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by John Lachs
Vanderbilt University Press, 1998
Review by Markus Wolf, Ph.D. on Feb 17th 2003

In Love With Life

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 passionate love.

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 Wolf

 

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 philosophical counsellor.