Date of Award

Spring 2019

Thesis Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Honors Bachelor of Arts




Eric Smaw

Committee Member

Tom Cook

Committee Member

Josephine Balzac


Existential debates – regarding life, death, and the states which potentially succeed existence – have widespread spiritual and ethical implications for general society. Rather than aimlessly questioning the metaphysical value of death on life, there are clear bioethical applications to exploring exaggerated human death anxieties. These fears are unique to our species and have wide-spread societal repercussions. By and large, discomfort with the notion of mortality permeates unequivocally throughout our species’ histories. We become our own worst enemies when we fail to admit and confront the inevitability of death. The lack of mortality salience encouraged by our trepidations fuels an immortality narrative that dismisses death in favor of a presumption of human invincibility. The repercussions of such attitudes regarding thanatology can be readily observed throughout healthcare, judicial, religious, and funeral sectors, etc. Death anxieties further allow irrationality to proliferate. Therefore, in order to address our trepidations, it is essential that we first identify the source of these fears. Given the status of narrative and storytelling in all aspects of human life, it is proposed that our preoccupations with legacy are preventing us from addressing our fears re mortality and preventing us from attaining sufficient mortality salience. Legacy is defined as an all-inclusive term referencing a subjective evaluation during life that impacts an individual’s reputation posthumously. In order to assert the absurdity of legacy’s influence on our perceptions of death, we will refute potential counterarguments in the forms of posthumous harm and demonstrate the impracticality of the fear-based narrative that currently surrounds mortality. In doing so, we will largely favor Epicurean attitudes towards death, in order to contradict both the generally accepted mortal harm and posthumous harm theses, by claiming that 1) one is not harmed by their own death and 2) one cannot be harmed after their own death. Our argument regarding the harmful effects of legacy on thanatological fears has both theoretical and practical implications, especially with regards to various bioethical concerns. Specifically, regarding the legalization of physician-assisted death, we will be illustrating that, from a utility perspective, such measures appear rational and warrant legal endorsement. Other applied bioethical issues (e.g. presumption of posthumous consent, cadaver organ transplantation procedures, etc.) will also benefit from the implications of studying the effects of legacy-derived death anxieties on mortality salience.

Rights Holder

Christina Fuleihan

Included in

Philosophy Commons