1. It is certain that we live, think, and act; it is not less certain that we shall die. But, on leaving Earth, where shall we go? What will become of us? Shall we be better off, or shall we be worse off? Shall we continue to exist, or shall we cease to exist? “To be, or not to be,” is the alternative presented to us; it will be for always, or not at all; it will be everything, or nothing; we shall live on eternally, or we shall cease to live, once and forever. The alternative is well worth the consideration.
Everyone feels a need to live, to love, and be happy. Announce, to one who believes himself to be at the point of death, that his life is to be prolonged, that the hour of death is delayed—announce to him, moreover, that he is going to be happier than he has ever been—and his heart will beat high with joy and hope. But to what end does the human heart thus instinctively aspire after happiness, if an ill wind suffices to scatter its aspirations?
Can anything be more agonizing than the idea that we are doomed to utter and absolute destruction, that our dearest affections, our intelligence, our knowledge so laboriously acquired, are all to be dissolved, thrown away, and lost forever? Why should we strive to become wiser or better? Why should we apply restraints to our passions? Why should we exhaust ourselves with effort and study, if our exertions are to bear no fruit? If, before very long, perhaps tomorrow, all that we have done is to be of no further use to us? Were such really our doom, the lot of humankind would be a thousand times worse than that of the brutes; for the brute lives thoroughly in the present, in the gratification of its bodily appetites, with no torturing anxiety, no tormenting aspiration, to impair its enjoyment of the passing hour. But a secret and invincible intuition tells us that such cannot be our destiny.