Sixth Form Lecture – Death: Is it bad that we have to die? Would it be good to live forever?
Tuesday 26th February 2019
On Friday 8 February, our Sixth Form students gathered in the Lecture Theatre for an insightful lecture from Dr Beale on ‘Death: Is it bad that we have to die? Would it be good to live forever?’
Dr Beale started the lecture by asking our students “If I had a potion that would grant you immortality, would you drink it?” This first question caused much discussion amongst the room, and in the end, only a couple of students said that they would drink the immortality potion.
Dr Beale then asked: “Why?”. The general consensus from the few students who answered that they would drink the potion, was out that they would do so out of the fear of death.
The fear of death, and whether death should be feared, was a key topic of this lecture. Dr Beale explained that, if we look at death as the termination of existence, then how can it be bad, if nothing happens? And so, why should we be afraid of it?
Dr Beale introduced our students to the teachings of ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus. Epicurus believed that, in life, there is only good sensation and bad sensation. He believed that death is the lack of sensation, so how can it be good or bad? Therefore, we should not fear death.
However, there is a credible argument against this, which Epicurus denies, in the ‘Harm Thesis’. This thesis argues that death harms us, as it deprives us of future things and pleasurable experiences. Life itself is ‘good’, and so the deprivation of life, by dying, is something that can cause harm.
Lucretius, who Dr Beale explained was a follower of Epicurus, put forward what is known as the ‘symmetry argument’. He argued that, if we do not regret our pre-natal existence, then why should we fear our post-mortem existence? As humans, we seem to be biased towards the future.
Our students found Lecretius’ theory particularly interesting, and provided a new perspective on death.
At the end of the lecture, Dr Beale asked the students again for their thoughts on death.
Although some felt a fear of dying, rather than a fear of death, and a fear of being forgotten, most students felt reassured by what they had learned, and were able to look at death from different perspectives.