Skip main navigation

What should we think about death?

Watch a short animation that introduces the humanist attitude towards death.
One thing we can be sure of is that we will die. Everybody will. Some people do not like the thought of this and don’t accept it. They prefer to think that death is not the end of us but that we might live on, perhaps in another life on earth, or in another place where people are rewarded or punished. But wanting something to be true is not the same as it being true. And there is no evidence to support the idea that our minds could survive the end of our bodies. What sense could we make of the things that we value – love, experiences, communication, achievements, the warmth of the sun on our face – if we were disembodied?
And if life were eternal, wouldn’t it lose much of what gives it shape, structure, meaning and purpose? Think about reading a good book or eating a delicious cake. These may be great pleasures, but one of the things that makes them pleasures is that they come to an end. A book that went on and on forever and a cake that you never stopped eating would both soon lose their appeal. Death is a natural part of life. It makes sense for us to try not to be afraid of this but instead to come to terms with it.
Then we can focus on finding meaning and purpose in the here and now, making the most of the one life we know we have and helping others to do the same, choosing good over evil without the expectation of reward in some other place. When we do die, we will live on in the work we have done and in the memories of the other people whose lives we have been part of. Our bodies will break up and become part again of the cycle of nature. The atoms that form us now will go on to form others things – trees and birds, flowers and butterflies.

In Week 1 we explored the reasons humanists might rationally conclude that this life is the only life we have. To begin our exploration of a humanist approach to questions of meaning and purpose in life, we will explore some of the implications of that conclusion.

The video provides a short introduction to a humanist attitude towards death.

Share your initial thoughts in the comments box below.

This article is from the free online

Introducing Humanism: Non-religious Approaches to Life, with Sandi Toksvig

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now