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 normal desire to continue living and the kind of desire implied in desiring immortality. Showing that there is some sense of identity and desire that support Williams’s conclusion goes some way toward providing support for his argument, if not a full-fledged defense of it. (shrink)
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 consider whether this type of immortality is something that would be good for Bella, or indeed for any of us. I begin by suggesting that Bella's own viewpoint is consonant with that of Leo Tolstoy, who contends that (...) one could not have meaningful life without immortality, because only immortality could allow one to make a permanent difference in the world. I argue that this characterization of a meaningful life is problematic, however, insofar as (1) immortality is neither sufficient nor necessary for having such an impact and (2) there is little reason to think that having such an impact is constitutive of a meaningful life. I go on to consider Edward's fear that vampires lack a soul as it relates to Martha Nussbaum's claim that immortal beings would be less capable of certain paradigmatic human values and virtues such as courage, love, or self-sacrifice. I suggest, contra Nussbaum, that Carlisle provides an example of an immortal who displays recognizably human virtues. However, the possibility of Carlisle's being virtuous in this way depends on the existence of other creatures who are mortal. -/- I close by considering the problem of boredom, as articulated by Bernard Williams. According to Williams, a meaningful human life is constituted by certain categorical desires such as the desire to raise children or to create art. The projects aimed at accomplishing these desires are necessarily finite in length, and cannot be repeated indefinitely without losing their value. I argue that many, though perhaps not all, of the immortals described in the series suffer from such boredom. For example, Edward and Rosalie struggle to find meaning in their lives and most werewolves choose to age and die normally after a certain time. Perhaps more significantly, many of the non-"vegetarian" vampires seem to have become entirely divorced from any recognizably human projects or values, and have become focused entirely on satisfying their immediate desires. These examples provide some reason to think that many of Bella's reasons for living, which are essentially tied to her mortality, are not likely to be met by becoming immortal. While this does not show that her choice to become a vampire will leave her ultimately unhappy, it does suggest that her doing so represents a considerable sacrifice. (shrink)
Much of the literature on the desirability of immortality (inspired by B. Williams) has considered whether the goods of mortal life would be exhausted in an immortal life (whether, i.e., immortality would necessarily end in tedium). However, there has been very little discussion of whether the bads of mortal life would also be exhausted in an immortal life, and more generally, how good immortal life would be on balance, particularly in comparison to a mortal life. Here I argue (...) that there are compelling reasons to favor a mortal over an immortal life because a mortal life offers a higher ceiling for well-being and assigns our agency a greater role in how our lives turn out. (shrink)
Dawkins’ concept of the meme pool, essentially equivalent to Popper’s World 3, is considered as an expression in modern terms for what Averroes knew as the ‘active intellect’, an immortal entity feeding into, or even creating, the ‘passive intellect’ of consciousness. A means is thus provided for reconciling a materialist Darwinian view of the universe with a conception of non-personal immortality. The meme pool/active intellect correspondence provides a strong basis for regarding science as a communal enterprise producing enrichment of (...) the meme pool and expansion of consciousness, and emphasizes the virtues of memetic conservation in relation to vanishing cultures. (shrink)
In this paper, we aim to clarify and evaluate the contention that immortality would be necessarily boring . It will emerge that, just as there are various importantly different kinds of immortality, there are various distinct kinds of boredom. To evaluate the Necessary Boredom Thesis, we need to specify the kind of immortality and the kind of boredom. We argue against the thesis, on various specifications of “immortality” and “boredom.”.
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.
Although I reject his argument, I defend Bernard Williams’s claim that we would lose reason to go on if we were to live forever. Through a consideration of Borges’s story "The Immortal," I argue that immortality would be motivationally devastating, since our decisions would carry little weight, our achievements would be hollow victories of mere diligence, and the prospect of eternal frustration would haunt our every effort. An immortal life for those of limited ability will inevitably result in endless (...) frustration, since the number of significant projects that one is capable of completing is finite, but the span of time is infinite. (shrink)
The question Wings of Desire (Wim Wenders, 1987) forces us to answer is whether we too would be willing to renounce immortality? Or, to put it conversely, would we be wise to exchange our current mortal existence for immortality? If a state of senseless, inefficacious existence is undesirable, the question of the value of immortality becomes one of the conceivably of an alternative to the angels' form of existence. By contemplating the existence of the angels in Wings (...) of Desire, we can see that they do not simply exemplify one possible eternal existence, but that the negative aspects of their being are perhaps essential features of the immortal. I begin by exploring another argument for the undesirableness of immortality that has taken center stage in the debate, then turn my attention to the film and present a novel argument against the value of immortality. (shrink)
This article contributes to the ongoing debate initiated by Bernard Williams’ claim that, due to the non-contingent finitude of the categorical desires that give meaning to our lives, an immortal life would necessarily become intolerably boring. Jeremy Wisnewski has argued that even if immortality involves periods in which our categorical desires have been exhausted, this need not divest life of meaning since some categorical desires are revivable. I argue that careful reflection upon the thought-experiments adduced by Wisnewski reveals that (...) they do not substantiate his proposal, and hence that a plausible reason for rejecting Williams’ position has not been provided. (shrink)
In this paper we address Bernard Williams' argument for the undesirability of immortality. Williams argues that unavoidable and pervasive boredom would characterise the immortal life of an individual with unchanging categorical desires. We resist this conclusion on the basis of the distinction between habitual and situational boredom and a psychologically realistic account of significant factors in the formation of boredom. We conclude that Williams has offered no persuasive argument for the necessity of boredom in the immortal life. 1.
Considered in light of the readers expectation of a thoroughgoing criticism of the pretensions of the rational psychologist, and of the wealth of discussions available in the broader 18th century context, which includes a variety of proofs that do not explicitly turn on the identification of the soul as a simple substance, Kants discussion of immortality in the Paralogisms falls lamentably short. However, outside of the Paralogisms (and the published works generally), Kant had much more to say about the (...) arguments for the souls immortality as he devoted considerable time to the topic throughout his career in his lectures on metaphysics. In fact, as I show in this paper, the student lecture notes prove to be an indispensable supplement to the treatment in the Paralogisms, not only for illuminating Kants criticism of the rational psychologists views on the immortality of the soul, but also in reconciling this criticism with Kants own positive claims regarding certain theoretical proofs of immortality. (shrink)
In this essay I consider the argument that Bernard Williams advances in ‘The Makropolus Case’ for the meaninglessness of immortality. I also consider various counter-arguments. I suggest that the more clearly these counter-arguments are targeted at the spirit of Williams's argument, rather than at its letter, the less clearly they pose a threat to it. I then turn to Nietzsche, whose views about the eternal recurrence might appear to make him an opponent of Williams. I argue that, properly interpreted, (...) these views in fact make him an ally. (shrink)
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 my notion of a Dialectical Stalemate. (shrink)
Can we conceive of a mind without body? Does, for example, the idea of the soul's immortality make sense? Certain versions of materialism deny such questions; I shall try to prove that these versions of materialism cannot be right. They fail because they cannot account for the mental vocabulary from the language of brains in the vat. Envatted expressions such as "I think", "I believe", etc., do not have to be reinterpreted when we translate them to our language; they (...) are semantically stable. By contrast, physical expressions from the vat language are semantically instable; due to Putnam's externalism they cannot be transported to our language without change. This contrast opens the way to a new understanding of what the immortality of the soul might be like: A brain in a vat (and its mental life) might survive what the brain calls "my physical body's death". (shrink)
In this paper I consider a cluster of positions which depart from the immortalist and dualist anthropologies of Rene Descartes and Henry More. In particular, I argue that John Locke and Isaac Newton are attracted to a monistic mind-body metaphysics, which while resisting neat characterization, occupies a conceptual space distinct from the dualism of the immortalists, on the one hand, and thoroughgoing materialism of Thomas Hobbes, on the other. They propound a sort of property monism: mind and body are distinct, (...) with distinct characteristics and functions, but are, nevertheless, ontologically interdependent. Consciousness ? the locus of personhood, and thus, a necessary condition for personal immortality ? is an embodied phenomenon; its preservation requires the life and proper functioning of the body. Dying with the dissolution of his body, then, man is a compound wholly mortal. Nevertheless, both Locke and Newton accepted the possibility of personal immortality; with Hobbes, both looked to the Biblical promise of bodily resurrection. For with the re-vitalization of the body ? and a subsequent restoration of consciousness and memory ? personal identity is preserved, even beyond the grave. (shrink)
Recent research in the cognitive science of religion suggests that humans intuitively believe that others survive death. In response to this finding, three cognitive theories have been offered to explain this: the simulation constraint theory (Bering, 2002); the imaginative obstacle theory (Nichols, 2007); and terror management theory (Pyszczynski, Rothschild, & Abdollahi, 2008). First, I provide a critical analysis of each of these theories. Second, I argue that these theories, while perhaps explaining why one would believe in his own personal (...) class='Hi'>immortality, leave an explanatory gap in that they do not explain why one would intuitively attribute survival of death to others. To fill in the gap, I offer a cognitive theory based on offline social reasoning and social embodiment which provides for the belief in an eternal social realm in which the deceased survive?the afterlife. (shrink)
This essay examines texts from Kierkegaard's signed and pseudonymous authorship on immortality and the resurrection, challenging the received opinion that Kierkegaard's account of eternal life merely connotes a temporal, existential modality of experience as a present eternity. Kierkegaard's thoughts on immortality are more complicated than this reading allows. I demonstrate that Kierkegaard's ideas on the afterlife emerge out of a context in which the topic had been vigorously debated in both Germany and Denmark for more than a decade. (...) In responding to these debates, Kierkegaard establishes a "new argument" for immortality that stands as a robust account of the Christian resurrection and highlights the power of a personal God at the center of life, death, and post-mortem existence. (shrink)
Recent work in developmental psychology indicates that children naturally think that psychological states continue after death. One important candidate explanation for why this belief is natural appeals to the idea that we believe in immortality because we can't imagine our own nonexistence. This paper explores this old idea. To begin, I present a qualified statement of the thesis that we can't imagine our own nonexistence. I argue that the most prominent explanation for this obstacle, Freud's, is problematic. I go (...) on to describe some central features of contemporary cognitive accounts of the imagination, and I argue that these accounts provide an independently motivated explanation for the imaginative obstacle. While the imaginative obstacle does not dictate a belief in immortality, it does, I maintain, facilitate such a belief. (shrink)
Descartes held that the human mind or soul is indivisible, unlike body. In this paper I argue that his treatment of this feature of the soul is intimately connected to his engagement with Aristotelian scholasticism. I discuss two strands in Descartes. There is a long tradition of arguing for the immortality of the human soul on the basis of this view. Descartes did use this view in defense of dualism, but I argue that he held that the soul’s (...) class='Hi'>immortality should be established rather on the basis of its status as a substance. This line of thought, I contend, is connected to his rejection of (most) Aristotelian substantial forms. Furthermore, the indivisibility of the human soul emerges repeatedly in connection to the union and interaction of mind and body in ways that connect to Aristotelian scholastic treatments of these issues. (shrink)
I first discuss the Buddhist concept of the self as lying between nihilism and substantialism, understood in terms of sets of skandhas and later momentariness. I then discuss the role of karma as a causal nexus that brings the skandhas into a state of co-ordination and whether this role is subjective or objective. Finally, I discuss the import of this view that there is no substantial self but only momentary events of various discrete sorts on the meaning and possibility of (...) life after death and the rootedness of the law of karma in justice. Finally, I consider the implications of this for rebirth and nirvana. (shrink)
Responding to a well-known essay by Bernard Williams, philosophers have engaged in what I call “the Makropulos debate,” a debate over whether immortality—“living forever”—would be desirable for beings like us. Lacking a firm conceptual grounding in the religious contexts from which terms such as “immortality” and “eternal life” gain much of their sense, the debate has consisted chiefly in a battle of speculative fantasies. Having presented my four main reasons for this assessment, I examine an alternative and neglected (...) conception, the idea of eternal life as a present possession, derived in large part from Johannine Christianity. Without claiming to argue for the truth of this conception, I present its investigation as exemplifying a conceptually fruitful direction of inquiry into immortality or eternal life, one which takes seriously the religious and ethical surroundings of these concepts. (shrink)
Death is a bad thing by virtue of its ability to frustrate the subjectively valuable projects that shape our identities and render our lives meaningful. While the presumption that immortality would necessarily result in boredom worse than death proves unwarranted, if the constraint of mortality is a necessary element for virtues, relationships, and motivation to pursue our life-projects, then death might nevertheless be a necessary evil. Mortal or immortal, it’s clear that the value of one’s life depends on its (...) subjectively determined quality, rather than its quantity. Thus, it is imperative to live forever in the present, with flourishing always in mind. (shrink)
S. Kierkegaard argued that our highest task as humans is to realize an “intensified” or “developed” form of subjectivity—his name for self-responsible agency. A self-responsible agent is not only responsible for her actions. She also bears responsibility for the individual that she is. In this paper, I review Kierkegaard’s account of the role that our capacity for reflective self-evaluation plays in making us responsible for ourselves. It is in the exercise of this capacity that we can go from being subjective (...) in a degraded sense—merely being an idiosyncratic jumble of accidental and arbitrary attitudes and affects—to being a subject in the ideal or eminent sense. The latter requires the exercise of my capacity for reflective self-evaluation, since it involves recognizing, identifying with, and reinforcing those aspects of my overall make-up that allow me to express successfully a coherent way of being in the world. Kierkegaard argues that taking immortality seriously is one way to achieve the right kind of reflective stance on one’s own character or personality. Thus, Kierkegaard argues that immortality as a theoretical posit can contribute to one’s effort to own or assume responsibility for being the person one is. (shrink)
Immortality—living forever and avoiding death—seems to many to be desirable. But is it? It has been argued that an immortal life would fairly soon become boring, trivial, and meaningless, and is not at all the sort of thing that any of us should want. Yet boredom and triviality presuppose our having powerful memories and imaginations, and an inability either to shake off the past or to free ourselves of weighty visions of the future. Suppose, though, that our capacities here (...) are limited, so that our temporal reach is fairly significantly constrained. Then, I argue, these alleged problems with immortality will recede. Moreover, similar limitations might help us in the actual world, where life is short. If we cannot see clearly to its end points, both ahead and behind, life will seem longer. (shrink)
The relationship between body and mind was traditionally discussed in terms of immortality of the intellect, because immateriality was one necessary condition for the mind to be immortal. This appeared to be an issue of metaphysics and religion. But to the medieval and Renaissance thinkers, the essence of mind is thinking activity and hence an epistemological feature. Starting with John Searle’s worries about the existence of consciousness, I try to show some parallels with the Aristotelian Pietro Pomponazzi (1462–1525), and (...) eventually show the Neoplatonic approach in Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499). The guiding question is: how can one philosophically address the problem of cognition in terms of corporeality and incorporeality? Searle maintains there is mind, although essentially related to a biological basis, and he is comparable to the Renaissance thinkers for his taking the interaction of the mental and the corporeal seriously. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to explore the consequences of accepting the immortality of the soul with regard to moral behavior. Philosophers from different periods and fields offer a variety of arguments which prove the immortal nature of the soul based on ethical theories, such as happiness is the end of mankind, man’s incapability of fulfilling his final purpose, the posthumous award of divine justice and so on. Through a critical appraisal of different but representative philosophical approaches to (...)immortality presented by Plato, Kant and Petros Brailas-Armenis, this paper aims to show that there is a strong interaction between ethics and psychology; the idea of eternal life has a deep moral meaning as an incentive for being virtuous. Therefore, both knowledge about and belief in the immortality of the soul can serve as a springboard for an ethical life. (shrink)
D. Z. Phillips is widely assumed to have held that Christian immortality has no reality outside of language. The author challenges that assumption, demonstrating that Phillips wished to show that contemporary analytic philosophy distorts the reality that immortality has for believers. While most philosophical accounts of Christian immortality depend upon terms that have little religious significance, Phillips offered accounts that stress the centrality of that significance. The author gives an account of the sort of philosophical attention that (...) Phillips gave to Christian immortality and demonstrates Phillips’ lament for both the lack of this sort of attention in contemporary philosophy as well as the loss of certain ways of living that exemplify a belief in eternal life with God. (shrink)
The present article focuses on Zhang Zai’s 張載 attitude toward death and its moral significance. It launches with the unusual link between the opening statement of the Western Inscription 西銘 regarding heaven and earth as parents and the conclusion that serving one’s cosmic parents during life, one is peaceful in death. Through the analogy of human relations with heaven and earth as filial piety (xiao 孝), Zhang Zai sets a framework for an understanding that being filial through life eliminates the (...) fear of death. The article shows that filial piety as a root for morality enables a “sense of immortality,” which is in fact a sense of morality. This moral immortality is elucidated through Zhang Zai’s discussion on vital power (qi 氣) as that which life is made of, which persists through ongoing transformation and enables a moral continuum. This continuum is manifested through filial piety, which transcends the limits between life and death, and thus makes physical death pointless as morality endures. (shrink)
TWO QUESTIONS BASIC TO THE STUDY OF PERSONAL IMMORTALITY ARE EXPLORED. FIRST, WHAT MUST HUMAN PERSONS BE LIKE IN ORDER FOR IT TO BE POSSIBLE THAT THEY CAN LIVE SUBSEQUENT TO THEIR DEATH? BOTH PLURALISTIC AND MONISTIC ACCOUNTS OF THE HUMAN PERSON ARE PRESENTED, EVALUATED IN DETAIL, AND SHOWN TO BE COMPATIBLE WITH THE ASSERTION OF PERSONAL LIFE AFTER DEATH. IN ANSWERING THE SECOND QUESTION--WHAT GOOD REASONS CAN BE GIVEN FOR MAINTAINING A BELIEF IN LIFE AFTER DEATH--I EVALUATE BOTH (...) PHILOSOPHICAL AND THEOLOGICAL ARGUMENTS WHICH HAVE BEEN TRADITIONALLY PRESENTED TO ESTABLISH THE REALITY OF LIFE AFTER DEATH. (shrink)
In this article we aim to distinguish between the transhuman and posthuman condition, according to their anthropological, ontological, and ethical natures. We will show that the current historical moment can be considered the beginning of a transhuman civilisation, given that the characteristics of the transhuman are already present in today’s human being. We will show that a series of decisive limitations for belonging to the human condition are in the process of being transcended due to acquisition of attributes of divinity (...) that human beings do not currently possess: omnipotence, omnipresence , ex nihilo creation – starting from the divine creative ideation – and immortality. Humans are increasingly taking on the attributes of divinity in the process of human enhancements. We will discuss the ways in which technology allows the human to overcome these limitations, elevating humans past their current condition, in a process in which they gain technological transcendence. Excepting immortality, all other limitations, once exceeded, generate a transhuman condition. Immortality generates a posthuman condition, since it can only be obtained by modifying the human ontological status from that of a biological being to that of a resident being in informatics networks. In order to clarify this process, we will discuss the concepts of everlastingness and artificial life prolongation. (shrink)
Can we who have been touched by the scientific, intellectual, and experimental revolutions of modern and contemporary times still believe with and degree of coherence and consistency that we as individual persons are immortal. Indeed, is there even good cause to hope that we are? In examining the present relationship of reason to faith, can we find justifying reasons for faith? These are the central questions in Self, God, and Immortality, a compelling exercise in philosophical theology. Drawing upon the (...) works of William James and the principles of American Pragmatism, Eugene Fontinell extrapolates carefully from "data given in experience" to a model of the cosmic process open to the idea that individual identity may survive bodily dissolution. Presupposing that the possibility of personal immortality has been established in the first part, the second part of the essay is concerned with desirability. Here, Fontinell shows that, far from diverting attention and energies from the crucial tasks confronting us here and now, such belief can be energizing and life enhancing. The wider importance of Self, God, and Immortality lies in its pressing both immortality-believers and terminality-believers to explore both the metaphysical presuppositions and the lived consequences of their beliefs. It is the author's expressed hope that such explorations, rather than impeding, will stimulate co-operative efforts to create a richer and more humane community. (shrink)
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 -- Locke's theory of personal identity in its context : a reassessment of classic objections. (shrink)
Might we be parts of a divine mind? Could anything like an afterlife make sense? Starting with a Platonic answer to why the world exists, _Immortality Defended_ suggests we could well be immortal in all of three separate ways. Tackles the fundamental questions posed by our very existence, among them, "why does the cosmos exist?", "is there a divine mind or God?", and "in what sense might we have afterlives?" Defends a belief in immortality, without the need for a (...) religious affiliation or rejection of modern science Explores the ideas of "Einsteinian immortality", the divine afterlife, and the theory of an infinite and divine mind Draws from the work of a wide-range of philosophers, from ancient Greece to the present day, and incorporates up-to-date scientific findings Written in a thought-provoking and engaging manner, accessible to anyone intrigued by the wonder of our being. (shrink)
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 (...) his argument only supports a somewhat weaker thesis: it may be possible for some people with certain special psychological features to enjoy an immortal life, but no one has good reason to bet on being such a person. (shrink)
The gradual evolution of Homo sapiens from earlier hominid species raises for Christians several interrelated challenges. I focus here on the first emergence of creatures who could enjoy eternal life. In the first several sections I highlight what I take to be the outstanding difficulties facing a Christian anthropology when it comes to positing an historical boundary separating those creatures that can have eternal life from those that cannot. In the final section, I consider whether Christians can concede an element (...) of arbitrariness in God’s choice about where to draw that boundary. (shrink)
Why was the great philosopher Spinoza expelled from his Portuguese-Jewish community in Amsterdam? Nadler's investigation of this simple question gives fascinating new perspectives on Spinoza's thought and the Jewish religious and philosophical tradition from which it arose.
Samuel Scheffler has recently defended what he calls the ‘afterlife conjecture’, the claim that many of our evaluative attitudes and practices rest on the assumption that human beings will continue to exist after we die. Scheffler contends that our endorsement of this claim reveals that our evaluative orientation has four features: non-experientialism, non-consequentialism, ‘conservatism,’ and future orientation. Here I argue that the connection between the afterlife conjecture and these four features is not as tight as Scheffler seems to suppose. In (...) fact, those with an evaluative orientation that rejects these four features have equally strong moral reasons to endorse the existence of the collective afterlife. (shrink)
Two books bound together, from the religious period of one of the most renowned and representative thinkers. Written for laymen, thus easy to understand, it is penetrating and brilliant as well. Illuminations of age-old religious questions from a pragmatic perspective, written in a luminous style.