Is Death Evil?
Virtually everyone agrees that death is bad. Or perhaps, a bit more carefully, almost everyone agrees that if death really is the end—that is, if there is no afterlife, so that my death marks the end of my existence—then death is something terrible that befalls each of us. But it is far from obvious exactly what it is about death that makes it the evil that we normally take it to be, and some philosophers have gone so far as to argue that it is not in fact bad for us at all. (“How could it be?” they ask. “How can anything be bad for me when I won’t even exist?”) Guided by a few readings from contemporary philosophers, such as Thomas Nagel, Fred Feldman, and David Benatar, we’ll examine some possible views about the badness of death and tackle some ancient puzzles about death along the way. (This master class will take place around a seminar table in Green-Wood Cemetery’s Gothic Revival chapel.)
Shelly Kagan is the Clark Professor of Philosophy at Yale University, where he teaches ethics. The online lectures from his course on death have been viewed millions of times around the world (they are especially popular in China), and the book based on that class, Death, was a national bestseller in South Korea. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, his other books include The Limits of Morality, Normative Ethics, and the forthcoming How to Count Animals, More or Less.