Nature and timing of the possible harm of death
Phillips, Rachel Elizabeth Rose
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This thesis offers an analysis of the possible harm of death, posing three questions: Who is the subject of the harm? What is the nature of the harm? And, when does the harm take place? Epicurus demonstrates on hedonistic grounds that given the irreversible annihilation of the subject and the impossibility of experience, death cannot harm the one who dies at any time. The experience condition is central to this claim, stating that experience is necessary for harm. Despite the strength of the Epicurean inspired No- Subject Thesis, it remains counter to pretheoretical intuitions regarding the harmfulness of death. This thesis proposes an alternative justification for the belief that death is harmful by extending the possible subjects of harm to include the bereaved. It is my view that the No-Subject Thesis successfully shows that death is not harmful to the one who dies, and in support of the Epicurean position, it will be defended against variations of Thomas Nagel’s antithetical position. Nagel’s view is motivated by the belief that death is bad because it deprives the deceased of some good he or she could have had, had death taken place at a later time. Criticisms of the Deprivation Thesis relate to the effectiveness of counterexamples to the experience condition, and the challenge of the temporal location problem, given that we will assume, along with Epicurus, that death annihilates the subject. However, this thesis argues that it is a restricted understanding of the possible subjects of harm that causes the counter-intuitive conclusion of the No-Subject Thesis. By extending the possible bearers of harm to include the bereaved, and characterising the nature of the harm as the loss experienced by the bereaved, one can posit an unproblematic account of the nature and subject of the harm of death. Indeed, by identifying a living person as the subject of harm, the experience condition can be satisfied. Furthermore, a clearly delineated temporal location of the harm can be identified insofar as the bereaved are harmed from the time at which he or she learns of the death of the loved other. However, it will be argued that the harm diminishes over time, reflecting the experience of the bereaved that he or she can recover after the loss of the beloved. A defence of this position will be offered, responding to the Epicurean claim that the death of a loved other does not constitute a significant loss in virtue of the belief that individual subjects are replaceable. By extending the scope of the possible harm of death to account for the social context within which death occurs, one can retain the logical strength of the Epicurean inspired No-Subject Thesis, and yet justify the intuition that death remains a bad thing for the bereaved, giving rational grounds for fearing death in terms of social deprivation.