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Lecture 9

PHL281H1 Lecture Notes - Lecture 9: Lucretius, Epicureanism, De Rerum Natura

Course Code
Donald Ainslie

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Monday, February 8, 2016
The Meaning of Death
This Week’s Questions
-How is the death of a fetus (un)like the death of a developed person?
-Can death benefit or harm the dying person?
We all know we’re going to die, we just don’t know when.
When it came to abortion we were thinking of our perspective on the loss of the
potential life, not the perspective of the fetus itself.
-With the end of life though, we are taking an inner view. With the fetus, there is
no inner view in the very early stages of its development. We aren't concerned
with the fetus’ understanding of its situation like we are with people who are alive.
We are thinking of the first personal perspective now. This changes the debate.
-We are thinking of whether and how we should understand death as benefitting or
harming us.
-Dworkin believed that a vocabulary of virtue/vice was more appropriate—such that
depended on a concept of the sanctity of life.
Life has objective, final, non-incremental value.
Each life is irreplaceable, from the very start of its existence.
Abortion is thus always a regrettable or tragic thing.
-Now, we switch from the value of life independently of the perspective of the one
living it, to the value of the life for the person.
-As we mature, we come to recognize our mortality.
-What should we make of it for ourselves?
“Personal value” of a life
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Monday, February 8, 2016
Subjective value of the life to that person
-Is death always a harm to the one who dies?
This is a default assumption that we all want to avoid death.
Some Cases
-Case one: Someone in severe pain which cannot be lessened, or can only be
lessened in such a way that he is left in a stupor. Would death harm or benefit him?
-Case two: A university student who has just set out on life.
-Case three: A 94-year-old, who has had a family and/or career, and has been a
success at both, but she's accepted the possibility of death.
-Case four: An 88-year-old an who has just married for the first time (say, a 25-year-old
woman) and has just started to build a family, after devoting many years to his career.
-Cafe five: A man has a fairly normal life—a family, career, etc.—but while his wife, and
eventually his children, grow old and die around him, he just continues to get older, up
to age 110, 160, 900, and beyond.
-Lucretius was an Epicurean, Roman philosopher, c. 98-55 BCE. Epicureans
emphasized that a meaningful life was one that was dominated pleasure and lacked
pain. They thought that you should change your desires to only want the simple
things, so that you would be happy.
-He is famous for a philosophical poem, de Rerum Natura. This placed a role in the
history of scientific development, insofar as it presents an atomistic view of the
Universe. This was the way forward, as those in the Scientific Revolution used this
atomistic view to discuss the world.
-He was a follower of Epicurus, c. 341-271 BC.
-Many philosophers form their argument about death in response to the Epicurean
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Monday, February 8, 2016
“Death is Nothing to Us”
-He takes the view that one of the ways that we ultimately ruin our lives (i.e. by being
pained) is by worrying about death. He thought that if we take away this anxiety about
death then we would avoid pain, thereby making our lives more pleasurable. He
qualifies this by saying that we do not experience death; it is not something that
happens to us. He says, when you are, death isn’t; when death is, you aren’t.
Death is neither good nor bad for you; thus, we should not fear or welcome death.
- Fear or welcoming of death results merely from the confused supposition of an
afterlife, or of continued experience when one is a corpse.
-He said we can’t be benefitted or harmed by death, so it should be nothing to us. In
coming to understand this, we will be freed from the needless anxiety of death.
Main Argument
-i. Only things that you experience harm or benefit you. Only things that you
experience actually count.
-ii. You can only experience something if you exist.
-iii. You do not exist when you are dead.
-iv. Death does not harm or benefit you.
Subsidiary Argument
-v. Your pre-natal non-existence nether harms nor benefits you.
There should be symmetry in these existences.
-vi. There is no difference in kind between pre-natal and posthumous non-existence.
-vii. Your posthumous non-existence neither harms nor benefits you.
-It overlooks directionality of time.
-We can welcome or fear the cessation of a bad or good experience as well as the
occurrence of it.
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