The internet is a special place, full of different people and their various ideas. One such person, James Lindsay, describes himself as “a thinker, not a philosopher”. Despite this confession, Lindsay recently ventured to write a book entitled “Life in Light of Death”. In it, Lindsay seeks to discuss how we might find purpose in life once we understand death. The text itself is available for purchase on Amazon Kindle; I myself have not purchased or read the text.
By Lindsay’s own admission, his recent book fails to address the topic of “death”. This omission renders the text incomplete, as one can hardly view anything “in light of death” if one refuses to define and consider “death” itself. Following criticism on this point, Lindsay attempted to address the failing by writing a separate article, “What is Death?” The article you are now reading is a brief review and criticism of his efforts.
In “What is Death?” Lindsay initially gives two different definitions for the term “death”:
1. Cessation of life
2. Cessation of being
These two definitions are somewhat cryptic, but they become somewhat clearer after reading the entire essay. “Cessation of life” appears to mean the biological death of a human. “Cessation of being” is more fundamental; from what I can gather, Lindsay means it metaphysically: “no longer existing in any sense”.
Metaphysics, though, is something that Lindsay hates with a passion. After stating the above definitions, Lindsay goes on an insult-laced tangent against those who would discuss metaphysics and theology. His attack on these people, though, is largely emotional rather than intellectual. He effectively concludes that discussing death is a waste of time, and he’s simply not interested in the subject.
That is an unsatisfactory end from the man who wrote the book “Life in Light of Death”. Lindsay seems to understand this, and so he puts forward some brief claims before concluding the article. The new points are disorganised and unclear, so readers are left to tease out his meaning and place each point in a logical order.
Fundamentally, Lindsay seems to suggest that “life” consists of “self-awareness”. In an additional sense, he also includes other people’s memory of us, and the physical works we complete while alive. Building on this foundation, Lindsay makes the bald assertion that “Cessation of Life” and “Cessation of Being” are the same thing from our perspective. How he reached this particular conclusion is not clearly explained.
In an odd twist, Lindsay then proceeds to state that the “subjective self” is “never dead”, and cannot conceive of death. In a few sentences, he swings from absolute biological and spiritual death, to a position of eternal life. Rather than explain the matter further, he then presents a new definition for death: it is now the slow process by which people forget us and our works after our biological death.
This new definition does not appear to be an honest attempt at tackling the topic of death, but rather a reference to Lindsay’s real goal: discussing the purpose of life. By stating that we will be totally forgotten given sufficient time, Lindsay is just promoting his claim that the purpose of life is something more immediate. Lindsay does not consider the other ramifications of sufficient time, such as rebirth.
The ending of the essay is suitably cryptic: “Death is an interminable end to something that cannot know anything but continuation, and it is unavoidable.” If something cannot know anything but continuation, then how can it end? How can an end be interminable? The man has ambitions that cry out for philosophy, but philosophy is the one thing he forbids himself to touch.
In any event, Lindsay’s essay is disorderly and incomplete. This is unfortunate; the man clearly has philosophical ambition and sufficient focus to write a book. His ambition, though, is restricted by his unwillingness to engage the subject matter. So long as he remains “a thinker, not a philosopher”, his books will only consist of emotional arguments and assumptions.