and unquestionable as the certainties that we are alive, have a body, or that people to whom we are speaking exist.
First of all, I have used Ortega's terminology to show that one can believe in his own finitude with living or dead faith, with the particularity that, in my opinion, dead faith takes place when someone seemingly goes on sharing the belief in question although he really no longer believes in it. Machado, for his part, regards death as an object of belief, but he warns it is a belief so bitter that people often tend to take it as an idea, so that it becomes an object of thought. Since ideas are consciously managed through thoughts, we can try to control or manipulate them in such a manner as to render them as painless as possible, either by singing them, by stating them in plain verse or by making them the subject of philosophical reflection. However, I claimed it is much more bearable to believe in one's own death than to think of it, for the belief entails that we are accustomed to it to the point that we take it into account even without noticing how it continually influences our life, while thinking about death is something people do, among other reasons, because as Machado himself suggested, it is difficult to assume such a belief. As regards Wittgenstein's On Certainty, I have focused on issues which were not explicitly tackled in this work, rather than in problems he directly dealt with in it. Thus, I held it is possible to understand someone who has different certainties, when these certainties not only coincide in a basic aspect with ours, but also have been shared in the past. Furthermore, I have shown that the conception of "world-picture" outlined in Wittgenstein's On Certainty is maybe too static to account for some phenomena like the ease with which a different world-picture may arise regarding the certainty of dying in the short to medium term. By this I want to stress that among the great contributions of Wittgenstein to the theory of knowledge--not in vain Stroll (2005, p. 33) regarded On Certainty as "the most important contribution to the theory of knowledge since The Critique of Pure Reason"--I find the treatment of problems to be missing. Far from revolving around George E. Moore's reflections, these problems may focus on questions like discerning between what certainties people might oscillate regarding some issues. For it is often difficult to distinguish not only if a given certainty is objective or subjective, but also what objective certainty someone has at a given moment. Of course, the procedure suggested above for distinguishing subjective and objective certainties is far from safe, for it leaves much room for error and ambiguity. But instead of considering this as a shortcoming, in this work I take it as an added indicator of the difficulties of discerning what certainties someone may share regarding issues as important as one's own death.
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JOSE MARIA ARISO
Education Department, International University of La Rioja
(1.) Quotations from Machado's, Ortega's and Unamuno's work have been translated into English by Jose Maria Ariso.
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|Author:||Ariso, Jose Maria|
|Publication:||Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2015|
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