Should We Fear Death? Epicurean and Modern Arguments
On that assumption, it seems rational to act as if we feared
death. If we had the choice, we would even be prudent to
program ourselves to have some degree of subjective fear of
death, in order to motivate ourselves to identify and under-
take actions that will help us live longer. It does appear to me
that some fear of death is a good thing. Later, however, I will
ask how much fear of death we ought to have.
None of this reasoning is sound unless being deprived of
additional life is, indeed, a misfortune and there is a ready
reply to that claim. Once again, our friends, the Epicureans,
made it in antiquity.
DO WE WANT ADDITIONAL LIFE?
In De Rerum Natura, Lucretius argues that it is not bad to
be deprived of additional life, since no one thinks it was bad
not being alive, prior to the time we were born. We are not,
he suggests, upset about not having been alive at the time
of the Carthaginian wars (p151).  If missing out on addi-
tional life after our deaths is a misfortune, what about all
that life we missed out on before we were born? Of course,
it is not rational to fear a misfortune that is already in the
past. It is only rational to fear future events. However, an
Epicurean could add, past misfortunes are surely mat-
ters for regret. Yet we do not even regret not being around
in the days when the Romans fought the Carthaginians.
Some attempts to answer this line of argument raise meta-
physical issues about the nature of the self. Unfortunately, those
of determinism or fate are too complex to resolve here.
For example, Nagel argues that it is not possible for us to have
any sensations very long before we were born certainly not