Journal of Philosophy of Life

An international peer-reviewed open access journal dedicated to the philosophy of life, death, and nature, supported by the Research Institute for Contemporary Philosophy of Life, Osaka Prefecture University


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The Life-Value of Death
: Mortality, Finitude, and Meaningful Lives

Jeff Noonan

Journal of Philosophy of Life Vol.3, No.1 (January 2013):1-23



In his seminal reflection on the badness of death, Nagel links it to the permanent loss “of whatever good there is in living.” I will argue, following McMurtry, that “whatever good there is in living” is defined by the life-value of resources, institutions, experiences, and activities. Enjoyed expressions of the human capacities to experience the world, to form relationships, and to act as creative agents are (with important qualifications) intrinsically life-valuable, the reason why anyone would desire to go on living indefinitely. As Nagel argues, “the fact that we will eventually die in a few score years cannot by itself imply that it would not be good to live longer. If there is no limit to the amount of life that it would be good to have, then it may be that a bad end is in store for all of us.” In this paper I want to question whether in fact there is no limit to the amount of life it would be good to have. My general conclusion will be that it is not the case that the eternal or even indefinite prolongation of any particular individual life necessarily increases life-value. Were death thus somehow removed as an inescapable limiting frame on human life, overall reductions of life-value would be the consequence. Individual and collective life would lose those forms of moral and material life-value that form the bases of life’s being meaningful and purposive.

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