Saturday, June 18, 2011

What to do about Uncle Freddie

She asked how uncle Freddie was doing. The past few days have been quite bad for him, I said. He was killed by a bus just over a month ago. The first few weeks nothing good happened that he would have missed, but he really would have liked it when the cousins visited. We are thinking about cancelling the wedding. He really would have wanted to be there and the deprivations are getting to be a bit much.

----
So, a bit of context. We've been reading Bradley's book on Well Being & Death. I have to say that I think Bradley has to be right, but there are little issues along the way that bother me. Among them is the thought that your death is bad for you after your demise. If Freddie had not been hit by that bus, he would still be with us today and would have really loved to have seen the cousins. So, his death is bad for him when the cousins visit because that's what he has been deprived of. Since he would have loved the wedding we're planning, should we worry about the further deprivations it would cause him if we have it now rather than wait to have it until after he would have died had he not been hit by the bus?

7 comments:

Michael said...

I find these issues very interesting. I think it's obvious that having the wedding now can't harm him (compared to not having it), even more obvious that postponing it couldn't make a difference either way, but I'm not totally sure why.

One thought which I'm pretty sure is not at the heart of it, but worth thinking about, is this. In the situation described, it seems very natural to say "he would have wanted us to have the wedding", or whatever, and to use that as a reason to go on as normal. So you could argue that having the wedding now is better than postponing because that would better respect (what we take to be) the dead man's (hypothetical?) wishes. Then you could say either:

1. The goodness of doing what he would want outweighs the badness of
doing something nice he will have been deprived of by dying.

or

2. When the decision to have the wedding is mediated by consideration of his death and his wishes, it is not (numerically) the same wedding that would have occurred in the counterfactual situation where he didn't die. Thus he was not deprived of participating in *this* wedding because had he not died *this* wedding wouldn't have taken place. In which case, the goodness of respecting his wishes (not to mention the goodness of just having the wedding) stand unopposed.

Of these, 2 sounds to me closer to the mark, though probably still confused. But the basic idea is: we're not deprived of things whose happening is in some important way related to our death (and this has a sensible counterfactual analysis.) This seems pointing in the rightish direction, inasmuch as it promises to keep us from minimizing the actualization of new good things in order to minimize deprivation.

Anonymous said...

I'm strongly intuitively pulled to this rule: "never prevent welfare for the living as a means to decreasing deprivational harm for the dead"

But I'm not sure how to defend it within Bradley's framework.

In the wedding case utilitarian reasoning could justify not cancelling the wedding: a lot of living people would be worsened by that action and only Freddie would benefit (by losing less than in the wedding alternative). But what if Freddie and ALL the other 100 wedding guests died. Should the only survivors, the couple to be married, now cancel their wedding for the sake of less deprivation for the 101 dead?

Anonymous said...

initially i thought that 2 might be on the right track, but then the following situation occurred to me.
suppose that uncle freddie suffers an injury and doctors inform his family that he will remain comatose for one year. couldn't the family give the same type of reasoning in this case? that is, in deciding to have the wedding, it is not (numerically) the same wedding, since had he not been comatose *this* wedding would not have taken place. and so it is not *this* wedding that freddie is deprived of participating in. and if similar reasoning works for this sort of case, then what prevents his family from reasoning similarly for any type of absence?

ultimately i suspect that freddie's lack of existence, and thus his failure to suffer deprivation, has to come into play somewhere.

but i think what makes this case in particular so difficult is clayton's question that asks:
"Since he would have loved the wedding we're planning, should we worry about the further deprivations it would cause him if we have it now rather than wait to have it until after he would have died had he not been hit by the bus?"

i'm thinking it might have something to do with a difference in the way we view accidental death versus non-accidental death. i'm not at all sure about that though. however there does seem to be something more to the statement that asks whether we should wait to have the wedding until after he would have died had he not been hit by the bus versus the statement that asks whether we should wait to have the wedding until after he would have died had he not died of, say, old age.

J.R. said...

What if (living) Uncle Freddie was at work when the cousins visited, and he never found out for the rest of his existence that he missed their visit, would that be bad for him?

It seems odd to say missing some specific possibility is bad for the person missing it if they never know about it. It seems as though in such scenarios we are speculating about possible worlds.

David Gordon said...

I think that there is a problem with your wedding example. There is no reason to cancel the wedding after Uncle Fred's death, even if Uncle Fred's death is in part bad for him because he is deprived of attending the wedding. Cancelling the wedding now does not change the truth value of "Uncle Fred would have wanted to be at the wedding", so long as the wedding would still have been held had Uncle Fred been alive.

David Killoren said...

Uncle Freddie's going to be deprived of the wedding whether you have it or not. If you have it, he'll miss it because he's dead. If you don't have it, he'll miss it because it doesn't take place. Since his deprivation is inevitable, you can hold the wedding without being responsible in any relevant way for his deprivation.

Or am I missing something?

Anonymous said...

I'm convinced this is your alter ego: http://www.philosophybro.com/