Immortality

Edited by K. Mitch Hodge (Masaryk University, Queen's University, Belfast)
About this topic
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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71 found
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  1. added 2018-12-08
    Existence Is Evidence of Immortality.Michael Huemer - manuscript
    Time may be infinite in both directions. If it is, then, if persons could live at most once in all of time, the probability that you would be alive now would be zero. Since you are alive now, with certainty, either the past is finite, or persons can live more than once.
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  2. added 2018-11-30
    Near-Death Experiences Are Not Evidence for Either Theism or Atheism.Keith Augustine - 2019 - In Joseph W. Koterski & Graham Oppy (eds.), Theism and Atheism: Opposing Viewpoints in Philosophy. Farmington Hills, MI: Macmillan Reference USA. pp. 594-596.
    The failure to secure replicable positive results in near-death experience (NDE) target-identification experiments does not establish the nonexistence of any spiritual realms, but it does serve to substantially challenge positive arguments in favor of the existence of spiritual realms from NDE reports. For if veridical paranormal perception occurs during out-of-body experiences (OBEs) or NDEs, why the failure to find it in all of the controlled experiments that have been undertaken to document it thus far? Various explanations can be put forward, (...)
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  3. added 2018-10-10
    The Unseen Universe; or, Physical Speculations on a Future State [by B. Stewart and P.G. Tait]. Repr.Balfour Stewart & Peter Guthrie Tait - 1889
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  4. added 2018-10-10
    The Unseen Universe; or, Physical Speculations on a Future State [by B. Stewart and P.G. Tait].Balfour Stewart - 1875 - Cambridge University Press.
    In 1875, the geophysicist Balfour Stewart and the mathematician P. G. Tait published the second edition of The Unseen Universe. The book's aim had been 'to overthrow materialism by a purely scientific argument', and its initial success, and the controversy it aroused, prompted this revised edition. The treatise suggests that science and religion could be reconciled, and that by using science, it could be proved that the soul survives after death. The book begins with a historical account of the beliefs (...)
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  5. added 2018-09-24
    Agency, Life Extension, and the Meaning of Life.Lisa Bortolotti - 2010 - The Monist 93 (1):38-56.
    According to the agency objection to life extension, being constrained as an agent adds to the meaningfulness of human life. Life extension removes constraints, and thus it deprives life of meaning. In the paper, I concede that constrained agency contributes to the mean- ingfulness of human life, but reject the agency objection to life extension in its current form. Even in an extended life, decision-making remains constrained, and many obstacles to the fulfilment of an agent’s goals are preserved. Agents with (...)
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  6. added 2018-09-01
    Meaning in Life in Spite of Death.Thaddeus Metz - forthcoming - In Michael Cholbi & Travis Timmerman (eds.), Exploring the Philosophy of Death and Dying: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives. Routledge.
    A short chapter, pitched at the undergraduate reader, providing reasons to doubt the extreme supernaturalist claim that death is sufficient for a meaningless life and the moderate supernaturalist claim that immortality could make life much more meaningful.
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  7. added 2018-08-03
    The Immortality Requirement for Life's Meaning.Thaddeus Metz - 2003 - Ratio 16 (2):161–177.
    Many religious thinkers hold the immortality requirement, the view that immortality of some kind is necessary for life to have meaning. After clarifying the nature of the immortality requirement, this essay examines three central arguments for it. The article establishes that existing versions of these arguments fail to entail the immortality requirement. The essay then reconstructs the arguments, and it shows that once they do plausibly support the immortality requirement, they equally support the God-centred requirement, the view that God's existence (...)
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  8. added 2018-07-20
    Williams and the Desirability of Body‐Bound Immortality Revisited.A. G. Gorman - 2017 - European Journal of Philosophy:1062-1083.
    Bernard Williams argues that human mortality is a good thing because living forever would necessarily be intolerably boring. His argument is often attacked for unfoundedly proposing asymmetrical requirements on the desirability of living for mortal and immortal lives. My first aim in this paper is to advance a new interpretation of Williams' argument that avoids these objections, drawing in part on some of his other writings to contextualize it. My second aim is to show how even the best version of (...)
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  9. added 2018-06-11
    Bootstrapping the Afterlife.Roman Altshuler - 2017 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 14 (2).
    Samuel Scheffler defends “The Afterlife Conjecture”: the view that the continued existence of humanity after our deaths—“the afterlife”—lies in the background of our valuing; were we to lose confidence in it, many of the projects we engage in would lose their meaning. The Afterlife Conjecture, in his view, also brings out the limits of our egoism, showing that we care more about yet unborn strangers than about personal survival. But why does the afterlife itself matter to us? Examination of Scheffler’s (...)
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  10. added 2018-06-01
    I See Dead People: Disembodied Souls and Aquinas’s ‘Two-Person’ Problem.Christina Van Dyke - 2014 - In Oxford Studies in Medieval Philosophy. pp. 25-45.
    Aquinas’s account of the human soul is the key to his theory of human nature. The soul’s nature as the substantial form of the human body appears at times to be in tension with its nature as immaterial intellect, however, and nowhere is this tension more evident than in Aquinas’s discussion of the ‘separated’ soul. In this paper I use the Biblical story of the rich man and Lazarus (which Aquinas took to involve actual separated souls) to highlight what I (...)
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  11. added 2018-05-25
    Classification of Approaches to Technological Resurrection.Alexey Turchin & Chernyakov Maxim - manuscript
    Abstract. Death seems to be a permanent event, but there is no actual proof of its irreversibility. Here we list all known ways to resurrect the dead that do not contradict our current scientific understanding of the world. While no method is currently possible, many of those listed here may become feasible with future technological development, and it may even be possible to act now to increase their probability. The most well-known such approach to technological resurrection is cryonics. Another method (...)
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  12. added 2018-03-20
    Digital Immortality: Theory and Protocol for Indirect Mind Uploading.Alexey Turchin - manuscript
    Future superintelligent AI will be able to reconstruct a model of the personality of a person who lived in the past based on informational traces. This could be regarded as some form of immortality if this AI also solves the problem of personal identity in a copy-friendly way. A person who is currently alive could invest now in passive self-recording and active self-description to facilitate such reconstruction. In this article, we analyze informational-theoretical relationships between the human mind, its traces, and (...)
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  13. added 2018-03-19
    Forever and Again: Necessary Conditions for “Quantum Immortality” and its Practical Implications.Alexey Turchin - manuscript
    This article explores theoretical conditions necessary for “quantum immortality” (QI) as well as its possible practical implications. It is demonstrated that the QI is a particular case of “multiverse immortality” (MI) which is based on two main assumptions: the very large size of the Universe (not necessary because of quantum effects), and the copy-friendly theory of personal identity. It is shown that a popular objection about the lowering of the world-share (measure) of an observer in the case of QI doesn’t (...)
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  14. added 2017-12-08
    Theories of Consciousness & Death.Gregory Nixon (ed.) - 2016 - New York, USA: QuantumDream.
    What happens to the inner light of consciousness with the death of the individual body and brain? Reductive materialism assumes it simply fades to black. Others think of consciousness as indicating a continuation of self, a transformation, an awakening or even alternatives based on the quality of life experience. In this issue, speculation drawn from theoretic research are presented. -/- Table of Contents Epigraph: From “The Immortal”, Jorge Luis Borges iii Editor’s Introduction: I Killed a Squirrel the Other Day, Gregory (...)
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  15. added 2017-01-04
    Williams and the Desirability of Body‐Bound Immortality Revisited.A. G. Gorman - 2016 - European Journal of Philosophy 24 (3).
    Bernard Williams argues that human mortality is a good thing because living forever would necessarily be intolerably boring. His argument is often attacked for unfoundedly proposing asymmetrical requirements on the desirability of living for mortal and immortal lives. My first aim in this paper is to advance a new interpretation of Williams' argument that avoids these objections, drawing in part on some of his other writings to contextualize it. My second aim is to show how even the best version of (...)
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  16. added 2016-12-26
    Some Remarks on ‘Physicalism and Immortality’—Reply to David Mouton: Tyson Anderson.Tyson Anderson - 1974 - Religious Studies 10 (1):81-84.
    In a recent articles David Mouton has argued that immortality is compatible with one sort of physicalism. I believe that he fails to establish this thesis and that, moreover, this article contains several misconceptions having to do with the topic of immortality.
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  17. added 2016-12-08
    The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Death.Ben Bradley, Fred Feldman & Jens Johansson (eds.) - 2012 - Oxford University Press USA.
    Death has long been a pre-occupation of philosophers, and this is especially so today. The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Death collects 21 newly commissioned essays that cover current philosophical thinking of death-related topics across the entire range of the discipline. These include metaphysical topics--such as the nature of death, the possibility of an afterlife, the nature of persons, and how our thinking about time affects what we think about death--as well as axiological topics, such as whether death is bad (...)
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  18. added 2016-12-08
    Surviving Resurrection.A. Buckareff Andrei & Wagenen Joel S. Van - 2010 - 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 render (...)
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  19. added 2016-12-08
    The Way of Immortality. [REVIEW]K. B. L. - 1956 - Review of Metaphysics 9 (4):702-703.
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  20. added 2016-10-16
    Should I Choose to Never Die? Williams, Boredom, and the Significance of Mortality.David Beglin - 2017 - Philosophical Studies 174 (8):2009-2028.
    Bernard Williams’ discussion of immortality in “The Makropulos Case: Reflections on the Tedium of Immortality” has spawned an entire philosophical literature. This literature tends to focus on one of Williams’ central claims: if we were to relinquish our mortality, we would necessarily become alienated from our existence and environment—“bored,” in his terms. Many theorists have defended this claim; many others have challenged it. Even if this claim is false, though, it still isn’t obvious that we should choose to relinquish our (...)
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  21. added 2016-10-09
    Boltzmannian Immortality.Christian Loew - 2016 - Erkenntnis (4):1-16.
    Plausible assumptions from Cosmology and Statistical Mechanics entail that it is overwhelmingly likely that there will be exact duplicates of us in the distant future long after our deaths. Call such persons “Boltzmann duplicates,” after the great pioneer of Statistical Mechanics. In this paper, I argue that if survival of death is possible at all, then we almost surely will survive our deaths because there almost surely will be Boltzmann duplicates of us in the distant future that stand in appropriate (...)
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  22. added 2016-09-23
    Against the Tedium of Immortality.Donald W. Bruckner - 2012 - International Journal of Philosophical Studies 20 (5):623-644.
    Abstract In a well-known paper, Bernard Williams argues that an immortal life would not be worth living, for it would necessarily become boring. I examine the implications for the boredom thesis of three human traits that have received insufficient attention in the literature on Williams? paper. First, human memory decays, so humans would be entertained and driven by things that they experienced long before but had forgotten. Second, even if memory does not decay to the extent necessary to ward off (...)
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  23. added 2016-05-07
    نیاز جاودانگی برای معنای زندگی.Thaddeus Metz - 2013 - Falsafeh 6 (72):81-90.
    Persian translation by Seyyed Mostafa Mousavi A’zam of 'The Immortality Requirement for Life's Meaning' (Ratio 2003).
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  24. added 2016-05-07
    The Immortality Requirement for Life's Meaning.Thaddeus Metz - 2012 - In Joshua Seachris (ed.), Exploring the Meaning of Life: An Anthology and Guide. Wiley. pp. 416-427.
    Reprint of an article that initially appeared in Ratio (2003).
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  25. added 2016-04-18
    Empathy and Intersubjectivity.Joshua May - 2017 - In Heidi Maibom (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Empathy. New York: Routledge. pp. 169-179.
    Empathy is intersubjective in that it connects us mentally with others. Some theorists believe that by blurring the distinction between self and other empathy can provide a radical form of altruism that grounds all of morality and even a kind of immortality. Others are more pessimistic and maintain that in distorting the distinction between self and other empathy precludes genuine altruism. Even if these positions exaggerate self-other merging, empathy’s intersubjectivity can perhaps ground ordinary altruism and the rational recognition that one (...)
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  26. added 2016-03-05
    Aquinas and Aristotelian Hylomorphism.Raymond Hain - 2015 - In Matthew Levering & Gilles Emery (eds.), Aristotle in Aquinas's Theology. Oxford University Press. pp. 48-69.
    This essay first develops St. Thomas Aquinas’s appropriation of Aristotle's hylomorphic account of human nature by considering Aquinas’s commentary on the De anima and Aquinas's own mature account of human nature in the Summa Theologiae. It is then made clear how a series of problems arises for Aquinas’s position based on whether we emphasize body/soul unity or the special status of the intellectual soul, taking as the central difficulty the status of the disembodied soul between death and resurrection. In conclusion (...)
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  27. added 2016-01-25
    How Must We Be for the Resurrection to Be Good News?Chad Engelland - 2015 - Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 89:245-261.
    While the promise of the resurrection appears wonderful, it is also perplexing: How can the person raised be one and the same person as the one that dies? And if the raised person is not the same, why should any of us mortals regard the promise of the resurrection as good news? In this paper, I articulate the part-whole structure of human nature that supports belief in the sameness of the resurrected person’s identity and the desirability of the resurrection: the (...)
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  28. added 2016-01-11
    Immortality.Godehard Brüntrup - 2015 - Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception 12.
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  29. added 2015-11-27
    Agency, Scarcity, and Mortality.Luca Ferrero - 2015 - The Journal of Ethics 19 (3-4):349-378.
    It is often argued, most recently by Samuel Scheffler, that we should reconcile with our mortality as constitutive of our existence: as essential to its temporal structure, to the nature of deliberation, and to our basic motivations and values. Against this reconciliatory strategy, I argue that there is a kind of immortal existence that is coherently conceivable and potentially desirable. First, I argue against the claim that our existence has a temporal structure with a trajectory that necessarily culminates in an (...)
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  30. added 2015-11-07
    The Metaphysics of Mortals: Death, Immortality, and Personal Time.Cody Gilmore - 2016 - Philosophical Studies 173 (12):3271-3299.
    Personal time, as opposed to external time, has a certain role to play in the correct account of death and immortality. But saying exactly what that role is, and what role remains for external time, is not straightforward. I formulate and defend accounts of death and immortality that specify these roles precisely.
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  31. added 2015-08-28
    Does Death Give Meaning to Life?Brooke Alan Trisel - 2015 - Journal of Philosophy of Life 5 (2):62-81.
    Some people claim that death makes our lives meaningless. Bernard Williams and Viktor Frankl have made the opposite claim that death gives meaning to life. Although there has been much scrutiny of the former claim, the latter claim has received very little attention. In this paper, I will explore whether and how death gives meaning to our lives. As I will argue, there is not sufficient support for the strong claim that death is necessary for one's life to be meaningful. (...)
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  32. added 2015-08-12
    Immortality and the Philosophy of Death.Michael Cholbi (ed.) - 2015 - Rowman & Littlefield International.
    A collection of seminal articles investigating whether death is bad for us – and if so, whether immortality would be good for us.
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  33. added 2015-08-11
    The Argument From Brain Damage Vindicated.Rocco J. Gennaro & Yonatan I. Fishman - 2015 - In Keith Augustine & Michael Martin (eds.), The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life After Death. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 105-133.
    It has long been known that brain damage has important negative effects on one’s mental life and even eliminates one’s ability to have certain conscious experiences. It thus stands to reason that when all of one’s brain activity ceases upon death, consciousness is no longer possible and so neither is an afterlife. It seems clear that human consciousness is dependent upon functioning brains. This essay reviews some of the overall neurological evidence from brain damage studies and concludes that our argument (...)
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  34. added 2015-07-24
    Immortality, Identity, and Desirability.Roman Altshuler - 2015 - In Michael Cholbi (ed.), Immortality and the Philosophy of Death. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 191-203.
    Williams’s famous argument against immortality rests on the idea that immortality cannot be desirable, at least for human beings, and his contention has spawned a cottage industry of responses. As I will intend to show, the arguments over his view rest on both a difference of temperament and a difference in the sense of desire being used. The former concerns a difference in whether one takes a forward-looking or a backward-looking perspective on personal identity; the latter a distinction between our (...)
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  35. added 2015-07-12
    A Dialogue on Immortality.Mikel Burley - 2009 - Think 8 (21):91-97.
    The fictional case of Elina Makropulos has been a focus for philosophical reflections on immortality. Here Mikel Burley presents a conversation between Elina and two imaginary philosophers.
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  36. added 2015-07-12
    Dead People.Peter Cave - 2003 - Think 2 (5):83.
    Peter Cave explains why he believes we can and should treat people well, even after they have ceased to exist. We should treat people well; therefore, we should treat dead people well.
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  37. added 2015-05-17
    Death Survival and Immortality in the Works of Marcez, Gabriel (Vol 41, Pg 677, 1993).P. Bendlova - 1993 - Filosoficky Casopis 41 (6):1100-1100.
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  38. added 2015-05-17
    Survival and Disembodied Existence.Patrick K. Bastable - 1972 - Philosophical Studies 21:282-283.
  39. added 2015-04-25
    In My Ever After.Jude P. Dougherty - 2011 - Review of Metaphysics 65 (1):160-161.
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  40. added 2015-04-07
    Introduction.Keith Augustine - 2015 - In Keith Augustine & Michael Martin (eds.), The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life After Death. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 1-47.
    The Introduction provides a general overview of the issues discussed in The Myth of an Afterlife in more detail in the individual selections, structured according to the four parts of the volume, plus preceding introductory and subsequent concluding comments. -/- 1. Preliminary Considerations -- 2. Empirical Arguments for Annihilation -- 3. Conceptual and Empirical Difficulties for Survival -- 4. Problematic Models of the Afterlife -- 5. Dubious Evidence for Survival -- 6. The Importance of Empirical Considerations -- 7. Alternative Paranormal (...)
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  41. added 2015-04-06
    The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case Against Life After Death.Keith Augustine & Michael Martin (eds.) - 2015 - Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
    Because every single one of us will die, most of us would like to know what—if anything—awaits us afterward, not to mention the fate of lost loved ones. Given the nearly universal vested interest we personally have in deciding this question in favor of an afterlife, it is no surprise that the vast majority of books on the topic affirm the reality of life after death without a backward glance. But the evidence of our senses and the ever-gaining strength of (...)
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  42. added 2014-09-18
    Mortal Harm and the Antemortem Experience of Death.Stephan Blatti - 2014 - 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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  43. added 2014-08-16
    Personhood, Bodily Self-Ascription, and Resurrection: An Kantian Approach.Johannes Haag - 2010 - In Gasser G. (ed.), Personal Identity ans Resurrection. How do we survive our death. Ashgate. pp. 127-143.
  44. added 2014-08-16
    Why One Hundred Years Is Forever: Hartshorne’s Theory of Immortality.Randall Auxier - 1998 - The Personalist Forum 14 (2):109-132.
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  45. added 2014-08-16
    Persons, Plants and Insects: On Surviving Reincarnation.Joy Laine - 1992 - The Personalist Forum 8 (Supplement):145-158.
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  46. added 2014-08-16
    "Survival and Disembodied Existence," by Terence Penelhum.Robert H. Ayers - 1971 - Modern Schoolman 48 (4):395-398.
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  47. added 2014-08-16
    Personal Survival of Death--An Analysis.Robert H. Ayers - 1970 - Modern Schoolman 47 (3):331-339.
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  48. added 2014-08-14
    The Self and Immortality By H. D. Lewis London: Macmillan, 1973, Viii + 228 Pp., £3.95. [REVIEW]H. H. Price - 1974 - Philosophy 49 (187):102-.
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  49. added 2014-06-02
    Epicurean Immortality.James Warren - 2000 - Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 18:231-61.
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  50. added 2014-03-28
    The Compatibility of Materialism and Survival.Dean Zimmerman - 1999 - 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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