ProfessorCathal O Madagain
PHLB09 2011 Lecture 10
•We don't stress out over not having existed before we were born, so why worry about not existing
after we die?
•"When death is, we aren't, when we are, death isn't"
oNot so quick Lucretius
oThere are more than just e-harms (experiential harms)
•Our lives are lived along two lines:
oThe Passive (what we experience)
oThe Active (what we plan to do)
•The passive side of your life is subject to e-harms
•But the active side of your life is real, and isn't obviously attacked by e-harms…
•m-harms are meaningfulness harms
•M-harms can harm your plans, goals, what you've achieved…
•Even if you don't experience them
•Someone can m-harm you without you knowing
oBy spreading lies about you that you never find out about
oBy cheating on you (as your partner), even if you never find out
•By setting your life's work on fire
•...by setting your life's work on fire after you die…
•Death can harm us, by sabotaging our plans
oIf you're landed on by a giant snowball when you were about to publish your life's work,
you've been harmed
o...even though you don't experience it...
•You can't harm someone who doesn't exist yet
•...but you can harm someone who already exists, even if they don't experience it...by ruining their
•Meaningful harms stretch out into the future
oDeath is always an m-harm if you have plans that it interferes with
oEven if you're 800 years old, death still takes away the prospect of doing more stuff
•Agrees with Nagel that death can be a harm
•But thinks that it's not always an e-harm
•"Why do people care about whether they live or die once they fall permanently unconscious?"
•...it matters to people how they die; even if they don’t experience it...
•Can you harm someone who's permanently unconscious?
oBy killing them?
oBy raping them?
oEven though we don't really experience it, death is a part of life
o...and you want to die in a way that's consistent with the plans you had for how you
wanted to live
oWe have both experiential and "critical" (meaningful) interests
•Having healthy relationships with other people
•Doing a good job (at whatever you do)
•Subjective - my life isn't worse if I don't have the e-interests that I have
•Objective - my life could be worse if I had the wrong m-interests
•"What if in reality my whole life had been wrong?! If that is so, and I am living this life with the
consciousness that I have lost all that was given me and there's no putting it right - what then?!"
oDworkin says this is a real part of the human experience, you can find that you've done
things the wrong way
•Having the wrong m-interests can be an m-harm…
•...like being swept up in a cult
•There's nothing worse than a young crank (someone who's obsessed with politics and law at a
young age), except maybe an old player (On the Beautiful and the Sublime)
•Whether you have the right m-interests depends on what stage of your life you're at
•If you're 90 and you want to join the NBA, you've missed something
•If you're 10 and you're upset because you're not the chancellor of a university, you've missed
•The right m-interests are affected by, among other things, the shape of our biological lives
•We're helpless when we're born, at our strongest from 20-60
•And weaker from then on...
•For m-interests to be good, they have to be both:
oBelieved to be good by the subject…
•It's important for us to have chosen our m-interests, not just for them to be good…
•...so even if being a doctor is a good idea in general, it's not OK to force someone to become a
doctor if they don't want to
•For an m-interests to be good, it has to be what a subject would choose all things considered
•Can e-interests and m-interests and m-interests conflict?
•Mind-altering drugs that make you happy for the rest of your life could be bad for you…
•You might prefer to die with your character intact, and in pain…
•...than with no pain as a raving lunatic…
•Mrs. Dubose, "To Kill a Mockingbird"
•The way we die can be of critical (meaningful) interest to us…
•Gareth Evans lived on through crippling pain to try to finish his book, "The Varieties of Meaning"
•Or we might have an interest in not staying alive, even if we're unconscious…
•...we might not want to live indefinitely subjected to experimentation, even if our family wanted
•So death can be bad by being contrary to our critical interests…
•But it can be good! By being consistent with our critical interests…
•"I could not have wished him a greater death" (Silward hearing his son was killed by Macbeth)
•"Making someone die in a way that others approve, but he believes is a horrifying contradiction of
his life, is a devastating, odious form of tyranny"