Let us assume for the time being that you believe cake to be a good, and find cake-eating emphatically positive. Now imagine that one day, when you go to your local bakery to eat your daily serving of cake, you find that cake no longer exists. They are out of cake indefinitely, they tell you, and so is every other baker. Your life from this point forward will be cakeless, and this is a misfortune! I hope we can agree that this is a great evil, this deprivation of cake you will now have to endure. Surely this is the sort of deprivation Nagel refers to when he states that “life is a good and death is the corresponding deprivation or loss” for we once had cake, a good, and we are now faced with the corresponding deprivation or loss, no cake (or for lack of a term meaning ‘lack of cake,' cakelessness). It seems intuitive that in the above scenario, cakelessness is an evil; it is bad not because of any positive features found in cakelessness itself, “but because of the desirability of what it removes.” We miss cake, are deprived of cake, and are fully aware of the loss we have sustained. The cakeless world is, to our eyes, far less grand than the cakeful world that we experienced before it.
In Nagel's essay “Death” from Mortal Questions, Nagel brings up several questions concerning death, the most prominent being: is death an evil? Nagel states that death is indeed an evil. But because there is nothing independently unfortunate about the (unconscious, nonexistent) state of being dead, it is what death deprives us of, or the absence of life's good, that makes death evil. Since life is so “emphatically positive” the loss of one's life is a great misfortune.
[...] If one is to be deprived of cake, it seems intuitive that he must know of cake in some way, or experience the loss of going from a cakeful world to a cakeless one. Nagel himself says that we need not be aware of this deprivation of life in order to be deprived. But where then does this deprivation of life originate? While in the above scenario we find ourselves attaching emotional qualities of loss, regret, deprivation, etc to cakelessness, there are no such qualities to be found in death. [...]
[...] In this very brief essay I have attempted to show how unintuitive it is to claim that death deprives the dead of their own life (or their own life's good). Through illustrating scenarios that point out the strange and unintuitive nature of Nagel's view, it seems clear that the concept of deprivation relies (at least to some extent) on awareness. Whether death is truly an evil or not, I have not endeavored to posit; but if death is in fact an evil as Nagel maintains, it is surely not [...]
[...] Both Case 1 and Case 2 are meant to show what is unintuitive about Nagel's view, namely that this concept of deprivation endures without ourselves having knowledge of our loss, and yet Nagel insists that deprivation of life is the reason that death is evil. If we accept that this is unintuitive, then we are left with a new question: what is the difference between such concepts of unfortunate, evil, and deprivation and the fact that a cakeless world is clearly “less grand”? [...]
[...] Surely this more analogous case is the sort of deprivation Nagel really means to refer to when he states that “life is a good and death is the corresponding deprivation or after all, we once had cake, a good, and we are now faced with the corresponding deprivation or loss, cakelessness. But are you really with loss? This is hardly a loss to be sustained or endured, as Nagel calls to it; you know of no such thing by the name of cake. [...]
APA Style referenceFor your bibliography
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee