What’s wrong with dying?

Shelly Kagan has a new book out on the topic and an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. I don’t think it is behind any wall or requirement, and it is interesting to read. And quite puzzling.

Kagan favors the deprivation view:

Maybe nonexistence is bad for me, not in an intrinsic way, like pain, and not in an instrumental way, like unemployment leading to poverty, which in turn leads to pain and suffering, but in a comparative way—what economists call opportunity costs. Death is bad for me in the comparative sense, because when I’m dead I lack life—more particularly, the good things in life. That explanation of death’s badness is known as the deprivation account.

Dying is bad for you, on this view, because you are deprived of the good things in life. But there is a huge problem right on the surface: If you are not around, then how can you be deprived? It seems you can’t.

Most of the article discusses this problem; Kagan concludes that not all the puzzles can be resolved.

Now, let me admit that I know there is a lot of writing on this that I haven’t read. So I mean be rushing in, etc, etc. Still, for various reasons I have recently read a great deal written by women with terminal illnesses, particularly stage 4 cancer (which I am not anywhere near having, in case you wonder). Any stage 4 cancer is terminal; it can’t be cured and it will kill you if nothing else does. In what I have read it is very clear what the women hate about the thought of dying. The awful thing about dying for most of these women is that they are integral parts of social groups, particularly families, that they care a great deal about, that they put a large amount of energy into, and that will be harmed by their death, or even destroyed.

Even women who lament that they will not see their youngest daughter graduate, or their son get married, are often not thinking, “O, that’s a good time I won’t have.” Rather, their thought is more about how their child will have a large gap in the normal social surrounding. Other grads get photographed with both parents; theirs will stand out as not having a mother.

Is this true for all of us? It might seem not. A young person might not give a fig about children, or her parents for that matter. What is most important is winning academic recognition, perhaps. Having the honor of receiving the Nobel Prize, or an Oscar. Such desires might be much more self-regarding than those of nurturing one’s family. Still, it may be that these desires are less about one’s own experience and more about the social world one is invested in.

For myself, the thought of death right now is most frightening because I will leave someone who does actually need me to be around, and who is helped a lot by my presence in the world. I expect we vary on this, but I’m pretty sure I’d be close to indifferent to survival if all my social world was somehow evaporated. Or so it seems right now.

I am saying this, I should say, after 4 weeks in Oxford where we’ve had, it seems, about 3 sunny days. Perhaps during a period of fine weather, I’d feel the emotional ebullience that leads to the thought: Not me! I can’t go! Take all my friends, but I must be left (along with enough good food, music, art, etc). Death is too awful.

I just don’t know that we should expect to find that rational. What do you think?

Or, to put the point simply: if we think of the goods that accrue individualistically, then death means one doesn’t get any more, but then one isn’t around to experience the lack. If, however, we think of the good socially, one’s death can be very destructive to things one has spent significant parts of one’s life on. One might not feel the destruction and loss, once dead, but it will be there unless, as many people do (I think) one goes to some lengths to see that such things will survive one’s death.

38 thoughts on “What’s wrong with dying?

  1. The social account of the badness of death is a nice way to avoid existential puzzles concerning what’s bad about death (which, from my understanding, go back at least to Epicurus – how can death be bad for you when you’re gone?). But aren’t its implications somewhat unseemly? It seems plausible that people can have varying degrees of social integration and connection; but then, the badness of death would scale along with those varying degrees of social connections. So, for instance, it becomes (significantly) worse for someone with a well-integrated life to die than for, say, a recluse who has severed most social ties. This seems to imply that we should, in the very least, spend more resources saving the lives of the socially connected (perhaps prioritizing them in allocation of scarce, life-saving resources), and may have the even more disturbing implication that it is significantly worse to kill the socially-connected person than the recluse.

    Maybe we can avoid this by noting that the recluse, dispite the lack of social connections, is not nearly as indifferent about living as you would be in similar circumstances. So we have a subjective understanding of the badness of death: a person’s death is bad insofar as that very person takes it to be bad (whether for self-interested or social-centric reasons). Some sort of rationality requirement could be inserted to avoid worries about the badness of the death of depressed people. But then, we might want to say – based on the puzzle of the badness of death – that the person who disvalues death because of self-interest is irrational. And the subjective account also might obscure the distnictive nature of the badness of death; instead of being a special form of badness or disvalue, death becomes just an extreme form of preference-dissatisfaction.

    I get the sense that no matter what view of the badness of death one takes, difficulties will emerge. But I for one don’t want to give up on the badness of death – I hope there is a workable solution. Maybe there’s something in the direction of what you indicate at the end – expanding the notion of personal survival to the group realm, such that a given death harms society or humanity, so to speak, whether it’s the death of a recluse or a socialite. This could at once explain what’s bad about dying, but also mitigate some of our fears of death (insofar as survival via group survival is possible; this is the sort of thing Mark Johnston has recently argued for). Though perhaps such an account would overly alienate the badness of death from the sort of personal connections (friends, family) you emphasize…

  2. Most of us want to live and not to die: that’s built into us in the factory and I don’t see why it needs any justification at all or why anyone questions that in ethical terms unless they’re looking for a topic to exercise their cleverness and high IQ on.

    Having glanced at your website a while ago, I gather that you’re an expert on early modern philosophy and so you must know better than I do that Spinoza (who was sickly himself) saw the desire to continue in existence as the basis of all virtue/power.

    Spinoza makes sense to me.

  3. It’s not clear to me that the inability to recognize what one has lost, once dead, is relevant. Surely we would say that one’s having had a severe traumatic brain injury is a bad thing, though those who have them may not be able to experience a lack.

    This is probably too easy, but why can’t the problem be handled by saying that there are good and bad counterfactual situations. And that an event that makes those bad counterfactual cases actual, or which keeps the good cases from being actual, is itself bad. So, if it would have been the case that you would have seen your daughter be married had you not died, then the death is bad. And, you should seek to avoid it such results.

  4. Owen Schaefer,
    Thanks for your very thoughtful reply. I’m not sure about the recluse. I was taking the question as fairly first person. I think the Nazi guard’s social connections might make death difficult for him, but not necessarily difficult for the one who kills him.

    Still, if the recluse loses on grounds of social connectedness, we might still regret his death a lot. But I’m worried now that we’re bringing in somewhat a priori psychology with standards of rationality. Perhaps dreading death is in part like believing in God, according to a lot of cognitive science. E.g., we end up very tied up with beliefs that that are based on factors evolutionarily good for our species, but which are not rational.

    I have a lot to think about. Let me add, though, that does seem to me that one could argue that the thing that’s wrong about valuing a fetal life as highly as some do is that its social interactions are pretty exiguous compared to those of a mother with other children.

    Our hesitancy about the recluse might have other sources than the sense that social connections shouldn’t be decisive. Even though there’s general agreement with the trolley case, for example, not many people are happy about deciding to bring about the death of the one person.

  5. You might be interested in something I’ve written, http://works.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1007&context=samanthabrennan, Feminist Philosophers Turn Their Thoughts to Death. Some feminist philosophers have argued that the kinds of goods which are central to women’s lives are more resilient to the badness of death. It’s not the case for all goods that more is better. Some goods have a kind of completeness all of their own. If that’s right then death is less a threat to them. Of course, Kagan’s puzzle is explaining the badness of death and on his answer it will turn out that some deaths are worse than others and some deaths not bad at all.

  6. And I don’t think Kagan would disagree that the things you point to–the loss of relationships, suffering of others, breaking off of important connections–matter. They are part of the story of what makes death bad. But there is a way that death is bad beyond those things, a way that even the best sort of death is bad. And Kagan is trying to sort this out. You might not find this puzzle engaging (confession: I do) but that’s the puzzle he’s trying to solve.

  7. First, I agree that when I think about the possibility of my dying (soon), the most awful part of it is the abandonment of the people I love who need me.

    But second, Kagan’s problem isn’t about what is awful about dying. It’s about in what way dying is bad for the person who dies. I suppose it’s a possible view that there is nothing about dying that is bad for the person who dies (this may be the Stoic view), but it is extremely counterintuitive, to say the least. And if it is not too implausible that the dread of death is an altruistic feeling (and as I said, I do think that at least at certain times of life it can be chiefly other-oriented), it is surely implausible indeed to think of the dread of the death of, say, one’s young child, as being entirely selfish! (Even if it is partly selfish.)

    That said, I agree with ajkreider that it is a bit hard to see what the problem is. Granted, the person who suffers the deprivation of death is not around to suffer it in the experiential sense; there is nobody around any longer for whom it is bad. But why is that supposed to be a puzzle? The person who was deprived of life… is no longer around. But that’s the person who was deprived of life. That’s the person for whom death is a bad thing.

    There are related problems of pure non-existence — it can seem to make sense to ask whether a given suffering person would have been better off had s/he never existed at all, but upon reflection it then doesn’t actually make any sense at all. But the end of existence does not seem problematic in the same way.

  8. Sam, I’m not sure that I’ve missed Kagan’s worry. His idea seems to be that the puzzles arise because what we think is the bad thing about death is something we can’t experience once we are dead. I’ve been trying to explore the idea that the really bad consequences of death don’t require us to be around for them to be bad.

    It does get more complicated. I’m also worried that our “intuition” that death is bad might be composed of a number of components, not all of which are rational or justifiable, as swallerstein argues.

    Finally, I think we need to examine critically what kind of inquiry this is. Kagan (but not you) – at least in the article – writes as though there’s some universal attitude to which he has access. I wonder if that is so.

    I’ve spent some time recently talking to two very dear old friends, each of whom has been diagnosed with a terminal illness that is really pretty bad at the end; not quite ALS, but rather like that. (I think I’ve been very privileged to have such conversations, and I think I might warn people that philosophers are nearly as bad as novelists in using others’ narratives.) One friend has worried that she won’t have the courage to end her life before it gets unbearable. I’m not sure that the deprivation idea does match up with the worry about courage. Courage to end an unbearable situation seems to me to argue something that isn’t very rational. So I do wonder whether at least some of the conviction that death is awful is rational.

    I think I’m going to try to have happier conversations!

  9. Jamie: these seem to me very different:
    1. I love good conversation over a wonderful meal; when I die I won’t be around to participate in that.

    2. (from a cancer blog narrative): I love my children and their father is not very good parenting; when I die they will suffer and may have much more painful lives than were I around.

    The difference seems to me to be that there’s no problem with #2 in understanding when the bad stuff continues when one is dead. Not so #1, since the badness seems to be essentially what the narrator experiences.

  10. I think the puzzle about the harm to non-existents extends to the relational case. This is perhaps sharpest to see in cases where death is a choice (e.g., suicide).

    In the reflexive case, future non-me isn’t being deprived of goods because post-death me isn’t anything and thus can’t be deprived. (I do think this is a puzzle (contra Jamie). I think deprivation implies some degree of continuity. My past selves cannot be in a state of deprivation (because they are not in any occurrent state). The me just before death is not deprived of life. The me at or after death doesn’t exist.) In the relational case, my future lack is a deprivation to others. Since they exist, the harm can occur. (This is my summary of Anne’s post :))

    But it’s still unclear why this is a harm to me (and, in some sense, why I should (egotistically) care). When the harm occurs, I’ll not be around. So, I won’t be doing the (proximate) harming. I do care about future harms to myself or those I care about, but is this divorced from my experiencing of those harms? E.g., is the anticipated future painful empathy that’s the problem? If so, death prevents my experiencing that future painful empathy thus eliminates that harm to me. Perhaps the harm to me is my current anticipation or contemplation of the harm to others?

    Even if we accept that or a brute interest in other people’s futures, it’s harder to reconcile a pure relational with cases where other people would be better off with me dead. (I.e., I non-criminally suck as a person. Or I’m likely to die at any moment so getting to know me is likely to hurt people.) It still seems wrong to kill me! But if it’s neither because of deprivation to me (intristincly) or to others (extrinsicly), then on what? (I guess a Singerian ruleutilitarianism move is available.)

  11. Kinda unphilosophical and off the top of my head…I simply like experience as such, that is feely psychological states, qualia, what-it’s-like states. And I want them to be as intense as possible. That, in fact, is my focal aim: the greatest possible intensity, to experience the world with the contrast turned up to max and all the stops pulled out. The less intense a psychological state the less I like it–the worst of states is boredom: worse than pain because it’s the absence of sensation and I like even bad sensations better than none. (BTW I’ve just come from the dentist so this is much on my mind). So extrapolating, death if it is the absence of sensation, is as bad as it gets. As I said, this is unphilosophical, and reflects my possibly anomalous Faustian urge: remember, at least in Goethe, when Mephisto offers Faust all pleasures, Faust responds that it isn’t of joy he’s speaking–or of knowledge–but the greatest possible intensity.

  12. Anne (@9), I agree those are different! But that difference is not important to Kagan’s puzzle.
    One might have this view: the only bad things for a person are bad experiences. Then it would be impossible to understand how death could be bad for a person. But Kagan obviously rejects this view — he thinks one way death could be bad for a person is by depriving that person of something good. So now, as far as I can see, there is no puzzle.

    Bijan, things are not good or bad for persons-at-times; they are good or bad for persons. So it’s true that your past selves aren’t deprived and your future (posthumous) selves do not exist, but you exist and you are the one who will be deprived by your death.

    Maurice Sendak is dead, and thus deprived of some great moments he could have had; he could have been having them right now. That’s bad. For him. Of course, it is also bad for us, but nobody thought that was a puzzle.

  13. Jamie, that can’t be right, esp. of deprivation.

    You deny me water at time t and I am deprived at water at time t.

    You give me water at time t1 and I am no longer deprived at water at time t1. We can get that I had been deprived by the connection with me at time t1, but it’s false to say that I am deprived of water (esp. as I’m drinking it.

    It would have been good for me to be accepted at my preferred school before I irrevocably committed to my backup. It’s bad that I find out that I’ve been accepted after I so committed.


  14. When I had a cancer scare several years ago, I realized that I’m quite fond of being alive, and prefer not to be annihilated (understatement!). That’s really the bad thing–annihilation, not so much deprivation exactly. The older you are, the less you’re deprived of by dying, but the sting does not decrease proportionally (as far as I know). So I really do think the issue is annihilation–going out of existence–not deprivation, and not simply being non-existent. Maybe (just maybe) not wanting to be annihilated is one of these unanalyzable preferences, and you have to just leave it at that.

    Reading between the lines (perhaps inaccurately)–hope you’re OK and will continue to be well.

  15. Bijan,
    I’m not seeing your point. Is it about the grammar of ‘deprived’?
    Your life is worse, let’s suppose, because you were deprived of water one August afternoon. Maurice Sendak’s life was also worse in that he was deprived of the experiences he could have had today. It was worse for its brevity. Most lives are.
    Does it help to talk about lives being better or worse for the person who lives them? That takes the focus of moments.

  16. Jamie,

    It’s the fact that deprivation is an occurrent state. It passes. It happens at some time and over a duration.

    Sendak is not occurrently anything, thus he is not occurently deprived of anything. We can’t attribute to him a harm in any direct sense.

    (Your counterfactual doesn’t help. I have been harmed if someone denies me an opportunity, but I need to persist through the denial, at least.)

    We can talk about the value of the life (and various properties, i.e., length). We can talk about the lives we’d prefer (i.e., longer ones). But we don’t possess a life the way we possess a bit of string. So, possession talk is metaphorical.

    The problem with the transition to nonexistence is that you are not entering a bad state. So, at the very least we have to appeal to some other relation to explain the harm.

  17. Jean,

    As I age, I find myself more comforted by the prospect of annihilation. (I don’t have a death wish. I just find myself more content with this being the way things are.)

    I usually think of Wittgenstein’s line from the Tractatus (6.4312):

    The temporal immortality of the human soul, that is to say, its eternal survival after death, is not only in no way guaranteed, but this assumption in the first place will not do for us what we always tried to make it do. Is a riddle solved by the fact that I survive for ever? Is this eternal life not as enigmatic as our present one? The solution of the riddle of life in space and time lies outside space and time.

    and of Lois McMaster Bujold’s line from Shards of Honor:

    I am an atheist, myself. A simple faith, but a great comfort to me, in these last days.

    (I don’t read this as atheism being a religion per se; it’s not. I just find myself profoundly relieved that eternity is not for me.)

  18. Bosh. Before I get any older I want to convince myself of post-mortem survival. Modified Pascal’s Wager: can’t lose. I couldn’t care less about riddles of existence, the Meaning of Life, or any such crap. I just like having experiences and wish I could have them endlessly–at at the greatest possible level of intensity!

  19. Bijan, of course you are not entering a bad state when you cease to exist. This is the point of understanding the badness of death as a privation. The shorter life is worse than the longer one; that is all that the badness of death amounts to. (That is, unless Jean is right — that is a hard question that I don’t know how to answer.)
    (John Broome has a nice paper about this, “Goodness reducible to betterness — the evil of death is the value of life”.)

    But we don’t possess a life the way we possess a bit of string. So, possession talk is metaphorical.

    Wait, no, it’s not metaphorical, any more than talk about possession of string is metaphorical merely because we don’t possess string the way we possess siblings.
    But again, this isn’t an issue about the word ‘possess’, so never mind that. Whatever relation you think a person bears to her life, use that instead of ‘possess’.

  20. I think I feel the way Harriet does (more! more! more!) but it’s interesting that as people age, they do come to terms with the prospects of death. That fits nicely with the deprivation theory (older people have less good stuff in their futures to be deprived of), but it doesn’t rule out the annihilation view. The whole idea of going out of existence is shocking when you first hear of it, but the shock wears off somewhat over time. On the other hand, people get more religious over time, so it might also be that as you get older, you’re less likely to think death is the end–you might have convinced yourself that you’re going someplace fun after death.

  21. The fact is we are all going to die whether or not we lose something by it. That is enough to suggest our response should be courage and equanimity. We can do nothing about it.

  22. Hi Bijan (and Jamie and everyone else, I suppose):

    I’ve been enjoying the discussion and just wanted to chip in a bit. This is a response to your post @11:53. It’s hard for me to see how you can square two claims.

    (1) That you’d be harmed under the following conditions: you would have had a day filled with bliss if you hadn’t walked under that falling piano that left you alive but permanently unconscious but you did walk under that piano.

    (2) That you wouldn’t be harmed under the following conditions: you would have had a day filled with bliss if you hadn’t walked under that falling piano that crushed and killed you but you did walk under that piano.

    The deprivation account does a nice job explaining (1). If you’re like me and you can’t square (1) with (2), you might think there’s more to death’s badness than deprivation, but the deprivation is nevertheless a harm that explains some of death’s badness.

  23. Hi all,

    For those looking for more to read on this topic, I highly recommend Ben Bradley’s recent book _Well-Being and Death_. It’s the best recent treatment of the subject available. Fred Feldman’s _Confrontations with the Reaper_ is also great. One would also do well to look at Kai Draper’s work.

    I think there is something fishy about the deprivation account. At least there is something funny about saying that a mere deprivation is bad. It’s not clear to me that less good is bad. You can construct all manner of cases where someone gets something not quite as good as something else, but it’s not bad for them. Say, I choose a cookie that unbeknownst to me has one less chocolate chip that the only other available. . . . Conversely, there are many events that could have been worse, but are not good. Many severe car accidents could have been much worse, but that doesn’t make them good.

    These issues are hard to sort out, but there’s something not quite right about equating less good with bad (or less bad with good). I’m not convinced that it can’t be sorted out, but it puzzles me.

  24. Jamie, It seems to me that in the CHE article Kagan is doing something closer to agreeing with Jean that something horrible happens and then asking what’s so bad about annihilation. The answer is deprivation, with the puzzle, then, of how you can be deprived. I’d be very surprised, based on the article, if he thinks the answer is just that longer is better.

    Is longer better? Some commenters here have said no, but perhaps we should say “other things being fairly equal.” I’m not sure that is true, or generally held.

    It seems to me that some comments – Bijan’s and Horgan Jussiduich’s do raise questions about whether there’s a universal and rational view that death is bad.

    PS: Please don’t anyone worry about my health; despite my depressing references, I’m in very good health. It is true that I wasn’t last fall (2011), but I am well now.

  25. Hello Jean:

    Coming to terms with death, accepting it, which does occur with age in my experience, does not diminish the will to survive, the rejection of annihilation, to use your term.

  26. Anne,

    I don’t think so. The annihilation view (of what is bad about death) underwrites a sharp contrast between the badness of dying and the badness of being born too recently (the Lucretius point). The privation view supposedly leaves it puzzling why there is such a strong contrast. So the privation view is not an answer to the question of what is so horrible about annihilation; it is an alternative view of what is bad about dying.

    The privation view, and not the annihilation view, is consonant with the idea that More Life is Better. That is why Kagan says that according to the privation view, death is bad for us in the comparative sense

  27. For what it might be worth, I have some recent work on this topic (“Death’s Distinctive Harm,” American Philosophical Quarterly, forthcoming) that might be germane to this interesting discussion:

    Click to access apq2012.pdf

    I share some of the suspicions voiced here about the deprivation account of mortal harm, although not because I think that view is false, but just because I think it is incomplete: there is more to how death harms the one who dies (when it does) than be depriving her of the goods she would’ve enjoyed had she continued living. What it leaves out is the fact that death imposes a distinctive kind of restriction on the autonomy of the one who dies: at every moment of our lives, we are endowed with only a limited autonomy, every exercise of which (whether ultimately thwarted or not) is *possibly* thwarted and known to be so.

    It takes some work to make out this proposal, but I think you can get a sense of what the deprvation fails to capture by recalling the Larkin’s brilliant poem “Aubade.”


    What Larkin evokes there is just the thought that I’m trying to characterize: that our future death harms us before it even occurs simply in our awareness of its inevitability — the “small unfocused blur, a standing chill” that “stays just on the edge of vision.” When the “mind blanks” at this peripheral awareness, it does so *not* over (or not only over) “the good not done, the love not given, time torn off unsued,” but over the “sure extinction that we travel to.”

  28. A very interesting paper. Thanks for sharing it.

    I confess to not quite following your reasons as to why the autonomy issue can’t be subsumed under the deprivation view. I also wonder what you’d say about “the standing chill” as related to those who believe in an afterlife. Thanks again, though.

  29. Hi Anne, thanks for sharing. I’m unfortunately not an expert in practical ethics, but I was reminded of a conversation I had with someone who did his PhD in practical ethics, on the ethics of reproduction. His response to anti-natalists (who argue it’s best not to reproduce at all, since we don’t deprive the unborn, and since the planet is already overpopulated as it is) was that being born can provide us with non-comparable benefits. This means that we can’t compare them to a state prior to birth, since we weren’t in existence to compare them with. However, once born, we can enjoy such benefits as described by you and respondents in this blog (the intense qualia and whatnot…) So this is why it seems rational and meaningful to say that it’s good to have been born even though we can’t compare it to a state of not being born. Similarly, death under metaphysical naturalism means that those benefits are gone, even though they do not deprive a person (since that person is no longer there to be deprived). So under this account, Lucretius’ symmetry is maintained to some extent. The existence of a person can yield non-comparable goods such as the enjoyment that person has in life, the relationships between that person and others, etc. The non-existence of a person (who is dead or never born) means those non-comparable goods do not obtain. In the case of death, the fact that close relatives and friends miss out on those goods (and can compare the absence now with the prior presence of those goods) makes death worse than never being born.

  30. AJ, it’s a bit of a long story why what I call restriction harm isn’t just a form of deprivation harm, but the short answer is that whilst deprivation harm is contingent, extrinsic, and general, restriction harm is necessary, intrinsic, and peculiar to death. As for the afterlife, like Kagan’s, my discussion proceeds under the assumption that death brings about our nonexistence. Of course, establishing the truth of this claim (often called the “termination thesis”) is no small matter. But that issue is usually bracketed in this context.

  31. Fair enough. Quite independent from the metaphysical issue, I had thought that there might a psychological component to the harm – as when you speak of an “awareness” of the restriction on the periphery of our autonomy, or of our knowing of the possible thwarting of our autonomy at every turn, etc. It looked to me like this is what Larkin was on about, too.

    Afterlifers would presumably not have this knowledge, as they wouldn’t have the requisite belief. So, whether this psychological component is present (one way or the other) would be independent of the resolution of the termination issue. But perhaps I’m reading too literally here.

  32. I’ve been packing and starting to travel, but I wanted to get back to two points:

    1. The point I’ve been trying to make is that there are things that are bad for one even if one isn’t around. It may be that this requires a point that I think Tom Nagel makes; namely, that one’s interests don’t stop with one’s death. Actually, it was a long time ago that I read this, but I think that’s at least close to what he’s said. I think, btw, that Jamie has correctly said I was incorrectly attributing a concern about annihilation to Kagan. I didn’t mean to do that; rather, I was think of annihilation as “a very bad thing”.

    2. I encountered some philosophers at Qumin on St. Clements in Oxford. Having complained to my companion that I didn’t want to sit next to a discussion about possible worlds for the whole dinner, I turned around and recognized Steve Yablo sitting there. Steve suggested I might have been saying that men’s and women’s concerns are different. I said that I didn’t think of the differences being discussed as gendered. And that’s true; that is, I didn’t mean to propose a gendered distinction.

    Qumin is a great place, by the way. You need reservations for Friday and Sat nights.

  33. […] Some philosophical thinking, or non-thinking, mostly interesting for the responses it has provoked. The first set is not so controversial: Shelly Kagan has argued that death really isn’t so bad for the person who experiences it, because she or he isn’t there to mourn their own loss, or the future denied. But annejjacobson at Feminist Philosophers has a different opinion: women are often deeply distressed by impending death, because of the impact on children and other fa…. […]

  34. I have identified what I think are the seven basic categories involved when it comes to living vs. not-living, for sentient beings, given current technology, in order of desirability:

    happy life (plus rationality plus knowledge of future death)

    conscious but neither happy nor unhappy life (plus rationality plus knowledge of future death)

    happy life (without rationality or knowledge of future death)

    conscious but neither happy nor unhappy life (without rationality or knowledge of future death)

    never existing

    unhappy life (plus rationality plus knowledge of future death)

    unhappy life (without rationality or knowledge of future death)

    It is assumed that the benefit/good/desirability of having rationality outweighs the troubling knowledge of one’s future permanent non-existence, hence human life is preferable to merely sentient life, other things being equal. The preferability of rationally conscious but not happy life over non-rational conscious happy life is comparable to the Socrates-Pig example from the utilitarians. There’s the further assumption that being conscious is desirable (due to “the sheer wondrousness of existence”), other things being equal. Anyway, is Kagan in effect disputing the order of desirability here? More generally, is there a better desirability ordering than the above?

  35. […] my own death when I know that it will have that same effect. As the philosopher Anne Jaap Jacobsen explains, many people with terminal illnesses explain their fear of death in this way; they fear the […]

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