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The fact that we ourselves must die is not a simple and isolated fact. It is built on a wide survey of facts that discloses the structure of history as a succession of overlapping brief lives, the patterns of youth and age, growth and decline; and above all that, it is built on the logical insight that one's own life is a case in point.

About 'the patterns of youth and age, growth and decline', is it an object of the transitive verb 'disclose(s)', or a restatement of '(a succession of) overlapping brief lives' in front?
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Hello Taka

I'd break it up as follows:

1. discloses the structure of history as a succession of overlapping brief lives, the patterns of youth and age, growth and decline

2. the structure of history

which consists of

a succession of overlapping brief lives

which implies

the patterns of youth and age + the patterns of growth and decline

Though others may interpret it otherwise!

MrP
MrP,

So, grammatically, do you mean it's a restatement of the word(s) in front, like 'one of the greatest sites of the world' in 'EnglishForward.com, one of the greatest sites of the world'?

At least, not the direct object of the verb 'disclose(s)', right?
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I think the interpretation could possibly go the other way. Let me toss this into the mix--

The fact (of dying) is built on a wider survey of facts.

That wider survey discloses facts not only about the structure of history, but about the patterns of youth and age, and growth and decline.

(Not having read the source from which the quotation is taken, I speculate about the things that live and die in the structure of history: humans, ideas, movements, trends, dinosaurs, nations, religions, etc. etc. etc.)

Well, dinosaurs are pre-history, I guess.
TakaMrP,

So, grammatically, do you mean it's a restatement of the word(s) in front, like 'one of the greatest sites of the world' in 'EnglishForward.com, one of the greatest sites of the world'?

At least, not the direct object of the verb 'disclose(s)', right?
Yes, I'd take it 'further detail' or 'clarification'; though not necessarily a complete restatement.

That said, it would be very difficult to demonstrate that Davkett's interpretation isn't what the author intended; the most you could say is that the reference to 'youth and age' seems like a clarification of 'overlapping lives'.

MrP
Thank you, MrP!
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davkett,

For your information, the entire paragraph:
Probably the profoundest difference between human and animal needs is made by one piece of human awareness, one fact that is not present to animals, because it is never learned in any direct experience; that is our foreknowledge of death. The fact that we ourselves must die is not a simple and isolated fact. It is built on a wide survey of facts that discloses the structure of history as a succession of overlapping brief lives, the patterns of youth and age, growth and decline; and above all that, it is built on the logical insight that one's own life is a case of point. Only a creature that can think symbollically about life can conceive of its own death. Our knowledge of death is part of our knowledge of life.

Don't you think the author is talking about life and death specifically in biological sense?
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I'm assuming there is even a larger text surrounding this one paragraph, and I suppose you know what it is; I don't . However, a reader, having even this whole paragraph as the context for your question, could still be [at least somewhat] justified in imagining that the author is thinking beyond the biological when talking of life and death. The 'profoundest' difference between humans and animals may be less about foreknowledge of death than it is about the ability 'to think symbolically'. In which case, human beings looking at history, and thinking symbolically-animals can do neither will be lead to a foreknowledge of their own demise.

The more interesting question here is not what is the right answer, but what is the potential for reading such a grammatical construction more than one way. I believe MrP's interpretation is justified. But that does not mean there are no other viable interpretations.

An interesting test question might be how the sentence could be rewritten for greater internal clarity of meaning.