How should an atheist rationally respond to finding out they're about to die?


What is the rational, or most rational, response to finding out you're about to die? Not just to mortality, but that there's little more you can do in your life, and you're soon going to be, or are, dying? What would atheist existentialists say?

There is this from Nietzsche: that it doesn't (his interpreter claims) matter at all.

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Nietzsche and the Becoming of Life, edited by Vanessa Lemm, p243. But does the dying man's attitude tell us anything about how we should live with the thought of death? Heidegger says that we should relate to our death as our own most possibility. Does that change if there's nothing, or very little, left we can do? Does it matter if one responds with despair, does this show we've somehow lived wrong? Or could that be a good, absurdist, response?

I would like a response from any of the major so called existentialist philosophers, rather than e.g. a Buddhist, which has its own stackexchange where I may ask the same question.


Posted 2019-02-14T16:59:47.180


1why is this opinion based? – None – 2019-02-14T17:21:27.247

2Put their affairs in order? Have a farewell party? Apologize to those they hurt? Why should this be determined by specific philosophy and not by personal sensibilities and circumstances? – Conifold – 2019-02-14T17:30:03.987

1well that could be an answer "it's determined by personal responsibilities". but it seems short sighted to suggest that philosophers are uninterested in how we relate to death, or that this won't change as we get closer to it @Conifold – None – 2019-02-14T17:32:34.643

6It's opinion based because atheism isn't a religion, it's not an established set of beliefs that has its own moral structure which would be used to give an answer to this question. Atheism is the belief that there does not exist a god, nothing else follows from that in terms of ethics, besides maybe something like "it'd be wrong to promote the belief that a god does exist even though I believe it doesn't", maybe? Either way, "how should I live my life" is not something that atheism gives any insights into. – Not_Here – 2019-02-14T17:47:49.527

1no but existentialism has lots to say about how to live, doesn't it. i'm not asking about how to live my life, anyway, but if, like i just said, dying changes etc. how to relate to our death @Not_Here – None – 2019-02-14T17:52:04.340

"How should an atheist best repsond to finding out they're about to die?" You're asking about what ethical implications atheism has in regards to a certain question. – Not_Here – 2019-02-14T17:53:40.320

it's fine that all you can see RE that question is funeral costs @Not_Here by mentioning atheism i'm just limiting a kinda ethical question from religious repsonses – None – 2019-02-14T17:54:58.083

2What everyone alse does.. – Richard – 2019-02-14T18:48:31.057

2I think it is conceptually interesting to work out the rational implications, if there are any, of the belief that there is no God for the belief (or knowledge) that one is about to die. – Geoffrey Thomas – 2019-02-14T18:49:14.657

interesting @Richard and thanks Geoffrey! – None – 2019-02-14T18:50:04.683

1@confused the 5 stages of grief apply to everyone.. i'm not sure what people think atheists are.. – Richard – 2019-02-14T18:52:55.567

there is e.g. this i would not recommend it ha @Richard

– None – 2019-02-14T18:56:20.503

3@confused In light of the extended commentary, I recommend revising the question and making it more precise. Buddhism does not have a deity, nor does Marxism. But the adherents' reactions to the prospect of their death would be quite different. – Mark Andrews – 2019-02-14T19:05:10.897

@Marc Andrews, if there is no deity then there is no atheism possible. The definition of atheism has specific criteria. – Logikal – 2019-02-14T20:52:28.360

no i'm not @ChrisSunami !! – None – 2019-02-25T22:56:56.560

There is some difference between (an attitude to) own death and own dying. Dying is a process, a busy project, a way of making life yet, while death is a perspective of a possibility of no further possibility. – ttnphns – 2019-03-28T11:22:35.653



If, as an atheist believes (but doesn't know) God does not exist, there is no reason for him to act out his last days any differently from those when he knew he still had time to live; excepting the natural consideration of time left in ones judgements.

Deo Gratias et Ave Maria!


Posted 2019-02-14T16:59:47.180

Reputation: 243

hail mary! thanks. – None – 2019-06-29T17:52:50.390


Atheists should just accept it. There's no rituals or anything for them to do. They could cry, and do similar things, but they shouldn't really do anything else. I don't know what else you need to know. I'm just making the comments into an answer.

Math Bob

Posted 2019-02-14T16:59:47.180

Reputation: 374


Here is the question:

What is the rational, or most rational, response to finding out you're about to die? Not just to mortality, but that there's little more you can do in your life, and you're soon going to be, or are, dying? What would atheist existentialists say?

Ronald Aronson cites Ablert Camus, an atheist existentialist, in The Myth of Sisyphus, “There is only one really serious philosophical question, and that is suicide”.

Camus' Sisyphus faces a life without ultimate meaning which might be close to the OP's characterization of someone approaching death with "little more you can do in your life". Aronson writes:

What then is Camus’s reply to his question about whether or not to commit suicide? Full consciousness, avoiding false solutions such as religion, refusing to submit, and carrying on with vitality and intensity: these are Camus’s answers. This is how a life without ultimate meaning can be made worth living. As he said in Nuptials, life’s pleasures are inseparable from a keen awareness of these limits. Sisyphus accepts and embraces living with death without the possibility of appealing to God. “All Sisyphus’s silent joy is contained therein. His fate belongs to him. His rock is his thing” (MS, 123).

The answer would be to carry "on with vitality and intensity" with "full consciousness" that "refuses to submit" and doing so in "silent joy".

Aronson, Ronald, "Albert Camus", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =

Frank Hubeny

Posted 2019-02-14T16:59:47.180

Reputation: 18 742


I should think that an atheist would spend their last days consoling their loved ones who will be left behind. The atheist will be dead, and will therefore have no more awareness.

Their loved ones, who will remain alive, are the ones who will suffer.

Michael Lautman

Posted 2019-02-14T16:59:47.180

Reputation: 159