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Why Death Might Not Be Bad for You

Yale philosophy professor Shelly Kagan unravels the reasons why death is considered bad for someone and finds them wanting. To be sure, he feels that death is bad for those who pass on. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Yale philosophy professor Shelly Kagan is pretty sure death is a bad for a person but he can’t put his finger on the precise reason. Take these two different scenarios: (1) Your friend is about to begin a 100 year space mission and, even more dramatic, radio communication with the craft will be lost just 25 minutes after the launch. In other words, you are losing all contact with your closest friend. (2) The rocket launches with your friend aboard and 25 minutes into the mission, the rocket explodes and kills all the astronauts instantly. Scenario two is clearly worse, but why? The answer, says Kagan, lies in the “deprivation” argument.

What’s the Big Idea?

The “deprivation” account of death says that dying is bad because you are deprived of life, which you would have otherwise enjoyed were it not for your untimely non-existence. The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus made the first major challenge to this argument by asking when death is bad for you. Death is not bad now, because I am alive. But when I am dead, death is not bad because I am not here. “If death has no time at which it’s bad for me, then maybe it’s not bad for me,” Kagan suggests. The idea that something can be bad for you only if you exist is the next argument Kagan examines…

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