Monday, June 22, 2009

fearing death

Instead of posting, I should be relaxing and thinking about fun things while on vacation on the north shore of Lake Superior...

Here’s a quick argument about death and fear in the spirit of Epicurus.

Epicurus writes in his Letter to Menoeceus, “Accustom yourself to believing that death is nothing to us, for good and evil imply the capacity for sensation, and death is the privation of all sentience... when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not.”

(1) Everything that is bad for us is embedded in our actual experiences.
(2) Death is the absence of experiences.
(3) The absence of experiences cannot be bad for us.
(4) Hence, death cannot be bad for us.
(5) It is irrational to fear something that is not bad for us.
(6) Hence, it is irrational to fear death.

The most contentious claims are (1) and (5).

Someone might argue that something can be both bad for us and fail to be embedded in actual experiences. For example, I wonder if being the victim of a nasty, false rumor (a) which one never discovers and (b) from which one never suffers any negative consequences is something that can be said to be “bad for that someone.”

Someone also might argue it is rational to fear something that is not bad. For example, I wonder if it’s rational at times to fear success or power, neither of which are bad in and of themselves. Response: Maybe it’s not the success or power that one may fear, but rather one may fear one’s own character and what one might do in a context of possessing such things. The real object of fear then is a possibility that is bad. So, the fear is rational after all.

How about social justice? I fear that, and social justice is not bad; in fact, it’s good. Response: Maybe I’ve confused rationality with overextended self-interest. My self-interest (sometimes) conflicts with the moral calling of social justice, but that conflict is one that is distinct from the domain of rationality.

Hey, maybe claim (5) has got more going for it after all. I would have never thought that I might end up agreeing with something so Platonic and ancient.

I’m still not sure about claim (1).
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