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Should you care about the impacts of your life upon the world after you are dead? On the one hand, if you are dead, you cannot experience the joy of any further impacts upon someone else (since you are dead).

On the other hand, because you still exist and can care about future impact now, one may still strive to create a legacy.

What category of philosophy does this fall under? Or is this just a matter of opinion?

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    Emile Levine might interest you
    – Rushi
    Commented May 25 at 12:09
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    You could just overdose on heroin, because nothing would matter after that. Or, you could take it lots of times until you eventually do. Or, do something less harmful but maybe less pleasurable for longer? Imagine what it would be like to live forever.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 25 at 13:07
  • It is an important question. And it leads directly to the question: "Are all kids born equal and have the same shot at successful life?" Scientific research on identical twins separated at birth proved this assumption completely wrong. Intelligence (among other human qualities) is accumulated and passed along to multiple generations. That would strongly suggest that in your life you are getting a leg up from previous generations and the purpose of your life is to raise the bar. Commented May 25 at 14:39
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    On the one hand, if you are dead, you cannot experience the joy of any further impacts upon someone else (since you are dead). How do you know this?
    – Vector
    Commented May 26 at 0:34
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    Should you care about the impacts of your life upon the world after you are dead? Should you care about educating your children, or just let them run wild and illiterate in the woods? (That is the essence of your question.)
    – Vector
    Commented May 26 at 0:41

4 Answers 4

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When survival was not easy, those who performed acts for the human group to persist were praised.

That's why we honor our war veterans, our elder, our women (might sound very anti-woke, but women potentials have a direct impact on group survival), anyone who saves a child, etc.

The rules that guide survival, by improving the quality of our interactions is morals.

Morals are behavioral rules that make possible the persistence of the group alonh time. Just rules for survival.

Nowadays, survival is not a subject, and it should be: many acts, evidently, immoral, have effects, not on the short term, but always on the long term. Multiple groups are slowly disintegrating.

So, if you consider yourself a moral person, a person who works for the survival of the group, yes, your acts and your legacy matter.

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    Coincidentally, on Memorial Day weekend. We could be grateful that other people did things for us.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 25 at 13:10
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    Nowadays, survival is not a subject - Survival remains a subject for billions.
    – Vector
    Commented May 26 at 19:37
  • "Morals are behavioral rules that make possible the persistence of the group a lon[g] time." is not obvious.
    – Taladris
    Commented May 27 at 22:55
  • @Vector you take the phrase out of context: it refers to group survival (which is not anymore a subject, worst even "for billions"), and not to individual survival.
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented May 29 at 6:49
  • @Taladris "... is not obvious." Think. Why do we want moral rules (e.g. "individuals must" leave in peace, respect, honesty, loyalty, etc.)? That is not for altruism, not for appearance, not for whim, chance, etc. That is because we want the group to get better, to persist, that is, in final terms, to survive (we live in groups because that helps survival). Without moral rules, groups tend to disintegration. Morals are group rules intended to allow survival and improve the group survival probabilities.
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented May 29 at 6:57
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“A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they shall never sit.”

-Greek Proverb

We can be completely selfish and self-concerned. But that is to ignore how much of what we benefit from individually, comes to us as a result of people who cared about their legacy. A society that encourages people to care about legacy, is more likely to prosper.

Our modern era of individualism is part of a pendulum swing, away from social pressures and extended families having a primary hold over our lives. And that has benefits. But if we lose with that shift any concern for legacy, our descendents will face catastrophic runaway climate change. It is unfortunately a very real and live concern, whether we now should mildly inconvenience ourselves out of concern for that legacy. We each decide.

"Death is only the end if you assume the story is about you."

-Jeffrey Cranor, in the Welcome to Nightvale podcast (episode #2)

I make the broader case that we cannot have had a meaningful life, from only looking within it at our personal concerns, and that this recognition often arrived at late in life reflecting on what it has all meant, has been the main driver of religious thought and practice: What are some philosophical works that explore constructing meaning in life from an agnostic or atheist view?

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What category of philosophy does this fall under?

Several, actually.

  • In Deontology ("the normative ethical theory that the morality of an action should be based on whether that action itself is right or wrong [...], rather than based on the consequences [...]") you would prominently find Kant's Categorical Imperative:

    "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."

    To translate or adapt this to your question: "caring about your legacy" is equivalent to always acting in a way that your actions are intrinsically good (no matter what the result of them would be). Hence, people will later talk well about you, and doing good deeds is a value in itself, even after your death.

  • In Utilitarism, you are concerned with maximizing total happiness (over a whole population, whatever you define to be that). For your question: You would measure each of your actions and check whether the net result on overall happiness is better or worse and other actions. And you'd define your "legacy" as the sum of said results after your mortal coil has ended. People would talk about how your actions resulted in greatly increased happiness for everyone.

  • Nihilism would be a philosophical stream which would say that there is no legacy. In this world view (or at least some sub-streams of it), things are what they are, and there is no tallying-up of deeds at any point in time.

  • And many more, if you do a field review of Morality as a whole.

Or is this just a matter of opinion?

Sure, most of philosophy is.

Many if not most humans decide their actions on a daily basis without ever having heard about any of this. But even if you are aware of all that, clearly, it is possible to view these things in many contradictory ways (as exemplified by the three concepts detailed above). It seems unclear to me what other feature of the human brain than "opinion" to ascribe this to.

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Agent theory and decision theory would surmise that you already either do or don't care about your legacy, and that neither possibility is fundamentally better than the other. This is closely connected to the orthogonality thesis: You have some inherent utility function, and if your legacy isn't in it then by definition you should not take legacy into account other than as a means to some end that occurs in your lifetime. However, if you are going to act as if you don't care about your legacy, you should take some things into account:

  1. It would be bad for your utility to trash your legacy, and then upon further introspection find out that you actually care about it quite a lot. We can observe this happening to other people- for example, dying parents who were cruel to their children wishing on their death bed that they could reconcile, but finding that their children are not interested. Since many humans are similar to each other, it's worth observing what happens to others and considering whether we want it to happen to ourselves.

  2. There are many people who do care about their legacy, and if you also care about your legacy you may find them easier to cooperate with. It may be worth pretending to care about your legacy, even if you don't. If you are an imperfect liar, it may even be worth going so far as to modify your utility function to include legacy so as to pretend with more verisimilitude. The trust of people who care about their legacy can be a valuable resource.

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