Philosophy Speaker Series: Christopher Cowley, "Dying, regret, and autobiographical despair"
The Department of Philosophy Speaker Series presents
"Dying, regret, and autobiographical despair"
A public lecture by Christopher Cowley, University College Dublin
I want to start with Tolstoy’s short story ‘The Death of Ivan Illych’, but also say some more general things. Here is a man who is dying, and who suffers what I call ‘autobiographical despair’. His despair is partly about his present condition of physical impairment and social isolation, partly about his bleak future; but Ivan’s deeper despair has mostly to do with his doomed search for a meaning to his life, and the dawning regret that he has wasted most of it. I want to explore this special kind of long-term regret, to ask whether there is any point to it (and what ‘point’ means in this context), how far the regret is meaningful and coherent, and how far it is truthful (again, what sort of discoverable ‘truth’ is relevant here?). I want to contrast the regret that Ivan feels (e.g., about his career choices) with the remorse he comes to feel toward his wife, children and servants. Ultimately the story is meant to be one of spiritual epiphany, about the loss of one kind of faith and the gain of another – but I want to challenge that reading.