Visiting professor hosts philosophical discussion about right to life

The Geneseo philosophy department hosted the first of three philosophy colloquiums this semester, with Rochester Institute of Technology professor David Suits as the guest of honor on Oct. 17. Held in Welles Hall and attended by an equal number of professors and students, the presentation was titled “Why We Have No Right Not to be Killed.”

Suits began by defining integral parts of his argument, such as the right to life, Epicurean philosophies and the ideas of good and evil result from experiences.

“Some people would say the right to life means you have a right to not be killed,” Suits said. “It’s the foundation for everything I’m going to say.”

He further explained the idea of the Epicurean principle to create the premise for his argument.

“Epicurus [a Greek philosopher] has an atomic conception of nature, everything in nature is material stuff … everything is created out of these atoms,” he said.

Suits elaborated on this idea, stating that death is an annihilation of atoms and nothing more. Once we have passed, we are unable to experience anything good or bad. After this foundational discussion, Suits said that there were two versions of this philosophical argument.

Suits explained that “Version A” focused on contingency, moral discourse and the idea that “ought implies can,” which he named the “instead condition.”

“If ought implies can, ought also implies maybe not,” he said. “If you have a duty to do something, then you must have some sort of ability to do it. But you must have some sort of ability to not do it as well.”

He connected this to death by explaining that the right not to be killed is violated by being killed, and killing someone doesn’t place that person in the aforementioned instead condition.

Version B focuses on threats and the promise of aversive condition. Aversive conditions include suffering, deprivation and regret.

Suits then explained how most people dislike death and therefore condemn it because of the suffering it creates for the people still alive. Philosophically, however, we shouldn’t fear death because it causes no issues for the person dying.

“One does not fear the loss of something, like an arm or leg, unless they anticipate it,” Suits said. “They will want that limb after it has been lost … Death is unique. It is the annihilation of all of a person’s intentions, desires and motivations to have anything.”

After Suits’ 35-minute presentation, he fostered a discussion among the attendees who were passionate about sharing their opinions, both agreeing with and opposing Suits’ philosophical stance.

Dates for the next two colloquiums have yet to be announced.