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Kamm on the disvalue of death
  1. T M Scanlon
  1. Correspondence to Professor T M Scanlon, Department of Philosophy, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA; scanlon{at}fas.harvard.edu

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Frances Kamm's newest book, Bioethical Prescriptions, is a treasure trove of careful argument and penetrating insight.1 In these brief remarks, I will concentrate on the question of the evil of death: why it is a bad thing to die sooner rather than later. I will be drawing mainly on Kamm's discussion in her marvellous essay ‘Rescuing Ivan Ilych,’ which forms the first chapter of the book.

I believe that the badness of death consists entirely in the loss of the future life one would have had. The value of what is lost includes the value of the experiences one would have had, such as seeing one's grandchildren grow up, and the value of changes one would have gone through intellectually and emotionally, and the effects one could have had on the world, including on one's relations with other people. This implies that, while one can often have good reason to believe that it would be a bad thing to die at a given time, one generally does not know how bad a thing this would be, and one often cannot be certain that it would be a bad thing, on balance, since one cannot foresee the future. …

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