Sentient Nonpersons and the Disvalue of Death

Bioethics 30 (7):511-519 (2016)
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Implicit in our everyday attitudes and practices is the assumption that death ordinarily harms a person who dies. A far more contested matter is whether death harms sentient individuals who are not persons, a category that includes many animals and some human beings. On the basis of the deprivation account of the harm of death, I argue that death harms sentient nonpersons. I next consider possible bases for the commonsense judgment that death ordinarily harms persons more than it harms sentient nonpersons. Contrary to what some philosophers believe, it is doubtful that the familiar resources of prudential value theory can vindicate this judgment. I show that the approach that at first glance seems most promising for supporting this judgment – namely, invoking an objective account of well-being – faces substantial challenges, before arguing that McMahan's time-relative interest account supplies the needed theoretical basis. I then go on to extract a significant practical implication of the first thesis, that death ordinarily harms sentient nonpersons: We should find a way to discontinue the routine killing of animal subjects following their use in experiments.

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David DeGrazia
George Washington University


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