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Can death be a harm to the person who dies?
  1. W Glannon

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    J Li, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2002, $US70/£47, pp 193. ISBN 1 4020 0505 9.

    This book is a concise, clearly written, and rigorously argued discussion of the main question regarding the metaphysics of death. In defending the view that death can harm the person who dies, Jack Li refutes Epicurean and Lucretian arguments that death cannot harm us and that it is irrational to fear death. Epicurus held that a person can be harmed only when he exists. Because death is the end of a person’s existence, death cannot harm him. Therefore, death should be “nothing to us”. Lucretius offered the following symmetry argument. No one is harmed by, and no one fears, prenatal non-existence. Postmortem non-existence is symmetrical to prenatal non-existence. Therefore, no one can be harmed by postmortem non-existence, and it is irrational to fear this state.

    To show that the Epicurean and Lucretian arguments are flawed, Li examines three different theories proposed by such philosophers as Thomas Nagel, Joel Feinberg, Jeff McMahan, and Fred Feldman. The first is the “desire thwarting” theory, which says that death can harm us because it thwarts our unconditional desire to continue living. The second is the “deprivation” theory, which says that death can harm us because it deprives us of the goods we would have enjoyed had we …

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