"The Ethical Importance of Death" Discussion Questions

Jenann Ismael
  1. How does Ismael understand what death is? Given this understanding, why does she think it is something bad for us, which we might reasonably fear? Do you agree with Ismael’s assessment? Why or why not?
  2. Some people think that life is meaningless if we die. Why might they think this? Explain how Leo Tolstoy and hedonists respond to this worry. Why doesn’t Ismael agree with Tolstoy? With hedonists? What is Ismael’s alternative view?
  3. Explain the notion of a “personal narrative.” What role does this notion play in Ismael’s thoughts about death, death’s badness, and life’s meaning? Do you agree with her about the importance of life narratives? Are there any risks in emphasizing them too much?
  4. Imagine you were given the option to live forever. What would Ismael recommend you do? Why? Do you agree with her recommendation? Why or why not?
  5. Ismael suggests that it is important to think about death not only so we better understand it, but also so we better understand life. With this idea in mind, write an essay that explains three things you might take away about life from reading Ismael’s essay. Be specific, drawing on particular ideas from Ismael’s discussion.
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