This is the tenth installment in a series on David Benatar's The Human Predicament (Oxford UP, 2017). We are still in the very rich Chapter 5, "Death." Herewith, commentary on pp. 123-128. My answer to the title question is No, but our author has very effectively shown that the Epicurean argument is not compelling, and perhaps even that it is more reasonably rejected than accepted.
It may smack of sophistry, but the Epicurean argument is one of the great arguments of philosophy, forcing us as it does to think hard about ultimates. That's what philosophy is: thinking as hard as we can, and as honestly as we can, at the very margins of intelligibility, about great questions that tax our paltry minds to their limits. It is sobering to realize that not even the greats got very far in this enterprise. How far, then, can we lesser lights expect to get? But it is noble to strive, and as St Augustine says,
Maximae res, cum parvis quaeruntur, magnos eos solent efficere.
Matters of the greatest importance, when they are investigated by little men, tend to make those men great. (Augustine, Contra Academicos 1. 2. 6.)
So much for the sermon. Now let's get to work.
The Epicurean argument proceeds from two premises, both of them highly plausible:
1) Mortalism: Death ends a person's existence.
2) Existence Requirement: For something to be bad for somebody, he must exist at the time it is bad for him.
Given these assumptions, how can being dead be bad for the one who dies? When we are, death is not; When death is, we are not. Death is therefore nothing to us, and nothing to fear.
If being dead cannot be bad for the deceased, it cannot be good either. But surely we sometimes without sarcasm or malice say of a person who has died, 'He's better off dead.' What we say makes sense, and it is sometimes true. Suppose Jack is in excruciating pain from a terminal illness and then dies. It is true of him after he dies that he is better off dead than he would have been had he lived longer and suffered more.
But how is this possible if Jack no longer exists? How can it be true of him that he is better off at a time when he no longer exists? The puzzle is generated by the conjunction of (1) and (2). If both are true, then it cannot be true of Jack that he is better off dead. But it is either obvious or extremely plausible that he is better off dead. Given that Benatar, as a metaphysical naturalist, assumes the truth of (1), it is off the table.
Now which is more credible, that Jack is better off dead, or that (2) is true? The former according to Benatar. (p. 123) So while the Epicurean cannot be decisively refuted, there are good reasons to hold that a person who is dead and therefore no longer existent can be the subject of goods and bad. This strikes me as a reasonable position to hold. Whether or not we can make sense of how something could be good or bad for a person at a time when he doesn't exist, it is evident, if not quite self-evident, that Jack is better off dead.
How Bad is Painless Murder?
Here is a another consideration that casts doubt on the Epicurean view.
To be murdered is bad, but how bad is painless murder? If one is an Epicurean, it seems one would have to 'dial down' one's assessment of the evil of murder. What follows is my example, but it is based on Benatar's discussion. Suppose Henry the hermit, about whom no one cares except Henry, is murdered while in a deep sleep by an injection that he doesn't even feel. Suppose Henry has no enemies and does not fear for his life.
If our Epicurean holds that conscious states alone are either intrinsically good or intrinsically bad, then it would seem that there is nothing bad about Henry's being murdered. If it is held that there are non-experiential goods and bads, then it would presumably be bad for Henry at the moment of his being murdered, but only then.
These counterintuitive consequences may not refute the Epicurean, but Benatar is on solid ground with his claim that death is part of the human predicament. (127)