What Is Death?

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Death, what the 16th century philosopher Frances Bacon called, ‘the least of all evils’. A subject which has provoked thousands of reflections which live on: How has the perception, dread or even desire for our own endings shaped the development of the culture of Europe and the West, from funeral rituals to Gothic novels, to the Aids fiction and fact of today. From the celebration of the passage of a soul to the grief of the loss of a body. And how have different eras addressed the essential existential problems that death presents us with?

Listen to the In Our Time episode on Death

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

We all believe that death is bad. But why is death bad?

In thinking about this question, I am simply going to assume that the death of my body is the end of my existence as a person. (If you don't believe me, read the first nine chapters of my book.) But if death is my end, how can it be bad for me to die? After all, once I'm dead, I don't exist. If I don't exist, how can being dead be bad for me?...

Continue reading Shelly Kagan's article: Is Death Bad for You?

Further Reading

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...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Death by Steven Luper 

Bonus Webcomic

Related Topics

If you’re interested in the philosophy of death, check out some of the following related topics for more resources:

Euthanasia | Existence | Immortality | Personal Identity | The Self | The Soul

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