Can anyone do something before they die to make their death less of a harm? I'm guessing yes, unless death harms all people equally. But that seems strange.

Can we do so by doing good? By 'good' I don't mean to limit that to any particular philosopher, just the idea of having been more or less moral, not having distorted values, and pursuing them, independent of any successes. That's just a random thought, special pleading, as I can't think of anything else.

  • 1
    Less of a harm to whom? The one doing "good"? Why would those two things be related at all? And how is this philosophy rather than personal psychology, especially given the generic idea of "being a good person"?
    – Conifold
    Commented May 13, 2019 at 19:19
  • ah i think it's a philosophical question, definitely! i'm surprised you find no relation there at all, however, which may already answer my question. hm @Conifold
    – user38026
    Commented May 13, 2019 at 19:22
  • I did not say there is no relation, but you gave none, or any reason to think there is one. And, if there is one, why would it be of any philosophical interest? Coping mechanisms are studied by psychologists. If this is more than a random thought please add the context. And please, no more "ah" and "hm", your fake infantilism does not make your comments cuter.
    – Conifold
    Commented May 13, 2019 at 19:43
  • it's just how i express myself, i don't think it's infantile, and it's not meant to appear that way, at all. i don't want a long argument about anything, i've learnt that doesn't work here... i see no reason to think the question is either about religion or psychology, and i'm surprised you think so. that is all. @Conifold
    – user38026
    Commented May 13, 2019 at 19:46
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    The comment section is for clarifying the post, thus I feel one should clean up comments that aren't as such constructive. I assure you anything I said was ultimately to promote the quality of the thread, for your sake and for posterity - Also, I couldn't be bothered about looking bad, after all I just used the phrase: "thus I feel" ;)
    – christo183
    Commented May 18, 2019 at 16:59

4 Answers 4


Albert Camus wrote in the preface to The Myth of Sisyphus

The fundamental subject of "The Myth of Sisyphus" is this: it is legitimate and necessary to wonder whether life has a meaning; therefore it is legitimate to meet the problem of suicide face to face. The answer, underlying and appearing through the paradoxes which cover it, is this: even if one does not believe in God, suicide is not legitimate.

From this position there is no way to make death harmless by anything that one might try to do. Believing there might be is a kind of delusion to justify the absurdity of pushing the rock up the hill. It is absurd, but suicide is not legitimate.

Solomon wrote in Ecclesiates I:12-15:

I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 
I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all 
that is done under the heavens. 
What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! 
I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; 
all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

What is crooked cannot be straightened;
    what is lacking cannot be counted.

Again there is nothing we can do to make death harmless - even if we were able to live as a king.

What makes death appear harmful is the sense that we have wasted a short life. What makes the past a kind of hell is that there is no way to go back and fix that wasted life. Even if we could, there is nothing we could do because "what is crooked cannot be straightened" and that rock will just roll back down the mountain again.

And yet, Camus faced life without suicide.

And yet, Solomon could write (Ecclesiates 12:6-7):

Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
    and the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
    and the wheel broken at the well,
and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
    and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

Camus, A. The Myth of Sisyphus. Translator Justin O'Brien. 1955. Retrieved on May 14, 2019 at https://archive.org/details/AlbertCamusTheMythOfSisyphus

Ecclesiates 1:12-15 New International Version Retrieved on May 14, 2019 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ecclesiastes+1&version=NIV

Ecclesiates 12:6-7 New International Version Retrieved on May 14, 2019 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ecclesiastes+12&version=NIV


The Harm Thesis cited in the OPs question essentially defines the harmfulness of death by how bad death is vs not being dead. The common assumption that death is harmful is based on the idea that your state of being alive is better than a state of being dead. If you are in a state of chronic pain and suffering, then being alive could be perceived as more harmful than death. As such, the most logical way to make death less harmful is to live a less desirable life. But in this case you are not reducing your overall harm if that is what you mean.

As for your more specific question about good deeds: Doing good deeds before you die only makes death less harmful if you ascribe to some concept of divine justice in an afterlife. IE: if Heaven is better than Hell, then redeeming your soul before death makes death less harmful. If you do not believe in divine justice, then good deeds are more likely to increase your harm of death since you will likely build many good relationships and an improved sense of self worth in doing so.

  • i get what you're saying, and agree it's fair, even if i hope not to agree. could use some references, but i'll upvote out of honesty
    – user38026
    Commented May 13, 2019 at 20:30

Can we render death harmless to us by perfecting life, as the ancient Epicureans and Stoics seemed to think? It might seem so, for after we perfect life— assuming we can—persisting would not make life any better. Dying earlier rather than later would shorten life, but a longer perfect life is no better than a shorter perfect life, so dying would take nothing of value from us. However, after sketching what perfecting life might entail, I will argue that it is not a desirable approach to invulnerability after all. Luper 2013

It seems that for Luper as long as we can still live well then death is a harm, though perfecting life mitigates that by reducing fear of death, regret. However, one way of replying to Luper's analysis of the Stoics might be that, granted that the life of a morally good person is not the same as a good life, due to the possibility of bad luck and misfortune, it nevertheless is when we are dying and would be harmed by death. That, once they are dying, even unlucky moral people led a good life.

Another objection is that perfecting life only makes us invulnerable to death if living on becomes of no value. This is highly counter-intuitive unless we can only perfect life when we are dying (having led a morally good life).

My own objection is that there is no moral perfection, it's impossible, so death harms everyone. Given that some lives are more worth living, as most people do, death need not harm us all the same, but there is no total invulnerability to its harm.

  • "...as long as we can still live well then death is a harm...there is no total invulnerability to its harm": What about when we lose the capacity to live well? Are you saying that no state of being has a lower capacity for wellness than death, or just that a good life can never circumvent the harm of death?
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented May 21, 2019 at 20:46
  • i'm not saying your former interpretation, i am denying it. and, in the second claim you quote, am saying your latter interpretation, if by circumvent you mean totally doing so @Nosajimiki
    – user38026
    Commented May 21, 2019 at 22:22
  • i mean, it may well be that trying to mitigate the harm of death is foolish and will only reduce the value of life @Nosajimiki that's more or less what the question is about, the usefulness of stoic perfection
    – user38026
    Commented May 21, 2019 at 22:32
  • This as a two part question: "Can anyone do something before they die to make their death less of a harm?" and "Can we do so by doing good?", I think you answer the second part very well, but without addressing the first part, claiming there is no total invulnerability to death's harm is a Half-Truth fallacy. Instead I would recommend rewording it to specify that "morality" offers no total invulnerability to death's harm.
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented May 22, 2019 at 18:20
  • i'm not sure @Nosajimiki
    – user38026
    Commented May 22, 2019 at 20:13

Our attitude towards death is learned but we do have a choice to unlearn. What proof is there that death is bad? It is fashionable to discount the belief in Heaven but who discounts the much more common fear of death? What if our attitude towards death is the most powerful deterministic factor in the quality of life lived? In other words, if you see death as a universal harm then perhaps holding that view is a great impediment to your enjoyment of life. That's logical. But we don't live life logically when it comes to death, do we? We fear death even when it makes no sense to fear the inescapable. Especially when there's no proof that death is fearful. The Buddha famously said: normal people fear what is not fearful and do not fear what is truly terrifying (referring to death and immorality, respectively).

  • did the buddha really say that?
    – user38026
    Commented May 21, 2019 at 22:37
  • Yes, in a number of places in the Pali Canon. Here's one source from the Samyutta Nikaya (SN 22.55 (pg.894 in Bhikkhu Boddhi's edition)): "For this is frightening to the uninstructed worldling: 'It might not be, and it might not be for me; it will not be and it will not be for me.'"
    – user38256
    Commented May 22, 2019 at 12:22
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    I will dig around for some of the other references. BTW, thanks for your question. I do think this is a genuinely important philosophical topic, re: death. I found Plato's Apology really profound in terms of its ideas about our attitude towards death.
    – user38256
    Commented May 22, 2019 at 12:24
  • thanks! i don't like your paraphrase of that, so keep digging if you like.
    – user38026
    Commented May 22, 2019 at 12:54

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