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What makes death bad for us?
  1. Ingmar Persson
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ingmar Persson, Department of Philosophy, University of Gothenburg, Box 200, Gothenburg 40530, Sweden; ingmar.persson{at}

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I'm in sympathy with almost all of David DeGrazia's insightful and comprehensive book Creation Ethics. 1 But such is the nature of my present undertaking that I have to kick up some disagreement. So, I'm going to critically examine one component of the ‘tripartite framework for understanding prenatal moral status’ (p. 17) that he defends in Chapter 2. This framework consists of the following three components:

(1) a view about our numerical identity, essence, and origins; (2) an account of the relevance of sentience to moral status; (3) a version of ‘the time-relative interests account’ of the harm of death (pp. 17–8).

My discussion will focus on (3), his version of the time-relative interests account (TRIA), an account which he takes over, in a somewhat modified form, from Jeff McMahan. This is because my objections on this score impact significantly on prenatal moral status (and this is after all an ethics journal).

With respect to (1), DeGrazia defends the biological view that we are identical to our human organisms. However, he holds this view to be only slightly more plausible than a psychological view to the effect that we are identical to the subjects or owners of our minds or consciousnesses (p. 20). For my own part, I accept an ‘error-theory’ which, so to speak, slices itself in between these views.2 According to this theory, we are identical to our bodies on the assumption that they are the subjects or owners of our minds or consciousnesses. The problem is that this assumption is erroneous. As a matter of fact, it's rather our brains, or certain areas of them that, strictly speaking, or underivatively, are the subjects or owners of our minds or consciousnesses. Our (whole) bodies are only derivatively the subjects or owners in virtue of having these (areas …

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  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

  • i DeGrazia and I agree that ‘the best possible subjective theory is more plausible than any objective theory’ (p. 112) of what makes things go well for us, or our well-being, but we may differ over what the best subjective theory is. In opposition to what I hold, he claims: ‘If the satisfaction of an informed desire does not give us any felt satisfaction, it is unclear why it should count as valuable on a subjective account’ (p. 110). On the other hand, he insists: ‘A person's happiness makes her well-off only if it based on a more or less accurate understanding of her circumstances’ (p. 114). But why, when it's having this basis clearly isn't anything felt? So, the precise difference between our views eludes me. It may in part have to do with the fact that I take the relevant notion to be ‘what makes things go well/have intrinsic value for us’ which I take to be broader than the experientially-tinged ‘our well-being’, whereas he seems guided by the latter notion.

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