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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

That Dread May Be Disinterested

June 16, 1755

You will pardon me for taking this Opportunity to subjoin a few Remarks that I neglected to include in my last [“Of an Argument That Death Is Not to Be Dreaded,” June 17, 2009 — Ed.]. I therein played the critick Part in showing how from the Fact that we dread not the Time before we were born, it does not follow that we therefore shou’d feel no Dread at the Prospect of a coming Time when we shall cease to be.

‘Tis to be remark’d that when we speak of a Man’s dreading something, that which is dreaded needn’t be an Object of direct Interest to that Man who dreads it. In short, Sir, Dread may be disinterested.

Even if it were the Case that our Souls no longer exist after we are dead (an Assumption by no means congruent with the Doctrine of our most holy Christian Religion), and that therefore we will not be able to experience the Loss of that Life of which we so much wish to remain in Possession, yet we may still dread such a Loss, just as we may dread the Prospect of many a Thing which concerns ourselves not in the least.

Do we not feel Horror when we see portray’d upon the Stage Queen Gertrude’s mistaken draught of Poison? Do we not feel a momentary impulse to stand upon our Seats and exclaim “Stop, dear Lady! Pray, do not drink!”? How is it, then, that we may take such interest in a Character, whose Death we can have no personal Interest in, whose Loss we can have no true Reason to grieve, and whose very Existence is owed to a Poet’s Fancy?

In short, if I am not an insensible Brute, I am capable of dreading not only the Prospect of my own Demise, but also the Demise of others, even those unrelated to me by Blood, Interest, or Affection. It is this very Propensity to experience Sentiments in a disinterested Fashion that is the Foundation and First Principle of our Nature as moral Beings.

You see, Sir, that I may dread the loss of my own Life in the same way that I may dread the loss of Life of another. The two kinds of Dread are Wares that come out of the same Shop. Thus, if I may be brought to doubt the Genuineness of the one, why may I not also be brought to doubt the second? In neither Case will I directly experience the Loss; nonetheless the Dread of that loss is very real, and we shou’d shun as monstrous a human Creature who was incapable of dreading the Death of his fellow Man, or of regretting it after it hath come to pass.

There may be other very good Reasons for regarding our Mortality with a philosophical Equanimity. But to lose this sensitive Faculty of disinterested Concern for the Welfare of ourselves or others is to make ourselves morally unfit for the Company of our Fellows.

I am, Sir, your humble Servant, etc.

Jos. Darlington, Esq.
Darlington Close,
Horton-cum-Studley, Oxfordshire.

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