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Fading Away: Does the shape of life matter?

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“It is better to burn out than to fade away.” These are the lyrics from Neil Young’s song ‘My my, hey hey’ and, famously, featured on Nirvana lead singer, Kurt Cobain’s, suicide note. They capture a common thought: that the trajectory of your life matters. Imagine two lives, both full of equal amounts of pleasure and joy. Despite their seeming equality, you might prefer one over the other simply because its trajectory is more appealing; because it doesn’t end with a long period of stagnation and decline; because it goes out on a high.Philosophers have long been puzzled about the importance of shape to the well-lived life. There are some — usually hedonists — who think it does not really matter at all. What matters is the aggregate amount of pleasure and pain. If you happen to prefer a life with an upward-sloping trajectory (i.e. one where there is more pleasure toward the end), then this might affect your overall experience of pleasure and pain, and hence might give grounds for favouring the upward-sloping trajectory. But if you have no such preference, then shape doesn’t matter.There are others who vehemently disagree. They are with Neil Young and Kurt Cobain. They think it is genuinely better, for reasons that have nothing to do with aggregate amounts of pleasure and pain, to have an upward sloping trajectory to your life. They usually justify this on the grounds of narrative arc or relationality. In other words, they favour the upward-sloping trajectory because it tells the better story.In her paper “What does the shape of a life tell us about its value?”, Christine Vitrano takes on the narrativists and defends the hedonists. I want to look at her argument in what follows. Although I ultimately agree with her, I find myself initially intuitively attracted to the narrativist view. I hope to explain why below.1. Why the shape of a life might matterOne of the most impressive things about Vitrano’s article is how comprehensive it is in both reviewing and quoting. . .

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News source: Philosophical Disquisitions

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