Don't Fear the Reaper: An Epicurean Answer to Puzzles about Death and Injustice

In Kate Woodthorpe (ed.), Layers of Dying and Death. Oxford, UK: Inter-Disciplinary Press. pp. 117-127 (2007)
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I begin by sketching the Epicurean position on death - that it cannot be bad for the one who dies because she no longer exists - which has struck many people as specious. However, alternative views must specify who is wronged by death (the dead person?), what is the harm (suffering?), and when does the harm take place (before death, when you’re not dead yet, or after death, when you’re not around any more?). In the second section I outline the most sophisticated anti-Epicurean view, the deprivation account, according to which someone who dies is harmed to the extent that the death has deprived her of goods she would otherwise have had. In the third section I argue that deprivation accounts that use the philosophical tool of possible worlds have the counterintuitive implication that we are harmed in the actual world because counterfactual versions of us lead fantastic lives in other possible worlds. In the final section I outline a neo-Epicurean position that explains how one can be wronged by being killed without being harmed by death and how it is possible to defend intuitions about injustice without problematic appeal to possible worlds.



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Simon Cushing
University of Michigan - Flint

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Death.Thomas Nagel - 1970 - Noûs 4 (1):73-80.
The Misfortunes of the Dead.George Pitcher - 1984 - American Philosophical Quarterly 21 (2):183 - 188.
The evil of death.Harry S. Silverstein - 1980 - Journal of Philosophy 77 (7):401-424.
Death and the value of life.Jeff McMahan - 1988 - Ethics 99 (1):32-61.

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