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This volume meets the increasing interest in a range of philosophical issues connected with the nature and significance of life and death, and the ethics of killing. What is it to be alive and to die? What is it to be a person? What must time be like if we are to persist? What makes one life better than another? May death or posthumous events harm the dead? The chapters in this volume address these questions, and also discuss topical issues such as abortion, euthanasia, and suicide. They explore the interrelation between the metaphysics, significance, and ethics of life and death, and they discuss the moral significance of killing both people and animals, and the extent to which death harms them. The volume is for all those studying the philosophy of life and death, for readers taking applied ethics courses, and for those studying ethics and metaphysics more generally.
This chapter highlights the central importance of modal dimensions of the nature of knowledge. It focuses on several value problems regarding knowledge, describing the logical landscape of value issues and identifying a special value problem that concerns the relationship between knowledge and its parts. The chapter uses this problem to motivate taking seriously probabilistic accounts of truth-tracking and sensitivity over standard counterfactual approaches. This approaches described here rely on the three-place relation, since they offer stories that are at least initially plausible concerning the nature of knowledge. The probabilistic approach to truth-tracking shows significant promise, and can be used as well to address the original Meno problem concerning the value of knowledge over true opinion. The conclusion to draw from the discussion is that theories of knowledge that rely on sensitivity and truth-tracking conditions can go some distance toward explaining the value of knowledge, but not the entire distance.
I have portrayed life as replicator-based self-perpetuation, and human beings as (possibly developing) members of the species Homo sapiens. I considered several ways of understanding what we are and the conditions under which we persist before retreating to agnosticism on the matter. In this chapter I discuss death. It seems apparent that a death is the ending of a life, but in several respects the term ‘death’ is unclear and ambiguous. My first task, taken up in the first section, is to clarify it. In the next section I consider criteria by which we can recognize that an individual's death has occurred. It turns out that the criteria that have been adopted in the United States and in the United Kingdom are not accurate, and it is difficult indeed to see what to put in their place.
In order to clarify what death is, I will begin by distinguishing it from aging. Aging is not the same thing as death, but the two phenomena overlap in fascinating ways. Then I will discuss what it is for a life to end: is it, for example, a process a thing can undergo or is it the completion of that process? I will also contrast life's ending with its suspension; if, like a clock's movement, our vital processes are interrupted but may be restarted, have we died? Next I will consider how ceasing to exist is related to dying: may we cease to exist deathlessly, or die without ceasing to exist? The answer is not as obvious as it might seem.
In chapter 4 we saw that Epicurus rejected the harm thesis, on which death may harm the individual who dies. Epicurus held that the harm thesis can hold true only if there is a subject who is harmed by death, a clear harm that is received, and a time when mortal harm is received. This triad of requirements is easily met in some cases. For example, its subject, harm, and time are clear when death hurts its victims, and destroys their identities, while it takes place. However, things are less clear in the case of deprivation harm, which we identified in chapter 5 as harm that consists in our being prevented from attaining goods we otherwise would have had. Epicureans will presume that death can harm us by depriving us of goods only if there is a particular (stretch of) time when we are harmed. Those who agree with this presumption will then want to clarify when it is that deprivation harms us. As to the timing issue, the two solutions that come most easily to mind both seem worrisome: death harms its victims either while they are alive or later. If we opt for the second solution we appear to run head-on into the problem of the subject, for assuming that we do not exist after we are alive, no one is left to incur mortal harm.