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As James Stacey Taylor correctly notes in his précis, practical ethicists today are engaged in a number of debates that take for granted a couple of ideas whose provenance may be traced all the way back to Aristotle.1 The first of these is the thought that death (typically) harms the one who dies; call this the ‘mortal harm thesis’ (MHT). The second is the idea that one can be harmed (and wronged) by events that occur after one's death; call this the ‘posthumous harm thesis’ (PHT). Taylor devotes two-thirds of his recent book to arguing against both theses and the remainder to working out the implications of their falsity for various bioethical concerns, including euthanasia, suicide, organ procurement, and so on.2 Here, I will concentrate on Taylor's case against MHT.
Notwithstanding other suggestions that MHT and PHT stand or fall together (p. 174),3 Taylor rightly follows Bradley (p. 44)4 in acknowledging the possibility that MHT could be true even if PHT is false. So, having devoted the first four chapters to arguing against PHT, Taylor turns his attention to mortal harm in chapters 5 and 6; here he distinguishes four arguments against MHT. The first two are versions of the famous no-subject argument advanced by Epicurus in his Letter to Menoeceus5: the ‘hedonic variant’ and the ‘existence variant.’ The last two are versions of Lucretius’ symmetry argument in his De Rerum Natura6: the ‘ontological version’ and the ‘attitudinal version.’
This looks like a lot of artillery trained on MHT. But it emerges in the course of Taylor's discussion that, in …
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↵i Unless otherwise indicated, all page references are to this work.
↵ii I suspect that Taylor (pp. 14–15) would say that he has established the falsity of (d) with his challenge to Pitcher8 and Feinberg3 and his case for the impossibility of posthumous harm (chapter 3), and that these arguments would apply mutatis mutandis to mortal harm. I believe this is not the case, but space does not permit me to engage this material here.