Thursday, June 08, 2006

Accomplishments, posthumous harm, and the experience requirement.

It seems that a theory that says that accomplishing something is good for the accomplisher, must admit the possibility of posthumous harm and benefit. Why?Consider the following example:

Bernard Russell is said to have spent his last years trying to make the prospects of a nuclear war less likely. Most people would think that the extent to which he achieved something with his life depends to the extent to which he actually succeeded in decreasing the chances of war.

This seems to entail that Russell's life could have been made worse, that is to say, a worse life for him to live, by some event after his death, such as that there would be a nuclear war.

I cannot accept posthumous death, for reasons I explained in this other post. First of all, I find it utterly impalatable that my life can be changed in any respect after it had ended. Secondly, it seems that well-being of a subject has something to do with the properties that are in some profound sense properties of that subject, and "living in a world in which later on a nuclear war takes place" does not seem to qualify in any was as a property that is about that subject in the sense we want it to be.

One way to get rid of the impalatable conclusion of posthumous harm, is through imposing an experience requirement on one’s theory of welfare. Then we may say that accomplishing something for real is good for the subject, but only under the condition that it is experienced. So we can say that what happened after Russell’s death cannot make his life either better nor worse, because those are facts that cannot enter his experience.

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