Williams is arguing from premises about the nature of desires and human character to these conclusions:
On the 1st of December, we talked about Williams’s argument for the first point after going over Lucretius’s arguments. Incidentally, I thought that, once again, we had a marvelous discussion. Well done!
On Monday, the 4th of December, we will tackle his second point.
Williams’s case for the conclusion that death is evil rests on a distinction between two kinds of desires. The distinction turns on what it would be for desires to be satisfied.
Some people have only desires of the first kind. They have little reason to live, according to Williams.
Most of us have both kinds. Or, at least, we think we do. Some intellectuals have tried to show that we are mistaken on the grounds that there is no such distinction. Some say that all we want is to avoid pain or frustration. I think that Williams is right to say that this is not an accurate description of at least my desires. I want to see the Grand Canyon. I do not just want to avoid the frustration of having an unsatisfied desire.
It’s categorical desires that give us reason to live. Those are desires that cannot be satisfied by ceasing to exist. Insofar as we have unsatisfied categorical desires, death is reasonably regarded as an evil.
Those who run out of categorical desires as their life runs down have timed things perfectly. Most of us run out of one or the other too soon.
We closed by noting two ways that it would be a disaster to get everything that you wanted and to have no wants left unsatisfied.
On Monday, we’ll pick up Williams’s argument that an immortal person would eventually face the second disaster.
I gave you an English translation, and surrounding context, for the passage from Unamuno that Williams quotes at the end.
One other reference may be as obscure to you as it was to me: the case of Teiresias (p. 94). Teiresias was a figure from Greek mythology who, among other things, switched back and forth between being a man and a woman. S/he had quite a career, ably recounted, as far as I can tell, on Wikipedia.