Suppose I could get into a time machine and instantly travel forward by a hundred years. Then over the next hundred (external) years I don’t exist. But this non-existence is not intrinsically a harm to me (it might be accidentally a harm if over these ten years I miss out on things). So a temporary cessation of existence is not an intrinsic harm to me. On the other hand, a permanent cessation of existence surely is an intrinsic harm to me.
These observations have interesting connections with theories of persistence and time. First, observe that whether a cessation of existence is bad for me depends on whether I will come back into existence. This fits neatly with four-dimensionalism and less neatly with three-dimensionalism. If I am a four-dimensional entity, it makes perfect sense that as such I would have an overall well-being, and that this overall well-being should depend on the overall shape and size of my four-dimensional life, including my future life. Hence it makes sense that whether I undergo a permanent or impermanent cessation of existence makes a serious difference to me.
But suppose I am three-dimensional and consider these two scenarios:
In 2017 I will permanently cease to exist.
In 2017 I will temporarily cease to exist and come back into existence in 2117.
I am surely worse off in (1). But if I am three-dimensional, then to be worse off, I need to be worse off as a three-dimensional being, at some time or other. Prior to 2117, I’m on par as a three-dimensional being in the two scenarios. So if there is to be a difference in well-being, it must have something to do with my state after 2117.
But it seems false that, say, in 2118, I am worse off in (1) than in (2). For how can I be better or worse off when I don’t exist?
The three-dimensionalist’s best move, I think, is to say that I am actually worse off prior to 2017 in scenario (1) than in scenario (2). For, prior to 2017, it is true in scenario (1) that I will permanently cease to exist while in (2) it is false that I will do so.
It can indeed happen that one is worse off at time t1 in virtue of how things will be at a later time t2. Perhaps the athlete who attains a world-record that won’t be beaten for ten years is worse off at the time of the record than the athlete who attains a world-record that won’t be beaten for a hundred years. Perhaps I am worse off when publishing a book that will be ignored than when publishing a book that will be taken seriously. But these are differences in external well-being, like the kind of well-being we have in virtue of our friends doing badly or well. And it is counterintuitive that permanent cessation of existence is only a harm to one’s external well-being. (The same problem afflicts Thomas Nagel’s theory that the badness of death has to do with unfinished projects.)
The problem is worst on open future views. For on open future views, prior to the cessation of existence there may be no fact of the matter of whether I will come back into existence, and hence no difference in well-being.
The problem is also particularly pressing on exdurantist views on which I am a three-dimensional stage, and future stages are numerically different from me. For then the difference, prior to 2017, between the two scenarios is a difference about what will happen to something numerically different from me.
The problem is also particularly pressing on presentist and growing block views, for it is odd to say that I am better or worse off in virtue of non-existent future events.
Of the three-dimensionalists, probably the best off is the eternalist endurantist. But even there the assimilation of the difference between (1) and (2) to external well-being is problematic.