Does death make life more valuable?
Last week, I discovered a surprising inconsistency in some fundamental ways that we look at life.
In order to illustrate the inconsistency, I asked multiple people two questions:
1. Is life intrinsically valuable?
2. Does death make life more valuable?
Most people, answered with, yes and yes. Not realising that ultimately these two claims clash with one another. Why is that?
1. To claim that life is intrinsically valuable means to claim that life is valuable in and of itself.
2. To claim that death makes life more valuable because we have a limited amount of time, means that extrinsic factors such as limited length give life more value.
In other words, saying that death makes life meaningful is like saying that an infinite life would be meaningless. Meaningless because one could procrastinate indefinitely, and/or boredom would sooner or later take the “fun” out of life. Therefore, those who say that death gives life meaning are only motivated to live a “meaningful” life (in their eyes) due to extrinsic pressures. However, they simultaneously believe that life in itself is intrinsically valuable (as we can see from their response to question 1.)
There is a problem: either, they answered question 1. wrongly and life has no intrinsic value. Or question 2. is wrong and death does not determine an increase in life’s meaningfulness.
I think it is fairly universally accepted to claim that life is meaningful in and of itself. In fact in William Frankena’s list of intrinsic values (the longest list someone has created so far) “life” appears to be the first point on the list.
"life, consciousness, and activity; health and strength; pleasures and satisfactions of all or certain kinds; happiness, beatitude, contentment, etc.; truth; knowledge and true opinions of various kinds, understanding, wisdom; beauty, harmony, proportion in objects contemplated; aesthetic experience; morally good dispositions or virtues; mutual affection, love, friendship, cooperation; just distribution of goods and evils; harmony and proportion in one’s own life; power and experiences of achievement; self-expression; freedom; peace, security; adventure and novelty; and good reputation, honor, esteem, etc."
So why do so many of us instinctively answer the 2nd Question with “yes”?
However, is an economic model a good way to perceive one’s life?
At most it produces an unconscious promotion of a life that “needs” extrinsic forces to elicit motivation for one’s actions.
Wanting to live a meaningful life, should not be determined by the fact that your time is limited… some might even argue that it isn't!
In our day to day lives, most people do not directly think about death every time they decide to do something “meaningful” with their life…
“Denial” of one’s own death or the “illusion of immortality” call it what you want, we are psychologically incapable of constantly incorporating the possibility of death into our daily endeavours. In that sense, one could even argue that death cannot have an influence on one’s meaning of life.
As Epicurus stated:
“If I am, then death is not. If Death is, then I am not“
It is a bad mental model to believe that the threshold of life caused by death should give you motivation to do meaningful things. It is just another way to invite inauthenticity into your life. Whatever you do in your life, do it because you are intrinsically inclined to do it. That way you will never get bored, nor feel the void of meaninglessness… because to some extent, when I ask the question “would an infinite life be meaningless?” I am asking you about your attitude towards the very life that you are living right now…