A 97-year-old Philosopher Looks at Death and the Meaning of Life
His Enigmatic Last Words May Be Key to the Mystery
The day before he died in 2018, after many hours in silence with his eyes closed, Herbert Fingarette suddenly looked up and said, “Well, that’s clear enough!”
His grandson, Andrew Hasse, notes that his last message is open to interpretation, “but I’d like to believe that he might have seen at least a glimpse of something beyond death.”
Hasse made this video Being 97 of his grandfather’s last days. Note the quiet dedication of the caregiver Sherly Pontis.
The following is reprinted from Richard Wagner’s The Amateur’s Guide to Death and Dying
In his 1996 book about death, Herbert Fingarette argued that fearing one’s own demise was irrational. When you die, he wrote, “there is nothing.” Why should we fear the absence of being when we won’t be there ourselves to suffer it?
Twenty years later, facing his own mortality, the philosopher realized that he had been wrong. Death began to frighten him, and he couldn’t think himself out of it.
Fingarette, who for 40 years taught philosophy at the University of California at Santa Barbara, had also written extensively on self-deception. Now, at 97, he wondered whether he’d been deceiving himself about the meaning of life and death.
“It haunts me, the idea of dying soon, whether there’s a good reason or not,” he says in the documentary Being 97. “I walk around often and ask myself, ‘What is the point of it all?’ There must be something I’m missing. I wish I knew.”