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).


Rob said...

Epicurus apparently has a strong argument. I reason in a similar way regarding suicide. One might kill oneself expecting death to bring relief, but relief is an experience, and being alive is a necessary precondition for any experience. Therefore, death is not a relief.

I hear that it's hot enough in MN to swim in Lake Superior. Don't miss out on that Dan.

Calvin said...

I wonder if an argument of causation could be used to say that nothing is what "caused" everything, and therefore it is bad... Maybe nothing isn't a good causation agent, but it could be anything that is not within the boundaries of our experience (e.g. God creating everything, or the Big Bang).

I guess the biggest problem would be coming up with a sound enough argument for the very beginning. It would be difficult to do, especially since we can't really know 100%.

Wheelz said...

I wonder if belief in an "afterlife" would cast any doubt on (2) of the argument. The very term "afterlife" implies that it is post-life and therefore may not just be considered a different type of life. If that's the case, then experiences are certainly possibly post-death. Or is the term just a bad one for describing what in reality is just another form of life?

I suppose either way death still wouldn't be something to be feared since the religious believer in an afterlife would likely anticipate experiencing the pleasant end of the afterlife (making the argument as a whole irrelevant), while the unbeliever could comfortably affirm (2), and thus the rest of the argument (providing no other objections to (1) or (5)).