Advertisement

The Deprivation Theory

Part of the Philosophy and Medicine book series (PHME, volume 73)

Abstract

The deprivation theory is the most popular anti-Epicurean view.1 Silverstein calls this view the standard argument against the Epicurean view.2 In this chapter, I want to investigate whether or not this very popular anti-Epicurean view is satisfactory. To begin this task, let me first illustrate the deprivation theory.

Keywords

Good Thing Premature Death Fatal Disease Experiential Blank Death Event 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    See Fred Feldman, ‘Some Puzzles about the Evil of Death’, in The Metaphysics of Death, ed. John Martin Fischer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), p. 308.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Harry S. Silverstein, ‘The Evil of Death’, in The Metaphysics of Death, ed. John Martin Fischer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), p. 98.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    ‘Death’, in Thomas Nagel, Mortal Questions (London: Cambridge University Press, 1979), p. 1.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Ibid., pp. 3–4.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    ‘The Makropulos Case: Reflections on the Tedium of Immortality’, in Bernard Williams, Problems of the Self (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), p. 84.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    L. W. Sumner, ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, Nous 10 (1976), pp. 157–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    See Fred Feldman, ‘Some Puzzles about the Evil of Death’, in The Metaphysics of Death, ed. John Martin Fischer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), p. 308. This account is also accepted by Palle Yourgrau. He says: Death, clearly, will be an evil... But what is it the dead relate to, which explains their misfortune? Surely it is precisely the life they have been denied—the possibility of enjoying all that life is a precondition for. Palle Yourgrau, ‘The Dead’, in The Metaphysics of Death, ed. John Martin Fischer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), p. 140. Anthony L. Brueckner and John Martin Fischer also argue for the same point as follows: Death could then be an experiential blank and still be a bad thing for an individual ... why this is so is that death (although an experiential blank) is deprivation of the good things of life. That is, when life is, on balance, good, then death is bad insofar as it robs one of this good: if one had died later than one actually did, then one would have had more of the good things of life. Anthony L. Brueckner and John Martin Fischer, ‘Why Is Death Bad?’, in The Metaphysics of Death, ed. John Martin Fischer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), p. 222. Similar views are defended or at least discussed by a number of philosophers. See, for example, ‘Death’, in Thomas Nagel, Mortal Questions (London: Cambridge University Press, 1979); Jeff McMahan, ‘Death and the Value of Life’, in The Metaphysics of Death, ed. John Martin Fischer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993); L. W. Sumner, ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, Nous 10 (1976), pp. 145–171; ‘The Makropulos Case: Reflections on the Tedium of Immortality’, in Bernard Williams, Problems of the Self (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973); Douglas N. Walton, On Defining Death: An Analytic Study of the Concept of Death in Philosophy and Medical Ethics (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1979); and Roy W. Perrett, Death and Immortality (Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1987).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Apparently, the deprivation theory has assumed that life, in general, is good. This assumption can also be found in McMahan’s illustration of the deprivation theory. McMahan says: Death is bad for a person...Other things being equal, the badness of death is proportional to...the goods of [life] of which the victim is deprived. Jeff McMahan, ‘Death and the Value of Life’, in The Metaphysics of Death, ed. John Martin Fischer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), p. 262. Because of this, Sumner contends: To answer fully the question why death is generally an evil we must therefore determine why life is generally a good. L. W. Sumner, ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, Nous 10 (1976), p. 158. Accordingly, to justify ‘the general good of life’ is therefore to further justify the deprivation theory. Indeed, some deprivation theorists, such as Nagel and Sumner, have tried to prove this assumption. However, I do not believe that they have fully and successfullyjustified this assumption. It is not even clear that this assumption can be justified. Anyhow, this issue is too large to be taken up here: it would be too daunting a task for me to attempt to provide an adequate analysis of this issue within the confines of this book. I will therefore just presuppose this assumption in my discussion of the deprivation theory. To examine the deprivation theorists’ arguments for this assumption, see L. W. Sumner, ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, Nous 10 (1976), pp. 158 – 160; and ‘Death’, in Thomas Nagel, Mortal Questions (London: Cambridge University Press, 1979), pp. 1–2.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    See ‘Death’, in Thomas Nagel, Mortal Questions (London: Cambridge University Press, 1979), p.1.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Ibid., pp. 4–5.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Robert Nozick, ‘On the Randian Argument’, in Reading Nozick: Essays on Anarchy, State, and Utopia, ed. Jeffrey Paul (Oxford: Blackwell, 1982), p. 221.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    See ‘Introduction: Death, Metaphysics, and Morality’, in The Metaphysics of Death, ed. John Martin Fischer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), pp. 20–21.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    See Ibid., pp. 21–22; and Frederik Kaufman, ‘Pre-Vital and Post-Mortem Non-Existence’, American Philosophical Quarterly 36 (1999), pp. 2–4. In his recent paper ‘Death, Badness, and the Impossibility of Experience’, Fischer distinguishes two principles which are generally used by the critics of the deprivation theory (of course, including Epicureans) to refute the deprivation theory: (1) Experience Requirement I (ER I): An individual can be harmed by something only if he has an unpleasant experience as a result of it (either directly or indirectly). (2) Experience Requirement II (ER II): An individual can be harmed by something only if it is possible for him to have an unpleasant experience as a result of it (either directly or indirectly). In support of his position (i.e. the deprivation theory), Nagel raises his betrayal example. However, suggests Fischer, Nagel’s betrayal example can impugn only ER I, and not ER II. Further, these critics have emphasised that ER II appears to imply that death is not a harm to the person who dies. Thus, it is alleged that Nagel’s betrayal example (and, of course, all those examples in the above two arguments) fall short of establishing that death can be a harm to an individual. In the face of this, Fischer therefore tries to raise a counterexample to ER II to defend the deprivation theory. That is, he tries to suggest a non-question-begging example in which an individual cannot have an unpleasant experience as a result of something and yet we would say that that thing is a harm or bad for the individual. Fischer puts his example as follows: Imagine first that the example is as described by Nagel. You are betrayed behind your back by people who you thought were good friends, and you never actually find out about this or have any bad experiences as a result of the betrayal. But now suppose that these friends were (very) worried that you might find out about the betrayal. In order to guard against this possibility, they arrange for White to watch over you. His task is to prevent you ever from finding out about the betrayal. So, for example, if one of the individuals who betrayed you should decide to tell you about it, White can prevent him from succeeding: White can do whatever is required to prevent the information from getting to you. Or if you should begin to seek out one of the friends, White could prevent you from succeeding in making contact. I simply stipulate that White is in a position to thwart any attempt by you or your friends to inform you of what happened. In this Frankfurt-style version of Nagel’s betrayal example, I further stipulate that everything (plausibly thought to be relevant) that actually happens among your friends and to you (and your family) is exactly the same as in the original version of the example; we could ‘subtract’ the existence of White and this would make no relevant difference to what actually happens among your friends and to you (and your family) for the rest of your life. The only difference between the original case and the modified case is that your friends have so arranged things that White is poised to intervene at any point in your life where there would be a chance that you would discover what happened; it turns out that intervention is never actually necessary, and thus the actual sequence of events in the modified example is in relevant respects precisely like that of the original example. White serves as a failsafe mechanism; his intervention is never triggered, but his presence ensures that you will never find out about the betrayal. John Martin Fischer, ‘Death, Badness, and the Impossibility of Experience’, Journal of Ethics 1 (1997), p. 345. If Fischer’s account can be accepted (i.e. ER II can really be rejected as he believes), then it would partly support my point. However, to judge whether ER II is rejected by Fischer’s example, an extensive discussion is needed. At least, it would be necessary to make clear what the term ‘possible’ in ER II means, or ought to mean.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    ‘Introduction: Death, Metaphysics, and Morality’, in The Metaphysics of Death, ed. John Martin Fischer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), pp. 24–25.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    In fact, Rosenbaum and Silverstein raise another problem for the deprivation theory. Rosenbaum, for instance, says: It is all right, I suppose, to call a person’s death a loss for the person, but it is clearly not like paradigmatic cases of losses that are bad for persons. Consider the case in which one loses one’s business to creditors. One has the business, the creditors get it, and then one does not have it. We may suppose that the loss is bad for the person. Such cases are common. We should note that in such cases the loss is something the person is able to experience after it occurs. Typical losses that are bad for persons seem to instantiate the following principle: A person P loses good g only if there is a time at which P has g and there is a later time at which P does not have g. If P ceases to exist when P dies, then being dead cannot be considered a loss of this typical sort in which losses are bad for persons, for in typical cases P exists after the loss and is able to experience it. If being dead is a loss, it is so insufficiently similar to paradigm cases of loss which are bad for persons that we need special reasons or arguments why treating death as a loss [which is bad for the person who dies]. (My emphasis.) Stephen E. Rosenbaum, ‘How to Be Dead and Not Care: A Defense of Epicurus’, in The Metaphysics of Death, ed. John Martin Fischer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), p. 127. See also Harry S. Silverstein, ‘The Evil of Death’, in The Metaphysics of Death, ed. John Martin Fischer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), p. 100. To this, we might reply, following McMahan and Sumner, as follows: Loss is bad for one. In most instances, it is true that the loss is something the person is able to experience after it occurs. But death is obviously a special case. That is, death is a special sort of loss (misfortune). It is special only because the subject and the object of the loss are identical. However, this fact should not rule out treating it as a loss (misfortune). To insist that it cannot be an evil because it does not meet a condition that most if not all other evils of loss satisfy is tantamount to ruling it out as an evil simply because it has special features. See Jeff McMahan, ‘Death and the Value of Life’, in The Metaphysics of Death, ed. John Martin Fischer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), p. 241; and L. W. Sumner, ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, Nous 10 (1976), p. 160. In fact, the real issue here is not ‘whether or not we can call a person’s death a loss for him’. That is, the real issue here is not about the appropriate use of the term ‘loss’. I think that this issue is merely an appearance. In contrast, the underlying issue here is about the Existence Requirement. In other words, the debate here is the re-emergence of the above debate over the Existence Requirement in a slightly altered form. In his attack, Rosenbaum has, in fact, presupposed the Existence Requirement. Without rejecting Rosenbaum’s presupposition, the reply here is actually begging the question. Thus, this reply does not really successfully refute Rosenbaum’s attack. I think, the only appropriate way to successfully refute this attack is to reject the Existence Requirement. And this has already been done in Chapter One, Section Two.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    See ‘Death’, in Thomas Nagel, Mortal Questions (London: Cambridge University Press, 1979), p. 9.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Ibid., pp. 8–10. In fact, Nagel also questions the imaginable view in the same paper. He says: We are left, therefore, with the question whether the nonrealization of this possibility [of our going on existing indefinitely] is in every case a misfortune [for us] ... The question is whether we can regard as a misfortune any limitation, like mortality, that is normal to the species...the question remains whether death, no matter when it occurs, can be said to deprive its victim of what is in the relevant sense a possible continuation of life. (p. 9) Basically, Nagel takes the imaginable view in this paper. After all, the imaginable view is consistent with the claim that death is always an evil.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Jeff McMahan, ‘Death and the Value of Life’, in The Metaphysics of Death, ed. John Martin Fischer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), p. 243.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
  20. 20.
  21. 21.
    Ibid., p. 244. This line of reasoning is also supported by Fischer. See John Martin Fischer, ‘Death, Badness, and the Impossibility of Experience’, Journal of Ethics 1 (1997), p. 347.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    The reason for this is simply that life is generally good.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Jeff McMahan, ‘Death and the Value of Life’, in The Metaphysics of Death, ed. John Martin Fischer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), p. 245.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
  25. 25.
  26. 26.
  27. 27.
    See Ibid., pp. 245–246.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    See Ibid., p. 245.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Ibid., p. 251.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
  31. 31.
    Ibid., p. 252.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    See Harry S. Silverstein, ‘The Evil of Death’, in The Metaphysics of Death, ed. John Martin Fischer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), p. 245.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    See Jeff McMahan, ‘Death and the Value of Life’, in The Metaphysics of Death, ed. John Martin Fischer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), p. 253f.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    See Ibid., p. 245.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    David K. Lewis, in discussing different ways of understanding counterfactual suppositions, refers to a wide delineation of the relevant facts. See David K. Lewis, Philosophical Papers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 77.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    In this case, it does not rule out the possibility that the doctor still sometimes feels that death is a harm to John. Alternatively he might have a compound feeling about John, and think that his death is a bad for him on the wider view but nevertheless see that it was a welcome release for him in the particular medical circumstances.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Jeff McMahan, ‘Death and the Value of Life’, in The Metaphysics of Death, ed. John Martin Fischer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), p. 248.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Ibid., pp. 249–250.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    See Ibid., pp. 248–249.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    See Ibid., p. 248.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    It should be emphasised that, when evaluating a person’s death, we sometimes, in a sense, single out the cause of his death as the closest one— the stop of the heart beat (by one common definition of death, if this definition is accepted). Or to put it in another way, we sometimes, when evaluating a person’s death, completely ignore the cause of his death (though of course the death must have been caused somehow). That is, we, in fact, understand his death as merely the fact of his death at T. If we understand a person’s death in this way, then, given the deprivation theory, the following conclusion would certainly be reached: Death is generally good for the person who dies. The reason is this. Most people will suffer awful pain due to sickness or accidents before they die. How many people can be as lucky as Albert Einstein who died in his sleep? This conclusion greatly conflicts the aim of the deprivation theory. In certain circumstances, it is easy or even very natural for us to evaluate a person’s death in this way. But note that this is not the only way of evaluating a person’s death. This suggests that the deprivation theory cannot apply for merely evaluating a person’s death so understood. Given this, the deprivation theory would be more plausible and acceptable for us.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    For convenience of expression, throughout the discussion of these cases, I always use a natural but loose description in evaluating a person’s death. For instance, while evaluating Mort’s death, I always say, ‘Had he not died when and how he did, he would have lived a long life.’ In fact, here what I really mean is that had he not died when and how he did, it is highly probable that he would have lived a long life. Indeed, it is imaginable that there is a person whose life is so unlucky that death (no matter how we specify the cause of it) would bring him a welcome release. For example, someone facing burning by his enemy might welcome a fellow soldier’s fatal bullet. Because of these two reasons, the conclusion of the deprivation theory should be put as: Death is generally a harm to the person who dies (from a relatively wider view of the cause of his death).Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    According to the deprivation theory as developed so far, a person’s death in his prime can even be a good thing for him in certain circumstances.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Jeff McMahan, ‘Death and the Value of Life’, in The Metaphysics of Death, ed. John Martin Fischer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), p. 247. For easier discussion later, what Joe further lost in being hit by the bus is changed from ‘two months’ to ‘six months’.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    See Ibid., p. 247.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    For easy discussion, here I use the term ‘death’ in a loose way which refers to both death event and premature death. Strictly speaking, ‘death’ refers only to being dead.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    By ‘the death event’, I mean a process from the cause of death to death (being dead) considered from a third-person or objective point of view. This should be distinguished from the process of dying discussed in Introduction, in which dying is to be understood as the first-person experience of the causal process which brings about death.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Feinberg, for example, supports this point. He says: If the prior interests set back by death justify our characterization of death as a harm (even without a subject), then equally some of them warrant our speaking of certain later events as posthumous harms. On the other hand, if the absence of a subject (even given prior interests whose targets postdate death) prevents us from speaking of death as a harm, then it equally precludes talk of posthumous harms. Death and developments after death are alike in coming into existence during a period when there is no longer a subject. If the absence of a subject precludes our speaking of posthumous harms, then equally it precludes our speaking of death as a harm. .. since both death and posthumous events are postpersonal. Either death and posthumous harms both alike can be harms or neither can. (My emphasis.) Joel Feinberg, ‘Harm to Others’, in The Metaphysics of Death, ed. John Martin Fischer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), p. 174. Barbara Levenbook is also very convincing on this point. See Barbara Levenbook, ‘Harming Someone after His Death’, Ethics 94 (1984), pp. 407–419.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jack Li
    • 1
  1. 1.Fooyin Institute of TechnologyTaiwan

Personalised recommendations