Why Is Death Bad?

Shelly Kagan considers: why is death bad?:

Maybe … death is bad for me in the comparative sense, because when I’m dead I lack life—more particularly, the good things in life. … Yet if death is bad for me, when is it bad for me? Not now. I’m not dead now. What about when I’m dead? But then, I won’t exist. … Isn’t it true that something can be bad for you only if you exist? Call this idea the existence requirement. …

Rejecting the existence requirement has some implications that are hard to swallow. For if nonexistence can be bad for somebody even though that person doesn’t exist, then nonexistence could be bad for somebody who never exists. … Let’s call him Larry. Now, how many of us feel sorry for Larry? Probably nobody. But if we give up on the existence requirement, we no longer have any grounds for withholding our sympathy from Larry. I’ve got it bad. I’m going to die. But Larry’s got it worse: He never gets any life at all.

Moreover, there are a lot of merely possible people. How many? … You end up with more possible people than there are particles in the known universe, and almost none of those people get to be born. If we are not prepared to say that that’s a moral tragedy of unspeakable proportions, we could avoid this conclusion by going back to the existence requirement. …

If I accept the existence requirement, death isn’t bad for me, which is really rather hard to believe. Alternatively, I can keep the claim that death is bad for me by giving up the existence requirement. But then I’ve got to say that it is a tragedy that Larry and the other untold billion billion billions are never born. And that seems just as unacceptable. (more)

Imagine a couple had been looking forward to raising a child with their combined genetic features, but then discovered that one of them was infertile. In this case they might mourn the loss of a hoped-for child who would in fact never exist. Not just the loss to themselves, but the loss to the child itself. And their friends might mourn with them.

But since this is a pretty unusual situation, we humans have not evolved much in the way of emotional habits and capacities to deal specifically with it. Our emotional habits are focused on the kinds of losses which people around us more commonly suffer and complain. So naturally we aren’t in the habit of taking time out to mourn the loss of a specific Larry. But there are lots of people far from us whose losses we don’t mourn. That hardly means such losses don’t exist.

It seems to me Kagan’s attitude above amounts to insisting that is impossible to imagine a vastly better state (of the universe) than our own. After all, if a vastly better state that ours is “possible”, then the fact that our actual state is not that possible state is a terrible “tragedy”, which he will just not allow.

But if possible states can vary greatly in the amount of good they would embody, then it is almost certain that the good of our actual state holds far less than the maximum good state. This only seems to me a “tragedy”, however, if we could have done something specific to achieve that much better state.

If we can’t see what we could do to allow substantially more creatures to exist, then it isn’t a tragedy that they don’t exist. It is a loss relative to an ideal world where they could exist, but it isn’t a tragedy not to know to create implausibly ideal worlds.

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  • http://www.andreasmoser.wordpress.com Andreas Moser

    For these reasons, and a few more, suicide is not so bad either: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/world-suicide-prevention-day-on-10-september/

  • Robert Koslover

    The unnecessary killing of Archimedes in 212 BC quite probably left the world in a state that is vastly worse than it could have been. It remains a tragedy to this day. And we should probably still mourn that loss to humanity.

  • Marky Mark

    actually the catholic church follows the rejection of the existence requirement quite seriously. its one very big side of the debate over contraception, and why they encourage having such large families.

  • http://www.philosophyetc.net Richard Yetter Chappell

    Not just the loss to themselves, but the loss to the child itself.

    Eek, that sounds pretty incoherent to me. (Note that ‘the child’ has no referent. Even if possible people “exist” in some weak sense — as abstract objects or the like — there’s no determinate possible person who would have been “the child”; there are any number of possible children that the couple might have had.)

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      When I refer to you I’m uncertain to what exactly I’m referring – there are lots of possible creatures consistent with what I know about you. Yet it is still coherent to talk about you. Why is it different for a child that was’t born? Perhaps the set of possible children is a larger set, but isn’t that just a difference of degree?

      • http://www.philosophyetc.net Richard Yetter Chappell

        There is, in fact, a particular (determinate) person who wrote the above comment to which you replied, and hence you are able to refer to him. There (plausibly) isn’t a particular possible person who is determinately “the” child an infertile couple would have had. That was my point about there being any number of possible children.

        But arguably the more important point (expanded upon in my linked post on ‘reifying possibilia’) is that even if we offer a genuine definite description, e.g. “the child that would have resulted from the fertilization of *this* particular egg with *that* particular sperm, there isn’t actually any entity there to be harmed, or even for us to refer to (“de re” rather than “de dicto”, as philosophers of language say). We can describe an alternative state of the world, containing more flourishing people, and lament that our world isn’t in that wonderful state, even because we want there to be more flourishing. But we can’t coherently lament it for the sake of the flourishing people that don’t actually exist.

        (It would, for example, make little sense to feel “torn” between that flourishing possible world-state or another qualitatively similar possibility that contained different-but-equally-flourishing people, the way that it makes sense to feel torn about trade-offs between actual people.)

      • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

        I don’t see why one can’t properly name and refer to counterfactual things.

  • George

    Death is bad because it is an illness which can and will be avoided in the near future. SENS Foundation in Palo Alto is committed to this agenda.

    • John

      In other news, tanzanian shamans have been commited to summoning good and evil spirits for hundreds of years. How did that turn out?

      Also, death is not a disease. A disease is a deviation from the common health standard and the common health standard for humans never was immortality. And it will never be, because whatever being pesky transhumanists make immortal will certainly not be a human – and this is all that matters.

      • Sigivald

        And it will never be, because whatever being pesky transhumanists make immortal will certainly not be a human – and this is all that matters.

        Why not?

        The answer I infer – “because humans have to die/be mortal” – is not a compelling answer – the rest of us will quite happily consider “human in every way except mortality” to be Plenty Human Enough.

        And if it’s not that answer, what is the answer?

        I’m not on the transhumanist rah-rah bandwagon, but the “whatever they make immortal won’t be human” argument looks like pretty weak sauce.

        (Heck, how about if they only manage to extend normal human life to a few hundred years, with radically slower or essentially stopped aging?

        That’s a deviation from the common health standard, but at the same time, aging acts like a disease in practical terms.

        For that matter, this whole “not dying in job lots from plagues and malnutrition and the like” is arguably a deviation from the common health standard of historical mankind…)

      • John

        “Every other way except mortality” implies significant changes in human biology.

        Besides, what “the rest of us” (whoever ‘us’ is) consider human is irrelevant. There is a clear biological taxonomy and beings with cyber bodies do not fall in it.

      • George

        Thank you for your comment Sir.

        The definition of the word illness changes day by day. The consequence of illnesses is often death.
        Just look at the ICD-10. ICD-11 is due 2015. A lot will change. A whole lot.
        So if there was an affordable product, that would make you age slower (without significant side effects), would you want to buy it? Would anyone not want to buy it? I don’t see anyone not wanting to buy it. The market is the whole world, every human being. Who would not want to enter this market? Name one company who would not want to.

      • George

        PS:

        http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120514204050.htm

        As Blasco says, “aging is not currently regarded as a disease, but researchers tend increasingly to view it as the common origin of conditions like insulin resistance or cardiovascular disease, whose incidence rises with age. In treating cell aging, we could prevent these diseases.”

  • wophugus

    I agree with you. In general I think the language of moral philosophy breaks down when you stop judging whether decisions and actions are moral or desirable and start judging whether states of the world are moral or desirable.

    I’d add that this seems, to me, like sort of the same thought experiment as the mere addition paradox, since a world where you are adding more and more people with lives worth living is how you would try to resolve the “tragedy” of quadrillions of possible people not being born. Only it goes beyond the paradox, because if you keep adding all the trillions and trillions of possible lives you’ll reach a point pretty quickly where no one’s life is worth living, or even sustainable. No great tragedy in missing that.

  • Scott H.

    This gets back to the “children are good” argument you were making sometime back. My point back then was that life is good; and, ergo, existence is good. It is better to exist than not to exist — especially if you already exist.

    • Dremora

      No, it’s not. It is not good for me to exist. I would prefer to not exist.

      • http://theviewfromhell.blogspot.com Sister Y

        If we conveniently define that as a cry for help, we can ignore its implications.

      • Sigivald

        Revealed preference suggests you are not accurately describing that.

        (Talk is cheap, in other words, and you’re still existing.)

      • Dremora

        Right Sigivald, because we can just wish ourself out of existence… oh wait – we can’t.

        It’s funny how the best suicide methods are outlawed, failed suicides are forcibly committed to “mental health” facilities, and then people like you talk about “revealed preference”.

        The only revealed preference you have from me is that I have not yet successfully used the painful and unreliable do-it-yourself methods I have at my disposal.

      • http://theviewfromhell.blogspot.com Sister Y

        Cheery, pro-life folks like Bryan Caplan like to trot out the allegation that suicide is “incredibly rare” (and easy) to support a revealed-preference interpretation of life’s awesomeness.

        However, faced with copious evidence of people NOT in fact treating life as valuable and awesome, they want to special-plead irrationality.

      • Anonymous

        To be fair, it’s true, he can’t stop existing. Dremora just go back to Oblivion when they die.

  • http://suitdummy.blogspot.com Ely

    I wrote on a related idea back in April in a post called C.S. Lewis Would Abort. I think people use the no-existence-does-imply-suffering argument all the time when they proselytize about the evils of abortion or try to enact abortion restricting legislation.

  • http://eradica.wordpress.com Firepower

    Death as “losing existence” is only bad if one believes in the existence of a vengeful, judgmental god and its minefield afterlife.

    • Sigivald

      Or if one values continued experience, viewing life itself as a boon.

      (If one believes in such a deity and afterlife, one views death as bad not because it is “losing existence” – indeed, it is not so in that view, since one continues to exist! – but because it’s the gateway to a permanent existence with the peril of judgment, no?)

      • William B Swift

        Not really, because if you are dead, and there is no afterlife, then you have no values since you don’t exist. As I mentioned in a comment on LW a month or so ago, “death is the one thing you can be sure won’t regret.”

  • arch1

    I think the “bad for me” language doesn’t add much except confusion.

    The important observation is that, under certain non-suckiness assumptions*, a universe with n intelligent beings is better than one with n-1 such beings.

    *Something like: The environment is not so irremediably bad that existence is of nonpositive subjective value, and intelligent beings themselves are not so bad that their effect on other intelligent beings is nonpositive.

  • Kirch

    Death is the ONLY teacher in evolution.

    It has clear practical benefits to all species here. Future generations count as “somebody”.

    For contemporary humans — Relax… you’ve got billions of years of personal experience with non-existence… preceding your conception/birth. You’ll just be returning to the cosmic carefree status quo, after a very brief work-release program here.

    • Cyan

      [Evolution, and by extension death, have] clear practical benefits…

      I don’t care about the inclusive fitness of my alleles; I care about eudaimonia.

      • John

        Why should anyone care about what you care about? Why is your subjective well-being more important than ensuring the natural evolution of humanity proceeds WITHOUT interference (no technoglogical enhancements allowed)?

      • Chris

        Why is your subjective well-being more important than ensuring the natural evolution of humanity proceeds WITHOUT interference (no technoglogical enhancements allowed)?

        Why the converse? I don’t give a rip about whether or not the “natural evolution of humanity proceeds”, nor can I imagine why anyone would. Just because some people attach bizarre teleological importance to evolution as a substitute for religion is no reason I have to. And if natural evolution has led to the development of creatures who can willfully influence the course of evolution to promote well-being as I, and presumably Cyan, want to do, then who are you to claim that’s unnatural?

      • Dremora

        Why should anyone care about what you care about?

        There’s two reasons, an ethical one and a practical one. The ethical one centers on emotions of empathy and its cognitive representations; we have evolved psychological subsystems that care about what others care about, e.g. mirror neurons.

        The practical one centers on the fact that, even while might makes right, we’re playing a gigantic game with over 7 billion players who understand that they affect each other. All of these players have some might, so you are forced to care what they care about in aggregate.

      • John

        “Why the converse?”

        For starters, because apriori logic says that it always is novelty that requires justification, not the status quo. The status quo is default. I find it surpirisngly entertaining that you put you emotions (what you and other transhumanists care about) as justification for your views. I, a bioconservative, can just as easily put my emotions and feelings as a justification for my views and this arguments will be at least as valid as yours.

        “And if natural evolution has led to the development of creatures who can willfully influence the course of evolution to promote well-being as I, and presumably Cyan, want to do, then who are you to claim that’s unnatural?”

        For starters, because the word ‘natural’ has a clear meaning and it has nothing to do with ‘promoting well-being via technology’. But, after all, transhumanism is all about redefining clear concepts until they are totally meaningless, so I guess that is lost on you. How about an analogy: if a system of protecting property rights leads to the establishment of social relations that promote violation of property rights, then does that system protect property rights? If a situation in which an evolved natural organizm uses technology to alter its nature, how can the result of that modification be natural when the whole purpose of introducing technology in the equation is to get nature OUT of the way?

        “The ethical one centers on emotions of empathy and its cognitive representations; we have evolved psychological subsystems that care about what others care about, e.g. mirror neurons.”

        That is a rather shallow and stupid attempt to derive ‘ought’ from an ‘is’. Read Hume and comment afterwards.

        “The practical one centers on the fact that, even while might makes right, we’re playing a gigantic game with over 7 billion players who understand that they affect each other. All of these players have some might, so you are forced to care what they care about in aggregate.”

        On the contrary, I am forced to care about what they care about, only if that fact does not lower my chances of survival relative to a situation in which I do everything possible to enforce my views that I deem crucial for my survival and continuing existance. Since I do not see any way in which transhumanism does not imply the doom of biological humans, I am rather forced to do anything within my reach to prevent what I deem wrong from happening.

      • Chris

        because the word ‘natural’ has a clear meaning and it has nothing to do with ‘promoting well-being via technology’.

        For some odd reason, you think the random interactions of matter and energy filtered through genetics and survival is somehow of a different order than the random interactions of matter and energy which are affected by a conscious mind which is made of matter and energy. Why you have this belief I do not know, there’s not the slightest justification for it in reality.

      • John

        Why, oh, why am I not surprised to hear again transhumanist attempts at physical reductionism?

        Let’s revisit, shall we? The word ‘natural’ has a clearly defined meaning in human language. That meaning does not include technology. Technology is not natural. And the reason for this is not social consensus (although social consensus is clearly on the side that technology is not natural – I dare you to find a crowd of non-geeks in which more than 10% think technological development is natural). The reason is that in the system of symbolic representation that is human (in this case, English) language, and that, non-coincidentally, is a product of nature, the string “natural” has evolved to mean something that is not a product of human design. You may not like it, but these are the facts.

        And this distinctions is why “random interactions of matter and energy filtered through genetics and survival is somehow of a different order than the random interactions of matter and energy which are affected by a conscious mind”. The fact that something is made of matter and something else is made of matter also is totally irrelevant to the ranking order in which anyone should put them based on criteria other than crude structure.

        If you really think that crude structure is the only criterion on which a person should base his value judgements, then I again will express my condescension towards the intellectual abilities of transhumanists – a group of people that is apparently totally oblivious to the simple fact that you cannot base your morals and the course of your actions on aposteriori truth statements alone.

      • Dremora

        That is a rather shallow and stupid attempt to derive ‘ought’ from an ‘is’. Read Hume and comment afterwards.

        You don’t get to give me orders what to read and not to read, especially after you called me stupid and shallow. The psychological reality of empathy creates an ought in people’s minds (e.g. the feeling that this person ought not to be in pain). It does not create an ought from is for a person who does not feel empathy, such as a sociopath or maybe you. I have not claimed the converse, so you can cut the crap right now and leave the insults out.

      • Cyan

        That is a rather shallow and stupid attempt to derive ‘ought’ from an ‘is’.

        …says the one making the appeal to nature.

        I hold that allegiance to evolution is allegiance to senseless waste and untold suffering. Fuck that.

      • John

        If you have actually read what I wrote, you would have seen that I do not make explicit appeal to nature (you just assume that all bioconservatives do). What I did was ask you why utility should be considered more important than nature – something you did not (and could not) justify with sensible arguments. There goes in the bucket the notion that transhumanists are capable of reading comprehension/

        “I hold that allegiance to evolution is allegiance to senseless waste and untold suffering.”

        And, this is true, of course, only if you are an utilitarian. But utilitarianism is not an objectively necessary moral philosophy so your argument is invalid.

      • Cyan

        An appeal to nature in the subtext is still an appeal to nature.

        Invalid argument“? Feel free to quote me asserting a conclusion not entailed by my premises.

      • John

        “An appeal to nature in the subtext is still an appeal to nature.”

        There is no appeal to nature anywhere. Again, you assume that the conclusion we bioconservatives reach (that we should stick to nature) is our premise. It is not. It will be good if you actually familiarize with the arguments of your opponents if you do not want to sound like the morons from a randomly chosen Critical Race Studies programme.

        “Feel free to quote me asserting a conclusion not entailed by my premises.”

        Right away.
        “I hold that allegiance to evolution is allegiance to senseless waste and untold suffering. ”

        Adjectives used imply a strong utilitarian position. If it is your conclusion, then it does not follow from any argument you have made (actually, it does not follow from any argument that can be made). If it is your premise, then you are just asserting as a premise something that is not apriori true and thus cannot be a premise in such an argument(every value judgement requires both apriori validity and empirical justification – you have provided none).

      • Cyan

        You’re attempting to criticize the soundness argument you think I’m making, not the validity. It might be a good idea to learn the technical meaning of such terms before sneering about others’ reading comprehension.

        (In fact, I’ve made and will make no argument, so it’s impossible that I’ve made an invalid or unsound one. I’m simply saying: fuck you and the horse you rode in on.)

  • Captain Oblivious

    The state called dead isn’t necessarily bad – but getting old sucks, and the process of dying is rather unappealing.

  • http://www.ninebandedbooks.com/ Chip Smith

    But if possible states can vary greatly in the amount of good they would embody, then it is almost certain that the good of our actual state holds far less than the maximum good state. This only seems to me a “tragedy”, however, if we could have done something specific to achieve that much better state.

    If the absence of pain is posited as “good,” then this is antinatalism in a nutshell. I know you oppose the conclusion — based on, among other things, your assertion that morality should exist — but every being who is not summoned to life is a being, however hypothetical, who will experience zero pain, including the pain of deprived pleasure. Jim Crawford calls this “negative bliss,” and my view is that it is the obvious “better state.”

  • candy

    Even if we optimized the world to have the most inhabitants that it could, it wouldn’t really decrease the number of possible people who don’t get to exist. Larry cannot be saved, I’m afraid.

  • richard silliker

    Larry is fine.

  • Eadwacer

    A: “Life is full of pain and sorrow. It would be better not to be born at all.”
    B: “Yes, but how many people are that lucky?”

    • William B Swift

      There are a LOT more people that could have been born and weren’t than have actually been born.

  • Dremora

    I reject the existence requirement.

    I also reject that death is bad, and that not being born is bad.

    Only unpleasantness is bad. Pleasantness is good, but it is not clear that it can make up for the unpleasantness, since they are de-localized relative to each other.

  • Daniel

    It’s just opportunity cost.

    Death isn’t bad; it’s just that there isn’t good. You aren’t being hurt by your nonexistence; you’re just not being helped. There is opportunity cost when you’re dead, but opportunity cost isn’t real. It’s just there to help with calculations.

    The fact that a huge number of happy people don’t exist isn’t a tragedy. It’s not bad it all. It’s just that it would be a whole lot better if they did exist. There is a big difference between opportunity cost and actual cost.

    Also, if you think that non-existence must have zero opportunity cost compared to any given existence, this results in a much, much worse paradox:

    Given universe A, B, and NULL, where universe NULL is empty, A has zero opportunity cost compared to NULL, and NULL has zero opportunity cost compared to B, therefore A has zero opportunity cost compared to B. In other words, A and B are equally good, regardless of what they are.

  • http://bur.sk/ Viliam Búr

    If we follow the logic of the article, what is wrong about unexpected (instant, painless) murder? While the person is not expecting anything, there is no harm to them, right? And when the person is already murdered, then by the existence requirement, no harm again, right? But in a society where unexpected murder is legal and kind of frequent, people would feel and behave differently than now.

    Daniel’s explanation about opportunity costs seems most reasonable. Dead people feel no harm, but the opportunity of good experiences was lost to the people who have lived.

  • Mark M

    We mourn death, but in order to have death you must first have life.

    Of course, we also mourn other things.

    For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’

    – John Greenleaf Whittier

    • William B Swift

      I think that “It was, but now isn’t, and I miss it” is sadder. Largely because I think most people’s “might have beens” couldn’t really have been.

  • kirk

    There are two state changes: not alive to alive and alive to not alive. The information density of these two state changes is markedly different. Not alive to alive represents the construction of a dissipative structure far from thermodynamic equilibrium. For Homo Sapiens this dissipative structure supports emergent intelligence in addition to mere existence. As Sartre notes, existence precedes essence. Intelligence creates information. That is worth something — the creation of robust information emerges from existence. If that was worthless… why did you take the time to read this?

  • Dave

    It is always put in terms of pain or not pain. What about pure neutral awareness? This seems mundane,but think about it. There is usually some external or internal flavor to the moment. But so seldom does it happen that it is unforgettable. You have to be alone outdoors.

    For example I went to an island with some people.In those days most moments were a little troublesome. This desert island was not beautiful and left alone there one would die. I took a walk down a sand path and was entirely alone,perfectly alert and felt nothing. The only thing I knew was that I was alive.

  • Brandon Reinhart

    I’ve mentioned this before here, but it does seem like a straightforward tragedy that, according to Cirkovic in “Applied Cosmology”:

    “The quantity of information lost per 100 years of delay in starting the colonization is astonishing by any standard. For a conservative estimate of q = 0.1, and using Dyson’s (1979) estimate of complexity—be it program-size complexity of Chaitin or any similar measure—of an average present-day human being ≈1023 h Q bits (a quantity which is likely to grow in future,
    especially in the hypothetical posthuman stage of our evolution, but which is still a useful benchmark), the number of potentially viable human lifetimes lost per 100 years of postponing the onset of galactic colonization is simply (if we assume that the luminosity fraction in the equation above is unity, which is probably an underestimate by a factor of a few)

    ~ 5×10^46″

    This seems like we existing in a strictly worse state than can be conceived.

  • Anthony Parisi

    It strikes me that this answer is decidedly non-quantitative. It seems to be taking “Good/Bad” as a distinct quality that Life has and Death doesn’t.

    But that isn’t quite right. Life has *experiences* which can be good or bad, Death doesn’t have experiences at all. (as far as we can tell)

    But if I made a tally-sheet of Good/Bad experiences, I not only currently estimate a positive value, but I project a general increase: for me, life has been good and I suspect it will get better. And a lot of Bad experiences can be overcome or learned from or a new innovation will eliminate that experience in the future. I don’t think it is optimistic to say that “Life generally gets better”: I think it is realistic.

    Comparing that, a positive value with a positive upward trend, to non-existence is silly. Death is bad in this because I wouldn’t be there to experience all of the good things: if there is ice cream somewhere else (and I am not doing something at least as fulfilling as eating ice cream) then I am missing out and should be eating ice cream.

    Once I am dead I won’t care about whether or not I had a positive upward trend, but that doesn’t matter because I am not dead yet. I care now. So I want to continue a positive upward trend. I don’t want a zero. So to me, now, death is bad. That it would cease to be bad if I was dead is not the question being considered: I care very little about what my dead-self’s opinions about my death are.

    If I really believed that my tally sheet was negative and would have a negative downward trend (or zero with a negative, or a stable zero) and that this was the future whether I railed against it or not… then yes, death would be welcome. But that doesn’t look like the world we live in, at least from where I am sitting.

  • Becky Hargrove

    Not so long ago, when I was really mad at the world and would have been glad to leave, I even said that I didn’t care what happened here when I was gone. Am back to my usual self in that, should I die tonight, I would want to look back at the earth to see if it does better than it did, while I was here.

  • http://www.givingglady.com Julia Wise

    Am I missing it, or has no one really mentioned that death is mostly painful for the people who are still alive and missing you? Death (assuming anyone cares about you) creates very definite suffering. But it’s not the dead who suffer.

  • Strange_Person

    If one death in 77 is a suicide, and we assume for simplicity’s sake that the various confounding effects cancel each other out, that means life overall has a 98.7% satisfaction rate. If some government program had 98.7% approval from participants, nobody would dare mess with it.

  • SomeGuy

    Death is bad because I don’t want to die, not because of an intrinsic property of death. Someone who doesn’t exist doesn’t exist and therefore cannot not want to die and so his nonexistence isn’t a bad thing. It’s bad to die if you don’t want to die. Sometimes, keeping someone who wants to die is better because that person will agree with you in the future and be happy, but death isn’t bad in itself.

    I really don’t like the kind of argument where you say “if you accept this, you must concede that this crazy thing is true, but if you reject it, you must accept that this other crazy thing is true”. More often than not, the problem is that you’re making an incorrect assumption somewhere, not that the world really is problematic.

    • Dremora

      Sometimes, keeping someone who wants to die is better because that person will agree with you in the future and be happy

      This contradicts your first claim, that death is bad because you don’t want to die. Maybe sometime in the future you will regret that you didn’t die so according to the above logic, killing someone who doesn’t want to die is good.

      Furthermore, whenever you are asleep, you don’t not want to die, just like a non-existent person. This would imply it’s ok to kill you in your sleep.

  • Rob

    I wonder if Kagan remains against murder.

  • johnsmith

    You can’t compare existence to nonexistence or evaluation to nonevaluation because there is no basis for comparison. People often use shallow analogies to express their idea that there is something death “feels” like, such as sleeping or being anesthetized. Those are totally without justification. Does death really feel like “nothing”? How do we know what “nothing” feels like in the first place? It’s just blatant projection, if you really think about it it’s impossible to comprehend and internalize the idea of nonexistence without actually not existing. Knowledge comes from experience and none of us are Zombie Jesus so we have no basis for really saying that the “experience” of being dead is worse than the experience of being alive.

    There’s no real reason to prefer one end state or the other. However, I inherently value life more because that’s the way I’m neurologically wired, which is the tie breaker. I also expect that the process of dying would be in itself unpleasant in almost all cases. So I do my best to avoid it.

  • gRR

    1. Death is not bad for the dead person, but
    2. Death in the future – the knowledge of it – affects live person’s current state. Usually badly, although sometimes beneficially.
    3. Anyone’s death, future or current, is always bad for their loved ones.

    ==> On average, death is bad.

  • Eric Falkenstein

    Every life is an experiment in a giant genetic algorithm. To the extent we extinguish without a trace our experiment was a failure. If we think we haven’t left anything behind, and have some kind of potential legacy within us, we feel sad, like we failed or were rejected by life. Thus non-beings are not sad, nor are we sad for them, because they weren’t judged, so didn’t fail.

  • lightreadingguide

    Sons and daughters of Abraham. or anyone else, can easily be created (but not by me) from the rocks on the side of the road. Do you think your pet can have eternal life? Either you can do that for your pet or you can’t. If you can’t, then maybe an angel can take your pet to heaven with it. Think of the multiple trillions of insects. Are they outnumered by angels? If there is less than one moth per angel,, then a moth meeting with an angel could easily participate in eternity. Why couldn’t an angel bring a moth it had communicated with into its eternal world? If there is more than one moth per angel, but there were angels who really enjoyed the company of moths, something less than eternity would suffice to rescue all the moths. Ditto for the potential children of Abraham, or of everyone else, who you have so kindly considered in this post.

  • J O

    I think Kagan’s argument is like saying there is nothing wrong with my computer monitor breaking because once the function is lost, the function…is lost and so isn’t there to matter any more.  Though in this example I am here to experience the loss, but in the sense of the function itself either existing or not existing, I think it’s the same.

    The reason it matters is because sentient beings value it.  If the monitor’s function had value, then it’s bad for the sentient beings.  I don’t see how replacing monitor’s function with brain/body’s function would change this in any fundamental way.  Why, just because I won’t be able to value it any more? That’s specifically the reason why it’s bad, not a reason why it therefore doesn’t affect us.

    As Hanson points out, mourning not yet existing people is not much different from me mourning the fact that I don’t have 10 computer monitors, or a massive wall-sized monitor with a supercomputer powering it to run Skyrim at a gazillion resolution on my private blimp/casino.

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