Think 12 (35):101-108 (2013)

In the final chapter of his book, The View from Nowhere , the American philosopher, Thomas Nagel, writes as follows about death: We do not regard the period before we were born in the same way we regard the prospect of death, yet most of the things that can be said about death are equally true of the former. Lucretius thought this showed that it was a mistake to regard death as an evil. But I believe it is an example of a more general future-past asymmetry... [Derek] Parfit has explored the asymmetry in connection with other values such as... pain. The fact that a pain is in prospect rather than in the past has a very great effect on our attitude toward it, and this effect cannot be regarded as irrational... [the former asymmetry] can't be accounted for in terms of some other difference between past and future nonexistence, any more than the asymmetry in the case of pain can be accounted for in terms of some other differences between past and future pains, which makes the latter worse than the former. Nagel is maintaining in this quote that it is rational for a person to view pains which he is apt to experience in the future in a manner different from the way in which he views pains which he has experienced in the past. Nagel is saying that it is rational for a person to think of his future pains as more undesirable than his past ones. And Nagel claims that there is a similar asymmetry between a rational person's attitude towards a past in which he did not exist and a time in the future when he will not exist. In Nagel's view, just as a rational person will think of pains which he will experience as more undesirable than pains which he had in the past, he will think of his not existing in the future as much more undesirable than his not having existed in the past
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DOI 10.1017/s1477175613000237
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The View From Nowhere.Thomas Nagel - 1986 - Behaviorism 15 (1):73-82.

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