[2]The book of ” DEATH ” by Shelly Kagan: Value in a life, Deprivation Theory, Hedonism?

[2]The Book of “DEATH” by Shelly Kagan:
Value in a life, Deprivation Theory, Hedonism?




The book of “DEATH” by Shelly Kagan:

For the first post :


In our fleeting existence, one might wonder, what does it mean to truly live? Shelly Kagan’s “The Book of DEATH” offers answers, from deep philosophical musings to relatable human experiences. As we plunge into its depths, it’s crucial to familiarize ourselves with some foundational concepts. Let’s get started, shall we?

What is deprivation theory?

At its core, deprivation theory asserts that death is primarily a bad thing because it deprives individuals of the good things in life. We aren’t saddened by the mere concept of death, but by the moments and experiences we’ll miss out on. It’s akin to a book being abruptly closed before its last chapters – you’d feel robbed of the ending, wouldn’t you?

Shelly Kagan articulates this sentiment masterfully. Drawing parallels with our daily lives, Kagan suggests that the anguish associated with death is a reflection of the moments we’ve yet to savor. By understanding this theory, we begin to appreciate life’s invaluable moments and the significance of our mortality.

Value in a life

Life is a tapestry of values, some instrumental and others intrinsic. But what do these terms mean, and how do they shape our perception of life and death?

Instrumental value

Think of life as a toolbox. The tools inside (like money, fame, or even relationships) can be beneficial in achieving specific goals. These tools possess instrumental value. They’re means to an end, not necessarily valuable in themselves. For instance, wealth might enable happiness or security, but it’s not the sole source of these feelings.

Intrinsical value

Then there are elements of life that are valuable for their own sake – think love, happiness, or personal achievements. They aren’t stepping stones to something else; they’re the destinations themselves. Shelly Kagan paints a vivid picture of how intrinsically valuable moments stand out as the shining stars in the vast universe of our existence.

Compare Hedonism and Valuable Container Theory

Kagan’s book delves into two primary philosophies regarding life’s value: Hedonism and the Valuable Container Theory. But how do they differ?

Hedonism posits that pleasure is the primary intrinsic good, and pain is the fundamental evil. A life filled with pleasure and devoid of pain would be the ideal existence. Yet, Kagan points out the challenges in this outlook. For instance, can fleeting moments of joy outweigh prolonged suffering? Is life just about chasing the next high?

Valuable Container Theory, on the other hand, suggests that life itself has intrinsic value, regardless of the amount of pleasure or pain it contains. Like a container holding various experiences, the container (life) is deemed precious, irrespective of its contents. It’s an optimistic approach, emphasizing the inherent worth of being alive.

Both theories present intriguing perspectives on life’s essence. Kagan’s exploration invites readers to introspect, perhaps even reshaping their views on life and its myriad experiences.


  • How does Shelly Kagan define death in his book?
    In “The Book of DEATH,” Kagan describes death as the permanent cessation of our existence. He delves deep into its implications, both philosophically and emotionally.
  • Why is the deprivation theory significant?
    Deprivation theory offers a perspective on why we perceive death as a negative event. It’s not just the end of life that affects us but the potential experiences we miss out on.
  • Does Kagan favor one value perspective over another?
    Kagan provides a balanced exploration of both instrumental and intrinsic values. He encourages readers to introspect and arrive at their conclusions.
  • How does Hedonism differ from the Valuable Container Theory?
    While Hedonism emphasizes pleasure as the ultimate intrinsic good, the Valuable Container Theory considers life itself valuable, regardless of its pleasure or pain quotient.
  • Is “The Book of DEATH” a philosophical or practical guide?
    It’s a mix of both! Kagan combines philosophical musings with real-life examples, making it a comprehensive guide for anyone curious about life and death.
  • What’s the primary takeaway from the book?
    While the book offers multiple insights, the crux is to understand and appreciate the value of life. Kagan invites readers to reflect on their perceptions and possibly even reshape them.


Shelly Kagan’s “The Book of DEATH” is more than just a philosophical treatise. It’s a journey that makes us ponder, appreciate, and perhaps even redefine our stance on life and death. By exploring concepts like deprivation theory, instrumental and intrinsic values, and contrasting life-value theories, Kagan provides readers a treasure trove of insights. For those grappling with existential questions or merely curious, this book proves to be an enlightening companion.

External Source: Shelly Kagan’s Profile – Yale University

Other book from Shelly Kagan? 

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