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Afterlife

Edited by K. Mitch Hodge (Amarillo College, Masaryk University)
About this topic
Summary The afterlife, or more specifically the belief in an afterlife, is the belief that it is possible for individuals to survive death.  Scholarly discussions of afterlife beliefs cover a broad range of academic disciplines (e.g., philosophy, religious studies, anthropology and psychology) and philosophically relevant topics (e.g., personal identity, epistemology of religious belief, imagination, ethics, arguments from parapsychology, dualism and materialism).  Beliefs in the afterlife are generally one of two types: metaphysically thin, whereby the some non-identity conferring substance of the individual continues after the death of his/her physical body (e.g., their atoms, or their life force or energy is redistributed into the universe to make up other things); or metaphysically thick, whereby some essential personal identity conferring essence or substance (e.g., the person’s soul , mind or resurrected body) is said to survive either immediately after death, or at some later time.  Most scholarly discussions as well as most religio-cultural systems are concerned with the latter rather than the former.  Metaphysically thick afterlife beliefs usually take one of two forms: reincarnation (also known in the philosophical literature as transmigration of the soul), by which the individual is reborn into this world with a new life, or the individual continues his/her existence in a spiritual realm (e.g., heaven, hell, or the realm of ancestors).  How, and whether, personal identity can be maintained in an afterlife has a long history of debate in philosophy.  In addition, one cross-culturally common and philosophically important element of metaphysically thick afterlife beliefs is that the individual is rewarded or punished for his/her moral propriety or moral transgressions that he/she committed in this life. 
Key works Philosophical discussions of the afterlife date back to Pythagoras unknown and Plato 2008, 1999,  both of whom argued for the transmigration of the soul.  With a rise of Christianity in the West, discussions concerning the afterlife shifted to how personal identity was maintained in the afterlife, especially given the doctrine of the resurrection of the body (see, Sorabji 2006, and Barresi web).  After Descartes 2004, however, the emphasis in philosophy shifted away from survival after death in a resurrected body, to the idea that one survives death as a disembodied mind.  The modern era saw the first substantial skeptical challenge to belief in an afterlife with Coleman 2007, unknown.  Contemporary philosophical discussions of the afterlife have focused on the possibility of disembodied existence and how this is to be understood (see Blose 1981, Gillett 1985, 1986, Tye 1983, Hick 1976, 1973, Swinburne 1986, Mavrodes 1977, Penelhum 1982, and Perry 1978).  In addition, with the rise of the cognitive science of religion, and experimental evidence (see Bering 2006) that humans intuitively believe in an afterlife, philosophical debate has begun on how and why the human mind is predisposed toward this belief, and the role the imagination, emotions and concepts play in representing the deceased and the afterlife (see Bek & Lock 2011, Harris & Astuti 2006, Nichols 2007 and Hodge 2011, 2011).
Introductions Encyclopedia articles include Hasker 2010Andrade 2011 (on immortality).  Good introductory books to the topics dealing with the afterlife include: Corcoran 2001, Benatar 2009, Sorabji 2006, and Barresi web.
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  1. Benedino Gemelli (2012). The History of Life and Death A'Spiritual'History From Invisible Matter to Prolongation of Life. Early Science and Medicine 17 (1-2):1-2.
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  2. Thaddeus Metz (forthcoming). Reply to Cottingham, Goetz, Goldschmidt, Jech and Wielenberg (Tentative Title). European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 7 (2).
    A reply to several critical discussions of Meaning in Life: An Analytic Study.
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  3. Thaddeus Metz (forthcoming). The Meaning of Life and the Afterlife. In Benjamin Matheson & Yujin Nagasawa (eds.), The Palgrave Handbook on the Afterlife. Palgrave Macmillan. Ch. 16.
    A critical discussion of key positions pertaining to the relationship between an afterlife and what would make a life meaningful, aimed at upper level undergraduates and above.
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Afterlife, Misc
  1. Peter Adamson & Peter E. Pormann (2009). Aristotle's Categories and the Soul : An Annotated Translation of Al-Kindī's That There Are Separate Substances. In Maha Elkaisy-Friemuth & John M. Dillon (eds.), The Afterlife of the Platonic Soul: Reflections of Platonic Psychology in the Monotheistic Religions. Brill.
  2. Brunella Antomarini (2009). Walter Benjamin : The Afterlife of an Artwork as Cognitive Heterocracy. In Stefano Giacchetti Ludovisi & G. Agostini Saavedra (eds.), Nostalgia for a Redeemed Future: Critical Theory. University of Delaware.
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  3. Michael V. Antony (2006). Simulation Constraints, Afterlife Beliefs, and Common-Sense Dualism. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 29 (5):462-463.
    Simulation constraints cannot help in explaining afterlife beliefs in general because belief in an afterlife is a precondition for running a simulation. Instead, an explanation may be found by examining more deeply our common-sense dualistic conception of the mind or soul.
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  4. Philippe Ariès (1991/1982). The Hour of Our Death. Oxford University Press.
    This remarkable book--the fruit of almost two decades of study--traces in compelling fashion the changes in Western attitudes toward death and dying from the earliest Christian times to the present day. A truly landmark study, The Hour of Our Death reveals a pattern of gradually developing evolutionary stages in our perceptions of life in relation to death, each stage representing a virtual redefinition of human nature. Starting at the very foundations of Western culture, the eminent historian Phillipe Aries shows how, (...)
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  5. Lynne Rudder Baker (2007). Persons and the Metaphysics of Resurrection. Religious Studies 43 (3):333-348.
    Theories of the human person differ greatly in their ability to underwrite a metaphysics of resurrection. This paper compares and contrasts a number of such views in light of the Christian doctrine of resurrection. In a Christian framework, resurrection requires that the same person who exists on earth also exists in an afterlife, that a postmortem person be embodied, and that the existence of a postmortem person is brought about by a miracle. According to my view of persons (the Constitution (...)
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  6. Joseph A. Baltimore (2006). Got to Have Soul. Religious Studies 42 (4):417-430.
    Kevin Corcoran offers an account of how one can be a physicalist about human persons, deny temporal gaps in the existence of persons, and hold that there is an afterlife. I argue that Corcoran's account both violates the necessity of metaphysical identity and implausibly makes an individual's existence dependent on factors wholly extrinsic to the individual. Corcoran's defence is considered, as well as Stephen Davis's suggestions on how an account like Corcoran's can defend itself against these concerns. It is shown, (...)
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  7. Judith Bek & Suzanne Lock (2011). Afterlife Beliefs: Category Specificity and Sensitivity to Biological Priming. Religion, Brain and Behavior 1 (1):5-17.
    Adults have been shown to attribute certain properties more frequently than others to the dead. This category-specific pattern has been interpreted in terms of simulation constraints, whereby it may be harder to imagine the absence of some states than others. Afterlife beliefs have also shown context-sensitivity, suggesting that environmental exposure to different types of information might influence adults? reasoning about post-death states. We sought to clarify category and context effects in adults afterlife reasoning. Participants read a story describing the death (...)
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  8. Daryl Bem, Book Reviews. [REVIEW]
    Gary Schwartz, author of The Afterlife Experiments, has an impressive set of academic credentials. After receiving his Ph.D. in psychology from Harvard, he moved to Yale, where he served for twenty-eight years as a professor of psychology and psychiatry, director of the Yale Psychophysiology Center, and codirector of the Yale Behavioral Medicine Clinic. In 1988, he moved to the University of Arizona, where he is a professor of psychology, medicine, neurology, psychiatry, and surgery. He has published more than 400 scientific (...)
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  9. David Benatar (ed.) (2009). Life, Death, and Meaning: Key Philosophical Readings on the Big Questions. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc..
    Introduction -- Part I: The meaning of life -- Richard Taylor, The meaning of life -- Thomas Nagel, The absurd -- Richard Hare, Nothing matters -- W.D. Joske, Philosophy and the meaning of life -- Robert Nozick, Philosophy and the meaning of life -- David Schmidtz, The meanings of life -- Part II: Creating people -- Derek Parfit, Whether causing someone to exist can benefit this person -- John Leslie, Why not let life ecome extinct? -- James Lenman, On becoming (...)
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  10. Jesse M. Bering (2006). The Folk Psychology of Souls. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 29 (5):453-+.
    The present article examines how people’s belief in an afterlife, as well as closely related supernatural beliefs, may open an empirical backdoor to our understanding of the evolution of human social cognition. Recent findings and logic from the cognitive sciences contribute to a novel theory of existential psychology, one that is grounded in the tenets of Darwinian natural selection. Many of the predominant questions of existential psychology strike at the heart of cognitive science. They involve: causal attribution (why is mortal (...)
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  11. Vijay Bhuvanbhanusuri (1989). The Essentials of Bhagavān Mahāvīr's Philosophy: Gaṇdharavāda: A Treatise on the Question and Answers Between Eleven Brahim Scholars and Mahāvīr Bhagavān Relating to the Soul, Karmas, Panch Bhuta, Heaven, Hell, and Salvation. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.
  12. Pascal Boyer (2006). Prosocial Aspects of Afterlife Beliefs: Maybe Another by-Product. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 29 (5):466-466.
    Bering argues that belief in posthumous intentional agency may confer added fitness via the inhibition of opportunistic behavior. This is true only if these agents are interested parties in our moral choices, a feature which does not result from Bering's imaginative constraint hypothesis and extends to supernatural agents other than dead people's souls. A by-product model might handle this better.
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  13. James T. Bradley (2007). Odysseans of the Twenty-First Century. Zygon 42 (4):999-1008.
    In his book Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies—and What It Means to Be Human (2005), author-journalist Joel Garreau identifies four technologies whose synergistic activity may transform humankind into a state transcending present human nature: genetic, robotic, information, and nano (GRIN) technologies. If the GRIN technologies follow Moore's Law, as information technology has done for the past four decades, Homo sapiens and human society may be unimaginably different before the middle of this century. But (...)
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  14. Sara Brill (2009). The Geography of Finitude. International Philosophical Quarterly 49 (1):5-23.
    Plato’s use of afterlife myths is often viewed as an abandonment of rational discourse for a coercive practice designed to persuade citizens to be concerned about the condition of their souls by appealing to their worst fears about the afterlife. But such interpretations overlook the frequently critical tenor of Plato’s myths. In this paper I develop the claim that Plato appeals to muthos as a means of critiquing various specific logoi by focusing upon the relationship between the myth of the (...)
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  15. Lajos L. Brons (2014). The Incoherence of Denying My Death. Journal of Philosophy of Life 4 (2):68-98.
    The most common way of dealing with the fear of death is denying death. Such denial can take two and only two forms: strategy 1 denies the finality of death; strategy 2 denies the reality of the dying subject. Most religions opt for strategy 1, but Buddhism seems to be an example of the 2nd. All variants of strategy 1 fail, however, and a closer look at the main Buddhist argument reveals that Buddhism in fact does not follow strategy 2. (...)
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  16. Alan Carter (1999). Animal Life and Afterlife. Cogito 13 (1):27-31.
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  17. Thomas Cathcart (2009). Heidegger and a Hippo Walk Through Those Pearly Gates. Viking.
    Surely there must be some mistake -- Just let your angst be your umbrella -- Death? the way to go! -- Heidegger-dog, ziggity-boom, what you do to me -- Spin your own immortality -- The eternal now -- Plato, the godfather of soul -- Heaven, a landscape to die for -- Tunnel vision -- The original knock-knock joke -- Beating death to the punch -- Immortality through not dying -- The end.
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  18. Eyal Chowers (1998). Time in Zionism: The Life and Afterlife of a Temporal Revolution. Political Theory 26 (5):652-685.
  19. Stephen R. L. Clark (1983). Waking-Up: A Neglected Model for the Afterlife. Inquiry 26 (2):209 – 230.
    An inquiry into the possibility that life?after?death be understood as waking from a shared dream into the real world. Attempts to outlaw the possibility that ?really? we are, e.g., vat?brains are shown to lead to unwelcome, anti?realist conclusions about either the world or consciousness. The unsatisfactory nature of empirically observable (Humean) causal connections suggests that real causes may be found beyond the world of our present experience. Though such a story cannot now be proved to be true, we are entitled (...)
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  20. Thomas W. Clark (1995). Death, Nothingness, and Subjectivity. In Daniel Kolak & R. Martin (eds.), The Experience of Philosophy. Wadsworth Publishing. 15-20.
    The words quoted above distill the common secular conception of death. If we decline the traditional religious reassurances of an afterlife, or their fuzzy new age equivalents, and instead take the hard-boiled and thoroughly modern materialist view of death, then we likely end up with Gonzalez-Cruzzi. Rejecting visions of reunions with loved ones or of crossing over into the light, we anticipate the opposite: darkness, silence, an engulfing emptiness. But we would be wrong.
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  21. Adam B. Cohen, Douglas T. Kenrick & Yexin Jessica Li (2006). Ecological Variability and Religious Beliefs. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 29 (5):468-468.
    Religious beliefs, including those about an afterlife and omniscient spiritual beings, vary across cultures. We theorize that such variations may be predictably linked to ecological variations, just as differences in mating strategies covary with resource distribution. Perhaps beliefs in a soul or afterlife are more common when resources are unpredictable, and life is brutal and short.
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  22. Kate Cooper & Matthew Dal Santo (2008). Boethius, Gregory the Great and the Christian 'Afterlife' of Classical Dialogue. In Simon Goldhill (ed.), The End of Dialogue in Antiquity. Cambridge University Press.
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  23. Charles B. Daniels (1992). The Afterlife Myth in Plato's Gorgias. Journal of Value Inquiry 26 (2):271-279.
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  24. David J. Darling (1995). Soul Search: A Scientist Explores the Afterlife. Villard Books.
    Soul Search lifts the shroud that has, until now, blindfolded us to the discovery that soul and mortality lie at the very heart of the universe.
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  25. Stephen T. Davis (ed.) (1989). Death and Afterlife. St. Martin's Press.
  26. Damjan de Krnjevic-Miskovic (2006). The Politics of the Afterlife in Plato's Gorgias. In Stanley Rosen & Nalin Ranasinghe (eds.), Logos and Eros: Essays Honoring Stanley Rosen. St. Augustine's Press.
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  27. Andrew J. Dell’Olio (2010). Do Near-Death Experiences Provide a Rational Basis for Belief in Life After Death? Sophia 49 (1):113 - 128.
    In this paper I suggest that near-death experiences (NDEs) provide a rational basis for belief in life after death. My argument is a simple one and is modeled on the argument from religious experience for the existence of God. But unlike the proponents of the argument from religious experience, I stop short of claiming that NDEs prove the existence of life after death. Like the argument from religious experience, however, my argument turns on whether or not there is good reason (...)
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  28. John Dillon (2009). Philo of Alexandria and Platonist Psychology. In Maha Elkaisy-Friemuth & John M. Dillon (eds.), The Afterlife of the Platonic Soul: Reflections of Platonic Psychology in the Monotheistic Religions. Brill.
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  29. Curt John Ducasse (1961). A Critical Examination of the Belief in a Life After Death. Springfield, Ill.,Thomas.
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  30. Maha Elkaisy-Friemuth (2009). Tradition and Innovation in the Psychology of Fakhr Al-Dīn Al-Rāzī. In Maha Elkaisy-Friemuth & John M. Dillon (eds.), The Afterlife of the Platonic Soul: Reflections of Platonic Psychology in the Monotheistic Religions. Brill.
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  31. Maha Elkaisy-Friemuth & John M. Dillon (eds.) (2009). The Afterlife of the Platonic Soul: Reflections of Platonic Psychology in the Monotheistic Religions. Brill.
    This volume of essays presents a selection of studies in the ways in which Platonist psychology is adapted to the needs of thinkers in the three great religious ...
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  32. David Estes (2006). Evidence for Early Dualism and a More Direct Path to Afterlife Beliefs. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 29 (5):470-+.
    Ample evidence for dualism in early childhood already exists. Young children have explicit knowledge of the distinction between mental and physical phenomena, which provides the foundation for a rapidly developing theory of mind. Belief in psychological immortality might then follow naturally from this mentalistic conception of human existence and thus require no organized cognitive system dedicated to producing it.
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  33. Fred Feldman (1992). Confrontations with the Reaper: A Philosophical Study of the Nature and Value of Death. Oxford University Press.
    What is death? Do people survive death? What do we mean when we say that someone is "dying"? Presenting a clear and engaging discussion of the classic philosophical questions surrounding death, this book studies the great metaphysical and moral problems of death. In the first part, Feldman shows that a definition of life is necessary before death can be defined. After exploring several of the most plausible accounts of the nature of life and demonstrating their failure, he goes on to (...)
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  34. Joseph Fins & Nicholas D. Schiff (2005). The Afterlife of Terri Schiavo. Hastings Center Report 35 (4):8-8.
  35. John Martin Fischer (2009). Our Stories: Essays on Life, Death, and Free Will. Oxford University Press.
    Introduction: "meaning in life and death : our stories" -- John Martin Fischer and Anthony B rueckner, "Why is death bad?", Philosophical studies, vol. 50, no. 2 (September 1986) -- "Death, badness, and the impossibility of experience," Journal of ethics -- John Martin Fischer and Daniel Speak, "Death and the psychological conception of personal identity," Midwest studies in philosophy, vol. 24 -- "Earlier birth and later death : symmetry through thick and thin," Richard Feldman, Kris McDaniel, Jason R. Raibley, eds., (...)
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  36. John Martin Fischer (2006). Epicureanism About Death and Immortality. Journal of Ethics 10 (4):355 - 381.
    In this paper I discuss some of Martha Nussbaum’s defenses of Epicurean views about death and immortality. Here I seek to defend the commonsense view that death can be a bad thing for an individual against the Epicurean; I also defend the claim that immortality might conceivably be a good thing. In the development of my analysis, I make certain connections between the literatures on free will and death. The intersection of these two literatures can be illuminated by reference to (...)
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  37. Stephen Flusberg & Helen Tager-Flusberg (2006). Autism, Language, and the Folk Psychology of Souls. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 29 (5):473-473.
    Anecdotal evidence suggests that people with autism, with known impairments in mechanisms supporting a folk psychology of mind or souls, can hold a belief in an afterlife. We focus on the role language plays, not just in acquiring the specific content of beliefs, but more significantly, in the acquisition of the concept of life after death for all people.
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  38. Alfred Freddoso (2001). Good News, Your Soul Hasn't Died Quite Yet. Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 75:79-96.
    In this paper, I observe that Hobbesian physicalism on the one side, and Cartesian dualism on the other, have had a widespread cultural influence on the way we regard ourselves and on the way we behave toward one another. I argue that what we now need is a conceptual space within which we might forge a metaphysical alternative, an alternative that will give us some hope of overcoming the deleterious intellectual, moral, and social consequences of both physicalism and dualism.
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  39. Peter Fuss (1965). The Moral Philosophy of Josiah Royce. Cambridge, Mass.,Harvard University Press.
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  40. Gandhi (1971). Why Fear or Mourn Death? New Delhi,Gandhi Peace Foundation.
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  41. Timothy J. Gianotti (2001). Al-Ghazālī's Unspeakable Doctrine of the Soul: Unveiling the Esoteric Psychology and Eschatology of the Iḥyāʻ. Brill.
    This text marks a radical rethinking of the soul and the afterlife in the writings of al-Ghaz?l? (d. 505/1111), particularly within his magnum opus, "Reviving ...
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  42. Terryl L. Givens (2009). When Souls Had Wings: Pre-Mortal Existence in Western Thought. OUP USA.
    The idea of the pre-existence of the soul has been extremely important, widespread, and persistent throughout Western history - from even before the philosophy of Plato to the poetry of Robert Frost. When Souls Had Wings offers the first systematic history of this little explored feature of Western culture. Terryl Givens describes the tradition of pre-existence as "pre-heaven"--the place where unborn souls wait until they descend to earth to be born. And typically it is seen as a descent--a falling away (...)
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  43. Jeff Greenberg, Daniel Sullivan, Spee Kosloff & Sheldon Solomon (2006). Souls Do Not Live by Cognitive Inclinations Alone, but by the Desire to Exist Beyond Death as Well. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 29 (5):474-475.
    Bering's analysis is inadequate because it fails to consider past and present adult soul beliefs and the psychological functions they serve. We suggest that a valid folk psychology of souls must consider features of adult soul beliefs, the unique problem engendered by awareness of death, and terror management findings, in addition to cognitive inclinations toward dualistic and teleological thinking.
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  44. Edmund W. Guerini (1967). Evolution in the Afterlife. New York, Exposition Press.
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  45. John Haldane (2007). Philosophy, Death and Immortality. Philosophical Investigations 30 (3):245–265.
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  46. Steven Hales (2001). &Quot;evidence and the Afterlife" Several Prominent Philosophers, Including A.J. Ayer and Derek Parfit, Have. Philosophia 28 (1-4):335-346.
    vol. 28, nos. 1-4, 2001 empirical data-a large concession-belief in reincarnation is still unjustified.
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  47. Steven D. Hales (2001). Evidence and the Afterlife. Philosophia 28 (1-4):335-346.
    Several prominent philosophers, including A.J. Ayer and Derek Parfit, have offered the evidentiary requirements for believing human personality can reincarnate, and hence that Cartesian dualism is true. At least one philosopher, Robert Almeder, has argued that there are actual cases which satisfy these requirements. I argue in this paper that even if we grant the empirical data-a large concession-belief in reincarnation is still unjustified. The problem is that without a theoretical account of the alleged cases of reincarnation, the empirical evidence (...)
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