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Levenbook, Barbara Baum. Welfare and Harm After Death
2013, In James Stacey Taylor (ed.), The Metaphysics and Ethics of Death: New Essays. Oxford University Press. pp. 188-209.
Added by: Chris Blake-Turner, Contributed by: Barbara Baum Levenbook
Abstract: My aim in this essay is to defend the claim that posthumous harm is possible against an argument that assumes that an event harms a person only if it makes it the case that his or her welfare diminishes (compared to some benchmark) and further assumes that no one exists after death. This argument gets a purchase against posthumous harm only if one adds what I call Mortality-Bounded Welfare: the thesis that no events that occur after the end of one-s life can detrimentally affect one-s welfare. I accept the first two assumptions with some modification, but provide an argument to reject Mortality-Bounded Welfare. Although I use an argument form familiar in these kinds of discussions -- contrast cases in a thought-experiment, one involving an undeniably living person, and one not -- my defense of the thesis that the boundaries of welfare-affecting events may extend beyond the existence of the person in question is novel. My strategy is to make a case for a human condition having residual boundaries, by which I mean that it may obtain because of events that postdate a person, and then argue that it affects welfare. In the course of my argument, I provide a subsidiary argument that rights have residual boundaries. In particular, I argue that once rights vest (in existing people), they delineate not only a sphere of behavior that satisfies the rights but also a sphere of rights-violating behavior on the part of others. Unless this delineation is defeated by moral means, actual behavior on the part of others that falls within the respective spheres is right-satisfying or right-violating. The story does not change with regard to a right to performances potentially or necessarily postdating the right-holder. Unlike some attempts to argue that posthumous harm is possible, my defense of the possibility of posthumous harm is compatible with various metaphysical positions about when a posthumous harm occurs. I go on to demonstrate that my thought-experiment argument is free of an important objection (raised by Taylor, 2005) to two well-known attempts to defend posthumous harm on the basis of thought-experiments, Parfit-s (1984) and Feinberg-s (1984). For the sake of completeness, I sketch a different thought-experiment argument against Mortality-Bounded Welfare. I explain why this different thought-experiment does not make use of the idea of rights with residual boundaries. In closing, I trace a recent attempt, grounded in our agency, to argue for the possibility of posthumous harm. This attempt accepts, as mine does, the assumptions about welfare diminution and nonexistence after death and is likewise compatible with various metaphysical positions about when posthumous harm occurs. The argument in question is provided by Keller (2004) and is compatible with analyses of welfare offered by Scanlon and Raz. Although I grant its underlying assumption that agency sometimes has a posthumous extension, I argue that my defense of the possibility of posthumous harm is superior to this one by expanding on a recent criticism of its position on welfare offered by Bradley (2007).

Comment: in a value theory course

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