Geoffrey Scarre
Copyright Date: 2007
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    What is death? How should the knowledge of our finitude affect the living of our lives and what are the virtues suitable to mortal beings? Does death destroy the meaningfulness of life or would life that never ended be eternally and absurdly tedious? Can death really be an evil if, after death, we no longer exist as subjects of goods or evils? How should we respond to the deaths of others and do we have any duties towards the dead? Geoffrey Scarre addresses these important questions and many others in his introduction to the philosophy of death. Drawing from a wide variety of philosophical and literary sources, Death offers a highly readable study of some of the major ethical and metaphysical riddles concerning death and dying. Scarre shows that, far from being a morbid subject, reflecting on death and its significance is an illuminating way of reflecting on life.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-9488-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Geoffrey Scarre
  4. 1 The nature of death
    (pp. 1-24)

    Death may seem to be a rather morbid subject for philosophical speculation. Why, after all, should the living concern themselves with a state that, by definition, they do not occupy? Death – the sickle-wielding reaper, the biblical king of terrors – has not yet arrived for any reader of these lines. In one of the most famous reflections on death, the Greek philosopher Epicurus reminds us that “so long as we exist, death is not with us; but when death comes, then we do not exist”. Epicurus concludes from this that death is of no concern to either the living...

  5. 2 Existential perspectives
    (pp. 25-46)

    This well-known parable prefigures a theme common in the literature of existentialism. According to a recent commentator on Heidegger: “we typically flee in the face of death. We regard death as something that happens primarily to others, whom we think of as simply more cases or instances of death, as if they were mere tokens of an essentially impersonal type” (Mulhall 2005: 130). And that appears to be just what the parable’s rich man does: he pretends that death does not concern him, ignoring the fact that it could arrive at any time without announcement.

    Existentialist writers lay particular stress...

  6. 3 Long lives, short lives
    (pp. 47-64)

    In one of hisDialogues of the Dead, the Greek satirist Lucian of Samosata presents a conversation in Hades between the Cynic philosopher Menippus and the centaur Chiron, who had voluntarily relinquished his immortality. What, asks Menippus, had made Chiron so fond of death, a thing that most people shun? Was it not very pleasant to be alive and to see the light of day? But Chiron retorts that you can have too much of a good thing:

    I consider pleasure to come from variety and change; but I was living on and on, and enjoying the same things –...

  7. 4 Facing death
    (pp. 65-84)

    In an article on death and the meaning of life, Kai Nielsen recounts a story about the Oxford philosopher J. L. Austin, who, when he was terminally ill with cancer, attended a talk on death given by the French existentialist philosopher Gabriel Marcel. Afterwards Austin is said to have remarked to the speaker, “Professor Marcel, we all know we have to die, but why do we have to sing songs about it?” (Nielsen 2000: 154).

    What contrasts does this vignette point up? Oxford phlegm versus Parisian passion? Perhaps. The sober and reticent English approach to philosophy in the mid-twentieth century...

  8. 5 The evil of death
    (pp. 85-110)

    In one of the most touching poems from A. E. Housman’s cycleA Shropshire Lad, a dead ploughboy poses plaintive questions to a living friend:

    Is my team ploughing,

    That I was used to drive

    And hear the harness jingle

    When I was man alive?

    Is football playing

    Along the river shore,

    With lads to chase the leather,

    Now I stand up no more?

    Is my girl happy,

    That I thought hard to leave,

    And has she tired of weeping

    As she lies down at eve?

    (A Shropshire Lad, inCollected Poems[1939: 42–3])

    The friend’s answers, given in...

  9. 6 The interests of the dead
    (pp. 111-128)

    Partridge’s stark rejection of posthumous interests rests on a simple argument: interests require an interest-bearer; after death there is no longer a subject to be a bearer of interests; therefore, there can be no interests after death. And because there are no interest-holders after death, neither, thinks Partridge, can the living have any responsibilities to the dead. To think that there are any such is to commit ourselves to the absurd judgement: “We owe X to P, and there is no P” (ibid.).

    In strong contrast to Partridge, Feinberg finds no conceptual strain in the notion of a posthumous interest:...

  10. 7 Dealing with the dead
    (pp. 129-150)

    It has become an ethical commonplace that we should always treat people as ends in themselves, and never merely as means (Kant 2002: §2). We satisfy Kant’s resounding principle in the case of living persons by regarding them as intrinsically valuable beings who may not be treated principally as sources of advantage to ourselves. Predatory or exploitative attitudes to others are incompatible with the respect that is properly owed to their humanity. It is true, of course, that none of us could prosper or even survive without a lot of assistance from other people. But Kant’s principle is not the...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 151-162)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 163-170)
  13. Index
    (pp. 171-176)