Life in Overabundance: Agar on Life-Extension and the Fear of Death

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 17 (2):223-236 (2014)
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In Humanity’s End: Why We Should Reject Radical Enhancement, Nicholas Agar presents a novel argument against the prospect of radical life-extension. Agar’s argument hinges on the claim that extended lifespans will result in people’s lives being dominated by the fear of death. Here we examine this claim and the surrounding issues in Agar’s discussion. We argue, firstly, that Agar’s view rests on empirically dubious assumptions about human rationality and attitudes to risk, and secondly, that even if those assumptions are granted, the fears that Agar adverts to are unlikely to dominate people’s lives if and when radical life-extension is made possible. Further, we claim that the structure of the decision-making process around life-extension is unlikely to be the way that it would have to be in order for Agar’s claims about fear of death to make sense. Finally, we argue that Agar is implicitly committed to a narrow conception of human value. In response, we suggest that the pursuit of life-extension can itself be seen as an expression of certain important aspects of our distinctively human nature.

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Robert Mark Simpson
University College London


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