Philosophy 2073F/G Lecture Notes - Lecture 9: Nagel Point, Lucretius, Baruch Spinoza

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1. Review
We began the course by reviewing a series of arguments that try to properly define and
partly explain the character of death in light of a set of epistemological, metaphysical,
practical, and even moral considerations.
The view that can be consistently attributed to at least four of the five authors we
considered (Plato being the exception) is that death, whatever it is exactly, represents a
final end of human life.
Epicurus claims that death, understood as a final end to all possible experiences of
pleasure, is neither good nor bad for the person who dies... it simply is the annihilation of
the possibility of pleasurable experience.
Nagel claims that death is bad because it robs the person who is dead of their ongoing
potential to have possible life experiences, a badness that obtains irrespective of the
awareness of the individual who suffers those bad experiences.
Silverstein also claims that death is bad, but it is bad because it is a temporally distant,
intelligible basis of individual awareness and suffering for the person who is going to die.
2. Williams
The point:
Immortality is intolerable owing to the necessary boredom that would arise from a never
ending life, though death is a legitimate object of fear inasmuch as dying too soon
prevents the fulfillment of our categorical desires.
Its bad to die too soon but bad to live too long
Death gives the meaning to life
(In other words, the very same phenomenon that makes life worth living is that which
shows immortality is undesirable.)
It would be bad to die too soon because if we die too soon our categorical desired won
the fulfilled; if we live to long they will be fulfilled and then we will be bored.
I. Elina Makropulos and the Problems in Lucretius (p. 208 211)
At 342 years of age, after repeatedly consuming an ‘elixir of life’, life for EM has
become boring, joyless, and cold such that she stops consuming the elixir. Everything is
o joyless…in the end it is the same, singing and silence.
What this example suggests is that death is not always evil because it is not good to live
too long; death can provide an end to great suffering
He thinks this is an enlightening fictional example because it picks up on intuitions which
he believes we will all share; it will be bad to live too long and someone who thinks we
should live forever hasn’t thought it through.
Those who maintain that death is not evil do so on two grounds, i.e., either because death
is not the end of existence, or because it is the end of existence.
o Death is not evil because there will be something there (ex. Plato)
According to Lucretius, death is never evil for the person who dies, no matter at which
point in life it occurs; the duration of the life lived has no impact on the degree to which
death is an evil.
o Death is not evil on the epicurean account because death is nothing
He presents two arguments:
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(i) Death is not evil because there is no subject (no one around) to experience the
condition of being dead.
o Seeks to interpret the fear of death as a confusion, the rewards of life, and being
upset at our bodies beign burned. The fear of death must be the fear of some
experiences had when one is dead….but there are no such experiences
(ii) Since death will endure for the same length of time no matter when life comes to an
end, it makes no difference whether we die earlier or later.
o Addresses question of whether onen dies earlier or later…youre dead the same
amount of time so might as well die earlier? Death is nothing to us and doesn’t
matter at all
o Uses this ad a basis to conclude that it doesn’t matter whether you die earlier or
later because your death will be as long as everyone elses (infinity)
o This is weird because what would happen if the length of time did vary? If there
was a sense in which time is finite? If your death would be of longer or shorter
duration, if that did make a difference it would make a difference to how long the
time of life was led. (not too important)
The oddness of the second argument helps to highlight the difficulty inherent in the
first… if the rewards of life really are valuable, having more of them will be better than
having fewer, meaning that dying earlier is worse than dying later.
He contradicts himself cause in the first argument, death is bad because we lose rewards
of life, and in the second we may as well die earlier but then were losing out on life so
It also follows that dying is a loss, i.e., the loss of the rewards of life, and is in that sense
‘evil’ (even if there is no consciousness present to lament those losses once death has
o As much as death constitutes the rewards of life, death is bad. This is similar to
nagels argument; nagel says were gonna lose out possible life experiences and this
guy says that were gonna lose out on rewards of life
o It is rational to be upset at losing things like children, home, possessions; but
irrational to think of death as losing anything
A simple argument can be made to support this claim:
If I want something (literally almost anything) and death precludes the possibility of
satisfying that desire, then I ought to avoid and be afraid of death as a condition that will
thwart my attainment of my desires (even though I won’t be able to lament my inability
to fulfill that desire once I am dead).
o This starts to highlight the difference between willy and nagle
o Nagle says life is better than no life (even if it is super crappy)
o Willy is being more specific than nagle; whats good are the rewards, the things
that I find good the things that I want.
o It is not merely having any kind of experience, but being denied my desires
o This brings willy to a weird discussion
Is it true, however, that the satisfaction of any desire is conditional on my being alive to
satisfy that desire?
o Desires are conditional on being alive…but what about suicide? A rational
calculation of suicide: someone has a desire to commit this act which propels
them to do so,, and this does not operate on him being alive (p. 210)
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o Categorical desires (p. 210-211). This argument is to show that epicurus is wrong.
But willy says “whats gonna happen when you die?” youre gonna lose your
desires therefore death is bad and u should be afraid cause you wont get what u
o Is the satisfaction of a desire conditional on my being alive?
o What willy is trying to do is give us a proper description of what a desire
is…(think about what a philosopher is doing. You cant engage in any
philosophical debate until u know what ur talking about). My response on
Epicurus is based on desires; so what do you find in a desire?
o Most desires don’t hang from the assumption of ones existence.
o To categorical want something implies that the reason in have for bringing about
what I want is so that I can avoid the unpleasantness of not getting what I want
o If this wasn’t the case, we would have to say that every desire we have has
another desire to avoid not getting that desire, and that’s just absurd
There are a plurality of desires the fulfillment of which do not rest primarily on an
assumption that I will continue to exist.
o What willy is indicating here is that he doesn’t think, when u want something ur
not also thinking to urself “will I be alive to get that thing”. Ex. I want a chocolate
bar rn….this requires a series of steps (executing ur desire). You don’t have to
think/ ask urself “am I gonna be alive to get the chocolate?” so what willy is
trying to say here is that there are a plurality of desires which I don’t have to think
about whether or not I will be alive to fulfill that desire.
That’s because desires are not comprised of my fear that I will not be able to fulfill the
desire; they are objects that I want, but those wants are not accurately characterized by
reference to my fears that I won’t get what I want (e.g., by dying).
o Desires are according to willy made up of positive associations, steps I need to
take to fulfill desire; they are not constituted by a fear that I wont get the thing
that I want.
o Say I want snickers; it is not part of my desire to have a snickers that there is a
chance I wont be able to get a snickers; it is not built within my desire that I have
to consciously contemplate the fact my desire wont happen.
o The desire to be a grandparent might be a desire where fear of death and fear of
not fulfilling the desire is an exception
o Ryan: what distinguishes this desire is that it is not in Ryans moms control, which
is why fear can leak in?? THIS IS NOT MOST DESIRES
A ‘Categorical’ Desire: A feeling of what I want that is not made up of, or affected by,
the feeling of fear that I might not fulfill that want (specifically, the fear that you might
die before the desire can be fulfilled).
o A categorical desire has to me more than just the want to live…even having the
desire to have future desires is fine, but with just the desire to live, humanity
would wither away
o Don’t invoke or depend upon a consideration of the conditions that would thwart
the fulfillment of that desire, that would prevent that desire from being realized.
o Most of the time, you don’t think about what would get in the way of your desire,
you think about how to attain that desire.
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