Rescuing Ivan Ilych: How We Live and How We Die
Kamm (F.M.)
Source: Ethics, Vol. 113, No. 2 (January 2003), pp. 202-233
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. We are all likely to agree that Ivan Ilych1 did not live as he should have. The question is, what does this have to do with the sort of death he had? That is, would someone who had lived differently necessarily have a different sort of death, in the sense that his process of dying and also what his death itself signified would be different? And would everyone who lived as Ivan lived have Ivan’s sort of death?
  2. Tolstoy exhibits a critical attitude toward Ivan, his wife, and doctors when they think that there is a way for him to avoid death on this occasion by doing something different, for example, taking medicines regularly, and so on. This need for control is thought to exemplify their failure to understand what is going on.
  3. When Ivan asks himself why he has to suffer physically and die, if not because he has done something wrong for which he is being punished, our first impulse is to say that this is wrong; this is not the explanation of what is happening to him.
  4. However, I wish to consider the possibility that Tolstoy’s story reveals how we can have some control over our deaths — the process of dying and what death itself signifies — by how we choose to live. I shall consider several characteristics of Ivan’s death and dying process and see whether their presence could vary with how we live.

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