Philosophy Now wrote:
Walter Ott doesn’t think so.
I don't either. Yet, while I may agree with the conclusion, I disagree about some of the details.
Ott raises some valid points. For instance, he points out the mistake of thinking past and future are symmetrical. Also, he notes that obligations of this sort are more of a generic nature toward society rather than to a specific person and that they are of a more timeless nature rather than of a specific "hurt" done to someone who existed in the past.
So, after making those points, what is Ott really arguing then? His victory seems very narrow. So, we don't have an obligation to someone after they're dead. Does that mean we have no obligations based on the interactions we had with that person while they were alive? I don't think so. I think Ott is missing a few things.
Granted, there is a desire by some to leave a legacy or have influence after their death. I'm not one for ancestor worship, so I don't feel that obligation. At the same time, if someone was a good moral example while they lived, their story is still a good moral example after their death. This is the "timeless" aspect to it. When someone asks "Will you take care of my business after I'm gone?" they are in a sense asking, "Do you value it now? Do we share a common understanding?" It would therefore be dishonest to answer yes to someone, and then discard the business after their death. It would mean you lied to them at the moment when they asked the question. Therefore, you did do harm to the person in that past moment, and it is likely you are continuing to do harm (to someone if not the deceased) in the present.
So, in this timeless, generally societal manner there are obligations we entered into with a person while they were living that continue after their death. It is only the more specific obligations from which we are released.