Death by Thomas Nagel Essay

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Philosophy

Nagel says that the most serious difficulty with the view that death is always an evil is determining whether death is (always) misfortunate given the human limitation of mortality. He raises a question of how possible a possibility (in this case, continued life) must be in order for it to be considered a misfortune. Because humans have a standard lifespan of no more than 100 years (and an upper limit not much higher than that), Nagel questions whether a person who dies close to that limit (age 82 in his example) has suffered a misfortune (given that he could not possibly have lived much longer). He concludes that even though death is inevitable, it would still be good to live longer. He thinks that the 82-year-old has been deprived of some life, and all of the goods with which life has acquainted him, so death must be a misfortune because it presents "an abrupt cancellation of indefinitely extensive possible goods" (p. 80). Therefore, he concludes that death, regardless of when it happens, by its nature, is bad.

I do not necessarily agree that death is always an evil for several reasons. First, Nagel explicitly says that "life is a good and death is the corresponding deprivation or loss." However, he failed to really establish that life is (necessarily) a good aside from listing things like perception and thought as "goods." To determine this, questions of psychological states and lived experiences seem to need to be addressed. For example, if someone where chronically depressed or in pain, would death, which brings corresponding deprivation (in this case of pain or depression) be evil? Nagel speaks of potential as part of his argument for death's evil, so he might say that people have the potential to enjoy life and death still deprives them of that potential. However, if someone has enjoyed their life little and suffered much, that potential does not negate the lived experience of the person and death might be the only end to their pain. If one views life as both good and bad, then death would negate both good and bad. It would seem, in this view, death's villainous status would depend a lot on experiences while living (answering the question "what exactly is one losing or being deprived of?"). Further, I am not convinced that cessation of pleasurable things (i.e., those things which give life "good" status) is bad either. For example, ending one's cocaine addiction is probably a better than continuing to use, even though it ends his or her experience of pleasure. This raises other questions, such as what qualifies and quantifies good in life.

Second, I am not convinced that he properly dismissed Lucretius' problem of temporal asymmetry. Nagel argues that while it is not possible to have lived before one's birth, it would be possible to live after one's death (if death had not occurred). Being born early, for example, would have either made one a different person or caused him/her to not live at all. Therefore, while one can be completely undisturbed by the "eternity preceding his own birth" (p. 79), the death that follows his life is of concern. The problem here… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Death by Thomas Nagel.  (2011, June 9).  Retrieved December 15, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/death-thomas-nagel/1643604

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