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Death (The Open Yale Courses Series) Paperback – May 15, 2012

3.9 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Shelly Kagan is Clark Professor of Philosophy, Yale University. He is the author of Normative Ethics and The Limits of Morality. He lives in Hamden, CT.

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Product Details

  • Series: The Open Yale Courses Series
  • Paperback: 392 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; Original edition (May 15, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300180845
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300180848
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #69,913 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This book is based on a series of lectures on 'Death' Kagan gave in Yale University. These lectures and in fact this book can be seen on YouTube.
Kagan introduces the book by making it clear what he is and his not doing. He is going to think philosophically about Death but he is going to exclude any religious material or consideration. He will first consider what the person is, consider the body- mind question. He will make an effort in the work to prove that the soul is not real.
He also says that he is not dogmatically trying to teach any doctrine about Death. He is going to explore certain basic questions regarding Death and is eager that each student will think through these questions.
He does this in a generally clear way, though I suspect that certain chapters of the work will be pretty tough going for the general reader.
He works hard to analyze the notion of personal identity. He concludes the work with the question of whether Suicide can be moral or not. He in the course of this evaluates different value systems. He also has a chapter on how we live when we know that we are going to die. And he too argues that Immortality is not a desirable alternative. In other chapters he discusses why Death is Bad.
It is possible to learn a great deal one does not necessarily want to know from this book without endorsing Kagan's positions. Kagan is well aware that this is far from the last word on the subject. And this when he as a philosopher does make arguments for a position on Death which certainly is out of keeping with, and far less consoling than traditional religious positions.
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Something defined as bad is defined by either one of three means. (Intrinsically, Instrumentally, Comparatively)

Intrinsic:
Shelly tells us that some things are intrinsically bad. That is, some things, such as pain for example are bad in and of itself.

Instrumentally:
If something that leads to things that are bad, that is considered instrumentally bad. He cites losing a job which may not be bad in and of itself but can lead to poverty.

Comparatively:
Something can be comparatively bad by virtue of the fact that on what we have missed out on. It is in this sense that death is bad since the "opportunity costs" of living far outweigh non-existence. In a sense reminds me of the verse in the bible that says "a living dog is better than a dead lion".

Shelly writes in a very conversational tone while philosophizing on the nature of death, considering words and arguments in the light of what we currently know. Arguments in favor of the immortality of the soul are laid out, examined, and shown to not have any real merit. What Shelly advances, seems to be common sense about death. And understanding death can perhaps take the sting out of it when we face it. When I was going through my cancer treatment years ago, I would have been less anxious than I was if I had read this book over having read "The Death of Ivan Illich", which is extremely depressing.

We all have to face the end someday, and thinking about it as Shelly lays it out can make this life, our ONLY life meaningful. When you realize how short our years are, and the fact that no immortality awaits us, this to me underscores our responsibility to be nicer to each other, appreciate life on higher levels, love a little more, be ethical in all that we do.

Shelly is a great philosopher and I highly recommend this work and all his other works:
1. Normative Ethics
2. The Limits of Morality
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Death (The Open Yale Course Series) by Shelly Kagan

"Death" is the very interesting book based on a course on death that Professor Kagan has taught at Yale University. This accessible book covers philosophical questions about the nature of death. The first half of the book covers questions about the existence of souls and the nature of death while the second half deals with value questions. This is a very engaging and thought-provocative book that has well a lecture feel. This instructive 392-page book includes the following sixteen chapters: 1. Thinking about Death, 2. Dualism versus Physicalism, 3. Arguments for the Existence of the Soul, 4. Descartes' Argument, 5. Plato on the Immortality of the Soul, 6. Personal Identity, 7. Choosing between the Theories, 8. The Nature of Death, 9. Two Surprising Claims about Death, 10. The Badness of Death, 11. Immortality, 12. The Value of Life, 13. Other Aspects of Death, 14. Living in the Face of Death, 15. Suicide, and 16. Conclusion: An Invitation.

Positives:
1. Well written, engaging prose. Professor Kagan maintains a respectful, conversational, dare I say professorial tone throughout.
2. Fascinating yet difficult topic handled with care and expertise. This is as you would expect, a thought-provoking book.
3. Accessible philosophical book. Professor Kagan goes out of his way to make this book reachable to the masses. He explains every new term clearly and provides a number of examples that enhances the educational experience.
4. Great approach! The professor tells the reader which views he accepts and then he proceeds to defend his positions. I prefer that approach. "I'm going to try to convince you that there is no soul. I'm going to try to convince you that immortality would not be a good thing.
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