Willhavehadism, Alloverism, Insultism


Edvard Munch, The Afflicted Eye: The Artist with a Skull, 1930

From Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews:

We can ask, when is death bad for the one who dies? Epicureans, holding that death brings to an end all feelings, awareness, thought, and existence itself, say it’s never bad. This is hard to believe. The Deprivation View says, seemingly plausibly, that it is bad not only to feel pain but also to lose out on, or be deprived of, pleasures. That there is no pain for the dead doesn’t, then, establish that death isn’t bad. And probably most philosophers will sign up to the Deprivation View, or what is here called Deprivationism, in some form or other.

Kamm, exploiting her fondness for awkward-sounding neologisms, identifies and discusses three claims, all of which suggest weaknesses in Deprivationism. First, there is Willhavehadism—it is worse to die at 20 than 50 as one would have had more of life in the latter case. Then Alloverism—dying a year from now might be worse than being in a coma for a hundred years, coming round, and then dying a year later. And Insultism—death takes from us not just the future, but a life, something we already had. 

Edvard Munch, Girl Kissing a Skull, c. 1896

It’s worth discussing each of these in a little more detail.

Willhavehadism. Suppose that if you don’t die, you’ll have 10 more years of good life. So then death now is bad, according to Deprivationism. Is it worse to die at 20 than 50 if in both cases you lose 10 good years? Kamm says it is. But why think the Deprivationist would say anything different? Surely the plausible claim is merely that death’s badness is proportional to the goods lost, other things equal. And they are not equal when between two people the age of death differs. This isn’t some last ditch, up against the wall attempt to rescue Deprivationism. The driving idea is that when life is good then more of it is better. This is why even a painless death, in robbing us of this good, is bad for us. It is surely implicit in Deprivationism, from the outset, that it is worse to die at 20 than at 50, worse to have had the smaller amount of good life.

Alloverism. Going out of existence, and forever, is what some of us most dread. And Kamm’s Limbo Man prefers to put this off as long as possible. I might simply make the above point again: having your last year now, or having it a century later, is not a case where other things are equal. So Deprivationism need make no claim that these options are equally bad. But I might instead argue that Limbo Man makes a mistake: it is better to have your last year now, in familiar circumstances, than to have it many years hence, and in utterly alien territory. Suppose we imagine that time continues, but all earthly activity is put on hold for a century. Limbo Man gets what he, on reflection, decides he wants—a good year wholly indiscernible from that available to him now, but, and undetectably, a hundred years later. There is, though, no reason to want this.

Insultism. This is harder. There are, it seems, two ways in which we can be deprived of some portion of a good life; either by keeping birth fixed, but then dying, and going out of existence earlier, or by keeping death fixed, and coming into existence later. But there is an asymmetry here: a shorter life caused by an earlier death seems to be worse than one caused by a later birth. So then we haven’t adequately explained the badness of death merely by pointing to the good life lost. Kamm fills the gap. Unlike pre-natal non-existence, death happens to a person, destroys that person, takes from the person something—a life—that they had, involves a decline from a good to at least a neutral state, and ends all hope of a good future. These are, she says, death’s insult factors.

“Review: Almost Over: Aging, Dying, Death”, Christopher Belshaw, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

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