Why Do We Care for the Dead?

Lecture by Thomas W. Laqueur, Professor of History, University of California, Berkeley

When his friends asked Diogenes the Cynic what he wanted done with his body after he died, he told them that they should throw it over the wall to be eaten by the beasts and birds. And why not? It was no longer his; he would not notice.

For more than 2,000 years, conversations in the West—and elsewhere—have acknowledged that Diogenes had a point. And yet we as a species care for our dead. This lecture offers an answer for why this should be the case from both a general anthropological perspective and from the vantage of particular historical cases.

The living need the dead more than the dead need the living.

This event is free and open to the public.