Confrontations with the Reaper: A Philosophical Study of the Nature and Value of Death / Edition 1

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What is death? Do people survive death? What do we mean when we say that someone is "dying"? Presenting a clear and engaging discussion of the classic philosophical questions surrounding death, this book studies the great metaphysical and moral problems of death. In the first part, Feldman shows that a definition of life is necessary before death can be defined. After exploring several of the most plausible accounts of the nature of life and demonstrating their failure, he goes on to propose his own conceptual scheme for death and related concepts. In the second part, Feldman turns to ethical and value-theoretical questions about death. Addressing the ancient Epicurean ethical problem about the evil of death, he argues that death can be a great evil for those who die, even if they do not exist after death, because it may deprive them of the goods they would have enjoyed if they had continued to live. Confrontations with the Reaper concludes with a novel consequentialist theory about the morality of killing, applying it to such thorny practical issues as abortion, suicide, and euthanasia.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Lucid, sensible, and insightful throughout. The criticisms of alternative approaches are particularly penetrating, and the positive suggestions are thoughtful....I have considerable admiration for this fine book. Feldman talks sense about difficult, murky, and perplexing matters."—J.M. Fischer, Philosophical Review

"Exceptionally lucid and closely reasoned discussions of the nature of death, from a materialist point of view, and the (dis)value of death, from a consequentialist perspective."—Robert Frazier, Philosophical Books

"This book is nearly ideal for engaging students in philosophy. It addresses important and interesting topics, and it is a model of clear thinking. Feldman demonstrates in a way accessible to nonspecialists how to evaluate reasons for a position by casting them in the form of an uncomplicated argument and how to undermine those reasons by constructing a counterexample to a clearly identified premise. The books frequent summaries make it easy for an undergraduate to follow, and the choice of examples ranges beyond the standard science-fiction cases."—Edward Wierenga, Teaching Philosophy

"Confrontations contains useful and provocative contributions to the growing literature on the metaphysics and value of death. The extraordinary clarity of Feldman's style is also one of the book's virtues....Feldman has, through clear discussion and illuminating examples, enriched the framework in which philosophers may continue to examine important moral questions concerning death."—Stephen E. Rosenbaum, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research

"Replete with imaginative examples, systematic arguments, and some off-beat humour."—Times Literary Supplement

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195089288
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 1/28/1994
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 264
  • Sales rank: 1,308,178
  • Product dimensions: 8.19 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

Fred Feldman is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Confronting the Reaper 3
The Reaper--Mysterious and Evil 3
The Structure of the Book 5
I The Nature of Death
1. The Search for Death Itself 11
The Problems of Death 11
Conceptual Analysis 12
Analysis of Death or Criterion for Death? 14
The Biological Concept of Death 19
Life as a Part of Death 20
2. Life-Functional Theories of Life 22
Life Itself 22
Some Preliminary Objections 25
Aristotle's Life-Functional Analysis of Life 26
Some Modern Life-Functional Analyses of Life 31
The Matthews Approach 35
Conclusion 38
3. Vitalist Theories of Life 39
Vitalism 39
The Empirical Problem 42
The Jonah Problem 43
The Failure of Analyticity 45
DNA-ism 46
Genetic Informationism 51
Problems for Genetic Informationism 54
4. The Enigma of Death 56
The Gift of Life 56
The Biological Concept of Death 56
Perrett's Analysis 58
The Standard Analysis 60
Puzzles About Suspended Animation 60
Problems Concerning Fission and Fusion 66
The Mystery of Death 71
5. On Dying as a Process 72
Two Senses of 'Dying,' 72
Some Preliminary Proposals 73
Smart's Analysis of Dying2 77
Problems for Smart's Analysis 78
A New Proposal 80
More Mysteries of Dying2 85
On Death and Dying2 87
6. The Survival of Death 89
The Termination Thesis 89
Some Philosophers Who Have Accepted the Termination Thesis 91
Doubts About the Termination Thesis 93
The Argument from Definition 96
The Argument from Dualism 97
Corpses and People 100
Death and Nonexistence As 104
7. A Materialist Conception of Death 106
A New Approach to Death 106
The Lifeline 107
Death Itself, "a Death," and Being Dead 108
Death and Life 110
Death and Existence 113
Deaths, Lives, and Histories 115
Death and Humanity 117
Death and Personality 118
A Materialist Way of Death 123
II The Value of Death
8. Epicurus and the Evil of Death 127
Epicurus's Argument Against the Evil of Death 128
Difficulties for the First Version of the Argument 133
A New Version of the Argument 135
The Fallacy in the New Version 137
How Death Can Be Bad for the One Who Dies 138
9. More Puzzles About the Evil of Death 143
The Puzzles 143
Axiological Preliminaries 146
Things That Are Bad for People 148
The Evil of Death 150
Some Proposed Answers 152
Conclusions 156
10. Utilitarianism, Victimism, and the Morality of Killing 157
"Thou Shalt Not Kill," 157
Hedonic Act Utilitarianism and the Morality of Killing 163
Why HAU Fails to Explain the Wrongness of Killing 166
Theories Based on Harm to the Victim 167
And Why They Fail, Too 170
11. Why Killing Is Wrong 173
Ideal Act Utilitarianism 173
Vitalistic Act Utilitarianism 174
Hedono-vitalistic Act Utilitarianism 177
Problems for HVAU 181
Justicism 182
Justicized Act Utilitarianism 185
12. Abortion and the Failure to Conceive 191
Three Examples 193
Justicism, Murder, and the Failure to Conceive 198
Justicized Act Utilitarianism and the Problem of Abortion 200
The "Right to Life," 205
Advantages of This View 207
13. The Morality and Rationality of Suicide 210
Welcoming the Reaper 210
Three Arguments for the Immorality of Suicide 211
An Argument for the Irrationality of Suicide 215
An Epistemic Argument Against the Rationality of Suicide 217
"Calculative Rationality" and Suicide 219
Euthanasia 223
14. Epilogue 225
Notes 229
Bibliography 239
Index 243
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