W. James Booth: “Can the Dead Be Harmed?”


Can the dead be harmed? One on account, to be dead is to cease to have any existence whatsoever, and therefore to have no interests, feelings or hopes that could be thwarted or harmed by others. Counter-arguments advance claims that the dead or their interests do persist, and so can be wronged. These debates are important across a range of concerns. Do we actually owe something to our beloved family dead, for example devotion, remembrance or compliance with their will as it was when they were alive? Is doing justice to the deceased victims of past injustice something we owe them, such that if we failed in this we would further injure them? In this presentation, W. James Booth, professor of political science and philosophy, will sketch and weigh some responses to these questions, and underline their importance for our everyday lives.

Professor Booth’s lecture is one of three 2013 Berry Lectures in Public Philosophy at Vanderbilt University, which explore thought-provoking questions about the morality of war, treatment of others and obligations toward the dead. The theme for this year’s series is “Life, Death and Justice.”