Deprivationism, Value Predication, and Harm by Omission


  • Alex R Gillham St. Bonaventure University


Applied Ethics, Philosophy of Death, Deprivationism


Deprivationists think death can be good or bad for the deceased. One popular version of deprivationism claims that death is bad for the person who dies to the extent that it deprives her of goods that she probably would have experienced if she would have continued to live. I have three aims in this paper. First, I develop the Value Predication Objection (VPO), which claims that deprivationism is false because something cannot be predicated to have value for what no longer exists. After posing VPO, I consider and respond to replies. Only one such reply provides a satisfactory rebuttal of VPO. This response presupposes that the dead can have less well-being than their counterparts and that omissions are harms, so an adequate response to VPO requires these two presuppositions. Finally, I explore some entailments of these presuppositions in order to pump the intuition that it would be better to abandon deprivationism than to concede that the dead can have less well-being than their counterparts and that omissions are harms. First, if death can be good or bad for the deceased, then the well-being of the deceased can change with time, unless being good or bad for a subject does not require variation in the well-being of that subject. Although counterintuitive, one could make this view work with the Counterfactual Comparative Account of harm (CCA). CCA says that an individual is harmed when she is made worse off than she otherwise would have been. I develop a case that I call Near Breakthrough to pump the intuition that CCA is false. Researchers who come close to discovering cures for prominent and very bad illnesses but ultimately fail do not thereby harm us. CCA, however, entails that they do harm us insofar as they make us worse off than our closest counterparts.


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