Living in the Shadow of Death A Philosophical Study of the Evil of Annihilation

Master Thesis


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How should we respond to the fact that we are going to die? This dissertation investigates some of the implications for answering this question which arise from a detailed study of the relationship between death and well-being. I defend the popular view that death is an evil of privation; that death is bad for the one who dies in virtue of precluding her from having more of a good life. Given this view, I argue, there is not any worthwhile means of securing invulnerability to the evil of death; the only way to make death less bad is to ensure one would not be better off continuing to live—but that is not something worth doing. In response to Epicurus’ argument that death cannot be bad for the one who dies because there is no time at which it could be so, I argue that the normative implications of the Epicurean view are unacceptable and that death is plausibly either a posthumous evil or a timeless evil. It is a further question which attitudes concerning death are rational. Indeed, I attempt to show that a complete account of which attitudes concerning death are all-things-considered rational is likely to be complex and potentially unsystematic. By contrast, an account of which attitudes concerning death are rational in the sense of being fitting or appropriate is relatively simple. Further reflection upon such an account, however, reveals that if death is to merit the terrified response it often elicits, then the view that death is an evil of privation should be supplemented with the view that annihilation itself is an evil. Finally, I address the question of whether it would be better to be immortal. Many philosophers follow Bernard Williams’ lead in arguing that we face a dilemma with respect to the desirability of immortality; that an immortal life would either fail to be attractive or fail to involve a preservation of one’s personal identity. In response, I argue that there are choiceworthy ways of being immortal which would not threaten the continuity of our identities.