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Immortality

Edited by K. Mitch Hodge (Amarillo College, Masaryk University)
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Summary

Although immortality literally means “not mortal,” its more specific and commonly used meaning refers to a conscious entity, or a part of that conscious entity, not being subject to non-existence by death and eternally existing, in whole or in part, once it exists.  Some immortal entities, such as God or gods, are believed to have always existed and are not subject to death.  All known animals, including humans, however, are mortal—meaning, in the least, their physical body dies.  Numerous philosophies and theologies, however, maintain that the death of the body does not entail the nonexistence of conscious entity, in whole or in part.  If the part of the conscious entity (e.g., life force, energy, or atoms) that continues to exist does not also confer and maintain personal identity then such immortality is said to be metaphysically thin.  If, however, the conscious entity maintains its personal identity such immortality is said to metaphysically thick.  In philosophy of religion, it is the latter that has received the lion’s share of attention: specifically how it can be conceived that an individual (human) person can continue to exist beyond the death of the physical body in such a way that she not only retains personhood but also her unique identity.

Several options from various philosophical and religious traditions have been offered as to how a human individual can survive her own death; these include reincarnation, resurrection (of the body), disembodied soul, and ethereal (astral) body.  Reincarnation, also known as transmigration of the soul, has the longest philosophical legacy, and was the type of immortality favored since at least the time of Pythagoras, and accepted by Socrates (through his mouthpiece, Plato).  In this tradition, some type of identity conferring essence (e.g., soul) of the person is said to continue to exist after death and be reborn into another mortal body (with some exceptions) in perpetuity.  Resurrection of the body is the official doctrine of Christianity.  This doctrine states that once an individual dies (immediately or at some future time) God will resurrect (and perfect) the individual in his entirety.  This resurrected individual (including the body) will never die again, and thus is immortal.  The idea of humans continuing to exist after the death of the physical body as a disembodied soul has been discussed in philosophy since at least the time of Plato, but the ideas major exegesis did not come until Descartes.  Descartes argued that he was “a thing that thinks” (i.e., a thinking thing, a mind) and that this thing was his soul.  This soul was an immaterial substance and immortal and separated from the physical body at the time of death.  Whether or not the soul was ever again joined with a physical body was irrelevant.  The essence of a person, and his identity, was his soul, and his soul alone.  The ethereal (astral) body hypothesis has largely been ignored in philosophy, but is perhaps best represented in mythologies, folk tales, religious representations, literature and movies.  It is the idea that a person continues to exist after their physical death as some sort of ghostly, supernatural immortal apparition that is still in some way recognizable as the deceased individual. 

The question of immortality is closely tied to questions of personhood and personal identity.  Can a person be essentialized to one or more characteristics that maintain personhood and their identity?  To what extent is a body necessary for both personhood and identity?  If a person is resurrected, is it the same person or a replica of the original person?  What (if any) identity conferring properties can be used to positively identify a person who has been reincarnated, resurrected, disembodied, or ethereal? 

Immortality also plays an important role in other areas of philosophy of religion, including the problem of evil and subsequent theodicies.  For instance, why would an all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful being (e.g., God) create beings that would suffer death?  Does the death of the physical body serve a divine purpose?  Why would the knowledge that humans are immortal be hidden from them?  Are immortal persons rewarded or punished eternally for their actions during their Earthly life?  If so, is that just? 

The idea that humans and other beings are immortal has largely been taken for granted for most of the history of philosophy.  With the rise of skepticism and atheism in the Modern Era forward, however, arguments for and against immortality have become more and more logically complex, and little is taken for granted. 

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  1. Randall E. Auxier (forthcoming). Why One Hundred Years Is Forever: Hartshorne's Theory of Immortality. The Personalist Forum.
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  2. Robert H. Ayers (1971). "Survival and Disembodied Existence," by Terence Penelhum. Modern Schoolman 48 (4):395-398.
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  3. Robert H. Ayers (1970). Personal Survival of Death--An Analysis. Modern Schoolman 47 (3):331-339.
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  4. 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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  5. Stephan Blatti (2014). Mortal Harm and the Antemortem Experience of Death. Journal of Medical Ethics 40 (9):640-42.
    In his recent book, Death, Posthumous Harm, and Bioethics (Routeledge 2012), James Stacey Taylor challenges two ideas whose provenance may be traced all the way back to Aristotle. The first of these is the thought that death (typically) harms the one who dies (mortal harm thesis). The second is the idea that one can be harmed (and wronged) by events that occur after one’s death (posthumous harm thesis). Taylor devotes two-thirds of the book to arguing against both theses and the (...)
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  6. Ben Bradley, Fred Feldman & Jens Johansson (eds.) (2013). The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Death. OUP USA.
    This Handbook consists of 21 new essays on the nature and value of death, the relevance of the metaphysics of time and personal identity for questions about death, the desirability of immortality, and the wrongness of killing.
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  7. 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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  8. Andrei A. Buckareff & Joel S. Van Wagenen (2010). Surviving Resurrection. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 67 (3):123-139.
    In this paper we examine and critique the constitution view of the metaphysics of resurrection developed and defended by Lynne Rudder Baker. Baker identifies three conditions for an adequate metaphysics of resurrection. We argue that one of these, the identity condition, cannot be met on the constitution view given the account of personal identity it assumes. We discuss some problems with the constitution theory of personal identity Baker develops in her book, Persons and Bodies . We argue that these problems (...)
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  9. Steven M. Cahn (2004). The Happy Immoralist. Journal of Social Philosophy 35 (1):1–1.
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  10. Kevin J. Corcoran (2001). Physical Persons and Postmortem Survival Without Temporal Gaps. In , Soul, Body, and Survival. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
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  11. Matt Duncan (2014). A Challenge to Anti-Criterialism. Erkenntnis 79 (2):283-296.
    Most theists believe that they will survive death. Indeed, they believe that any given person will survive death and persist into an afterlife while remaining the very same person. In light of this belief, one might ask: how—or, in virtue of what—do people survive death? Perhaps the most natural way to answer this question is by appealing to some general account of personal identity through time. That way one can say that people persist through the time of their death in (...)
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  12. Corey W. Dyck (2010). The Aeneas Argument: Personality and Immortality in Kant's Third Paralogism. Kant Yearbook 2 (1):95-122.
    In this paper, I challenge the assumption that Kant’s Third Paralogism has to do, first and foremost, with the question of personal identity.
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  13. John Martin Fischer (2005). Free Will, Death, and Immortality: The Role of Narrative. Philosophical Papers 34 (3):379-403.
    In this paper I explore in a preliminary way the interconnections among narrative explanation, narrative value, free will, an immortality. I build on the fascinating an suggestive work of David Velleman. I offer the hypothesis that our acting freely is what gives our lives a distinctive kind of value - narrative value. Free Will, then, is connected to the capacity to lead a meaningful life in a quite specific way: it is the ingredient which, when aded to others, enows us (...)
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  14. Joanna K. Forstrom (2010). John Locke and Personal Identity: Immortality and Bodily Resurrection in 17th-Century Philosophy. Continuum.
    Introduction -- John Locke and the problem of personal identity : the principium individuationis, personal immortality, and bodily resurrection -- On separation and immortality : Descartes and the nature of the soul -- On materialism and immortality or Hobbes' rejection of the natural argument for the immortality of the soul -- Henry More and John Locke on the dangers of materialism : immateriality, immortality, immorality, and identity -- Robert Boyle : on seeds, cannibalism, and the resurrection of the body -- (...)
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  15. Johannes Haag (2010). Personhood, Bodily Self-Ascription, and Resurrection: An Kantian Approach. In Gasser G. (ed.), Personal Identity ans Resurrection. How do we survive our death. Ashgate. 127-143.
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  16. WIlliam Hasker, Afterlife. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    Human beings, like all other organic creatures, die and their bodies decay. Nevertheless, there is a widespread and long-standing belief that in some way death is survivable, that there is “life after death.” The focus in this article is on the possibility that the individual who dies will somehow continue to live, or will resume life at a later time, and not on the specific forms such an afterlife might take. We begin by considering the logical possibility of survival, given (...)
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  17. Joy Laine (forthcoming). Persons, Plants and Insects: On Surviving Reincarnation. The Personalist Forum.
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  18. Silas Langley (2001). Aquinas, Resurrection, and Material Continuity. Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 75:135-147.
    Aquinas’s understanding of bodily resurrection can take two different directions. Either continuity of the soul alone is sufficient to reconstitute the same body as the pre-mortem body at the resurrection, or continuity of the matter of the pre-mortem body is also required. After arguing that Aquinas’s account of personal identity over time requires sameness of soul and sameness of body, I suggest that Aquinas’s two possible views on bodily resurrection are consistent with this account of personal identity and are both (...)
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  19. William Lauinger (2014). Eternity, Boredom, and One's Part-Whole-Reality Conception. American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 88 (1):1-28.
    Bernard Williams famously argued that eternal life is undesirable for a human because it would inevitably grow intolerably boring. I will argue against Williams and those who share his view. To make my case, I will provide an account of what staves off boredom in our current, earthly-mortal lives, and then I will draw on this account while advancing reasons for thinking that eternal life is desirable, given certain conditions. Though my response to Williams will partly overlap with some prior (...)
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  20. William Lauinger (2014). Eternity, Boredom, and One's Part-Whole-Reality Conception. American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 88 (1):1-28.
    Bernard Williams famously argued that eternal life is undesirable for a human because it would inevitably grow intolerably boring. I will argue against Williams and those who share his view. To make my case, I will provide an account of what staves off boredom in our current, earthly-mortal lives, and then I will draw on this account while advancing reasons for thinking that eternal life is desirable, given certain conditions. Though my response to Williams will partly overlap with some prior (...)
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  21. Hywel David Lewis (1978). Persons and Life After Death: Essays. Barnes & Noble.
    Realism and metaphysics.--Ultimates and a way of looking.--Religion and the paranormal.--Quinton, A., Lewis, H. D., Williams, B. Life after death.--Lewis, H. D., Flew, A. Survival.--Shoemaker, S., Lewis, H. D. Immortality and dualism.--The belief in life after death.--The person of Christ.
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  22. L. Nathan Oaklander (2001). Personal Identity, Immortality, and the Soul. Philo 4 (2):185-194.
    The soul has played many different roles in philosophy and religion. Two of the primary functions of the soul are the bearer of personal identity and the foundation of immortality. In this paper I shall consider different interpretations of what the soul has been taken to be and argue that however we interpret the soul we cannot consistently maintain the soul is both what we are and what continues after our bodily death.
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  23. H. H. Price (1974). The Self and Immortality By H. D. Lewis London: Macmillan, 1973, Viii + 228 Pp., £3.95. [REVIEW] Philosophy 49 (187):102-.
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  24. Tadd Ruetenik (2006). Does a 'Cosmic Consciousness' Exist? Immortality and Ethics in James' Religious Pragmatism. Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 42 (3):417-430.
    : William James' investigation of religious experience neglected consideration of immortality. This was likely because, as James saw it, belief in personal immortality often engenders what can be called spiritual provincialism. In Human Immortality: Two Supposed Objections to the Doctrine (1897/1979), James brings up the phenomenon of psychological overload that occurs when an individual considers the immense numbers of humans who would inhabit Heaven if spiritual merit were determined democratically. Consideration of James' example shows the beginnings of his pragmatic notion (...)
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  25. Andrea Sauchelli (2014). Life Extension and the Burden of Mortality: Leon Kass Versus John Harris. Journal of Medical Ethics 40:336-40.
    Some bioethicists have questioned the desirability of a line of biomedical research aimed at extending the length of our lives over what some think to be its natural limit. In particular, Leon Kass has argued that living longer is not such a great advantage, and that mortality is not a burden after all. In this essay, I evaluate his arguments in favour of such a counterintuitive view by elaborating upon some critical remarks advanced by John Harris. Ultimately, I argue that (...)
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  26. Brendan Shea (2009). To Bite or Not to Bite: Twilight, Immortality, and the Meaning of Life. In Rebecca Housel & J. Jeremy Wisnewski (eds.), Twilight and Philosophy: Vampires, Vegetarians, and the Pursuit of Immortality. Wiley Blackwell. 79-93.
    Over the course of the Twilight series, Bella strives to and eventually succeeds in convincing Edward to turn her into a vampire. Her stated reason for this is that it will allow her to be with Edward forever. In this essay, I will consider whether this type of immortality is something that would be good for Bella, or indeed for any of us. I will begin by suggesting that Bella's own viewpoint is consonant with that of Tolstoy (1996), who contends (...)
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  27. Sydney Shoemaker (1976). Immortality and Dualism. In SC Brown (ed.), Reason and Religion.
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  28. Attila Tanyi & Karl Karlander (2013). Immortal Curiosity. Philosophical Forum 44 (3):255-273.
    The paper discusses Bernard Williams’ argument that immortality is rationally undesirable because it leads to insufferable boredom. We first spell out Williams’ argument in the form of a dilemma. We then show that the first horn of this dilemma, namely Williams’ requirement of the constancy of character of the immortal, is defensible. We next argue against a recent attempt that accepts the dilemma, but rejects the conclusion Williams draws from it. From these we conclude that blocking the second horn of (...)
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  29. Larry S. Temkin (2008). Is Living Longer Living Better? Journal of Applied Philosophy 25 (3):193-210.
    abstract Some day, perhaps soon, we may have genetic enhancements enabling us to conquer aging. Should we do so, if we can? I believe the topic is both interesting and important, and that it behoves us to think about it. Doing so may yield important insights about what we do care about, what we should care about, and how we should seek to live our lives, both individually and collectively. My central question is this: Is living longer, living better? My (...)
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  30. James Warren (2000). Epicurean Immortality. Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 18:231-61.
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  31. Dean W. Zimmerman (1999). The Compatibility of Materialism and Survival. Faith and Philosophy 16 (2):194-212.
    It is not easy to be a materialist and yet believe that there is a way for human beings to survive death. Peter van Inwagen identifies the central obstacle the materialist faces: Namely, the need to posit appropriate “immanent-causal” connections between my body as it is at death and some living body elsewhere or elsewhen. I offer a proposal, consistent with van Inwagen’s own materialist metaphysics, for making materialism compatible with the possibility of survival.
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