Logic, Epistemology and Metaphysics Seminar

Logic, Epistemology and Metaphysics Seminar
27 February 2018, 5.30pm - 7.30pm
Room 246, Second Floor, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Contrastivism and the Harm of Death


Tatjana von Solodkoff (University of Dublin)


We feel sorry for Amy Winehouse, Bill Paxton, or  Carrie Fisher that they have died. This suggests that something bad happened to them: death. To put it differently, all of them were harmed by their own death. I defend a contrastivist approach to deadly harm. Contrastivism has been suggested about various metaphysical and epistemological relations (e.g. causation and knowledge) and occasionally more ethically relevant relations (e.g. moral luck or reasons). Contrastivism about knowledge, e.g., is a view about the structure of the knowledge relation. Jonathan Schaffer claims it’s  a relation between an individual and two contrasting propositions: P knows p rather than q. I claim the same when it comes to deadly harm. The relation of deadly harm is one that holds between an individual, her death and an alternative non-occurring event or state of affairs (the contrast event or state of affairs): P’s death rather than e constitutes a harm for P. Suppose Aunt Ethel died of terminal cancer. Leila thinks that it was good for Aunt Ethel that she (finally) died, Amir agrees, but also feels sorry for her that she died. This seems to suggest that Aunt Ethel didn’t suffer a harm simpliciter. Her death rather than living for another five happy years constitutes a harm for her. But her death rather than suffering six more months of excruciating pain is not a harm for her. What can be said of the terminal cancer patient can be said of every individual. There are presumably always circumstances that would be worse for a person than death. And there are always circumstances that would be better for a person than death. The best way to make sense of this is to hold that deadly harm is always a harm in contrast to some alternative event.


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