At the beginning of Death, Thomas Nagel questions: “If death is the unequivocal and permanent end to our existence, the question arises whether it is a bad thing to die. ” Nagel wonders whether death is evil or not. To some people, like the hedonists, death is not bad. They propose the idea that a person is harmed when he or she has an unpleasant mental state. Furthermore, the hedonists also think a person is harmed when he or she suffers, and somebody is suffered when he or she is alive. Hence, when a person dies, he or she cannot be harmed. Death is the end of a subject.
However, Nagel does not agree with the hedonists. He believes death is evil. The author introduces the objections of the hedonist as an opposing voice to argue against the idea that death is not evil. To lead the reader into his own argument, the author proposes the hedonists’ three objections about why they think death is not bad. Then, he opposes these objections by providing three rebuttals. The first objection is death cannot be evil if it cannot be experienced. We imagine how bad it is to be dead; yet we cannot experience death until it happens.
In response to the first objection, Nagel states harm does not equal suffering. To him, some harms have to be experienced but a person does not have to go through all of them in order to be sustained. The author gives an example of a man is betrayed and ridiculed by his friends behind his back. To the hedonist, this man does not suffer from any harm, since he does not have any idea about it – what you do not know cannot hurt you. According to the hedonist, he has to have an unpleasant mental state in order to sustain. Nagel opposes to this idea. He thinks this man still suffers.
The author states: “… its discovery makes us unhappy. ” Nagel means that even though this person does not have any idea he has been betrayed; but in the future, he might be able to find out about it, he will be suffered. As a result, a person still suffers from harm after he or she dies. The second objection is if death is bad, then who will suffer from it. Who is the subject of harm? The hedonists believe death is the end of the subject, so when a person dies, no one will be harmed. Thomas Nagel replies to this objection with his second rebuttal.
The author states that subject of misfortune are identified by a person’s history and possibility rather than by his or her momentary state. That means when a person dies, he or she can still be harmed. The author believes if this person had not died, he or she would have been able to experience and possess whatever good there is living. The author gives an example of an intelligent person whom had a brain injury and become a vegetable. To the hedonist, he is fine as long as he is still alive. He does not suffer from any harm.
Nagel, however, does not agree with that idea. He states that this man is sustained because if he did not have the accident, he would still be able to fulfill his wishes or realize his possibilities. The third objection is prenatal and posthumous non-existence should be symmetrical. The hedonists question why we consider the period after our death is bad when we regard the period before our birth is not. Again, Thomas Nagel does not agree with this idea. The author states there is no subject in the period before birth. As a result, there is no one to be deprived.
When a person is born, he or she becomes the subject of history and possibilities. The author also proposes if a person was born earlier, he or she would be a different subject. In order to support this argument, Nagel states a person is still himself or herself even when he or she has different directions from the starting point. However, thing would be dissimilar if a person has a different starting point. He or she does not converge on same person anymore. This person would have different parents, siblings and etc. The author believes the period of time after death is when it deprives a person of.
Hence, the prenatal and posthumous non-existence should not be symmetrical. In conclusion, Thomas Nagel states death is evil by providing rebuttals to the hedonists’ idea of death is not bad. Unlike the hedonists, Nagel strongly believes death is not the end of the subject. The author also states a person can still be harmed even after he or she dies, and subjects of misfortune are defined by a person’s history and possibility rather than his or her momentary state. Last but not least, Nagel provides that prenatal and posthumous non-existence should not be symmetrical.