Welfare and Posthumous Harm

WHEN ONE ASSUMES, as I will, that death marks the irrevocable end to one’s existence, it is difficult to make sense of the idea that a person could be harmed or benefited by events that take place after her death. How could a posthumous event either enhance or diminish the welfare of the deceased, who no longer exists? Yet we find that many people have a prudential (i.e., self-interested) concern for what’s going to happen after their deaths.1 People are, for instance, concerned that their reputations not be slandered, that their achievements not be undermined, and that their contributions not be forgotten, not even after their deaths. Of course, many philosophers would insist that such a concern for what’s going to happen after one’s death must be based on, or a remnant of, a false belief in an afterlife. I, however, will argue that even if death marks the unequivocal and permanent end to one’s existence, people have good reason to be prudentially concerned with what’s going to happen after their deaths, for, as I will show, a person’s welfare can indeed be affected by posthumous events.
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