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Comments on Death, Posthumous Harm and Bioethics
  1. Frederik Kaufman
  1. Correspondence to Professor Frederik Kaufman, Department of Philosophy, Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA; Kaufmanf{at}

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I cannot possibly do justice to James Taylor's main contention that full-blooded epicureanism is true. But if it is true then, as he notes, this ‘bold’ philosophical position promises to revise our thinking about many areas in bioethics which presuppose that death is bad.1 (I will assume familiarity with Taylor's basic position that death is not bad and that the dead cannot be harmed, as outlined in his précis.) Of course if Epicureanism is true, the implications run much wider and deeper than bioethics. Any human activity that in any way presupposes the badness of death will be groundless—killing or being killed in war will be morally inconsequential, saving people from death will be without merit and execution could not count as punishment. But, Taylor assures us, the truth of Epicureanism need not force such drastic practical changes for two reasons: excising the (allegedly) mistaken non-epicurean portion of those practical matters might not exhaust our concerns with those questions, and in any case we might be hard-wired to think that death is bad, so we would be stuck with a view that we see on reflection is false (p. 4).2 However, that much of our common sense practical thinking about life and death might remain intact despite being groundless is small comfort, since we would then be something like Christians trying to carry on who realise, on reflection, that there is no God.

Taylor seeks to mitigate …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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