Sunday, October 25, 2009

Immortality and Unamuno

Throughout the semester, we have encountered different modes of anxiety about possibilities and death. However, few of our readings have offered many thoughts on the afterlife itself and the attainment of an afterlife if one does exist, which is why Unamuno's statement "act as if you were to die tomorrow, but only in order to survive and become eternal" (159) along with his notions on truth intrigue me. In order to flush some of these ideas out, let us examine the situation in which someone performs an action, and when asked why they acted as such, the person resonds "becuase I want to go to heaven."

This motive for action has bothered me since I was a child for reasons partially inexplicable, but after reading Kant I think at the core what bothers me about this motive, in particular, is that it forces the actor to become a tool toward a greater end, rather than a free person deserving of respect and possessing of absolute worth and dignity. Personally, I believe that there are two types of immortaliy; immortality in the sense in which people refer to it in general, i.e. heaven, and immortality gained by impacting the world in such a way that one live's on through the consequences of one's actions. Whereas we cannot hope to understand immortality in the non-physical sense, we can at least strive to live in such a way that when we look back at our life we know that we have set something good in motion that will outlast our physical existstence. If it then turns out that there is a heaven, at least one will have lived a good life. When it comes time for judgement, who knows what the requirements to get into heaven are anyway? It seems as if many religions claim different things, but a common theme amongst them may perhaps be to live in such a way that one leaves a positive impact on the world (think the gold rule- love thy neighbor as thyself), so at least one's chances are decent. Regardless, the point is that instead of living a life that limits ones will to simply be a tool to a greater end, why not live in a value creating way which confims one's own existence in the world as we experience?

Returning back to Unamuno, I wonder how he would respond to such a statement of motive as "becuase I want to go to heaven." While my first inclination was to say that he would not have a problem with this, upon further relfection I think that he would say that heaven is an attempt to claim objective truth about the afterlife, namely that there exists some state of eternal happiness called heaven with pearly gates, and so on. However, in fact truths in our own existence (those that matter, anyway) arise from experience and decisions in our own lives which make subjective truth by confirming or asserting notions about given things. In the context of eternal life, Unamuno wants to cling to the fact that one in fact might exist, but he does not offer any sort of description it; we cannot experience the state of being which we term eternal life until we experience it, which obviously we cannot do. However, what we can do is to fervently believe that the possibility of eternal life is a real one, and live in such a way that we deserve it if it proves to be an option.

So, I do not think Unamuno disagrees with using wanting to get into heaven as a motive for the same reasons that I do, but I think that he would be careful describing eternal life as anything but the continuing of existence past that state in which we now exist. Regardless, I enjoyed the fact that he did address the concept of eternal life, since although it is a metaphysically and epistemologically difficult subject to tackle, it is a real possibility in our lives, and as such deserves attention when speaking of existence in general.


  1. The biggest issue I think Unamuno would take with the "because I want to get to heaven rationale," aside from it's justification likely being tied up in capital T truth and claims to objectivity, is that such a rationale suggests that the values prompting that person to act are not genuinely that person's own, or at the very least that they are not sincerely motivated by Christian values, but instead ultimately pursue them because of some other motives, such as selfishness, a desire to avoid dealing with the issue of death, etc.

    I do think you've made a pretty cogent reading of Unamuno and immortality here by relating heaven or something similar to possibility, but, to me, it seems more like Unamuno's focus is that the people most worthy to live are those who act as if their convictions are worthy of being acted out forever. That combined with Unamuno's direct opposition to any sort of pre-existing meaning to the human condition (such as, getting into heaven) makes me quite skeptical of how much Unamuno would embrace value systems or worldviews like traditional Chrisitianity. Perhaps, his attitude would be similar to Kierkegaard's...disdaining the church and its "Sunday school" lessons, while remaining open to the individual adopting faith?

  2. B Blake, I think you've got it right. Unamuno would certainly have no business with the traditional "watered down" version of the church, which was what I was partially trying to get at with the statement of motive "I want to go to heaven." His main reasons for this disdain, I am sure, would be tied up in objections to individuals recieving objective assertions from the Church as true. I also certainly agree that Unamuno would remain open to the individual type of faith. After all, it seems as if throughout the reading he creates his own type of faith in an objective viewing of the afterlife.


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