by John Lachs
Vanderbilt University Press, 1998
Review by Markus Wolf, Ph.D. on Feb 17th 2003
Why do we hate to die? John Lachs attempts to provide a succinct
answer to the question in his book In
Love with Life: Reflections on the Joy of Living and Why We Hate to Die,
because, as already the title of the book indicates, we are in love with
life. The author argues that even
though we may find life difficult or unfair, we simply love being alive. To love life is to love the activities of
which it consists and to hope for more.
We do not merely tolerate life, or put up with it because the
alternative is feared as less appealing.
We love life with total devotion, feeling fulfilled when life treats us
well and returns our love. When life
threatens to leave us, we respond as a lover would in a love affair, feeling
wounded and dejected. We exert all
efforts to prevent life from leaving us.
If we merely tolerated or liked life, we would be satisfied with however
little we may get out of it. But we
want more, we continuously seek the activities of which it consists. We do not only like to live, we are
passionately in love with life.
The author praises our cultural and
technological progress for enhancing our lives: I celebrate the modern world
in all its glory, with all its machines, its conveniences and its comforts. To
love life is to drink up all of it, to do it all, to hug it as our own.
He enthusiastically describes a wide
variety of life-enhancing activities, showing thereby that almost any kind of
activity can yield pleasure and enhance our lives. One theme of the book is that we should love life as long as
there is something to love, but an empty life, one offering nothing to love
anymore, such as being terminally ill, unable to do anything one would still
enjoy or appreciate, is not. In such
cases, we give up the lover (life), not the love for the lover. We may still look back on what we had with
Lachs examines instances in which
people do not love life, but believes that it is very rare for one to hate
every aspect of life. Indifference to
life is occasionally encountered, but he argues that such a stoic emotional
detachment from life prevents one getting the most out of life and from
enjoying it to the full.
To enjoy life, we need variety
having our favourite meal each day for two weeks would soon cause that meal no
longer to be our favourite. Variety
must be balanced, however. Too much
robs our life of stability, while too little robs us of the excitement of
living. To get just what we need, and
at the proper time, is a matter of experience and sound judgment.
Numerous generalisations are made
against which counter instances can be given.
This is more a case of writing style intended to be persuasive, however,
rather than being misleading. The
author himself acknowledges that there are no exceptionless rules in this
sphere, only some useful generalizations.
Throughout the book, a clear liberal
stance is defended, one maintaining that the best society is one with a minimum
of restrictions and interferences into persons lives. It is written with a style easily accessible
to the general intelligent reader.
One of the explicit aims of the book
is to do more than merely chronicle the events that make our lives enjoyable
and worthwhile, it seeks to contribute to the joy of life, or helps us cope
with its pains. I found the book to be
very positive and uplifting and I must do the author credit in acknowledging
that the book is indeed a contribution to the joys of life.
© 2003 Markus
Markus Wolf recently completed his
doctorate in philosophy through the University
of South Africa (UNISA), one of the leading distance education universities
in the world. He lives in Austria where
he now works as a general translator for the Austrian Federation of the Blind and Partially Sighted (Österreichischer
Blinden- und Sehbehindertenverband) and as a general librarian in their audio
library. His aim is to continue with
philosophy professionally, either through a teaching position or as a