Sunday, August 9, 2009

Quicklink: Ben Bradley and Roy Sorensen on Death

I've been thinking a lot about death lately--there's no particular reason, I just find some of the questions surrounding the philosophy of death fascinating. Perhaps primarily, I'm intrigued by the intuition that some people (apparently) have that either (1) death is not an evil--that is, it isn't something that we should fear for ourselves--or that (2) indefinite life isn't something to be desired. I suspect that both of these intuitions come to more or less the same thing, but they don't seem to be universally correlated: some people will hold (1) without holding (2). When I first started talking to friends and colleagues about this issue, I was rather shocked to find out that anyone holds (1) or (2) at all--they seem so obviously false to me that I have a hard time fathoming how anyone could hold them. Still, apparently this issue is non-controversial; I've got a paper floating around in my head attacking (1) and (2), but until it manifests (maybe later this semester?), I'll have to settle for just pondering. In the mean time, here are Ben Bradley (Syracuse University) and Roy Sorensen (Washington University-Saint Louis) discussing some of these issues. The discussion is a little slow (and Ben Bradley is--ugh--a hedonist), but BloggingHeads lets you watch the whole thing at 1.4x speed. I recommend that option. They touch on some of the fundamental questions in the field, including (1) and (2)--Roy Sorensen and Ben Bradley both seem to share my shock about the fact that someone might hold (2). Enjoy!

Thanks, Leiter!


Matt said...

While sitting in an armchair, contemplating the implications of death, it may not seem like such a horrifying concept. Perhaps even after months of fighting a malignant tumor, one may come to accept their hopeless situation. However, try convincing a man running who has just been poisoned by polonium that he should feel comfortable with the notion of death. It is an instinctive drive to fear the very notion of inexistence, as our very biological composition is fundamentally survivalistic.

(Granted, one could argue that humans may fear the process of dying, rather than death itself, but I'd rather not delve into that)

Fallen Engel said...

Pay no attention to my use of the word "running" (I changed my example)

Helen said...

Call me a stoic, but I think I'm just not afraid of death. I would be really upset if I were to discover that I'm about to die helplessly and pointlessly, since right now I'm not prepared for it. But I don't think that's a "fear" exactly. And in other circumstances, I don't think I'd even be upset. If you value something more than your own survival, dying for it doesn't seem like a bad thing, and doesn't strike me as frightening. Why is it so unimaginable that people might not fear death?

In response to Matt: Evolutionary "just-so" stories purporting to explain the fear of death are no justification for the claim that we should all be afraid. At best, such a story can provide a tenuous explanation for the fear that some people actually have.

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