Negative Duration

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Apparently in France "until death do us part" allows for some counterintuitive conclusions. A French woman just married her boyfriend. The French president had to give special permission for this marriage to take place. Why? He's been dead for over a year. Yes, that's right. This woman just married a dead guy. I wonder how "until death do us part" would function in this kind of marriage.

Usually we measure the length of a marriage as the time interval between the ceremony and the death of the first one to die. If we did that in this case, the length would be about 17 months, since that's the interval between his death and the ceremony, ignoring the fact that the death was before the ceremony instead of the usual order. Once you factor in the backwards order, it would be -17 months. However, this can't be right either, since the marriage wasn't even existent during those 17 months and continues onward even now.

The following two claims seem to follow:

1. We're moving away from the end of their marriage, since it ends with the death of the first one to die, which would be him.
2. We're moving away from the beginning of their marriage, since it begins with the ceremony.

In some sense its length must be increasing, since we're moving away in time from its beginning. However, we're getting further away from its end, since that was in the past. The only way I can interpret this is that their marriage has negative duration, and it's getting smaller (by getting a higher magnitude and in that sense getting larger). This can't be right, though, for too many reasons to list. One is the issue of when we stop saying the marriage's length is getting smaller (or greater in magnitude). Will it keep going after she dies? Surely not.

So maybe her death is the important one. But that can't be right either. If his death doesn't end the marriage, why should hers? The only reason I can think of is that he was already dead when it started. But then why think that he should be able to enter into the contract in the first place?

I wonder if this is bad enough to say that describing her action as a marriage is already contradictory. It's certainly bad enough to say that it's going to be incredibly difficult to sort through all the implications without changing one of our fundamental notions about the effect of death of a married person on the status of their marriage.

2 Comments

When I read this I first wondered if her marriage entitled her to any special benefits.

I assume she got something out of it. I can't imagine why else she'd go to the effort. The article didn't say anything about it.

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