Extending human life

By Socrates

This short article (read it here) presents arguments in support of life extension. It also presents arguments against. I was intrigued by the arguments supporting life extension—not because of their philosophical brilliance, but because they are based on unconvincing premises. I am a lover of wisdom, but I do not pretend to be wise. So I learn by analyzing the gaps in these arguments.


The first argument can be presented in the following premise/conclusion form:

P1. life is good and death is bad
P2. If we were able to live longer lives, then our perception of death would change.
C. Therefore, we should extend life

This argument makes a strong claim about death that may be false. Back in Athens, I suggested that when people say death is bad, they are assuming the possession of knowledge that they can’t possibly have. For example, it might be the case that after my death I get to enjoy myself in an after life, conversing with friends (which turned out to be true for me). Or it might be that death is an eternal sleep in which I am forever shielded from pain. In either of these cases, death doesn’t seem to be a bad thing. So the premise that death is bad is not secure.

Another problem with premise 1 is that it does not connect properly with the second premise, which refers only to the perception of death. Premise 1 would be better worded as: Life is considered good and death is considered bad. This must be what the author intented.

The new version of the argument can be expressed as:

P1. Life is considered good and death is considered bad.
P2. If we were able to live longer lives, then our perception of death would change.
C. Therefore, we should extend life

But premise 2 doesn’t tell us much. What is the point? The argument relies on an unstated premise. This premise seems to be something like: We should change our perception of death. Let’s include this in the argument.

P1. Life is considered good and death is considered bad.
P2. If we were able to live longer lives, then our perception of death would change.
P3. We should change our perception of death
C. We should extend life

This is not a valid argument. The conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises because there could be other ways to change our perception of death, perhaps by seeking wisdom about death rather than attempting to extend life.

In addition to the problem of validity, our new version of premise 1 can be refuted. For example, a life of pain might not be considered good. And death may be considered good if it relieves pain.

And the revealed suppressed premise needs support. Why should we change our perception of death? Are the reasons I provided back in Athens (as mentioned above) sufficient?

The second argument for life extension can be summarized in premise/conclusion form as follows:

P1. When we die we lose accumulated knowledge, experiences, and memories
P2. Losing accumulated knowledge, experiences, and memories is a waste
C. Therefore, death is a waste

If we assume that our minds do not survive the death of our bodies, I think we can agree that when we die we lose accumulated knowledge as individuals. But that doesn’t mean our knowledge is actually lost. If it has been recorded or passed on to other people, then there is no waste. So I would re-word premise 2 as: Losing accumulated knowledge, experiences, and memories without transmitting them to other people is a waste. Worded this way shows that death may not always be a waste.

In this section, the author points to a secondary argument:

P1. Prolonging life allows us to preserve the memories and accomplishments of human kind
P2. Preserving memories and accomplishments of human kind results in positive social consequences
C. Therefore, prolonging life is a good thing

In support of premise 2, the author suggests that if people live longer, they may feel a greater sense of responsibility and accountability for their actions, which means they might take better care of the environment. Why? Because they’ll have to live with the consequences.

I’m not convinced that this provides support for the premise that preserving memories and accomplishments results in positive consequences. The author seems to be talking about two different things: preserving memories; and having a greater sense of responsibility.

The author also seems to be making the assumption that prolonging life is necessary to preserve the memories and accomplishments of human kind. But this is false as evidenced by the fact that most of our knowledge originated in minds that are long gone. The knowledge was preserved in written form, made available to us through teachers and other means by which the knowledge is transmitted across the generations. I am therefore not convinced.

The article was short but I am happy to have read it. It provided me with the opportunity to analyze my own thoughts on the issue of life extension.

— Socrates

Filed under Articles, Socrates' Meditations