When I die, I won't enter eternity, as my concept of eternity has to come from a conscious being. When I am dead I am not conscious, therefore not only will I not be able to conceptualize eternity, but I won't be able to conceptualize anything. This includes pain, pleasure, emotion, etc. So then why do we fear death? Why then, do we grieve for people? I feel that to a certain degree it's instinctual, but I also think in many cases we rationalize our grief for what we call "lost potential". If someone dies when they are twenty, then we feel as if they missed out on their chance to experience the rest of their life. But why should the rest of their life have any more value than death? If someone lives a full life, then dies, why should we say they achieved anything more than the person who died when they are twenty if in the end they reach the same fate?

I do also think that a common reason for grief is that we won't be able to interact with the person again, or create new memories with that person again. Although, once again, we are grieving for this "lost potential" (albeit in a more self centrist {non-egotistical} way). And once again, it feels like we are assigning value to things that don't necessarily have any.

  • 1
    This is not a question as understood on SE but rather a musing that invites others to share their thoughts. Sentences with question marks are just rhetorical. It would be great as a prompt on a forum but here it is off-topic. We take questions that are narrowly scoped and have more or less unique answers based on existing literature. So this post is too opinion based even for an answer.
    – Conifold
    Oct 16, 2018 at 20:23
  • Alright, that's fair Oct 16, 2018 at 20:57

2 Answers 2


I think you answered the question in the last paragraph: "we are assigning value that isn't necessarily there", but it is there because we assigned it. Value is conditioned by preconscious investments as a child develops, all the way up through the identity formation of adolescence, so it can't exactly be said to be all conscious choice of what to value. There are cultures that celebrate death, rather than grieving it, which is a good argument for the cultural relativity of one's emotional reaction to death.

The fact of the matter is humans naturally value things and what those things are and how those values are expressed is determined by one's culture; emotional complexes form and are crystalized in participation with all the facets of one's environment. It's a complex process -- one that is not rational, the domain of why, but actual, the domain of is. One may be able to hash out some sort of causation for the investment of value and the formation of emotional systems, but it won't be the "conclusions following from premises" of thought.

Any 'you should value life because' argument eventually reduces to absurdity, for example:
Person1: "Why should I value life?"
Person2: "Because love exists, and it is the most wonderful experience ever."
Person1: "Why should I value wonderful experiences?"
Person2: "Because they give one a sense of well being."
Person1: "Why should I value a sense of well being." etc.

Common sense says that certain experiences are inherently valuable because, whilst living them, we have the pre-intellectual experience of them being valuable. From this experiential basis, most fruitful systems of philosophy are founded. One does not question why love is valuable because love, while experienced, has the pre-intellectual quality of value. Value is conditioned by the ideas and cultural forms we've internalized through development, but it is a pre-thetic experience that philosophy has to deal with in its analysis of the world and not something that is derived from that analysis. <-- final answer in bold, hope that helped! Would recommend getting into phenomenology and possibly some psychoanalytic theory if you want to gain a better understanding of how, and loosely, why we value things and the relationship of emotion to value.

  • +1 Would you have references to the most relevant phenomenological literature keeping in mind I will only be able to read a very small fraction of what is available. Oct 16, 2018 at 14:49
  • 1
    A relevant PHD thesis in the phenomological tradition by Daniel Vanello: wrap.warwick.ac.uk/90969/1/WRAP_Theses_Vanello_2016.pdf The abstract is a good enough summary if you're in a hurry.
    – Ethan NOPE
    Oct 16, 2018 at 19:40
  • This answer assumes that not living an experience precludes a pre-intellectual experience of them being valuable. Oct 17, 2018 at 3:27

Life has probably more value than death for a mixing of fearing death and loving life. Perhaps the main reasons are:

  • Some philosophers suggest that living, and more specifically, body functions as breathing, feeling our body, being awake or sleeping give us pleasure. This is probably the first reason to love living. Personally, I love beer and jazz. If I have to choose, that's enough. Just read an article saying that receiving sunlight gives pleasure.
  • Second, the medicine industry has succeeded to impregnate people with a subconscious message, that death is to be feared. It used not to be so. Old cultures used to accept death as something natural. Alfred Schmidt said that death is not of our incumbency.
  • Third, effectively, the death of a third person causes pain to the relatives that leave behind; the dead is not aware of nothing. Lou Marinoff, in his Less Prozac and More Plato addresses this problem in detail.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .