New book by SU philosopher sheds light on life and death
New book by SU philosopher sheds light on life and deathFebruary 13, 2009Rob Enslinrmenslin@syr.edu
What constitutes a “good” life? Is death necessarily “bad?” If so, how can we understand death better?
These questions and more are addressed in a much-anticipated book by renowned ethicist Ben Bradley titled “Well-Being and Death” (Oxford University Press, 2009). Scheduled to hit bookshelves next month, it is described by the publisher as a “new philosophy” on life and death.
“Though these questions are of interest in their own right, they are also relevant to important moral and social problems, such as how scarce resources should be allocated, whether abortion is permissible and how animals should be treated,” says Bradley, associate professor of philosophy in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences.
Central to the book’s premise is the belief that pleasure, not achievement or satisfaction of desire, is what makes life go well. The book also proposes that death is bad because it fundamentally deprives victims of a good life. “Death is worse the earlier it occurs,” says Bradley, adding that death is no different for animals and fetuses than for adult humans. “The only sensible way to make death less bad is to live so long that no more good life is possible.”
The inspiration for “Well-Being and Death” occurred more than 20 years ago, when Bradley came upon the liberal writings of John Stuart Mill. (The 19th-century British philosopher is best known for the essay “On Liberty,” condemning tyrannical authority.) Before long, Bradley found himself publishing papers on life and death and then entertaining the notion of writing a book-his first-tying both themes together. “I didn’t realize I was writing a book until I was already well into it,” jokes Bradley, who has taught at Western Washington University, Virginia Tech and Illinois Wesleyan University. He also is co-editing the “Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Death” (Oxford University Press, 2010) with renowned philosophers Fred Feldman and Jens Johansson.
Oxford touts the book as “clear and stimulating, with intriguing conclusions.” Divided into five sections (“Well-Being,” “The Evil of Death,” “Existence and Time,” “Does Psychology Matter?” and “Can Death Be Defeated?”), the book draws on Bradley’s background in metaphysics, epistemology and environmental ethics, as well as his interest in value theory. “I’ve always been interested in what makes life worth living,” Bradley says. “I hope this book will answer some important questions, while provoking serious discussion.”
More information about Bradley and the philosophy department is available at http://thecollege.syr.edu.