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Is death bad for you?

January 24, 2014 at 12:08 am

         So far I have been absolutely fascinated by my class titled "Life and Death." The conversations that we have had in this class have really provoked a deeper more open-minded understanding of death. It is also personally very refreshing to read about death as nothingness or an eternal sleep, as opposed to an after life (the latter was generally assumed to be the case in high school.) Honestly the paper I am about to start writing has really dominated a lot of my thoughts recently, so I figured it might be appropriate to give a taste of what our class is discussing and reading. Perhaps typing this out may even help me write my paper this weekend.  

        The topic I'm currently wrestling with is, "Is there any sense in which death is bad for us? If yes, why? If not, why not?" Most of the readings that we have discussed so far, argue that in actuality death can't be bad for us because we won't feel anything or be aware of it. Epicurus said, "When we are, death is not come, and, when death is come we are not."  

            Kai Draper (A Philosopher that we have read) argues that death can be considered only a comparative bad (when the alternative is living a wonderful life) but never an absolute bad. He argues this because, taking a similar stance as Epicurus, if we aren't aware of something it simply can't be an absolute bad. Being deprived of pleasurable things on earth could be shown to be much worse than experiencing these things, but just as we don't worry about not having untold riches, we shouldn't worry about eventually not being able to experience the pleasures in life, especially because we won't feel any emotional pain from missing these pleasures, and furthermore won't exist at all. Draper then argues that we can be disappointed or sad about the prospect of death, but it is still irrational to fear it. Just as we could be disappointed that we couldn't go on a nice vacation, but we would never say we were afraid of not going on a nice vacation.  

           While I clearly see the logic in Draper's argument I find it very difficult to swallow that it is irrational to fear death. In this paper I am debating choosing this last and final point to clash with Draper on. Although Draper does concede that death can be to some extent bad for you, he still forms the conclusion that it is irrational to fear it.  If someone were to tell me that eventually I would feel no pain or pleasure for an eternity, it should be rational to be afraid of this chilling prospect. Even if I won't actually know about this deprivation when I'm dead, I currently know in this moment that this eternal sleep is a near certainty, which (in my opinion) rightly evokes feelings of fear.  

       Our class has also had lengthy discussions about this topic. At one point, one student brought up a hypothetical situation, and asked how our professor thought Draper would respond. Interestingly enough, apparently our professor had written to Draper asking a similar question, and proceeded to inform our class of his response!  I really enjoy the dialogue that goes on in this class. Often times I learn something from just listening to what other people have to say about the same exact reading that I am struggling to come to grips with. Often times I find students at Carleton, give other students in the class an opportunity to think about something new or not explicitly discussed in the reading. I find this is especially the case in our class when many students bring up interesting hypothetical examples in order to argue for or against an author’s point.

            Clearly I have a lot to say about this topic, I just am having trouble deciding what specific point I should tackle, (that I know I can critique and bring my own views into.) I am also wondering how I can intelligently refute a claim, that seems relatively intuitive given the arguments presented. (I know that I want to say that it is irrational to fear death, but don’t entirely know how to go about proving this.)

  I wrote about this, to really a show an example of the kind of deep philosophical thinking that Carleton encourages. I am truly utterly engaged in this class, and often times discussions in all of my classes, as well as my friends' classes, can dominate my thoughts.

 

Comments

  • February 24 2014 at 11:52 am
    Dorothy MacKinnon

    Being much closer to the more imminent prospect of death, at 63, than a college student, I will be very interested in your argument. Perhaps one avenue you could follow in your examination of the fear of death is the great sense of loss an older person feels, leaving behind children and grandchildren, and not knowing how they will fare in the future. As you get older and less healthy, the fear of losing life's pleasures fades a bit, too. And if you are really ill, death may be welcomed. So why fear it? I know philosophical arguments strive to be logical and rational. But fear is mostly about emotion and irrationality. Perhaps reading or talking to some elderly family members or scholars could provide insights into what constitutes fear of death.

    Good luck with your paper!

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