We should distinguish between a harmful state and a harmful event. A harmful state (sometimes called a harmed condition) is a state that it is prudentially bad to be in. A harmful event is an event that causes a person to be in a harmful state that she would not otherwise have been in. To illustrate, in the case where an explosion causes Ted to suffer a number of painful injuries, the explosion is the harmful event that causes Ted to be in a harmful state, that of being in pain.
Different theories of welfare will presumably give different accounts of what constitutes a harmful state. Clearly, on hedonism, being in pain constitutes a harmful state. What’s less clear is what constitutes a harmful state on the desire-fulfillment theory of welfare. The most obvious candidate is the state of desiring that P where P is false. Call this the Simple View: S is in a harmful state if S desires that P and P is false. But if we allow that P might not be in the present tense, then the Simple View seems implausible. Am I in a harmful state now if I currently desire that I will be a Democrat when I retire, where the truth is that I will turn more and more conservative as I age and will retire a Republican? Was Parfit in a harmful state back when he was young and desired that he would become a poet, where the truth is that he became a philosopher, not a poet? The intuitive answer in both cases is “no.” And I can’t think of a single case where it is intuitively plausible to suppose that the non-fulfillment of a desire for P constitutes are harmful state, except where P is best expressed in the present tense. I admit some intuitive pull to the idea that desiring P, where P is best expressed in the present tense and P is false, constitutes a harmful state to be in. For instance, there is some intuitive pull to the idea that I’m in a harmful state if I desire that my wife loves me and my wife doesn’t, and this would seem to constitute a harmed condition even if I don’t know that my wife doesn’t love me. So, perhaps, the desire-fulfillment theorist should adopt the Sophisticated View: desiring P, where P is false, constitutes a harmful state if and only if P is best expressed in the present tense.
Now if this is right, then the desire-fulfillment theorist cannot hold that posthumous events are ever harmful, for a posthumous event cannot be responsible for the ante-mortem person being in a harmful state, a state where one desires P, P is false, and P is best expressed in the present tense.