§ Shelly Kegan: death --- Suicide and rationality (WIP)
How does the fact that we will die affect the way we live? previous
chapter! The fact our mortality raises the question of whether or not
we should put an end to our life. It's the extra feature --- the variability
of death, the fact that we can control how long we live, and thus we face
the possibility of ending our life earlier than it would otherwise. Under what
circumstances is it a good thing to do?
You must be either crazy or immoral is the knee jerk. The very first thing
to do is to distinguish questions of rationality from morality.
§ Rationality of suicide
you would be better off dead", can you trust your judgement that this is one
of those cases X?
In those circumstances that life is terrible, you can't think clearly. So perhaps
you ought not attempt to make "rational decisions" under duress. Non existence
is not a state because it depends on existence.
Dying would be bad because it would deprive us of the good things in life ---
the deprivation requirement. If we believe in the two state requirement, how
can we say this? The two state argument can't even tell us that it's
better off to be alive for the happiest person! So the two state requirement
is not a genuine requirement. We simply have to say that the life you would
have had is a great life; I don't need to say anything about how death is going
to be inferior. The "loss of a good state" is enough, without needing to know
what we are transitioning into.
But if so, we can flip the argument by symmetry. If a person's life was full
of suffering and misery and disappointment, then for their life to go
longer would be bad.
What goes into making someone's life worthwhile? people disagree about the
ingredients of the best kind of life. Going back to hedonism (add all pleasure,
subtract all pain), if this number comes out negative, then your life is not
worth living. The longer you live, the more the balance shifts to the negative
Is life itself worth having? Neural container theory: life is a container
in which good/bad is filled up. Valuable container theories: the very fact
that you are alive gave you some positive value. Fantastic continer theories:
doesn't matter how bad the contents get, even so the grand total is still
positive. What's so incredible about life itself? They argue that being
alive itself is valuable. But most people don't really mean life, they mean
life as a person. For example, they would not agree that being alive as a
blade of grass is a "good life".
What about a life where the person's functioning has decayed, but they can still
feel pain? In that case perhaps, their life's quality can degrade.
We can probably find sympathy with the perspective that here on out, their
life is going to be net negative; someone who has terminal cancer and is in
There could be a person where they're suffering from a degenerative diesease,
but are still able to think and have a life worth living while slowly losing
motor control. One day there comes a time when their life is not worth living,
but by that point, they don't have control over their body.
It's easy to mistake a low point with a global minima; Even if life is
less worth living than you hope it would be, it might feel terrible in
- When if ever would it be true that you are better off dead?
- Assume that the answer to the first question is "under circumstance X,
§ Deciding under uncertainty
§ Could it ever be true that you're better off dead?
The very claim that "jones would be better off dead" can't make any sense. In
order to make comparisons we need to be able to talk about states before
and after. Call this the two state requirement.
§ Morality of suicide