Has anyone discussed this particular problem, which may be a subset of Epicurean problems:

  • can death be a good, for putting a stop to pain, even if dead people don't exist?

This seems problematic, even-though I understand how there is less pain in the world when someone in pain dies.

e.g. my own pain seems especially important, if not anymore evil, than pain in general: can that be maintained if there's no longer any me?

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    well, it might not be universally agreed that you won't exist anymore. but whether you do or not, the physical manifestation of pain as an organic process of the brain will not exist anymore. – robert bristow-johnson Dec 17 '16 at 2:31
  • @robertbristow-johnson i get what you mean, i think my question was unclear. – user6917 Dec 17 '16 at 5:08
  • @robertbristow-johnson. You're assuming that the phenomenal manifestation of pain (as opposed to its physical causes) is also physical. The problem is that no one has a good theory as how that could be possible. The other possibility, which the best of philosophers have all believed, is that we have a soul that carries on after death. – user3017 Dec 17 '16 at 9:06
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    Augustine, for example, wrote: "How, then, do I seek thee, O Lord? For when I seek thee, my God, I seek a happy life. I will seek thee that my soul may live. For my body lives by my soul, and my soul lives by thee." (Confessions) – user3017 Dec 17 '16 at 10:12
  • i think the issue for me is that being deprived of pleasure or success can more obviously occur before the pleasure is meant to arrive. that pain is something that only counts when we are in pain? – user6917 Jan 9 '17 at 11:30
  1. Death is nothing to us; for that which has been dissolved into its elements experiences no sensations, and that which has no sensation is nothing to us.

  2. The magnitude of pleasure reaches its limit in the removal of all pain. When such pleasure is present, so long as it is uninterrupted, there is no pain either of body or of mind or of both together.

  3. Continuous bodily pain does not last long; instead, pain, if extreme, is present a very short time, and even that degree of pain which slightly exceeds bodily pleasure does not last for many days at once. Diseases of long duration allow an excess of bodily pleasure over pain.

...and such from Principal Doctrines putatively by Epicurus himself.

You could also check out "The Conquest of Fear and Worry" by John Herman Randall from his 1909 "A New Philosophy of Life"

More recently from the University of Glasgow, there's also Elizabeth Telfer's article, "Philosophical Approaches to the Dilemma of Death with Dignity" which addresses utilitarian and consequentialist positions.

And this dissertation may be what you are looking for: "In Defence of Euthanasia: The Epicurean View of Death" by Andreas J. M. Blom

I would question, however, the notions you mention in your bounty notes that "pain is innately bad" and from the question that pain is "evil" - and this whether "pain" in the sense of physical, emotional, mental pain or what have you. Pain is ontologically subjective. In that sense, consider Searle's distinction of "feeling a pain and engaging in pain behavior", per his recent Ted Talk.

"My pains have a subjective mode of existence in that they only exist as experienced by me, the subject. But mountains and molecules have an objective mode of existence because they exist whether or not they are experienced by any subject. It can be an epistemically objective matter of fact that I have a pain even though the mode of existence of the pain is ontologically subjective."
John R. Searle, Philosophy in a New Century, 2008)

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    will read the Blom article soon, thanks, should be the best answer – user6917 Jan 10 '17 at 19:23
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    This answer has the drawback of not containing an answer. Data does not speak for itself. – jobermark Jan 12 '17 at 23:55
  • @Mr.Kennedy you have a very odd definition of 'clearly'. Also, 'yes' does not answer a question starting with 'How'. You need to either give a 'no', or allude to a mechanism. No? – jobermark Jan 13 '17 at 16:09
  • Given the upvote on my comment, I am not alone here. I am not obtuse, but I want the answer clear for future readers. If you have a position and an argument, it remains unstated. A collection of reference material is good for everyone, but references support an answer, rather than constituting one. – jobermark Jan 13 '17 at 21:33
  • @jobermark "yes" Epicurus's quote positively addresses the title question. If you have a suggestion as to how the answer can be improved, feel free to offer it. – Mr. Kennedy Jan 14 '17 at 4:44

From within an Epicurean point of view, given the existence of power and empathy, there is not a problem here. The bullet-pointed question is on point entirely, but 'when someone in pain dies' is outside the relevant frame of reference, unless that person is you. The release from pain of other people is not something that you can consider. How could you judge the balance of their pleasure and pain? Why would you try to do the impossible?

You are competent to judge your own suffering, and the odds are that objectively considering it, the balance is not no negative you would rather not exist, unless you have honestly rid yourself of the natural human bias toward existing. But if you are really there, dying is in order.

Epicurus would care nothing about the suffering of the dead person, before or after his death, except to the extend that it affects himself. He is not a utilitarian, he is a hedonist, so there is no aggregation of all suffering or pleasure, only the given suffering or pleasure of each individual who has to choose to act. A hedonist still needs to be concerned with others' pleasure or pain because pleasure and pain travel between individuals, and ideas like fairness and safety require communal action to avoid mental anguish.

Others' suffering pains many people. The work on oneself that would protect one from that is the Stoic way, which Epicureanism rejects as too hard to be sensible. Suffering others also often decide to spread their pain around. So removing the opportunity for both seems like a reasonable way to reduce the odds of being victim to either of these effects. That would increase the degree of one's own happiness.

The idea that the release of others from pain would be good does not rely on their having value of their own. It is enough that humans are constructed in a way that borrows pain from others and that pain encourages bad decisions and rash actions that can cause others pain. Since we are others' others, we will be doing some of that borrowing and suffering some of that transferred aggression and poor judgement.

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    i am finding your answer really difficult to read. could you work on that? is your answer only about other people's suffering?? i'm downovoting cos either it doesn't really answer the question in the OP, or i can't read it. there's no mention of death, only how to immunise yourself from people that are in pain – user6917 Jan 13 '17 at 0:58
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    I have edited in an explanation. Although I do not find 'removing the opportunity for both' to be too coded a reference to euthanasia or suicide. – jobermark Jan 13 '17 at 16:20

Yes death can be a good. Had death not existed many people would have to live in pain for eternity, specially those who choose to end their lives voluntarily.

Speaking of all the rest of the people, someday we would be content with all the wishes and experiences and finally we would crave a desire to end our lives since that would be the only experience we would not have had.

Even if the mentioned above scenarios would not occur, death is still good since our death will allow the rest of the people to flourish and let them do their time in this world which would otherwise be full of conflict if death hadn't taken us away.


I don't think it is a problem even from a purely Epicurean point of view. Epicurus seems to have argued quite strongly that death is not a bad thing to be feared by the living. In his Letter to Menoeceus he argues that because death cannot harm the dead, nor affect the living, it should not be feared, and Lucretius records the argument that as we do not feel pain in the thought of our not having existed prior to being born, we should similarly feel no pain in the thought of our not existing after death.

Following this logic, the act of dying is not a negative thing in itself, only in its effect on ending the ability to obtain further pleasure. Thus the act of suicide can be a right action if the prediction that the time between now and the subject's natural death will contain more pain than pleasure. The more severe the pain, the more incurable it is, and the closer the subject is to their natural death, the more accurate this prediction can be and so the more reliable the judgement of 'right' regarding the action.

A good modern discussion of Utilitarian attitudes to death is in L.W Sumner's 'A Matter of Life and Death'

  • i think i get what you mean: the "absence of pain" is no different to that of pleasure, and death can be a harm. right? – user6917 Jan 9 '17 at 11:10
  • @Mathemetician Yes, if removing pain can be a pleasure, then removing pleasure (or the capacity for it) can cause pain. Death removes the capacity for pleasure, so is a harm. It ceases to become a harm (on the balance of probability), when the capacity for pleasure has been removed by some other agent. – Isaacson Jan 9 '17 at 11:26
  • oh ok. don't think that pain is just the absence of pleasure, but that makes total sense, thanks – user6917 Jan 9 '17 at 11:27
  • @Math I was referring to the psychological pain of being deprived of future pleasures, not that pain is literally the absence of pleasure. – Isaacson Jan 9 '17 at 11:28
  • I think you are grafting Mill onto Epicurus. I don't need to care if there is further opportunity for someone else's pleasure. That is Utilitarianism and not Hedonism. The 'Buddhist/Kantian computation' that whatever affects anyone affects me, as long as I cultivate sensitivity, so I only really need to consider myself (which simplifies life and makes it more pleasant) is part of Epicurus as I read him. – jobermark Jan 13 '17 at 16:36

Pain is a suffering experienced by the body. Actually we are not this body. All the major philosophy states that we are not this body. We are the vital living force(energy) within the body. The vital living force(energy) is spread thought the body in the form of consciousness.

This body is a temporary manifestation of the elements of this nature (Combination of heat,light,water,earth and air). But the living force within the body is an unique eternal energy which will not destroy even after the death.

Death is nothing but a translocation of that vital living force from one body to another body(Not necessarily to be a human body) by the arrangement of nature. As long as we transfer from one body to another body we will be suffering continuously life after life.

So, the ultimate solution to get rid of the suffering is to get rid of this material nature which is giving this repeated birth and death. Now the question is where we will get a eternal body ?

Go to www.vedabase.com/en/bg/18/56 to find the answer :)

Energy can neither be created nor be destroyed, It can be transformed from one form to another form. Our body is made up of such energy that it will annihilate into another form of energy. But the vital living force can never be transformed from one form to another form. Refer Here: www.vedabase.com/en/bg/2/20

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    Welcome to Philosophy.SE. We prefer for our answers to have some philosophical reference - it's simply not true, however, that "all... major philosophy s[t]ates that we are not this body". The remainder of your answer is founded in theological doctrine rather than philosophy, which is not quite on topic here. – commando Jan 11 '17 at 16:53

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