Is it moral to respect the wishes of the dead, above the living? In an essay for Aeon, Barry Lam, a Humanities-Writ Large Fellow who has worked in coordination with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, explores the moral and ethical sides of lasting money and power.
As a visiting faculty fellow from Vassar College, Lam worked in the past academic year with Chauncey Stillman Professor in Practical Ethics Walter Sinnott-Armstrong on an audio documentary project, Hi-Phi Nation. The podcast series, produced at Kenan’s offices on Duke’s East Campus, uses philosophical examination of ideas to tell broader stories of human life.
In his essay, Lam builds off the first episode of Hi-Phi Nation which follows the story of the Hershey fortune to show how a 19th century industrialist constructed a business structure to ensure that his idiosyncratic wishes would be fulfilled hundreds of years after his death.
“I believe we honour the wishes of the dead out of a misplaced sense of moral duty, as we would feel if we made a deathbed promise to a loved one,” Lam writes.
Learn more about Lam’s Hi-Phi Nation and ethics of podcasting in this interview for Team Kenan’s Audible Ethics.