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I am a student at Lafayette College and last weekend, we celebrated Marquis de Lafayette's 250th birthday. Is such a celebration valuable to Marquis himself, even when he is dead? Since we are all going to die, should we all try to make an effort to be remembered by future generations? To whom is that valuable? Thank you.

My hometown is Bethlehem, PA, and I spent plenty of time around Lafayette and downtown Easton growing up, so I had to respond to this. I hope things are well there with you. I agree with my colleague Amy Kind that people can harmed (or benefited) even if they're unaware of it, and so in a sense even the dead can be harmed (or benefited). A colleague of mine used to speak of harm in terms not of experience but interests, and one of the the interests that some people have might be described as a narrative interest--that is, an interest in the story of their life. Most of us, I think, have an interest in our reputations. Some of us maintain an interest in producing a reputation that endures after we've died. Such an interest might, I think, be something not terribly admirable--a product of vanity and excessive pride or ambition. But an interest in an enduring reputation might be morally virtuous to the extent it, say, sustains a family name or enhances the reputation of a good institution ...

Is inheritance of wealth ethical?

Yes, that's because inheritance underwrites certain virtues and social goods--for example, (1) it stimulates productivity among those who create wealth, (2) it provides financial security, (3) it binds families together, (4) it produces general social stability. But note that it's also the case that it's ethically sound to limit inheritance and to tax inheritance. That's because doing so mitigates the vices of inheritance and produces vitrues of its own. Among the vices of inheritance are (1) the cementing and even magnifying of social inequalities of power and priviledge, (2) intensifying class-based prejudice and hostility, and (3) dulling incentives to create wealth among inheritors. Among the goods that limiting and taxing inheritance produces are (1) a stronger democracy through greater equality of social goods and social power and (2) improved general welfare through the gathering of revenue to underwrite goods provided by government such as educatiion, healthcare, national defense,...

Many people tell about strange experiences in connection with death. Why do SO many FEAR that there will be nothing after death and in consequence even invent some "soothing" stories?! How can one handle the fear of there being actually something (whatever) after death? What if your strongest feeling is fear of your life never really ending??! Is there an intellectual answer for that? (Sorry for my English: I'm Swiss.)

Epicureans thought that the fear of death was something irrational that we'd be better of without and that once we understood how the natural universe operates we'd largely become free from. Along the lines of Epicurean thought, David Hume is said to have remarked along these lines when someone asked whether or not he feared his apprpoaching death (paraphrasing): "No more so than I regret not having been born earlier." Why fear not existing or nothingness? One might be sad or angry about being taken from one's projects, but why be afraid? Rather than soothing us, Epicureans thought that religious stories about the afterlife disturb people. For myself, I have found some peace in Epicurean reflections. But I suspect it that Jyl Gentzler is onto something in her evollutionary-biological explanation. Then, of course, much of what people fear isn't so much being dead as the process of dying. Existentialists have also suggested that what many call the fear of death is actually anxiety in the face of...

Is it irrational to fear one’s own death?

There's a funny old remark that goes something like this: "I don't fear my own death, because it's not something that will happen in my lifetime." The Epicureans held something of this view. Death isn't something that happens to us, the argument goes, because when dead we no longer exist. As he was dying, David Hume is recorded as having remarked along these lines when someone asked him whether he feared death: no more so than I regret not having been born earlier. The time before we were born was nothing to us; the time after we die will be nothing, too. It's irrational to fear nothing. But, of course, it's not irrational to fear dying. The process that results in death is certainly something, and it's hardly irrational to fear the sorts of torments that afflict many in the course of that process. Then again, some hold that there's some sort of afterlife during which we might be subjected to indescibable horrors. If when dead we don't cease to exist, then maybe there is something to fear in it...

If every life results in death, then what is the meaning of life?

This is a compelling question. I remember encountering it in a powerful way reading Albert Camus’s essay, “Absurd Reasoning.” Recently, a student of mine broached it during a discussion we were having about the condition the universe seems to be heading towards. It seems, I’m told, that everything in the universe will ultimately degenerate into a vast, endless, more-or-less uniform, horribly cold and dark field of low-level radiation. Some call this condition, the final destination of the universe, “entropic hell.” In light of this apparent fact, the relevant question concerning the meaning of life is this: since everything we accomplish will ultimately be destroyed and degenerate into “entropic hell,” what meaning can anything have? I think there’s something misleading about his question, however, something that lurks in a hidden assumption that the question makes. The question and its force rely largely on the assumption that life has meaning only if it lasts forever. In my view, this is a...