The Evil of Death - What Can Metaphysics Contribute
Sider (Ted)
Source: Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Death; ed. Ben Bradley, Fred Feldman, and Jens Johansson (OUP, 2015), pp. 155-167
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. Will a clear view of what death is help us decide whether it is bad? Not necessarily. The discovery that death = X might instead affect our appraisal of X, leaving our appraisal of death untouched.
  2. Learning which quantum theory1 correctly describes human bodies would not affect anyone’s attitude toward his or her loved ones. On the other hand, a child’s discovery of the nature of meat (or an adult’s discovery of the nature of soylent green2) can have a great effect. In still other cases, it is hard to say how one would, or should, react to new information about the underlying nature of what we value — think of how mixed our reactions are to evidence of cultural determinism or atheism, or of how mixed our reactions would be to learning that we all live in the Matrix. (Maybe there is no objective fact about how we should react. Derek Parfit’s3 (1984, section 95) fear of death diminished when he became convinced of certain theses about the metaphysics of personal identity. Perhaps there is no objective fact of the matter as to whether this was rational; perhaps it was rational for him but would not be for others.)
  3. What can metaphysics contribute to the question of the evil of death? It cannot, on its own, settle the question, since there is no simple rule telling us how to adjust value in light of new information about underlying nature. Given a clear view of the nature of death, there will remain the question of its disvalue. However, metaphysics can help us attain this clear view. Moreover, a clear conception of what metaphysical positions do and don’t say, and a clear conception of how metaphysics works in general, can remove impediments to a rational appraisal of the evil of death.

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In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 2: The food substitute from the eponymous film – see Wikipedia: Soylent Green,Wikipedia: Soylent etc.


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