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Playing the Odds: A New Response to Lucretius's Symmetry Argument

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Most commentators have assumed that Lucretius's symmetry argument against the fear of death is flawed. There remains, however, dispute as to what the flaw is. After establishing what I understand the target of Lucretius's argument to be (a desire for a longer life as such), I argue for a novel interpretation of what the flaw is, namely, that extending one's life into the time before one was actually born would be an uncertain bet for one who wanted to extend his life, whereas extending one's life beyond the time one actually dies is a sure bet. This account of what the flaw is has the particular merit of relying only on simple concepts used in everyday reasoning and thus can explain why Lucretius's argument gains no traction even in the absence of sophisticated philosophical analysis.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Columbia University, Email:

Publication date: September 1, 2010


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