Desire fulfillment and posthumous harm

American Philosophical Quarterly 44 (1):27 - 38 (2007)
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Abstract

This paper argues that the standard account of posthumous harm is untenable. The standard account presupposes the desire-fulfillment theory of welfare, but I argue that no plausible version of this theory can allow for the possibility of posthumous harm. I argue that there are, at least, two problems with the standard account from the perspective of a desire-fulfillment theorist. First, as most desire-fulfillment theorists acknowledge, the theory must be restricted in such a way that only those desires that pertain to one’s own life count in determining one’s welfare. The problem is that no one has yet provided a plausible account of which desires these are such that desires for posthumous prestige and the like are included. Second and more importantly, if the desire-fulfillment theory is going to be at all plausible, it must, I argue, restrict itself not only to those desires that pertain to one’s own life but also to those desires that are future independent, and this would rule out the possibility of posthumous harm. If I’m right, then even the desire-fulfillment theorist should reject the standard account of posthumous harm. We cannot plausibly account for posthumous harm in terms of desire fulfillment (or the lack thereof).

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Douglas W. Portmore
Arizona State University

Citations of this work

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References found in this work

Reasons and Persons.Derek Parfit - 1984 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
What we owe to each other.Thomas Scanlon - 1998 - Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Reasons and Persons.Joseph Margolis - 1986 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 47 (2):311-327.
Welfare, happiness, and ethics.L. W. Sumner - 1996 - New York: Oxford University Press.
A theory of the good and the right.Richard B. Brandt - 1998 - Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books.

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