Death's Distinctive Harm

American Philosophical Quarterly 49 (4):317-30 (2012)

Stephan Blatti
University of Maryland, College Park
Despite widespread support for the claim that death can harm the one who dies, debate continues over how to rescue this harm thesis (HT) from Epicurus’s challenge. Disagreements focus on two of the three issues that any defense of HT must resolve: the subject of death’s harm and the timing of its injury. About the nature of death’s harm, however, a consensus has emerged around the view that death harms a subject (when it does) by depriving her of the goods life would’ve afforded had she continued living. This deprivation view of death’s harm (DV) derives some of its credibility from the general deprivation theory of which it is an instance: mortal harm is subject to the same kind of analysis plausibly given of other non-mortal harms. Furthermore, note that the weak formulation of HT—asserting only that death can inflict harm, not that it always or necessarily does—accommodates the intuition that instances of rational suicide and justifiable euthanasia present cases in which death fails to harm. DV is equipped to explain how in these cases the harms involved in continued existence outweigh the goods of which death deprives the subject. I agree that suicide can be rational and that euthanasia can be justifiable. Likewise I accept both HT and DV as far as they go. But they do not go far enough. Specifically, I argue here that death harms even those who die as a result of rational suicide or justifiable euthanasia; that death’s harm is neither undifferentiated nor wholly contingent, but multifaceted and partly necessary; that the necessary part of death’s harm is distinctive, inflicting a peculiar restriction on the autonomy of one who dies; and, regarding the timing and subject issues, that this restriction harm is inflicted on the antemortem subject prior to her death.
Keywords death  harm
Categories (categorize this paper)
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 68,944
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Human Identity and Bioethics.David DeGrazia - 2005 - Cambridge University Press.
Philosophical Explanations.Robert Nozick - 1981 - Mind 93 (371):450-455.
The Human Animal. Personal identity without psychology.Eric T. Olson - 1997 - Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 192 (1):112-113.

View all 36 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Unmoored: Mortal Harm and Mortal Fear.Kathy Behrendt - 2019 - Philosophical Papers 48 (2):179-209.
Death as a Social Harm.Lori Gruen - 2014 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 52 (S1):53-65.
Life and Death Without the Present.Daniel Story - 2021 - The Journal of Ethics 26 (2):193-207.
Mortal Harm and the Antemortem Experience of Death.Stephan Blatti - 2014 - Journal of Medical Ethics 40 (9):640-42.

View all 6 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

The Metaphysics of Death.John Martin Fischer (ed.) - 1993 - Stanford University Press.
Mortal Harm.Steven Luper - 2007 - Philosophical Quarterly 57 (227):239–251.
Posthumous Harm.Steven Luper - 2004 - American Philosophical Quarterly 41 (1):63 - 72.
Harming the Dead.James Stacey Taylor - 2008 - Journal of Philosophical Research 33:185-202.
Harm, Change, and Time.C. Belshaw - 2012 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 37 (5):425-444.
Killing and Dying.Dan Moller - 2006 - American Philosophical Quarterly 43 (3):235-247.
The Time of Death's Badness.J. Johansson - 2012 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 37 (5):464-479.
Harm in the Wild: Facing Non-Human Suffering in Nature. [REVIEW]Beril İdemen Sözmen - 2013 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 16 (5):1075-1088.
Better No Longer to Be.Ema Sullivan-Bissett & Rafe Mcgregor - 2012 - South African Journal of Philosophy 31 (1):55-68.
How Bad is Death?Ben Bradley - 2007 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 37 (1):111-127.


Added to PP index

Total views
327 ( #31,204 of 2,498,128 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #428,301 of 2,498,128 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes