This page features a collection of the best resources on the philosophy of death. Just to be clear, there is no single best resource on death. The best one will depend on your preferred learning style and the amount of time you want to spend learning about it.
To get started, simply choose one of the links below:
If you want a comprehensive overview of the idea of death:
- Read the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Death. However, you should keep in mind that the Stanford Encyclopedia in often quite technical and this article may be difficult for beginners. It’s also quite long at around 17,000 words. Here’s a short excerpt that introduces the idea of death:
“This article considers several questions concerning death and its ramifications.
First, what constitutes death? It is clear enough that people die when their lives end, but less clear what constitutes the ending of a person’s life.
Second, in what sense might death or posthumous events harm us? To answer this question, we will need to know what it is for something to be in our interests.
Third, what is the case for and the case against the harm thesis, the claim that death can harm the individual who dies, and the posthumous harm thesis, according to which events that occur after an individual dies can still harm that individual?
Fourth, how might we solve the timing puzzle? This puzzle is the problem of locating the time during which we incur harm for which death and posthumous events are responsible.
A fifth controversy concerns whether all deaths are misfortunes or only some. Of particular interest here is a dispute between Thomas Nagel, who says that death is always an evil, since continued life always makes good things accessible, and Bernard Williams, who argues that, while premature death is a misfortune, it is a good thing that we are not immortal, since we cannot continue to be who we are now and remain meaningfully attached to life forever.
A final controversy concerns whether or not the harmfulness of death can be reduced. It may be that, by adjusting our conception of our well-being, and by altering our attitudes, we can reduce or eliminate the threat death poses us. But there is a case to be made that such efforts backfire if taken to extremes. . . .”
If you’re looking for a somewhat shorter and more engaging introduction:
- Read Shelly Kagan’s article: Is Death Bad for You? [2500 words]
If you’d prefer a video introduction:
- Watch Wireless Philosophy’s animated video on the Symmetry Argument Against the Badness of Death [8:08 mins]
If you prefer audio and podcasts:
If you’d just like to casually browse a few quotes:
Unfortunately, there’s only so much you can learn by using free online resources. If you want to learn more, check out this list of the Best Books on Death
For more introductory philosophy resources and reading lists check out this collection of Resources and Reading Lists.