PHIL 111 Lecture Notes - Menoeceus, Sentience, Epicurus
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September 11, 2013
- Is death bad?
- What’s the more precise question?
oIs the state of being dead bad for the person who is dead?
Two Ancients on Death
- Epicurus: since a person can never experience his being dead, his being dead can
never harm him
- Lucretius: because we do not view our nonexistence before we came into existence as a
harm, we should not view our post-mortem nonexistence as a harm
Epicurus’ “Letter to Menoeceus”
- “Accustom thyself to believe that death is nothing to us, for good and evil imply
sentience, and death is the privation of all sentience;… Death, therefore, the most awful
of all evils, is nothing to us… for with the living it is not and the dead exist no longer.”
Reconstructing the Argument
- Why did Epicurus think “death is nothing to us”?
oA state of affairs is bad for a person P only if P can experience it at some time
oTherefore, P’s being dead is bad for P only if it is a state of affairs that P can
experience at some time
oP can experience a state of affairs at some time only if it begins before P being
oP’s being dead is not a state of affairs that begins before P’s death
oTherefore, P’s being dead is not a state of affairs that P can experience at some
oTherefore, P’s being dead is not bad for P
Two Concluding Clarifications
- The conclusion does not entail that P’s being dead is not bad for others. Nor does it
entail that P’s being dead is not bad in any way in which something might be bad but not
for anyone, if there is such a way. So the argument does not inhibit our thinking that a
person’s being dead is bad in some way other than the stated conclusion
- Second, the conclusion is not about death or dying but about being dead. So it does not
rule out a person’s dying being bad for the person. Nor does it rule out a person’s death
being bad for the person
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