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Life and death

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L043-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 21, 2024, from

Article Summary

Problems concerning life and death are among the most dramatic and intractable in philosophy and they feature in all fundamental areas of philosophical inquiry, especially ethics. Most basic is the problem of what account to give of the value of life itself. This problem has had two main dimensions. One has been the controversy over what precise account to give of death; this has revolved around the issue of whether death is, as it is commonly perceived, an evil, and premature death a tragedy. The other has been the equally puzzling question of how to explain the positive value of life, and to resolve the problem that the more rich we make our account of the value of life, the more the value of life, and hence the nature of the wrong done by killing someone, seems to vary with the quality of the life of the person concerned.

A second set of problems concerns the definition of death and appropriate criteria for death. Death, as the most extreme consequence of violence, also leads one into psychological discussions of aggression and into issues of political violence, terrorism, war and capital punishment in political philosophy. Third, there has been concern with a number of practical moral issues, including abortion and euthanasia. Finally, issues have arisen concerning the relation of the value of the life of persons to other sorts of lives, those of animals, for example, or the life and survival of the ecosystem itself.

This discussion will concentrate on the central themes of the value of life and the harm and wrong represented by death.

Citing this article:
Harris, John. Life and death, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L043-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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