PAPER TITLES, 2016 CONFERENCE
|Kathy Behrendt||Panic, Terror, and Annihilation|
|Christopher Belshaw||Punishment and the Body|
|David Benatar||Deprived and Annihilated|
|Kiki Berk||Sartre on Death|
|Luc Bovens||Child Euthanasia|
|Pablo de Lora||Death: Science or (Legal) Fiction?|
|Karl Ekendahl||Til Death Do Me Part|
|Andrew Forcehimes||Weighing Unjust Lives|
|Christopher Fruge||Two Existence Conditions on Harm|
|Preston Greene and Meghan Sullivan||Time Bias and Non-Hedonic Value|
|Kristen Hine||The Fear of Death as a Recalcitrant Emotion|
|Jens Johansson||The Lucretian Puzzle and the Nature of Time|
|Adam Omelianchuk||What Does it Mean to Kill Someone?|
|Duncan Purves||Death and Timeless Values|
|Michael Rabenburg||Wishing and Hoping and Living and Dying|
|Keisha Ray||Vulnerable Black Bodies, Victim-Blaming, and the Media’s Deadly Influence|
|Rivka Weinberg||You Only Die Once|
|Fumitake Yoshizawa||The Comparative/Non-comparative Dispute about the Account of Harm and the Badness of Death|
Panic, Terror, and Annihilation
Kai Draper says that the connection, if any, between the badness of death and the fear of death, is under-explored in philosophy, and not as straightforward as might be thought. If we believe that death merits fear because death is bad, several options are available. One is to argue that death is absolutely bad—i.e. bad in and of itself. For various reasons—including but not limited to familiar Epicurean- hedonistic ones—Draper rejects this option, and holds, along with many others, that death is not absolutely bad. The other option is to argue that death is comparatively bad. Draper tentatively endorses this approach, claiming that “if death can merit fear, it is because a mere deprivation, unaccompanied by any absolute evil, can merit fear” (Draper 2013, 305).
His support is tentative because, as he first argued in “Disappointment, Sadness, and Death”, comparative bads in the absence of absolute bads typically do not of themselves generally warrant strong negative affective responses; the absence of a good like the absence of an evil is a mere privation, and so equanimity is the rational response (Draper 1999; 2013). To combat this obstacle, one would have to successfully show that at least some comparative bads do merit fear, dread, or other related extremes of negative emotion, despite the absence of any absolute bad. While Draper makes no claim to have conclusively established that some comparative bads do merit such attitudes (though he provides some plausible examples), or that death is one such comparative bad, he does view this as the best prospect for arguing that death merits fear.
I believe this approach is not promising. The obstacle to Draper’s proposed approach is not the typical nature of comparative bads as mere privations. It is the attempt to connect the fear in question to deprivation at all. Some deprivations can be merely comparatively bad; they deprive us of absolute good but do not involve any absolute bad. Other deprivations can have bad consequences; in addition to loss of a comparative absolute good, they result in absolute bads (e.g. the loss of health, of loved ones, etc.). The latter can certainly merit a strong negative response with respect to the consequences. And Draper may be right that there are some cases of the former that also merit a troubled response. But in both cases the negative attitudes concern the state of well-being (absolutely or comparatively) of the subject who is deprived.
By contrast, and as philosophers and poets alike have been at pains to point out, in death there is no object or experience of which that the subject is deprived. It is the subject herself who absents the scene. The recognition of this prospect can induce a response not comparable to any concerns we might have for our well- being. Samuel Scheffler captures this point well, when he notes that our typical emotional resources for reacting to the loss of some experience or object “become unmoored when directed toward their very subject” (Scheffler 2013, 86). The resulting affective response can be one of panic or terror, because the familiar bases for negative attitudes have been undermined entirely.
Consequently, the emotion felt here tends not to be comparable to fears concerning our well-being, but is infused with a sense of incomprehension or the “uncanny”. And furthermore, the possibility that such fear can apparently obtain even for those who do not view death as depriving them of any goods in life (because, perhaps, they believe there is no near-possible world in which things would be any better for them, or because they have exhausted all categorical desires). Even in subjects such as these, the prospect of non-existence can still induce the vertiginous response that Scheffler and others describe.
If this is a correct description of fear of death, or of a species of fear of death, and if we wish to claim that fear of death can be merited, then it cannot be on the grounds that deprivation can merit fear.
Punishment and the Body
Many believe that there are occasions when people should be held responsible for their actions, and rewarded or punished accordingly. Assume there is a genuine role, within the penal system, for punishment as such. Then, I claim, most of the arguments against capital punishment are not strong. It is hard to believe the threat of such punishment is never a deterrent. We can in many cases be altogether confident about the verdict. The claim that no civilized country could engage in such punishment is merely rhetoric. A better argument, less often used, is that it capital punishment is in some obvious ways unfair. For in killing someone we deprive them not of an infinitely long good life but of the relatively small number of years they would otherwise have lived. So the older you are the less you lose.
Our preferred form of punishment is incarceration, sometimes for decades, sometimes for life. This might also be considered unfair – bluntly, the poorer and more of a loner you are, the less you lose. There are two further problems with incarceration: First, prisoners, mixing with other prisoners, suffer in unintended ways. Second, the system is insensitive to the passage of time, and the resulting changes in personality or personhood. With long sentences, there is some sense in which parts of the punishment are inflicted on someone non-identical with the one who committed the crime.
Many call for the reintroduction of capital punishment. Very few call for the reintroduction of corporal punishment – for beatings or the lash. Curiously, though we think killing is bad, we perhaps think that hurting is worse. But corporal punishment should be considered. The non-identity problem mentioned above won’t surface here (and won’t surface either, with capital punishment) so long as, as is surely desirable, there is no long interval between the passing, and carrying out of a sentence. The harming of prisoners by other prisoners is avoided. And perhaps it is fairer. No doubt pain thresholds vary somewhat between individuals, but this is likely to be in random or unpredictable ways, and not linked systematically to income or class or age.
What might be considered now is a further form of punishment, one that in some ways sits between the capital and corporal, and avoids the main objections to both. Though wanting to punish, we are, it seems, very reluctant to cause either pain or death. Here is a way to avoid both. Put prisoners into a comatose state, and sustain them, in that state, for a given period. Then revive them. This is perhaps some version of corporal punishment. You harm someone by interfering with the workings of the body. But you don’t inflict pain. And it is in some ways like capital punishment. You deprive them of some period of conscious experience. But you don’t kill them. The critical difference, however, lies not here in but in the revival – bluntly, this is a non-terminal deprivation.
There are several advantages to this middle way: a) the punishment now is reversible, should there turn out to have been a miscarriage of justice; b) the period of deprivation can be made to fit the crime; c) even though we enjoy life to different degrees, it is not systematically unfair; d) there are fewer unintended consequences – prisoners cannot harm or be harmed by other prisoners. Finally e) assuming that on revival the memories and character of the prisoner are much as they were before, the non-identity problem is sidestepped.
The aim here is not to present this as real-world option for the penal system, but to explore some of our thinking about the badness of death. Why (as I believe) are we very strongly inclined to think of killing, when it deprives someone of say, five years of life, as great evil, when the same period of loss, but followed by revival, is thought of as a lesser evil?
Deprived and Annihilated:
The Badness of Death
Those who think that death is bad for the person who has died need to provide an account of how this can be so, given that the deceased person no longer exists. The most popular account of death’s badness is the deprivation account, according to which death is bad because it deprives the deceased of the good that he or she would otherwise have enjoyed if death had not occurred when it did. However, the deprivation account has some implausible implications and confronts a number of problems.
I propose a supplement to the deprivation account. According to this augmented account, death can be bad for more than one reason – deprivation is one, but the annihilation of the person who dies is another. I argue that the annihilation of the individual is a distinct bad. Even when death is not bad all things considered, the annihilation of the one who dies is a pro tanto bad – and that bad is not entirely reducible to deprivation.
The addition of the annihilation component, I then argue, has a number of advantages over the un-augmented deprivation account. For example, it provides a good answer to the Lucretian symmetry argument. Even if post-mortem non-existence is symmetrical with pre-vital non-existence with regard to deprivation, death annihilates whereas not having existed earlier does not. Death is thus bad in a way that pre-vital non-existence is not.
The augmented account also provides a better answer than the un-augmented deprivation account to the question about when the worst time to die is. The deprivation account implies that it is less bad to die when one is twenty than just after one was born. Jeff McMahan has addressed that counter-intuitive implication by augmenting the deprivation account with his Time-Relative Interests claim. I argue that the combined deprivation-plus-annihilation account is an alternative way of avoiding the problems that the time relative interests claim seeks to avoid. The reasons are compatible with but not identical to the Time-Relative Interests claim.
The deprivation-plus-annihilation account also solves the notorious “overdetermination” problem of death’s badness. This problem arises in circumstances in which if a person had not died at a particular time, he would have died seconds later from another cause. If the badness of death is explained by the good of which it deprives one, then the death at the earlier time was barely bad at all, because it deprived one of only seconds of life. There are various responses to this problem, but the annihilation account has a very good response. Given its claim that death is bad in part because it annihilates the person who dies, the earlier death is very bad because it annihilates the person even though that earlier death deprives the person of only a few seconds of life. (Annihilation seconds later would also have been very bad.)
I conclude by noting some ambiguities in “death” and “annihilation”. The upshot is that under some interpretations of “death” and “annihilation”, death does not always annihilate. More specifically biological death does not always annihilate a person. This is because annihilation of a person can occur before biological death. In those cases, death is not bad on account of annihilation – but that is only because the bad of annihilation has predated death.
Sartre on Death
Death is a popular topic in contemporary analytic philosophy, especially in analytic metaphysics and so-called “analytic existentialism.” Questions about death in this literature include whether it is bad to die, what happens when we die, and whether we should want to live forever. Unfortunately, this literature rarely engages the work of “true” existentialist philosophers like Heidegger and Sartre. In general, although “analytic existentialism” is supposed to discuss existentialist issues in an analytic way, the phenomenology of death (e.g., what it is like for us to be mortal, how the fact that we are going to die should inform our lives, etc.) typically takes a backseat in favor of a more metaphysical approach. The division between analytic and continental philosophy is perhaps nowhere as evident as it is in contemporary treatments of death.
In this paper I try to remedy this lack of engagement by analyzing Sartre’s philosophy of death from an analytic perspective and connecting it to some debates in analytic existentialism. I argue that Sartre’s three main ideas about death in Being and Nothingness—(i) the humanization of death, (ii) waiting for death, and (iii) death as a form of being-for-others and facticity—can be brought to bear on some issues discussed by contemporary analytic philosophers. Here are three examples:
First, in discussing the humanization of death Sartre begins with the question of whether death is part of life or beyond life (“non-human”). While there is a clear connection between this question and the analytic distinction between “dying,” “death,” and “being dead,” Sartre’s question goes deeper than this. Ultimately, Sartre’s question is about meaning. Sartre argues against Heidegger’s “humanization of death,” according to which death is (the very last) a part of life, which (supposedly) gives meaning to all the other parts that came before it. According to Sartre, by contrast, death does not give life meaning; it threatens to strip it of any meaning whatsoever. This bears on a question that figures prominently in contemporary analytic debates, namely whether death gives or deprives life of meaning.
Second, Sartre’s discussion of waiting for death is closely related to the analytic question of whether we can and should prepare for death and, if so, how. Sartre argues that we cannot wait for death, “discover” it, or take up an attitude about it. This provides an interesting contrast with, for example, Shelly Kagan, who argues that we can and ought to face death, which does not necessarily entail waiting for it, but certainly requires taking up attitudes about it and living our lives informed by our own mortality.
Third, Sartre’s claim that death is a special form of being-for-others and facticity relates to the analytic question of whether the dead can be harmed. Sartre takes a clear stance in this debate by saying that “to be dead is to be a prey for the living.” Many contemporary analytic philosophers side with Sartre in this debate, but, for example, Christopher Belshaw makes a good case that the dead cannot be harmed. Another issue raised by Sartre in the same section is the oft-made conflation of the significance of death and finitude for human life. Sartre argues that these concepts come apart and that finitude, but not death, informs human life, so that an immortal human would still remain finite in virtue of being human. This idea makes an interesting contribution to the analytic question of what immortality would look like and whether or not it is desirable.
To sum up: in this paper I will explore some of the connections between Sartre’s phenomenological observations about death and analytic treatments of this topic. I will argue that Sartre’s ideas on death can be clarified by a number of distinctions made in analytic philosophy, and that debates in analytic existentialism would be enriched by engaging with Sartre’s ideas about death.
In “Aubade”—the last major work before his death in 1985—poet Philip Larkin describes waking in the middle of the night to
see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
The import of the verses that follow is encapsulated in this idea of death’s “unrest,” a term whose ambiguity Larkin exploits, purposely running together, on one hand, the idea of death’s presence—indeed its omnipresence, never resting—with, on the other hand, the rousing discontent visited upon us by our persistent preoccupation with death’s inescapability. The rationale underlying this conflation emerges as the poem unfolds, in Larkin’s musings about the fear that death incites. Traditional “tricks” aimed at dispelling this fear, he tells us, provide only cold comfort. Pious appeals to immortality, notably, are obsolete:
Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die
Likewise, Epicurus’s famous argument (which Larkin plainly has in mind) misleads:
And specious stuff that says no rational being
Can fear a thing it cannot feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.
The obsolescence and sophistry of these reassurances, Larkin suggests, stems from the simple, yet inescapable fact that one day we will not exist. It is this fact that grips and horrifies us: this truth that we “have always known … yet can’t accept,” this certainty that “we can’t escape,” this datum that “stands plain as a wardrobe”:
the total emptiness forever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.
The “mind blanks at the glare” of this fact, but “not in remorse” for past misdeeds, nor even in anticipation of the deprivations that future death will inflict (“The good not used, the love not given, time / Torn off unused”). Mortal fear is “a special way of being afraid” because, unlike the contingency of our past transgressions and future losses, death is inevitable.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace fear
It is in this way, according to Larkin, that the “intricate world” we inhabit is merely “rented,” not owned.
Of course, it was not Larkin’s aim to defend a philosophical thesis in these verses. Nor is it my purpose to engage in a critical analysis of poetry. Nevertheless, I do believe that “Aubade” points to some provocative ideas that have gone neglected by contemporary philosophers of death and personal identity. The impetus for all of these ideas is Larkin’s belief that we cannot survive our bodily deaths—that death brings about our nonexistence. Referred to as the “termination thesis” (TT) amongst philosophers, this claim is hardly original to Larkin. And whilst I offer a full-throated philosophical defense of TT in the larger work of which this paper is a part, here I shall provisionally assume its truth so that we might explore the idea of Larkin’s that is genuinely novel, viz. that both the rationality of mortal fear and the uniqueness of mortal harm integrally involve our awareness of TT’s truth.
Following Larkin, I argue in part 1 both that the truth of TT is something of which we are abidingly aware and that the distinctive harm that death inflicts just is this unre- mitting cognizance—this knowledge that all of us have while we are living that one day we will cease to exist. In part 2, I demonstrate how this account jibes with some of the structural features of mortal harm that I have described in earlier work: (a) that mortal harm is neither undifferentiated nor wholly contingent, but multifaceted and partly neces- sary; (b) that the necessary facet of mortal harm is not a deprivation harm and thus differs from not only non-mortal harms but even other facets of mortal harm; and (c) that this necessary and peculiar facet of mortal harm is suffered by the antemortem subject prior to her death. In part 3, I conclude with a brief exploration of several striking implications of this unorthodox view, including for mortal fear, the ethics of “good” deaths (e.g., rational suicide, justifiable euthanasia), and immortality.
Child Euthanasia: Should we just not talk about it?
In 2014 Belgium passed a law that extends its euthanasia legislation to minors. There were strong parliamentary majorities in favour of this law but nonetheless a scream of “Murderers!” was heard in the public galleries of the Chamber of Representatives. What is the opposition like in Belgium?
Euthanasia for adults has been legal in Belgium since 2002. Many opponents of this legislation, including the Catholic Church, abhor the decision to further extend this legislation to minors. I do not engage with the legalisation of euthanasia in general. What I am asking is whether, considering that euthanasia is legal, it is or is not reasonable to limit the legislation to adults only. This is a separate moral question. One may be an opponent of a particular practice, yet at the same time believe that, if the practice is legalised, then it would be wrong to restrict the legalisation to a particular subgroup. (Likewise, one may be an opponent of, say, legislation permitting abortion, and yet, if abortion is legalised, oppose a restriction that would make it accessible to only certain sectors of society.) I distinguish between two lines of opposition that focus on the extension of the euthanasia legislation to minors in the Belgian debate.
First, there is an Open Letter signed by (mostly) paediatricians and there are various arguments in the press against the extension of the legislation: We should never grant euthanasia requests to minors, because such decisions are too weighty for minors, minors are not capable of discernment, the pressure on minors is too great, minors are particularly sensitive to such pressure, and there is sufficient palliative care for minors.
I find arguments to the effect that there are special problems for honouring euthanasia requests for minors wanting. They fail to make clear why the concerns in question are more acute for minors than for adults and on a proper understanding of capability of discernment there is no reason why at least some adolescents would not be able to exercise this capability.
Second, Dr Marleen Renard, an Oncologist in the University of Hospital in Leuven also opposes the Law but is not listed as a signatory of the Open Letter. She argues that the law is unnecessary for two reasons: because young adolescents simply do not ask for euthanasia; and, even without a law in place, minors could file a request for euthanasia to ethics committees who may give permission. In the local press she is quoted: “Do you really think that people care about what is or is not stated in the law? The whole discussion about euthanasia for children is a non-issue that irritates us” [my translation]. This position is also found in an Opinion Text of the University Hospital of Leuven.
This line of argumentation is quite curious. The goal is to keep the legislation blocking euthanasia for minors on the books, place power in the hand of ethics committees to exercise discretion, and not to have any legal directives detailing conditions under which euthanasia would be permissible. Hence, euthanasia for minors would be practiced outside the confines of the law. Why is it that some doctors would actually favour this position?
I interpret this position on the background of Velleman’s ‘Against the Right to Die’. Velleman does not want to legalise euthanasia because some patients may prefer palliative care as long as they do not have the option of euthanasia. If a patient genuinely wants euthanasia then this request could be honoured within the trusting relationship between patient and physician. I add that, as a safeguard against abuse, hospital ethics boards may exercise oversight and discretion in dealing with such requests. The position has many drawbacks for euthanasia in general— foremost legal uncertainty and lack of transparent standards. I am not convinced that it is ultimately defensible as a position on euthanasia for minors, but there are reasons why it is more attractive for minors than for adults, in particular because there are few euthanasia requests and there is acceptance of fiduciary decision-making by minors.
Death: Science or (Legal) Fiction?
Pablo De Lora
Cadaveric organ donation raises a host of deep and interesting philosophical issues. Briefly stated, the challenge posed by transplantation surgery is how to make congenial the clinical need of harvesting suitable organs– surmounting the “ischemic” difficulty- with the normative requirement of not killing the donor in the process (complying with the so-called “dead donor rule” emblematic in Medical Ethics).
The original strategy for making both requirements compatible was, as is well known, the introduction of the neurological criterion of death in 1968. Since then, brain death has been the subject of a vivid controversy as to whether the irreversible loss of all functions of the brain truly captures the idea of an organism ceasing in its functioning as an integrated living entity. The discovery that brain- dead patients retain some biological functions – for one, the capability of gestating a fetus – seems to prove that the brain does not operate as the ultimate integrator and controller of the functioning of the body as a whole (Shewmon, 2001).
In the last two decades, along with the brain-death criterion there is ample use of the so-called circulatory determination of death in order to enhance the pool of cadaveric organ donors. The way in which this criterion – the irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions (UDDA) – is applied, is also seen suspiciously by many authors. It is contended, first, that the irreversibility of the circulatory function does not stem from the fact that an event – the failure of the heart- has inevitably happened, but rather from the previous decision not to resuscitate the patient once the life-sustaining treatment has been removed. Pronouncing death in those circumstances conflates a diagnosis with a prognosis (Truog and Miller, 2011). Secondly, because the empirical evidence on the so- called “Lazarus phenomenon” (the spontaneous recovery of the patient’s pulse after cardiac arrest) is meager, the lapse of time set across different jurisdictions and protocols around the world varies widely, so casting doubt on the objective nature of circulatory death.
Hence, holding a biological conception of death, current protocols of death determination in the context of organ donation are arguably in clear violation of the “dead donor rule”. What should we do about it if we do not want to give up in performing a life-saving procedure such as organ transplantation?
In the scholarly literature on the matter one can find, broadly speaking, four different answers to this question: (a) a call for the abandonment of the dead donor rule (Robert Veatch, 2004); (b) a call for a new, and less demanding, brain death determination, namely, higher-brain death (McMahan, 2006); (c) reverting to the primeval cardio-circulatory criterion of death (Nair-Collins, 2010, 2015) or (d) interpreting the current and operative determinations of death as “legal fictions”.
In this paper, I will assess this latter strategy proposed, most significantly, by Robert Truog, Franklin G. Miller and Seema K. Shah in a series of recent articles (2010, 2011, 2014). In order to accept their approach, that is, whether it is sensible that the law deviate from biological reality when it comes to defining death, we first need to know what legal fictions are; what its most frequent uses are and what is the proper institutional and social context that avoids turning legal fictions into ways of deceiving the addresses of legal norms.
There is a vast body of scholarly literature in legal theory and legal philosophy that has labored on this topic for long time, which is worth examining and bringing it into the bioethical debate. Legal fictions, in general, may be thought of as instruments for attaining important social goals, but they may also constitute a way of eroding the virtues of Law itself, as Jeremy Bentham famously claimed, and, more recently Frederick Schauer (albeit in a lenient and more nuanced spirit). At the bottom of this quarrel lies deep philosophical queries on the nature of legal meaning – whether we should embrace semantic realism in legal interpretation- and the nature of death itself. The main conclusion of my paper will be that out of compelling conceptual reasons, Law in general should be conceived of as a truth-tracking enterprise in order for legal fictions to exist in the first place. On the other hand, even if truth tracking is a legal value, it could not possibly be the only value to be fostered by legal norms and institutions. Important social objectives at stake may override the aim of aligning legal terms with what the best available scientific theory tells us about the world.
Till Death Do Me Part
According to the most popular view of the badness of death—the deprivation account—death is bad for the person who dies insofar as her net receipt of intrinsic goods would have been greater had her death not occurred. While this view has received a lot of attention in the debate about the badness of death, little has been said about its relation to the issue of personal identity. In particular, surprisingly few have noted the potential implications of the last decades’ debate concerning so-called fission and the importance of personal identity over time for the plausibility and relevance of the deprivation account. In this paper, I examine some of these potential implications and suggest what lessons should be drawn.
Suppose that I die in a car accident and that if I had not died, I would have received no more intrinsic goods in the years to come anyway. Given the deprivation account, my death is not bad for me, since my net receipt of intrinsic goods would not have been greater if I had not died. Now, suppose that the reason I would have received no intrinsic goods in the following years is that, if I had not died in the car accident, I would have undergone a fission operation resulting in my becoming psychologically continuous with two different people, but also in my ceasing to exist. According to Derek Parfit and others, because of the psychological continuity, such an operation preserves what matters to me in ordinary survival. Thus, if Parfit is correct, it seems that my death might be very regrettable after all; even if I would have attained no intrinsic goods had I not died, two other people that I would have had special reason to care about might have. While this does not necessarily contradict the deprivation account’s result that my death in the car accident is not bad for me, it seems to give rise to a potential tension between the deprivation account and the possibility of fission. How should this potential tension be approached? Here are four possibilities.
First, whether there is a tension of some kind between the deprivation account and the possibility of fission certainly depends on whether Parfit is in fact correct in claiming that the pre-fission person goes out of existence in a fission operation. One prominent critic is David Lewis, who has challenged Parfit’s fission account by questioning the assumption that there is only one person at the beginning of the fission operation. In Lewis’s “cohabitationist” view, there are two people there all along, so no one ceases to exist! While many find this view metaphysically extravagant, it seems that it would sit well with the deprivation account.
Second, one might accept Parfit’s view and consider fission cases a threat to the deprivation account. That is, one might argue that the fact that the deprivation account yields the result that events that do not merit any regret are bad is evidence against the deprivation account. Clearly, whether such an argument is successful depends on there being an intimate connection between extrinsic badness—i.e. the kind of badness with which the deprivation account is concerned—and the fittingness of certain emotional responses.
Third, it could be argued that, given a certain preferentialist view of well-being, the apparent tension between cases of fission and the deprivation account is not that serious, even if Parfit’s view is correct. Combined with this preferentialist view, the deprivation account implies that my death is bad for me insofar as my actual desires would have been satisfied if my death had not occurred. Now, depending on whether my “self-directed” desires essentially involve me, it might be true that if I had not died in the car accident, then the two offshoots would have satisfied many of my actual desires. Consequently, the deprivation account would yield the result that my death is bad for me, despite my counterfactual non-existence.
Fourth, maybe Parfit’s view should be taken to support the claim that the badness of death is simply irrelevant to what attitudes are appropriate to have towards it. Surely, this would make the deprivation account a much less interesting view, but perhaps that is the lesson to be drawn. In fact, I will argue that that is the lesson to be drawn.
Weighing Unjust Lives
Are the lives of those fighting on the unjust side of a war worth less than the lives of those fighting on the just side? To get a grip on this question, consider
Single Death. Country U unjustly starts a war with Country J. U and J stockpile weapons and rally troops. However, U, given J’s defensive capabilities, spends much of the war posturing. When U and J meet on the battlefield, few shots are fired, mostly for strategic purposes. Whenever U advances on J’s territory, J always forces a hasty retreat. The war drags on. Unable to make substantial progress, U signs a peace treaty with J. In tallying up the costs, it is discovered that, shockingly, only a single combatant was killed, hit by a stray mortar.
In Single Death, we can assume that the combatant is deprived of many years of happy life. Such deprivations are bad. But are they worse if we learn that this combatant fought for J rather than U? All other things equal, it is tempting to answer: Yes. If this stray mortar had to hit someone, and we were in a position to choose, the choice seems obvious. It would be better if it hit the unjust.
There is an attractive rationale for this verdict: Things are intrinsically better when people get what they deserve. Being on the just side, all other things equal, the combatant deserved to bear the cost of dying less than her unjust counterpart. Call this rationale, which treats the goodness of a life as the product of one’s desert-adjusted welfare, the desert-adjusted account. There is much to be said in favor of adjusting for desert, hence its popularity (Feldman 1992, 1995, Kagan 2012, McMahan 2002).
Given the ethical significance of weighing lives, it is important to know if the desert-adjusted account is true. Despite its appeal, I argue that it is false. In this essay, I highlight the troubling implications that adjusting for desert has for proportionality calculations and reparations.
Concerning proportionality, consider
Eastern Civilians. Country U is unjustly fighting a war with Country J. J knows that U is housing a stockpile of weapons in a factory within bombing distance. These weapons will bring the war to a favorable end sooner, but not by much. J thinks the bombing is worth pursuing, but wants more information on the collateral damage. Reliable reports reveal that (i) 1,000 of U’s non-combatants will be killed if J bombs the factory, but (ii) the lives of all of these non-combatants have experience welfare levels far beyond what they deserve. And, despite the war, the future for these non-combatants looks bright.
Wide-proportionality tells us not to perform acts in cases where marginal gain comes with tremendous loss. But, if the desert-adjusted account is true, Eastern Civilians is not such a case. The non-combatants’ welfare levels are east of their peaks. Their welfare levels outstrip their virtue levels, which we can represent as follows.
As Graph #1 shows, if we assume that their further lives will have on-balance positive welfare, then things only get worse if U’s non-combatants live. Their deaths, according to the desert- adjusted account, would make things go better than their continued existence. The account, that is, tells us that it would be good if these non-combatants died. Wide-proportionality would thus not rule out J’s bombing of the munitions factory. That is hard to believe.
Concerning reparations, note that the desert-adjusted account tells us that there are two routes to bringing about better states of affairs. First, a person can receive more welfare. Second, and more interesting, a person can become more vicious. By becoming more vicious, less welfare is required for things to be going as well as they could. With this in mind, consider the following reparations case:
Western Reparations. Country U fought an unjust war with Country J, making things go significantly worse for J. U thus owes J reparations. Things should be made better for J. U offers to make things better by providing vicious-making reeducation classes for J citizens. U has spent considerable resources ensuring that if all of J’s eligible citizens take these classes they will become, given current low levels of welfare, exactly as vicious as needed to make things as good as they were pre-war.
U has provided the opportunity for J to be restored, from the point of view of desert, to its ex ante position. Accordingly, the desert-adjusted account tells us that U has gone some way toward meeting its duty of reparation. That is not so.
The implausibility of the implications for proportionality and reparations calls into question the core idea of the desert-adjusted account: namely, that there is some level of welfare that each person deserves, and things would go best if everyone were at these levels.
Two Existence Conditions on Harm
Epicurus holds that neither death nor posthumous events can harm the person who dies.
His argument relies on the existence condition: a subject must exist at a time in order to be harmed at that time. Priorism is a popular objection to Epicureans because it appears to show how death and posthumous events can harm, and it appears to do so while satisfying the existence condition. In this paper, I argue that the existence condition is actually ambiguous between two readings. Existence conditionTIME requires that a person incurs harm only when they exist, no matter when the harmful state of affairs occurs. Existence conditionSTATE-OF-AFFAIRS requires that a person be harmed only by a state of affairs that obtains when they exist, no matter when they actually incur the harm. Priorism satisfies existence conditionTIME but not existence conditionSTATE-OF-AFFAIRS. However, Epicureans generally posit conditions on harm that entail existence conditionSTATE-OF-AFFAIRS. Thus, priorism has to reject the same existence condition as every other objection to Epicureanism, and so the main source of support for priorism fails.
In Epicurus’ famous argument, he tells us that, “Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not” (ed. Saunders, 1997). The reasoning seems to be that if death were to harm us, then it would harm us while we are dead. But when we are dead we do not exist, and so – according to the existence condition – we are unable to be harmed at all. Thus, it seems that neither death nor any event after it can harm us. And by this same reasoning, it seems they cannot benefit us either.
Priorism is popular because it apparently satisfies the existence condition while still showing how death and posthumous events can be harmful. By holding that future events can harm us in the present, prior to the time they occur, priorism holds that death and posthumous events can harm us while we still exist. In this view, propositions can be true at a time in virtue of later events. If the truth of such a proposition determines that our wellbeing is affected, then our present wellbeing can be affected by a future event. Death and posthumous events can be among such future events, and so they can harm us while we are still alive.
Yet, it serves us to look closely at Epicurus’ argument. He proposes that harm requires a certain sort of temporal relation between a subject of harm, a harming state of affairs, and a harm that is received. Thus, it is helpful to view Epicurus as proposing not just the existence condition but also the harm condition (Luper, 2007; 2014). The harm condition holds that a harm (or benefit) can occur only if there is a subject who receives the harm (subject component), a specific harm that is received (state of affairs component), and a time at which the harm occurs (time component).
With these distinctions in mind, we can see that the ‘existence condition’ is actually ambiguous between two different restrictions. Existence conditionTIME links the time and subject components of the harm condition, while existence conditionSTATE-OF-AFFAIRS links the state of affairs and subject components of the harm condition. Existence conditionTIME requires that a person incurs harm only when they exist, no matter when the harmful state of affairs occurs.
Existence conditionSTATE-OF-AFFAIRS requires that a person be harmed only by a state of affairs that obtains when they exist, no matter when they actually incur the harm. Priorism satisfies existence conditionTIME. The person is harmed by death and posthumous events while they are still alive, and so the person exists during the time they incur harm. Yet, priorism does not satisfy existence conditionSTATE-OF-AFFAIRS in the case of death and posthumous events. These occur after the subject no longer exists.
While Epicureans do not explicitly distinguish between existence conditionTIME and existence conditionSTATE-OF-AFFAIRS, nor always even directly posit an existence condition at all, the conditions on harm that they do posit generally entail existence conditionSTATE-OF-AFFAIRS. Such conditions on harm include the requirement that a person phenomenally experience a harmful state of affairs, the requirement that a person be causally impacted by a harmful state of affairs, and the requirement that a harmful state of affairs produce an intrinsic change in them. Priorism does not satisfy the relevant existence condition, and so the view loses most of its dialectical force.
Time Bias and Non-Hedonic Value
Preston Greene and Meghan Sullivan
Much of the literature on time biases and rational planning focuses on questions concerning our preferences over pleasures and pains. For example, is it rational to prefer pains to be distant and pleasures to be near—that is, to be near-biased? Is it rational to prefer pains to be in one’s past and pleasures in to be in one’s future—that is, to be future-biased?
Given this focus, there may be a temptation to assume that puzzles with time and value only arise in situations in which we are considering our own hedonic tradeoffs. Do time biases manifest in other forms of valuing? Samuel Scheffler has recently raised this issue in the context of considering how our expectations about future generations affect how we value our present activities (i.e., how much our activities “matter to us”). In Death and the Afterlife, Scheffler argues that these expectations exert a profound influence on the way we presently value our activities. (The “afterlife” of Scheffler’s title refers to the future generations that will exist after one’s death.) Scheffler’s theory of how we value the existence of an afterlife is non-hedonic insofar as this valuing isn’t based in any expectation that we’ll experience pleasure in these future times or that facts about future generations are giving us pleasure now. The theory builds both a kind of near bias and a kind of future bias into the account of what we value: according to Scheffler (and several of his recent commentators), our assumptions about people existing in the near future after our deaths have a far greater influence on what we care about now than people existing in the distant future or in the past.
We believe that there is an important connection between the non-hedonic value we place in our present activities and our assumptions about people who have existed or will come to exist outside of our lifespan. Indeed, an important part of the value we place in many activities depends on our beliefs about how these activities relate to those of other people, including those who existed before our birth and those who have yet to be born. However, we also believe that such valuing is temporally neutral, and for good reason. In this paper, we will offer objections to the thesis that non-hedonic valuing is time biased, and we will present a temporally-neutral alternative account of non- hedonic valuing.
We then apply our theory to a longstanding challenge to life’s value pressed by Leo Tolstoy and others: Given that one day humanity will end and all will be forgotten, aren’t our lives meaningless? We can formulate this thought into an explicit argument as follows:
- There will come a time in which all of human civilization is in the past.
- At that time (and every time after), our (present) activities will be meaningless.
- If there is some future time when our (present) activities will be meaningless, then they are meaningless
- C) Our activities are meaningless now.
The problem with this argument, we show, is that premises 2 and 3 are supported by an inconsistent application of both time-neutral and time-biased theories of non-hedonic value. In order to resolve the inconsistency, we must choose one of these theories. On the one hand, if we choose future bias about value, then the fact that humanity will eventually come to an end does not create meaninglessness now, since we currently have a valuable future. On the other hand, if we adopt time neutrality about value, then an event’s value does not depend on its relation to the present. (Thus, for a time- neutralist, an event’s becoming past does not affect its value.) On either option, the fact that humanity will end at some point in the future does not, by itself, entail meaninglessness in the present.
The Fear of Death as a Recalcitrant Emotion
Consider the following case: I am persuaded that in order for something to be harmful for me, I must experience it as a harm, or at least be capable of experiencing it as a harm. I am also persuaded that when I die I go out of existence and no longer have any conscious experiences. These considerations lead me to believe that my own death cannot be a harm for me, and this belief guides my emotions regarding death, at least most of the time. Suppose, however, I have recently read The Death of Ivan Ilych, and have been moved by Ilych’s concern that his life was somehow wrong; he did not live his life in the way that he should have. After reading this I begin to feel angst about the possibility that I have wasted my life on trivial matters, have accepted the wrong job, moved to the wrong city, and have invested time in worthless endeavors. I imagine, also, that I (like Ilych) am now about to die and there is nothing I can do to change any of these things. What began as a fear about how I lived my life slowly evolves into a fear about my own non-existence. Suppose, for example, that rather than focusing on my life mistakes, I am now focusing on my future non-being. Despite my fear, my beliefs remain unchanged. I still believe that my non-existence is a state of nothingness, and still believe that I cannot suffer any harms in this state.
This paper aims to answer the following questions: How is this scenario possible? Given that it has been argued that the fear of death is “governed by” or “wrapped up in” the belief that one’s own death is a harm for oneself, how can I fear death without this belief? Cast in more contemporary language: how are recalcitrant bouts of the fear of death possible?
There has been considerable discussion in the recent literature on emotions about the phenomenon of emotional recalcitrance. Put briefly, an emotion is recalcitrant when it exists even though the person experiencing the emotion makes judgments that are in tension with the emotion. Consider a recalcitrant episode of the fear of flying: one fears flying despite the fact that one consciously judges that there is nothing dangerous about flying. In this paper I argue that the fear of death can sometimes be like that. That is to say, I defend the idea that it is possible for one’s beliefs to conform to the Epicurean view of death, but not one’s emotions.
I begin the paper by offering the case I provided at the start, and spend the remainder of the paper attempting to explain that case. I first describe the phenomenon of emotional recalcitrance, focusing largely on the role it has played in challenging judgmentalist theories of emotion and motivating neojudgmentalist theories of emotion. I then turn to the central point of the paper—accounting for recalcitrant episodes of the fear of death. Accounting for this requires (1) arguing against the claim that the fear of death is wrapped up in the belief that one’s own death is a harm for oneself, and then (2) offering a plausible theory of emotion that can explain the case I mentioned above. With regards to (1) I say the following: It has been argued that perceptual-centered models of emotion cannot explain the fear of non-existence, since the object of the fear (non-existence) lacks perceptible qualities. Therefore, the fear of non-existence must be explained by a theory of emotion that puts beliefs at the center of emotional experiences. The fear of death is consequently wrapped up in the belief that one’s own death is a harm for oneself. I challenge this argument by arguing that other theories of emotion, such as neojudgmentalist theories of emotion, can adequately explain the fear of death, and can do so without requiring that the emotion involve the belief that one’s own death is a harm for oneself. I then use this insight to address (2). I show that one recently defended neojudgmentalist theory of emotion is able to adequately explain recalcitrant bouts of the fear of non-existence.
The Lucretian Puzzle and the Nature of Time
According to the Deprivation Approach to the evil of death, in many cases death is a bad thing for the one who dies; and when it is, it is bad for her because, and to the extent that, it deprives her of goods that she would have received if it had not taken place—or more precisely, to the extent that she would have been on balance intrinsically better off if her death had not occurred. Although the Deprivation Approach is popular and attractive, it faces various important problems, one of which is often called the “Lucretian puzzle” (based as it is on some suggestive remarks by Lucretius). If death is bad for a person for the reason provided by the Deprivation Approach, then it seems that her prenatal non-‐existence (that is, her not coming into existence earlier) must be bad for her as well—for it, too, deprives her of many goods. However, a person’s prenatal non-existence does not seem to be bad for her.
Recently, a number of authors have argued that certain views of the nature of time have a significant bearing on the Lucretian puzzle (e.g., Deng 2015; Le Poidevin 1996; Robson 2014). Specifically, it has been argued that some versions of the so-called “A-theory” of time provide deprivationists with a promising response to the problem. Roughly, the A-theory is the view that the present is metaphysically privileged in some crucial way, and, relatedly, that the passage of time—not just time itself, or its direction—is an objective feature of the world. One particularly interesting suggestion is that on some prominent A-theories, a person’s prenatal non-existence does not deprive her of goods, and hence is not rendered bad for her by the Deprivation Approach. The idea is that a person’s pleasant experiences (say) are intrinsically good for her if and only if they are present or future; although those of her experiences that are in the past once were intrinsically good for her, they lost their intrinsic value once they became past. On the “moving spotlight” view, for example, once an experience is out of the spotlight of the present, it thereby loses the intrinsic value it had before and during its time in the spotlight. As a result, because a person’s prenatal non-existence only deprives her of past experiences, it does not deprive her of any intrinsic value. By contrast, future experiences are moving toward the spotlight, and are therefore intrinsically valuable; hence a person’s future death does deprive her of intrinsic value.
This approach, I shall argue, is in some important ways an improvement over the familiar one defended by Anthony L. Brueckner and John M. Fischer (e.g., 1986); in particular, it avoids some criticisms that I and others have leveled earlier against the Brueckner/Fischer approach. Furthermore, the A-‐theory of time might well be correct; at least I shall not question it here. However, I also argue that, in the end, deprivationists have nothing to gain from adopting the A-‐theory—at least not as far as the Lucretian puzzle is concerned.
To begin with, unless we subscribe to the extreme view that the present and future are real whereas the past is not, there is no reason to think that the purely metaphysical distinctions made by the A- theory correspond to any relevant evaluative distinctions, let alone well-being-related distinctions. More cautiously, I argue, they do so only if the passage of time annihilates not only an event’s intrinsic value but also its extrinsic value—but the idea that past events are not even extrinsically good or bad for us is untenable.
Furthermore, and perhaps even more importantly, while the present proposal implies that a person’s future pleasant experiences are intrinsically good for her whereas her past pleasant experiences are not, I will argue that this still does not make for a successful response to the Lucretian problem. For, I shall argue, it does not show that the person’s death, unlike her prenatal non-existence, makes her worse off in the way that deprivationists need.
What Does It Mean to Kill Someone?
To answer the question ‘What does it mean to kill someone?’ I answer that A kills B if and only if A secures B’s death. By “securing death” I mean to refer to an action or event that can be intended or not, and that can be wrong or not depending on the character and context of the action. What is important to note for my purposes is that the verbs “kills” and “secures” are success terms, and that what succeeds is the final outcome of a fatal sequence (to use Foot’s words) initiated by A, that is, B’s death. As I will attempt to show, this will help us make sense of what it means to allow someone to die, and what it means to ‘directly’ or ‘indirectly’ kill someone. That is to say, to allow someone to die means to not interfere with an independently initiated-fatal sequence that will secure someone’s death. To directly kill someone is to either initiate a fatal sequence that secures someone’s death, or to make use of an already-initiated fatal sequence that will secure death. To indirectly kill someone is to allow someone to die and to ensure that he or she dies.
I then address the relationship between killing and causing death, and reject the claim that ‘secures death’ and ‘causes death’ are semantically equivalent for two reasons. The first is that the verb ‘cause’ can properly be used in a way that does not imply success, as in a ‘contributing cause.’ Not so with the terms ‘kills’ or ‘secures death.’ Secondly, what I call the ‘Timing Puzzle’ shows that while ‘causes to die’ can be derived from ‘kills, it is not the case that ‘kills’ (or ‘secures death’) can be derived from ‘causes to die.’ This leads me to view killing as a nominal concept we use to unify the action or event that initiates a fatal sequence that leads to death and the time of death into one simultaneous event we can think and speak of in ordinary language.
In response to various objections, I disentangle the concepts of (1) killing as an action or event, which, in my view, tracks fatal sequences that leads to death; (2) what it is to be morally responsible for killing, which tracks the sort of control the killer exercises over the killed; and (3) what determines the wrongness or viciousness of an act of killing, which tracks not only the control over, but also the intentions of the killer towards the killed. Finally, I explore the implications of my account and apply them to various disputes in the literature. More specifically, I reject (1) that physicians necessarily cause the death of their patients when they withdraw life-sustaining treatment from them, contrary to the arguments of Dan Brock and others; (2) that there there is never a moral difference between killing and letting die, contrary to James Rachels; and (3) that it can be coherently maintained that the the right to secure an abortion does not entail the right to secure the death of the fetus, contrary to Judith Jarvis Thomson at the end of her famous article on abortion.
Death and Timeless Values
Epicurus, in the famous passage from his letter to Menoeceus, famously argues that death is not bad for the one who dies. This passage has been interpreted by contemporary philosophers as the following argument:
- Anything that is bad for a person is bad for her at a time.
- There is no time at which death is bad for the person who dies.
- Hence, death is not bad for the person who dies.
I argue that A1 is a special case of the following more general argument:
- Anything that is bad (good) is bad at a time.
- There is no time at which X is bad (good).
- Hence, X is not bad (good).
I then argue that several properties, including beauty, nature, equality, and desert, which are commonly taken to be relevant to the intrinsic value of the world, do not determine the value of a world at any time. In other words, they are ‘timeless values’. Thus, if premise (1) of A2 were true, it would rule out the possibility that these properties determine the value of the world. The conclusion that these values are timeless is interesting in its own right, but those who accept that beauty, equality, or desert are non-instrumentally valuable are unlikely to abandon those values simply because they are timeless. Thus, many will be tempted to reject (1) of A2. If A1 is a special case of A2, then this gives us reason to reject (1) of A1 as well. This adds plausibility to the view that the evil of death, like other evils (goods), is timeless.
As a sketch of the argument I intend to offer, consider ‘whole lives egalitarianism’, which states that (in)equality between whole lives makes the world (worse) better. On this view, the goods that are relevant for determining egalitarian claims are those that accrue for a person over her entire lifetime. Since how well whole lives go in comparison to each other is a fundamental good- or bad-making property on whole lives egalitarianism, whole lives egalitarians posit states of affairs of the form that x’s whole life is n goods better than y’s whole life as being fundamental to determining the value of the world. States of affairs of this form involve a relational property being n goods better than between x’s whole life and y’s whole life. But states of affairs that involve a relation of this sort between two wholelives will seldom obtain at a time. This conclusion follows from a general principle governing when relations can obtain at a time and a condition on the temporal location of states of affairs:
Co-existence: If a relation holds between two items at a time t, then both of the items must exist at t.
Parts and atoms: If a proper part of a state of affairs does not exist at a time t, then the state of affairs does not exist at t.
Co-existence entails that, for the relation n goods better than to hold at a time, there must be some point or stretch of time at which the items x’s whole life and y’s whole life both exist. x’s whole life exists during the stretch which lasts from the first moment of x’s life to the last moment. The same is true mutatis mutandis for y’s life. But this does not show that the n goods better than relation exists at any time. Per the co-existence principle, for this to be the case, there must be some point in time or some stretch of time during which both of its relata exist. But whole lives never exist at some point in time, and, except in rare cases, two whole lives do not exist during the same duration. Thus, co- existence entails that there will be very few actual instances of the relation n goods better than holding between two whole lives at any time. But, by parts and atoms, a state of affairs of the form that x’s whole life is n goods better than y’s whole life cannot exist at a time if one of its parts (the relational property it involves) does not obtain at any time. Therefore, the whole lives egalitarian must maintain that there are states of affairs that determine how good or bad the world is that do not obtain at any time.
To establish the conclusion that states of affair that do not obtain at a time cannot determine the value of the world at a time, I propose the following principle (a similar principle is defended by Ben Bradley (2009)) and then defend it from recent objections:
Internalism: The intrinsic value of a world at a time is determined entirely by the states of affairs obtaining at that time.
I then use co-existence, parts and atoms, and internalism to establish the conclusion that desert, beauty, and nature may also be timeless values.
Wishing and Hoping and Living and Dying
Philosophers commonly extract from Lucretius’ philosophical poem De Rerum Natura this observation: Although many persons have some very “thumbs-down” attitudes toward the fact that they will not exist after their deaths (e.g., fear, dislike, belief that posthumous nonexistence is bad), no one seems to have any “thumbs-down” attitudes toward the enormous amount of time she spent not existing before she came into existence. Lucretius’ Puzzle is the question whether this typical attitudinal asymmetry concerning posthumous nonexistence and pre-generation nonexistence is rationally justified.
Elizabeth Harman suggests that we should understand Lucretius’ Puzzle as this question: “Why is it that we typically wish that our deaths would be later than they actually will be but typically lack a wish that we had come into existence some amount of time before we actually did?” Harman gives a very tidy solution to her version of the Puzzle. Indeed, Harman thinks the Puzzle is so easily solved that, strictly speaking, “there is no puzzle here at all.”
In this paper, I do two things. First, I give Lucretius a harder puzzle than Harman’s version of it, though one in the spirit of Harman’s version of it. Second, I propose a sort of quasi- solution to the Harder Puzzle that exploits a distinction between wishing-that and hoping-that.
The Harder Puzzle involves some jargon. Call a life “stretched-forward” relative to some actual life just in case it starts when the actual life starts, goes just like the actual life, and then goes on further. One who has the forward-looking wish that Harman says we typically have thereby wishes that she were living a stretched-forward life instead of her actual life. Call a life “stretched-back” relative to some actual life just in case it starts some amount of time before the actual life, goes just like the actual life, and then goes on further, ending at the time at which the actual life ends. Intuitively, a stretched-back life is what one gets by “pushing back” an actual life by some amount of time while keeping how the actual life goes intact, and then adding the same amount of time to the end.
This is the Harder Puzzle: Why is it that we typically wish that we were living a stretched- forward life but typically lack a wish that we were living a stretched-back life?
I think that one ought to be indifferent, ceteris paribus, between living a stretched-forward life and living a stretched-back life. This is because a life stretched forward relative to some actual life L by amount of time T and a life stretched back relative to L by T go just like one another; they differ only in the time-intervals they occupy. So, one who wishes for a stretched-forward life ought also to wish just as strongly for a stretched-back life. But very few of us wish for stretched- back lives. So, very few of us, it might appear, have rational attitudes concerning posthumous and pre-generation nonexistence.
However, appearances are deceiving. I believe that most of us lack the wishes that Harman imputes to us. We do not typically wish that we would die later than we actually will; we do not typically wish that we were living stretched-forward lives. Rather, we typically hope that we will die later than some time or other, perhaps most often the time at which (or the roughly defined time interval in which) we suspect we will die. So, even if one who has the sort of wish that Harman imputes to us must also on pain of irrationality wish for a stretched-back life, it isn’t the case that we typically must on pain of irrationality form such wishes.
Of course, one might think that I have merely displaced the problem. One might think that a person who hopes that she will die later that she suspects she will must also hope that she came into existence before she believes she did. But this is false. If I came into existence before I believe I did, then my life is actually very different from how I take it to be, and I had some— presumably quite bizarre—stretch of existence to which I have no epistemic access. This is a disturbing thought. But no such disturbing thought accompanies the thought of dying later than I suspect I will. It seems, therefore, that I am rationally justified in having the forward-looking hope that I have while lacking any corresponding backward-looking hope.
Vulnerable Black Bodies:
Depicting Dying and Dead Bodies of Black Men and Women in the Media
In this presentation I argue that when the media continuously shows the acts that led to the death of unarmed black men and women at the hands of police officers or continuously shows their dead bodies in the location in which they died, it contributes to our desensitization of black deaths. My argument consists of two parts. In part I, I discuss the different approaches taken by the media to report on the lives of the victim and the perpetrator. Particularly, I focus on the photos used to depict the black victim as a menace or thug and the perpetrator, typically a police officer and/or white individual as a model citizen. I argue that this method of reporting is wrongly used to justify the deaths of the black victim.
In part II of this presentation I discuss media depictions of dying or dead black individuals at the hands of police officers. A quick scan of the news or social media sites at any given time, you can view the act that led to an unarmed man or woman dying in police custody or see the victim’s actual dead body. For example, when black teenager Michael Brown was killed by police officer, Darren Wilson, the media continuously showed his body lying in the street where he was killed. Black college student, Matthew Ajibade who died in police custody after being beaten by officers and after a taser was used on his testicles, also by police officers has been shown on media outlets and can be viewed on social media sites. Sandra Bland, a black woman who was taken into custody after a traffic stop but who later died in police custody is another example. The video of her arrest, which was also used to justify her death, the video of her in police custody, and a picture of her dead body were all routinely shown on television news sources and can be viewed on social media (her death was ruled a suicide, but her family and other advocates believe that Bland did not take her own life).
In my analysis I argue against the common argument that depicting the deaths of victims is a positive step for advocacy groups that work to make changes to the justice system. Typically the argument is that when people see the deaths of black individuals they will be shocked and appalled and feel compelled to demand and work for social change. I argue that this is only true of individuals who are already sympathetic to issues that the black community faces. However, depicting the deaths of black individuals works in just the opposite way for people who either believe that police brutality is not a problem for the black community or that advocacy groups are exaggerating the issues.
Lastly, I argue that the continuous depiction of the dead bodies of black individuals contributes to a culture that devalues black live and minimalizes black families’ grief over the death of their loved ones, all which add to the vulnerability of black bodies.
You Only Die Once!
The marker of death has been claimed to be cessation of breath, heartbeat, integrated metabolic function, brain waves, consciousness, mental activity or acuity, memory or psychological continuity; – even phenomena such as decomposition, and not being remembered anymore. Philosophically, this is intolerably messy, especially for something as stark as death. I argue that death, personal identity, and persistence are separate concepts and when we’re careful not to conflate them, we can get much clearer on what death is and when it occurs. We can also resolve some famous death puzzles. When we don’t conflate death with other concepts, we’ll see that you may die a thousand metaphorical deaths but only one real one.
Death happens to your organism, or to the aspect of you that’s alive. That’s the kind of thing you are that dies. If all you are is an organism, death happens to the whole you; if aspects of you are not alive, those aspects won’t die; if you’re not organismal but something wholly immaterial, like a soul, then you’ll never die. Death happens, eventually, to nearly all living things and is marked by the permanent cessation of integrated metabolic life processes. This is consistent with the biological sciences and with the meaning of the concept of death as applied to most multicellular organisms, which argues in favor of this analysis of death. The live you, or the aspect of you that’s alive, is an organism. When the organismal aspect/s of you dies, you’re as dead as you will ever be. Until then, you may lose important aspects of yourself, like your mind or personality, or something essential to your personal identity, which may make you wish (were you were capable of wishing) you were dead but you won’t be.
You might think that in order to know when you die you have to know who or what “you” are, i.e., you have to have a theory of personal identity. This can seem commonsensical – if we don’t know what you are, how will anyone know if you’re dead? But, it’s false. In order to know when you die, you only have to know the way in which you are alive – as a multicellular organism – and that tells you when you die: when the organism you are, or the aspect/s of you that’s an organism, permanently ceases integrated metabolic life processes.
If your personal identity consists in something that can persist after death, like a soul, you might exist long after you die; if your personal identity consists in something that can stop persisting before you die, like your upper brain activity, you might stop existing before you die. How can you be both alive and nonexistent? If your personal identity consists in your upper brain activity and that has ceased, you, the person, no longer exist but the organismal aspect of you – the aspect that, according to this view of personal identity, is not what makes you “you” – remains alive. So you’ve ceased to exist, in terms of personal identity, but your organism or the aspect of you that’s an organism, remains alive.
Since death, personal identity, and persistence are separate concepts, we needn’t intuitively rebel at the idea that you (the organism, or the aspect of you that’s an organism) can be alive while you (in terms of your personal identity) can fail to have persisted (no longer exist). Maintaining distinct concepts makes sense of the intuition that someone can be alive but “not be there” anymore: the individual is alive because their organism continues conducting metabolic life processes, but the person, i.e. the things that make that individual a unique person and are crucial to her personal identity, may no longer persist.
Whether you continue to exist (or persist) isn’t a matter of life or death. Death doesn’t entail nonexistence and organisms rarely cease to exist when they die. Instead, they usually decompose over time. Whether you can persist very long after death depends on whether there’s anything about you that’s not alive (since death ends life), that still counts as you (here, we have to have some view of personal identity), and on the persistence conditions of that mysterious stuff.
I will show that when we don’t conflate concepts, we can understand brain death, fission, fusion, and suspended animation without undue difficulty. We can also make more sense of brain transplants, but we may still have difficulty with head transplants. We will likely be no closer to knowing when it’s okay to kill you.
The Comparative/Non-Comparative Dispute
about the Account of Harm and the Badness of Death
The main purpose of this paper is to show that there is no substantial dispute between the Comparative Account (CA) and the Non-Comparative Account (NCA) of harm, even with regard to the badness of death, which is thought to be the most typical example that divides these views.
According to CA, whether a given event is a harm for a subject is determined by the comparison between her actual and counterfactual well-being levels. More precisely, an event is a harm for her when the following counterfactual is true; if the event had not occurred, she would have been better off. In contrast, according to NCA, whether the event is a harm for her is determined not by such a comparison, but by negative intrinsic features of the event such as causing pain or physical damage to her.
These views appear to be clearly opposed, as the extensions of events that each view classify as harmful are different. According to CA, preventing one from getting good things is harmful. For example, as is well known, death is the most typical preventive harm. Death is nonexistence and an experiential blank; no negative intrinsic features are involved with death per se. Thus, the promising explanation about the badness of death is that it is the deprivation of the goodness of possible life. Such an explanation is not available to NCA. However, with regard to another case such as an omission, NCA has a more intuitive result than CA. Not NCA, but CA, classifies it as a harm.
It seems arguable, nevertheless, whether the extensional classification is substantial. To call something a “harm” is not important in itself. One of the most significant conditions for a theory of harm is for it to fit our rational deliberation (and moral consideration, perhaps): that is, the theory of harm should pick out rightly what we prudentially should avoid (and what we morally ought not do to others). Both CA and NCA appear to meet the condition. Under CA, what we should avoid is the comparatively harmful scenario. Even under NCA, the reasons (to avoid or promote) that each scenario gives to the subject are eventually to be compared. Hence, in each decisive evaluation, both CA and NCA specify the same scenario as what should be avoided. The point is that the comparison is inevitable. This basic point appears to hold even with regard to the badness of death. While one’s death is comparative harm according to CA, we can think in the following way according to NCA: on the one hand, the death scenario gives the subject no reason to avoid or promote because death has no intrinsic value; on the other hand, the good-life scenario gives her a certain strength of reason to promote. Thus, based on the comparison of these reasons, even according to NCA, death should be avoided in that its alternative is to be promoted.
In this paper, I specify the elements used in evaluating events under CA and NCA. Then, I clarify the basic point that there is no substantial dispute between these positions, by arguing about the badness of death and several other cases. After that, since the point might strike one as an oversimplification of the matter, I examine its plausibility in more detail through varied extra options that both CA and NCA can take: whether the nonexistence has zero level value or no value at all, whether the intrinsic values that one gets within her life can be summed up diachronically, and whether harm is more heavily weighted than benefit asymmetrically. Although indeed some options make interesting differences between CA and NCA, I conclude that these are not substantial.