Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 509–518 | Cite as

Affirming Life in the Face of Death: Ricoeur’s Living Up to Death as a modern ars moriendi and a lesson for palliative care

Original Contribution


In his posthumously published Living Up to Death Paul Ricoeur left an impressive testimony on what it means to live at a high old age with death approaching. In this article I present him as a teacher who reminds us of valuable lessons taught by patients in palliative care and their caretakers who accompany them on their way to death, and also as a guide in our search for a modern ars moriendi, after—what many at least experience as—the breakdown of traditional religious belief in a personal afterlife. These lessons can be summarized in the following theses. ‘Living up to death, one cannot experience one’s own death. Therefore, never consider someone dying as moribund’. ‘Though everybody is alone in dying, nobody should die alone.’ ‘The preparation for death is an affirmation of life’. ‘Life experienced as a gift can be given up’. The plausibility of the last thesis, however, may go beyond the confines of austere philosophical thinking.


Ars moriendi Death Dying Old age Palliative care 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Protestantse Theologische UniversiteitGroningenThe Netherlands

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