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If by my death I could save another's life (like falling on a grenade) do I have

If by my death I could save another's life (like falling on a grenade) do I have a moral obligation to do so? Are there circumstances when this might or might not be true? Are their schools of philosophy or specific works that address this question?

One can perhaps imagine circumstances in which it made ethical sense that someone should sacrifice their own life for that of another person. For instance, one might sacrifice oneself to save one's child. We might feel such an act is an especially good act, a 'supererogatory' act i.e. something above the call of duty. But the idea that one might have an OBLIGATION to sacrifice one's own life for another is a much stronger idea. I doubt there is anything much in Kant's moral philosophy - a moral theory that organizes all acts of moral worth as done out of a motive of duty - to entail the duty to sacrifice one's own life for that of another, but a moral theory that surely does speak to this idea is consequentialism. Basic forms of consequentialism say that the rightness or wrongness of an action consists exclusively in the goodness or badness of its consequences (so motive is irrelevant). Now this tends to generate a standing obligation to maximize the good (however conceived - human happiness, preference satisfaction...), and that standing obligation would entail a moral obligation to sacrifice one's own life WHENEVER doing so would cause less human pain/unhappiness/preference frustration etc. than not doing so.

Your question thereby throws up two of the cardinal problems with consequentialist moral theory:

1) it is too demanding (the standing obligation to maximize the general happiness/preference-satisfaction etc) is too burdonesome and doesn't leave enough room in life for other values and projects

2) we're not generally in a position to judge which of two prospective actions that present themselves (throwing oneself on the grenade or not) is the better maximizing strategy.

Both of these criticisms inspire 'rule' or 'indirect' consequentialism: the form of consequentialism that says our standing moral obligation is not to maximize the good with every action, but rather to adhere to a set of rules or practices which, taken overall, constitute the best collective maximizing strategy.



The main reason we could give to deny the existence of life after death is that we have no good evidence for its existence. The question of when an absence of evidence for the existence of something is a (good) reason to deny its existence is complicated. But consider the existence of the Easter Bunny, or of an undetectable pink elephant in your bedroom.

Many people tell about strange experiences in connection with death. Why do SO

Many people tell about strange experiences in connection with death. Why do SO many FEAR that there will be nothing after death and in consequence even invent some "soothing" stories?! How can one handle the fear of there being actually something (whatever) after death? What if your strongest feeling is fear of your life never really ending??! Is there an intellectual answer for that? (Sorry for my English: I'm Swiss.)

Epicureans thought that the fear of death was something irrational that we'd be better of without and that once we understood how the natural universe operates we'd largely become free from. Along the lines of Epicurean thought, David Hume is said to have remarked along these lines when someone asked whether or not he feared his apprpoaching death (paraphrasing): "No more so than I regret not having been born earlier." Why fear not existing or nothingness? One might be sad or angry about being taken from one's projects, but why be afraid? Rather than soothing us, Epicureans thought that religious stories about the afterlife disturb people.

For myself, I have found some peace in Epicurean reflections. But I suspect it that Jyl Gentzler is onto something in her evollutionary-biological explanation. Then, of course, much of what people fear isn't so much being dead as the process of dying. Existentialists have also suggested that what many call the fear of death is actually anxiety in the face of death, an anxiety produced when the consciousness of death snaps us out of our everyday immersions and makes us see in crystaline clarity that our lives are finite and composed by nothing more than our utterly free choices.


Hello. I don't know if this is too vague or even if it is a philosophical question or not, but here goes. I am fourteen. In my english class today, we had a discussion about one thing or another and the question was raised, "Do you fear 'getting old'?" A great majority of classmates said that they did. I thought that it was going to happen anyway, so why fear it. Is it irrational to fear aging? Thanks.

A belief can be irrational, if you don't have a good reason for it. Can a fear be irrational? It seems so, if it based on an irrational belief. Thus to be afraid of ghosts is irrational. But I think you are asking whether it is irrational to fear something which, though based on a perfectly rational belief, is just something you can't do anything about. And here I am less sure that we should say that the fear is irrational. Impractical, perhaps, but irrational?

Maybe it is helpful to compare this to something good that you can't do anything about. Suppose you know that, whatever you do, your parents are going to get you something you really want. Is it irrational to look forward to that? It seems not. But if it is not irrational to look forward to something good you can't do anything about, then why is it irrational to fear something bad that you can't do anything about?

Maybe these two cases are importantly different. Looking forward to something is pleasant, so there is no reason to avoid that feeling just because it is not practical. But fear is unpleasant, so if it serves no practical purpose then it would be better for you not to feel it. The situation here is quite complicated, because we don't choose what we feel. But then we don't choose what we believe either. Still, I'm not sure that fearing something you can't change is irrational.

Dear philosophers, why should we respect the dead?

Dear philosophers, why should we respect the dead?

Here are three reasons to consider.

First, because they want to be respected. Sure, being dead, they do not want this now. But they did want it when they were alive -- just as you now want to be respected after your death. Imagine you have a certain deeply embarrassing secret that only your best friend knows. You very strongly want no one else to know. This fact gives your best friend a weighty reason not to tell others, even when she can do so in a way that you will never find out about. This reason may disappear when you change so that you no longer mind others knowing. But it persists when you die without having changed your mind -- or so one could hold.

Second, because respecting the dead makes their lives better. The quality of our lives depends not merely on our mental states but also on our contributions to the world. These contributions can continue when we die: composers, artists, and novelists enrich many lives even after they die, and this in turn makes their own lives more valuable. Not respecting the dead, e.g. by obliterating their work or memory, can cut off such posthumous contributions and thereby reduce the value of the dead person's life (relative to what it otherwise would have been).

Third, because respecting the dead is a practice from which the living benefit. Here I am not referring to the benefit of ourselves being respected after we die (else I would just be repeating points 1 and 2). Rather, I am thinking of how we living would alter our conduct, in ways that are bad for all of us, if we believed that, once dead, we would no longer be respected. For example, we would expend much worry and effort on trying to ensure that our assets go where we want them to go. If a last will and testament cannot ensure this (because it would not be respected), then many will dispose of their assets before they die, often becoming very poor or dependent on support from friends, family, or the state. So you benefit now from the fact that you and others live in the secure knowledge that your/their last will is going to be respected. You benefit in that you need not worry about or implement the proper disposition of your assets now and also in that you need not deal with the additional poverty and other problems that would result from others' early disposition of their assets.

Note that the above reasons cover different (albeit overlapping) aspects of what "respecting the dead" might mean. They do not all support exactly the same conclusion.

Is it irrational to fear one’s own death?

Is it irrational to fear one’s own death?

There's a funny old remark that goes something like this: "I don't fear my own death, because it's not something that will happen in my lifetime." The Epicureans held something of this view. Death isn't something that happens to us, the argument goes, because when dead we no longer exist. As he was dying, David Hume is recorded as having remarked along these lines when someone asked him whether he feared death: no more so than I regret not having been born earlier. The time before we were born was nothing to us; the time after we die will be nothing, too. It's irrational to fear nothing.

But, of course, it's not irrational to fear dying. The process that results in death is certainly something, and it's hardly irrational to fear the sorts of torments that afflict many in the course of that process. Then again, some hold that there's some sort of afterlife during which we might be subjected to indescibable horrors. If when dead we don't cease to exist, then maybe there is something to fear in it. I don't think anyone knows whether there is an afterlife. It looks doubtful to me. But it's not irrational to fear the possibility that there is one. As silly as religious descriptions of it seem, maybe there's something to them.

Moreover, we are not fixed in time but in a sense always moving in a very definite direction--towards death. philosophers like Søren Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger, and various existentialists point out that while it might be wrong to speak of "fear" of death (since one can only fear some object), one can be anxious about the finitude of our lives and the nothingness towards which we're hurled. In fact, one might identify as specific sort of anxiety (or angst) that humans endure because of their consciousness of their inescapable future deaths.

Is it "rational" to feel this anxiety? Well, in a sense it's neither rational nor irration. It's part of the condition of mortal, temporal beings who must make their way in the world. But if rational means not irrational, they I would say it's perfectly rational.

Why do people want to know so much about life if in the end we're all going to

Why do people want to know so much about life if in the end we're all going to die anyways?

Your question seems to assume that things can't have value if they're temporary. But we care what happens today even though today will end in a few hours. This is because one important source of value is what we experience: it matters to us to avoid pain, to enjoy the lives we live. That's a good reason to find out about life even though life won't last forever. It may also be that some things gain in value by being temporary: we might not find rainbows so beautiful if they were in the sky permanently.

Death is widely considered to be the permanent and irreversible end to life. So

Death is widely considered to be the permanent and irreversible end to life. So would you consider someone who died in the present day and was cryogenically frozen and bought back to life to have ever been dead? What are the implications for how we define death?

Death is not only considered to be the permanent and irreversible end to life, it is the permanent and irreversible end to life. Thus, it is not possible for someone who died in the present day to be cryogenically frozen and bought back to life. But it is certainly possible for someone who we have considered to have died in the present day to be cryogenically frozen and later to have been shown not to have died at all, but simply to have been in a cryogenic coma.

However, if people who we have considered to have died in the present day were cryogenically frozen and and later to have been shown not to have died at all, but simply to have been in a cryogenic coma, this would have very serious implications. Reading of wills and other social practices, such as stopping social security payments, that depend on a person having died would have to be changed. It is possible that someone who was declared dead by the current criteria, would thereby be treated, for all social purposes as if he were dead, no matter whether he was cryogenically frozen and later thawed and regained consciousness.

Given the criteria we now have for death, which is not merely the stopping of cardiopulmonary functions, but the permanent cessation of the functions of the entire brain, it is not good science fiction to imagine that someone properly declared to be dead was not actually dead but only in a cryogenic coma.

I am an agnostic but, at 61-years old, I can easily understand the concern about

I am an agnostic but, at 61-years old, I can easily understand the concern about immortality. I think that the desire of some live after physical death is more motivating to religious belief than the need for understanding creation or the origins. What can be the sense of "immortality" for an agnostic? For me, it is just the memory we leave. This imposes a strong ethical view on life. I understand that this is not a question, but anyway I would like to know your comment.

I suppose for an agnostic immortality just has no connection with a deity. If immortality is just the memory we leave, or the impact we have on others, then there is no need for any religious context for these ideas to make sense. I wonder though whether immortality does have any connection with the motive to be religious since so many religions seem not to have a belief in immortality, or a very indefinite belief in it.

If every life results in death, then what is the meaning of life?

If every life results in death, then what is the meaning of life?

This is a compelling question. I remember encountering it in a powerful way reading Albert Camus’s essay, “Absurd Reasoning.” Recently, a student of mine broached it during a discussion we were having about the condition the universe seems to be heading towards. It seems, I’m told, that everything in the universe will ultimately degenerate into a vast, endless, more-or-less uniform, horribly cold and dark field of low-level radiation. Some call this condition, the final destination of the universe, “entropic hell.”

In light of this apparent fact, the relevant question concerning the meaning of life is this: since everything we accomplish will ultimately be destroyed and degenerate into “entropic hell,” what meaning can anything have?

I think there’s something misleading about his question, however, something that lurks in a hidden assumption that the question makes. The question and its force rely largely on the assumption that life has meaning only if it lasts forever. In my view, this is a dubious assumption, and indeed one that plagues a good deal of our culture’s thinking about value.

Far from being a necessary condition for meaning, I think that immortality and endless existence would actually undermine the meaning of life.

Consider the issue this way: would life be as meaningful or even meaningful at all if it weren't finite? That is, if we lived forever would much or anything matter to us? Perhaps the avoidance of physical pain would still matter, but simply not being in pain seems to be a relatively meaningless affair. Don't many of our projects have meaning for us just because we know that one day we and they will come to an end?

The very fragility of things gives us reason to care what happens to them, to defend them and us against harm or diminishment. When you can just start over or always have a substitute, things don’t really matter. Because, however, things are finite and we know we're going to die our actions count. We'd better get things right because we're not going to get another shot.

Consider an imaginary world I call “Plentos.” In Plentos people live forever, or at least as long as they wish. There are no shortages of any kind in Plentos. Every kind of food is available in limitless supply. Land of every description is available to all. No one wants for speedy, effective medical care. Everyone is omniscient.

In Plentos, life could not be meaningful.