Happy week of another freezing winter month!
In this week’s blog, I want to do 2 things. I want to get all philosophical. And I want to be all grim and analyze the scary and sometimes forbidden topic, that topic of death. I will be doing this not to make winter and Covid miseries even more insufferable. Hence, highlight the appeals of not existing.
I will be doing this to argue that death is not good for anyone, and it actually robs you of a lot of things. And that ultimately life is very much worth living.
To talk about death, I will assume that there is no afterlife. Death is a final end for a living being.
And some philosophers take that as a very positive thing about death. Some argue that death is not bad for us at all.
Epicurus, one of the most famous Greek philosophers, doesn’t consider death to be bad. He only considers pain to be the greatest evil against a being.
About death he writes, “Death …[ ] is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not.”
He means that we cannot in any way experience the state of being dead, as death, by definition, is a lack of experience. Death cannot cause pain as it cannot be experienced. Therefore, death is not bad as there can’t be any pain in that state.
Based on this reasoning, we should neither think that death is not good for us nor fear it.
But a modern philosopher, Thomas Nagel, says we oppose death not because its state can cause us suffering. Death is bad for us precisely because all of our experiences will cease to exist when we are dead. Nagel writes, life allows one to be “doing certain things, having certain experiences, that we consider good.” He adds, “Life familiarizes us with the goods of which death deprives us from.”
And those goods are plenty: a family gathering, a hug, a good Netlix show, a walk in a park. We all have things we enjoy doing and things that we love.
A skeptic though can say that because we don’t experience death, we don’t know that we miss out on goods of life when we are dead.
But according to Nagel’s thinking, and I tend to agree with him, unawareness of a situation doesn’t reduce the badness of a said situation. Even if I am not aware of something, others, through reason and rational thinking, can judge that a situation is not good for me.
Nagel gives an example to support this thinking. He says that if a person gets brain damage and his personality is reduced to that of a happy toddler, that person doesn’t consider his situation unfortunate. Yet, we can rationally argue that he is missing out on goods, he would have had if he wasn’t in a car accident. For example, being a parent for their children, or being able to read a novel, or being able to enjoy a good glass of wine.
Because of this we can say that death does deprive us of life’s goods and that it is bad for us, even though the state of it doesn’t cause pain or suffering.
Brueckner and Fisher, two American philosophers, also agree that death is bad for a person. They argue that death scares us because it eliminates any possibility to experience any future pleasures. And future pleasures, according to them, seem to matter most to us. They arrive to this conclusion by performing a couple of thought experiments. For example, they argue that if one were to choose between having experience of a pleasure inducing drug in the past or in the future, one would seem to choose future. That is because we deeply care about pleasures we are yet to experience and not about those we have already experienced. Thus, Brueckner and Fisher conclude that death is bad because it “deprives us of something we care about.” And according to their reasoning, that something is our future pleasures.
Death robs us of possibility of all experiences: both in present and the future. Even our past achievements don’t make death less bad for an individual. We will not be there to remember them. We will not exist.
With this comes a value of life. Life is often hard. Yet it is full of experiences that are available to us only during a short period of time. Experiences that fill us with warmth and delight, that make our existence good and worth cherishing.
If death is bad, then life is definitely worth living.
Guest Blogger Karina Nechaeva
Karina is new to the Sentinel Office Family but is no stranger to writing.
As her time in the office grows longer, we hope to hear much more from the wealth of information and experience that Karina has to offer!