Under Utilitarianism, as defined by John Stuart Mill, would there be a coherent argument against necrophilia? It seems that, because no one is being harmed, and if no relevant consequences ensue on the deceased party, there wouldn't be a reasonable argument against it.

In fact, provided the family of the deceased does not know that it is occurring (thus negating the claim that the memory of the person held by his or her family would be desecrated), it seems as if it is merely an increase in happiness in the form of sexual pleasure and causes no unnecessary suffering whatsoever.

Though I am in no way strictly adherent to a single ethical system, I have always thought similarly to Mill; more so than other prevalent ethicists. Yet I still feel as if necrophilia is morally wrong.

2 Answers 2


Act-utilitarianism has a lot of problems with mapping well onto our innate moral sense. This is hardly the only example. There are oodles of other examples, such as when it is okay to eat all the cake at a birthday party. (Hint: it is not okay to eat it all yourself even if, in the absence of social responses, it would increase your happiness more than everyone else's combined.) With many of these, you end up tempted to then start lying and hiding your behavior as then "nobody is hurt", except the reaction to discovery of lying and hiding is even worse, and you end up with a cascading mess.

Unfortunately, this mismatch is so bad that the act-utilitarian would probably end up deciding that nobody should strictly follow act-utilitarianism, even themselves.

So I think the meta-answer (neglecting concerns about disease, desire to kill or at least not prevent the deaths of sexually desirable people, etc.) is that to some extent you simply must acknowledge that people have a powerful innate moral sense and you have to work with it.

That is, it is immoral (as a utilitarian) to do things that disgust and horrify people, even if that reaction is moral in character, and even if they only know in the abstract that such things happen, not about individual instances. At least given present societal norms, Necrophilia would be in that category.

Note that this is also true, as a utilitarian, for e.g. gay marriage or sex out of wedlock. You might envision a society where it is accepted, but your calculation could well be that it's immoral solely by virtue of (some) people's distaste for it, or that you must fix the distaste first.


Rex Kerr took a stance which is valid if you start from the assumption that we have an innate moral sense. It is also possible to raise issues with necrophilia if one does not assume an innate moral sense. Consider that one is never as 100% certain about the environment as your hypothetical example. There is always some possibility that you have not actually predicted everything that the world will do with regards to your act. Someone may discover you in the act, or you yourself might blab by accident. These situations can cause harm, and must be accounted for.

Alternatively, instead of accounting for them, one can take the position that necrophilia is simply not worth the calculated risk, and leave it at that. This position would be behaviorally similar, if not identical to the innate moral case Rex brought up.

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