Gossip and Gore: A Ghoulish Journey into a Philosophical Thicket

By Williams, Sean Hannon | Michigan Law Review, April 2018 | Go to article overview

Gossip and Gore: A Ghoulish Journey into a Philosophical Thicket


Williams, Sean Hannon, Michigan Law Review


GOSSIP AND GORE: A GHOULISH JOURNEY INTO A PHILOSOPHICAL THICKET

DEFAMING THE DEAD. By Don Herzog. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. 2017. Pp. xii, 266. $40.

Professor Don Herzog1 engages in two main pursuits with his entertaining book Defaming the Dead. His first pursuit is philosophical. He argues that the dead can be harmed by events that take place after their death. His second pursuit is political in that it argues for tort reform. More specifically, he wants a decedent's estate to be able to sue for defamatory statements made after her death. Herzog links these pursuits together. He wants this bit of tort reform to be structured such that it vindicates the idea that the dead are harmed by posthumous defamation.

The most fascinating parts of the book attempt to draw out our intuitions about posthumous harms by offering vivid accounts of gossip and gore. Would a set of siblings do something wrong if they published an obituary for their mother that said, "[S]he neglected and abused her small children .... Everyone she met, adult or child was tortured by her cruelty . . . ."?2 Assuming for the moment that these claims were false, did the siblings wrong their mother? An attendant at the local morgue has sex with your daughter's corpse (p. 211). Did the attendant harm the daughter, her father, or both?

As disturbing as these accounts are, Herzog's prose makes the resulting discussions disturbingly captivating. The descriptions are like train wrecks (sometimes literally about train wrecks (pp. 195-97)) in that you will not be able to look away. Herzog uses these accounts, along with a series of dialogues with a skeptical interlocutor, to put pressure on the idea that the dead are beyond all harm. Throughout his book, Herzog uses examples from case law, art, and literature to illustrate his claims.3 I'll use different cultural sources to illustrate mine, like Game of Thrones, Star Trek, House of Cards, and Soylent Green.

Part I of this Review sets the stage with some background about the relevant philosophical issues. Part II discusses Herzog's attempts to undermine what he calls the oblivion thesis. Under this view, nothing that occurs after our death can affect us (p. 26). Herzog launches two main attacks against this view. I'll call them the descriptive attack and the self-reflective attack. Section II.A discusses the descriptive attack, which claims that "we don't accept the oblivion thesis and neither does the law" (p. 220). But the book doesn't substantiate that bold claim. Luckily, a milder claim is also consistent with Herzog's ultimate goal-namely, that our laws and practices are equivocal about posthumous harms, and so the oblivion thesis should not be a trump card that cuts off debate about creating a cause of action for posthumous defamation. Section II.B discusses the self-reflective attack. These portions of the book tell the lurid stories about horribly personal (and sometimes defamatory) attacks on one's character, and even more horribly disturbing corpse desecrations. Herzog asks his skeptic-who is committed to the oblivion thesis-to explain why the deceased's relatives feel emotional distress when their dearly beloved's body is torn, tattered, and scattered by a train (p. 210). His skeptic is flummoxed. He perhaps thinks to himself, "If the deceased wasn't harmed by the train, then why do the relatives care?" The skeptic's only explanation-according to Herzog-is that the relatives' distress is a "brute psychological fact."4 Herzog then argues that this is an inadequate explanation and offers a more straightforward one: the relatives think that the dead have been harmed (pp. 84, 210, 213). Herzog offers readers only two options-side with his skeptic and view the decedent's relatives as irrational, or embrace posthumous harms. But Herzog's skeptic at times sounds a bit like Star Trek's Spock, viewing silly humans and only being able to say, "Fascinating!"5 Perhaps we should consult a second skeptic. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Gossip and Gore: A Ghoulish Journey into a Philosophical Thicket
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.