Up@dawn 2.0

Thursday, August 18, 2016

"Long Long Lives: Should We Want Them?"

Today, as our capacity to prolong life increases, people dispute whether indefinite prolongation could possibly be good. A leading bioethicist, Ezekiel Emanuel (brother of Rahm) has written that we should all want to die at 75! I'll approach this question by drawing on ancient Greek arguments about why immortal life is undesirable -- arguments that I find fatally flawed. I then turn to two more recent philosophers who try to reconcile us to finite and reasonably short mortal lives: "Younger Martha" (i.e. me in 1994), and my teacher Bernard Williams, who wrote about the "tedium of immortality." I find those consolatory arguments flawed too. But a better argument is found in the Roman philosopher Lucretius, and it applies to indefinite prolongation as well as to outright immortality.

Martha Nussbaum is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics.

Presented on April 5, 2016, at the University of Chicago Law School.