When Do Persons Die?: Indeterminacy, Death, and Referential Eligibility

Journal of Value Inquiry 52 (2):153-167 (2018)
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The topic of this paper is the general thesis that the death of the human organism is what constitutes the death of a person. All admit that when the death of a human organism occurs, in some form or another, this normally does result in the death of a person. But, some maintain, organismic death is not the same thing as personal death. Why? Because, they maintain, despite the fact that persons are associated with a human organism (‘their organism’), they are not identical with their organism, and so they can, at least in principle and perhaps in actuality, die before or after their organism dies. The thesis described above I shall call ‘the two-deaths thesis’ in virtue of the fact that its proponents believe that there are two kinds of death, viz. organismic death and personal death. The opposing thesis, according to which the death of a human organism does constitute the death of a person, I call the ‘one death thesis’. After giving some background remarks in section 2 of this paper, in section 3 I argue that, if we take linguistic usage seriously, neither the two-deaths thesis nor the one-death thesis is true. I argue, rather, that so far as linguistic usage goes it is indeterminate which of them is true. In section 4 I go further and argue that if one accepts a widely held metaphysical view, viz. that the world itself partially determines reference and the extensions of our concepts, then it is plausible that the one-death thesis is true despite the facts about linguistic usage.

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Benjamin L. Curtis
Nottingham Trent University


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