Posthumous Harm

American Philosophical Quarterly 41 (1):63 - 72 (2004)
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According to Epicurus (1966a,b), neither death, nor anything that occurs later, can harm those who die, because people who die are not made to suffer as a result of either. In response, many philosophers (e.g., Nagel 1970, Feinberg 1984, and Pitcher 1984) have argued that Epicurus is wrong on both counts. They have defended the mortem thesis: death may harm those who die. They have also defended the post-mortem thesis: posthumous events may harm people who die. Their arguments for this joint view are by now quite familiar, and there is no need to rehearse them here (for a summary, see Luper 2002). Instead, our topic is a third position, which carves out intermediate ground between the other two. The intermediate view takes the mortem thesis for granted, like the critics of Epicurus, but rejects the post-mortem thesis, like Epicurus himself. For Epicurus’ project—the attainment of ataraxia, or equanimity—the intermediate view is almost useless (we are not tranquil if we regard death as a tragedy whose peculiarity is that it frees us from the possibility of any further misfortune); however, it is far more plausible than Epicurus’ own position since it avoids his absurd claim that death cannot harm us, while retaining his view that events occurring while we are dead and gone cannot harm us. According to the proponent of the intermediate view, when we understand the harm death inflicts, we must reject the idea that events following death can be bad for us. The damage death itself does is so severe that people are not subject to harm by any subsequent events. Thus the intermediate view rests on the mortem thesis together with the immunity thesis: death leaves its victims immune from posthumous harm.



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Steven Luper
Trinity University

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