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Our Obligation to the Dead

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Can we have a real obligation to the dead, just as we do to the living, or is such a notion merely sentimental or metaphorical? Starting with the example of making a promise, I try to show that we can, since the dead, as well as the living, can have interests, not least because the notion of a person is, in part, a moral construction. ‘The dead’, then, are not merely dead, but particular dead persons, members of something like the sort of ‘transgenerational community’ proposed by Avner de–Shalit. More generally, I argue, we have an obligation to the dead that goes beyond the particularities of promise–making, on account of their role in having made us who we are. I then suggest, though only embryonically, that such obligations may appropriately be discharged by remembering the dead, who they were and what they did. Finally, I consider some possible objections.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Brighton, UK

Publication date: January 1, 2002

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