Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Objections to Epicurus on Death

  1.  It is argued by Epicureans that death is necessary and inevitable and once one sees this one will realize fear of death is irrational.  (Jeffrie R. Murphy.  "Rationality and the Fear of Death."  The Monist 59 1976 187-203.  I will refer to the version in Fischer.  The Metaphysics of Death.)    I think that fear of death is irrational.  However this argument, by itself, is not sufficient.  (See my other recent posts on death.)
  2.  I started thinking about death when I was eleven.   I was horrified to realize that I would die.  I came to philosophy by this path.  What is death?  Why do we die?  Religion did not seem to offer a solution to the problem of death.  I do not remember much about my thoughts then, just that I was obsessed with death.  When my grandmother died, about that time, I did not feel grief.  I am not sure why.  But I did think that grief was irrational.  Since then I have felt my fair share of grief.  But the problem of death remains a living thing for me.  Now, at 72, I am surely much closer to my own death than I was at 11.  But, then, anything can happen, and surely I could not know when 11 that i would live to at least 72.  I was was once walking across campus and a tree fell on me (probably when I was sixty).  People usually die when that happens.  I didn't.  But the experience led me to think again about death.
  3. Fear of death is pointless because it cannot help us to avoid death.  (Murphy 52)  This seems true.  It is part of the Epicurean argument.
  4. Mary Mothersill "Death is the deadline of all of my assignments."    
  5.  "a prudent fear of death is perfectly rational.  By a prudent fear of death I mean simply (a) one that provokes people into maintaining a reasonable (though not neurotically compulsive) diligence with respect to living the kind of life they regard as proper or meaningful....and (b) one that is kept in its proper place (i.e., does not sour all the good things in one's life"  Murphy 56.  Murphy says this while affirming the truth of Spinoza's claim. Seems reasonable to me.
  6. "Fear of death is irrational and properly extinguished, then, when it can serve no legitimate purpose in our lives - when it cannot aid us in avoiding bad a way that is consistent with the successful and satisfying integration and functioning of our person."  Murphy 56.   But we have those who oppose the Epicurean/Spinozistic approach to death.
  7. Nagel is one.  "life is all we have and the loss of it is the greatest loss we sustain"  Nagel  61.  There is a lot of confusion here.  Life is the condition of having things.  It is not really something we "have."  Or perhaps there is a different sense of "have" operative here.  Is the loss of one's life the greatest loss?  Does every life end in the greatest of all possible losses?  The answer is not obviously yes. I am not sure you can even lose your life, although we say that.  You just die. 
  8.    First you are not dead.  Then you are dead.  Is it the same "you" that is featured in each of these sentences?
  9.    "death is an evil because it brings to an end all the goods that life contains."  Nagel 62.  Really?  Is there an "end" to these goods?  Could we define that end?  
  10.   "it is good simply to be alive."  Nagel 62    That seems obviously true.  Is it implied that it is therefore evil to simply be dead?
  11.   "life is worth living even when the bad elements of experience are plentiful..."  62  This might be a good argument against suicide.
  12.   "If we are to make sense of the view that to die is bad, it must be on the grounds that life is good and death is the corresponding deprivation or loss, but not because of any positive features but because of the desirability of what it removes." 64
  13.   Most of Nagel's argument assumes that death is an unfortunate state or condition.  But the Epicurean claim is that it is not a state at all.  Nagel hypothesizes that, like an adult who has somehow become infant-like, a dead person "does not mind his condition."  (66)  But a dead person is not in the position to mind anything.  A dead person is dead.  
  14.   Most important though is that although Nagel makes some true claims, they do not refute Epicurus.  For example, he says, truly:  "There are goods and evils that are irrevocably relational; they are features of the relations between a person, with spatial and temporal boundaries of the usual sort, and circumstances that may not coincide with him either in space or in time.  A man's life includes much that does not take place within the boundaries of his life.  These boundaries are commonly crossed by the misfortunes of being deceived, or despised, or betrayed."  (66)
  15.   Nagel's argument comes down to, of the dead man, "if he had not died, he would have continued to live...and to possess whatever good there is in living" (67) and therefore death is a great harm to a person.  Let's assume that it is possible to be harmed after you die.  This does not mean that there is someone who is actually harmed and therefore is harmed by being in the condition of being dead which is the condition of having lost all of the goods of life.  
  16. Nagel writes:  "Observed from without, human beings obviously have a natural lifespan and cannot live much longer than a hundred years. A man's sense of his own experience, on the other hand, does not embody this idea of a natural limit. His existence defines for him an essentially open-ended possible future, containing the usual mixture of goods and evils that he has found so tolerable in the past. Having been gratuitously introduced to the world by a collection of natural, historical, and social accidents, he finds himself the subject of a life, with an indeterminate and not essentially limited future. Viewed in this way, death, no matter how inevitable, is an abrupt cancellation of indefinitely extensive possible goods."  (69)  Perhaps this shows the source of Nagel's mistake.  A human's sense of their own life DOES include the fact that we are going to die.  We all know this, or at least all after a certain age.  This is not not just from the outside.  We KNOW that our lives are not essentially open-ended.   There is no "indeterminate and not essentially limited future."  We KNOW that our future is essentially limited.  So it is absurd to think of death as "an abrupt cancellation of indefinitely extensive possible goods."  
  17.  Williams  notes that for Lucretius "for oneself at least, it is all the same whenever one dies, that a long life is no better than a short one.  That is to say, death is never an evil in the sense not merely that there is no one for whom dying is an evil, but that there is no time at which dying is an evil - sooner or later, it is all the same."  (75)  Williams seems to think this implies "one might aw well die earlier as later."  This is actually inconsistent with the first position.   I also think this second issue is handled by Murphy.  But is there something irrational about Lucretius' overall position.  
  18.  For Williams more life is, per se, better than less life. (81)  Therefore death cannot be nothing to us since we always want more life.  
  19.  For Williams, it is "not necessarily the prospect of pleasant times that creates the motive against dying, but the existence of categorical desire" (92)  of the sort that is described by Unamuno when he says "I do not want to die ...I want to live for ever and ever and ever.  I want this 'I' to live - this poor 'I' that I am and that I feel myself to be here and now...."  (91)
  20.  "we are naturally inclined to feel sorrow for the very person who has died, to continue to talk about him (or her), and to continue to adopt attitudes such as love and honor towards him."  Yourgrau.  138  These things are true, although when I feel sorrow for the loss of a friend I do not feel sorrow for his loss since I do not really think he has lost anything (although conventionally we say he lost his life, he dis not lose his life...he had his life.)  
  21.  How can one say that Socrates is dead?  (138)
  22.  How can one continue to love Socrates after he died"  (138)  I can continue to love Socrates since Socrates continues as an entity although not as an agent.  Socrates still has being, but has no experiences and no ability to act.  I love all the things Socrates was.  I love Socrates.  But he is dead.  I would still love Socrates even if it turned out he was a fiction of Plato.
  23.  "Death is an evil, a misfortune, and one that befalls the nonexistent themselves."  Yourgrau 138.  This I think is false.
  24.   "death is not a misfortune because it gives rise to so many unhappy grievers"  Yourgrau 140  That seems quite obviously false to me.
  25.  Dead people simply do not exist.  Yourgrau 141.  Socrates does not exist.  "Socrates" continues to exist.  Socrates continues in avatar form.  But he has no agency.  He cannot change or become.  But "Socrates" although he has no agency, can change or become.  As can any concept.  I can love "Socrates" as I can also love any fictional character.  "Socrates" cannot love me back.
  26.   "We should distinguish ...between being something, being an object...and being an existing object.  Existence is that property, delicate as an eyelid, which separates the living from the dead."  (142)   He agrees with Wittgenstein that Socrates death is not an event in his life.  So do I.  It is a genuine even but it does not befall Socrates.  So we can discuss Socrates even though he is dead.  "If the bad news is that you are going to die, the good news is that you will not 'disappear' -- i.e., become nothing."  (143)

No comments: