Many of us feel existential terror when contemplating our future nonexistence. I examine several attempts to rationally justify existential terror. The most promising of these appeals to the effects of future nonexistence on the meaningfulness of our lives. I argue that even this justification fails, and therefore existential terror is irrational.
KeywordsDeath Emotion Fear Meaning of life Rationality
A very abbreviated preliminary version of this paper was presented at the Immortality Project conference in Riverside, CA in May, 2015. Thanks to those present for their helpful comments. Thanks also to Nathan Ballantyne for very helpful comments on a later draft, and to Kirsten Egerstrom and Travis Timmerman for helpful discussion. Work on this paper was supported by the Immortality Project at the University of California-Riverside, funded by the John Templeton Foundation.
- de Unamuno, Miguel. 1972. The tragic sense of life in men and nations (trans: Anthony Kerrigan). Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
- Draper, Kai. 2012. Death and rational emotion. In The Oxford handbook of philosophy of death, ed. Ben Bradley, Fred Feldman, and Jens Johansson, 297–316. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Edwards, Paul. 2008. The meaning and value of life. In The meaning of life: A reader, ed. E.D. Klemke, and Steven M. Cahn, 114–133. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Kamm, Frances. 1993. Morality, mortality, volume I: Death and whom to save from it. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Lucretius. 1965. On nature (trans: Russel Geer). Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Co.Google Scholar
- Nagel, Thomas. 1979. Mortal questions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Parfit, Derek. 1984. Reasons and persons. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Rorty, Amélie. 1994. Fearing Death. In Language, metaphysics, and death, 2nd ed, ed. John Donnelly, 102–116. New York: Fordham University Press.Google Scholar
- Taylor, Richard. 2008. The meaning of life. In The meaning of life: A reader, ed. E.D. Klemke, and Steven M. Cahn, 134–142. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Wolf, Susan. 2010. Meaning in life and why it matters. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar