Philosophical Studies

, Volume 176, Issue 1, pp 241–257 | Cite as

A dilemma for Epicureanism

  • Travis TimmermanEmail author


Perhaps death’s badness is an illusion. Epicureans think so and argue that agents cannot be harmed by death when they’re alive (because death hasn’t happened yet) nor when they’re dead (because they do not exist by the time death comes). I argue that each version of Epicureanism faces a fatal dilemma: it is either committed to a demonstrably false view about the relationship between self-regarding reasons and well-being or it is involved in a merely verbal dispute with deprivationism. I first provide principled reason to think that any viable view about the badness of death must allow that agents have self-regarding reason to avoid (or seek) death if doing so would increase their total well-being. I then show that Epicurean views which do not preserve this link are subject to reductio arguments and so should be rejected. After that, I show that the Epicurean views which accommodate this desideratum are involved in a merely verbal dispute with deprivationism.


Epicureanism Deprivationism Death Harm Well-being Verbal dispute 



For helpful feedback on earlier versions of this paper, I am very grateful to Per Algander, Gregory Antill, Sophie Ban, Kurt Blankschaen, Ben Bradley, Erik Carlson, Jason Chen, Yishai Cohen, Mark Couch, Kirsten Egerstrom, Karl Ekendahl, Neil Feit, Daniel Fogal, David Hershenov, Jens Johansson, Robert Kelly, Vicente Medina, David O’Connor, Steve Kershnar, David Limbaugh, Hille Paakkunainen, Michael Rabenberg, Stewart Shapiro, Nate Sharadin, David Sobel, Rhys Southan, Steve Steward, James Stacey Taylor, Yvonne Unna, Rodrigo Valencia, Jeff Watson, the anonymous referees at this journal, and audiences at the University at Buffalo, Stockholm University, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the University of Tampa, and the 2015 Pacific American Philosophical Association meeting.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophySeton Hall UniversityMontclairUSA

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