Saturday, November 5, 2011

What He Would Have Wanted

Having lost two very close relatives within the last year, I've had occasion to think about (if not necessarily hear all that often) the phrase "what he would have wanted." (It can be "she" too, but English has no singular gender-neutral third-person pronouns save the non-personal "it" and made-up ones like "xe" which are awkward to use at best.)

"What he would have wanted" is a troublesome phrase. When you die, you cease to exist and thus have no wants. Considering what someone would have wanted if they hadn't ceased to exist at that particular juncture is a perfectly valid thing to do, but it's often equivocated to "what he does want now." This doesn't tend to cause a lot of trouble in comparison with many of the other flaws in our reasoning, but treating the theoretical needs that the dead would have if they weren't dead as being equal or near-equal to the actual needs of the living can have negative consequences, as can any other form of irrationality.

I find it especially silly to hear people talk about what the dearly departed "would have wanted" with regard to funeral arrangements. Functionally, the phrase "what he would have wanted" is identical to "if he were alive right now, he would want," so using it with regard to funeral arrangements of any variety is absurd. If he were alive, you wouldn't be holding a funeral. The funeral presumes he's dead, which means he doesn't have any wants at all.

I'm not old or rich enough to have a will, but when I do I will make a point of reminding all involved in it that when I die, I will be dead and will thus lack desires of my own, so don't do anything on my account. I will also remind them, however, that if any of my organs or other body parts are medically or scientifically valuable, then there are living people with actual needs and desires who would benefit from having them; the only reason to burn or bury the parts is idle sentimentalism.

Hopefully, it'll be a long time before that becomes necessary.

And thus begins my second day of blog-have.

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