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Hello,

Hello, What I am about to say is a desperate call for help. I am reaching out to you so that I may be assisted with this dear worry I have been plagued with for several years… Basically, I am paranoid about what will happen to me after I die. Because of argument amongst equally learned, intelligent, capable philosophers, I can’t figure out what the afterlife (if there is one) will consist of. The reason this is an obsession and highly alarming to me is because several different religions state you must believe such and such in order to escape hell (eternal torture). You can’t simultaneously be a follower of incompatible religions, so it’s like you’re taking an eternal chance in believing anything. Moreover, it seems the superiority of one religion over the other cannot be determined. Philosophers argue about this stuff night and day, and the arguments never end...nothing is ever decided for certain. No one can be sure of anything. Must I believe that when I die, I’ll more than likely go to some sort of...

Allen Stairs offers a spirited reply, and an amusing last line, but I am a bit more sympathetic with your worry. You might check out the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on beliefs about the afterlife which I co-authored with William Hasker. There is a terrific book on hell by Jerry Walls called Hell: The Logic of Damnation and a good reference work published by Oxford University Press, A Handbook on Eschatology. Jonathan Kvanvig also has a good book on hell that carefully runs through the possible justifications for belief in hell. Minor point: for many religious traditions in which there is a hell, hell is understood to be self-created rather than created by God. This is colorfully and vividly represented in Milton's Paradise Lost. Philosophical arguments for belief in an afterlife (or life beyond life) are often developed in the context of the case for and against theism, though philosophers who are atheists have believed in an afterlife (e.g. Buddhist philosophers). The British idealist McTaggert made an interesting case for an afterlife without theism --his viewpoint has been described as Heaven without God. Ronald Dworkin in his book Religion without God also has some interesting speculation about how secular humanism can (in principle) accommodate an afterlife.

Allen Stairs offers a spirited reply, and an amusing last line, but I am a bit more sympathetic with your worry. You might check out the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on beliefs about the afterlife which I co-authored with William Hasker. There is a terrific book on hell by Jerry Walls called Hell: The Logic of Damnation and a good reference work published by Oxford University Press, A Handbook on Eschatology. Jonathan Kvanvig also has a good book on hell that carefully runs through the possible justifications for belief in hell. Minor point: for many religious traditions in which there is a hell, hell is understood to be self-created rather than created by God. This is colorfully and vividly represented in Milton's Paradise Lost. Philosophical arguments for belief in an afterlife (or life beyond life) are often developed in the context of the case for and against theism, though philosophers who are atheists have believed in an afterlife (e.g. Buddhist philosophers). The British...

In one of my classes, we had to pick a topic and a side. All through out my

In one of my classes, we had to pick a topic and a side. All through out my research my- for the lack of a better term- opponent kept saying "euthanasia is the work of the devil!" I beg to differ, but I was wondering if my main arguement was valid: there is a creature in the prime of its age, suffering like no other in existence, and they are begging for it to end. Let's say this creature was a dog, we'd do it no problem. But I'd this creature was human, we would avoid euthanasia at all costs (or so it would seem). Why is this? And I don't want the overused "it's the law" stuff. I want the individual's view, not the government's or society's view.

Thank you for this inquiry! First off, unless you and others are actually working for Satan (I am joking here), then it is at least unfortunate that your interlocutor suggests the devil is on your side! Seriously, the key issues include what you allude to: if someone requests (for example) a heavy dose of morphine that will eliminate pain but at the same time cause death due (for example) to heart failure, then it is relevant to consider the degree of suffering, whether or not the patient has voluntarily requested such an end-of-life scenario, and it is very understandable that an appeal to what is the current law does not (alone) settle matters. As for the analogy with dogs or other creatures we euthanize, I suggest it may be dangerous to appeal to such practices to justify human euthanasia; after all, in practice we do all kinds of things with doges (walk them on leash) we would not want to apply to humans. I suggest that you might make clear to your "opponent" that you (assuming you do) only would morally and legally permit euthanasia under conditions when a subject is in intolerable, unrelieved suffering and recovery is not at all likely, the subject is voluntarily (and not a victim of inappropriate pressure from family members eager to get an inheritance), and any "euthanasia" might be better described as not prolonging death or dying rather than killing. I realize you do not want a reply that appeals to government practices, but it is worth noting that it may well be the case that it might be better to make such euthanasia illegal even if it is morally permissible, because of the probability of abuse. So, one might advocate a law outlawing euthanasia, while also arguing that it should not be officiously pursued, thus allowing some social or legal space for doctors and patients (with families) to identify particular cases in which rendering the pain-relieving morphine might not only eliminate pain, but be administered so as not to prolong (the presumed inevitability of) death.

This is an area that is (to me) deeply troubling, but I do find it not very helpful at all when one's interlocutor starts blasting you with being on the devil's side! It seems to me that so many issues involved with euthanasia include matters where even the angels might have different views.

Thank you for this inquiry! First off, unless you and others are actually working for Satan (I am joking here), then it is at least unfortunate that your interlocutor suggests the devil is on your side! Seriously, the key issues include what you allude to: if someone requests (for example) a heavy dose of morphine that will eliminate pain but at the same time cause death due (for example) to heart failure, then it is relevant to consider the degree of suffering, whether or not the patient has voluntarily requested such an end-of-life scenario, and it is very understandable that an appeal to what is the current law does not (alone) settle matters. As for the analogy with dogs or other creatures we euthanize, I suggest it may be dangerous to appeal to such practices to justify human euthanasia; after all, in practice we do all kinds of things with doges (walk them on leash) we would not want to apply to humans. I suggest that you might make clear to your "opponent" that you (assuming you do) only would...

What are some questions a philospher might ask about death or dying

What are some questions a philospher might ask about death or dying

Almost from the very beginning, philosophers have reflected on death and dying. Here are some questions that have exercised philosophers (and I am sure the list is incomplete):

Is the death of a person physically a matter of the person ceasing to be or is it possible (or even likely) that there is life after death (or, putting it differently) life after life? If so, what shape may it take? Reincarnation? Heaven or Hell?

If a materialist view of persons is correct, might there still be an afterlife through, say, resurrection or God's re-creating a person?

If death is the ceasing to be of the person, and if we have reason for thinking this is true, what bearing does this have on our ethics? Religious beliefs? Our sense of the meaning of life?

Should death be feared? Why or why not?

When is a person dead? At one time, we measured death with the ceasing of the heart to function. Now we tend to go with the irreversible loss of consciousness. But could it happen that a person in New York and a person in Afghanistan may be in the same state and yet in New York facilities exist that could revive consciousness, but these do not exist in Afghanistan. Could it be that while both persons are in the same state at one time, yet one is dead and the other is not?

Can the dead be harmed?

In a burial or cremation of a dead person's body, are you burning or burying a corpse (the person's remains) or are you burying or burning the person?

Might it be just (and could it be legal) to try a dead person?

How should the body of a dead person be treated?

Are some promises (for example, a promise to a spouse to never marry again) made to a person who is now dead, still be binding?

What are the ethics of organ donations? Who gets them? Can they be sold?

Some philosophers and religious thinkers believe that the person (or soul) pre-existed the existence of their body. Is this possible?

Is there a morally relevant distinction between dying "naturally" or through an overdose of morphine? How much weight does the consent of the person dying have? Is physician assisted suicide morally permissible?

Are your last thoughts and reflections while dying of special significance? Some religious thinkers have thought death bed confessions of sins can be purgative, others have been skeptical. Some might think that if a person's dying words are, say, "I love you" this might carry greater meaning if the same words are said casually when healthy.

When do you start dying? A month or a year or longer before you die from some illness or wound?

When have you killed a person? In New York, you committed murder if you intentionally kill a person by wounding them and they die from the wound a year and a day after receiving the wound. Any longer (say a year and a day and an hour) and you are not legally charged with murder, though you may be charged with attempted murder or assault. Is such a law reasonable? Why not a year and two weeks after the wound?

Are you responsible for someone's death if you hit them, doing serious damage though it was not a mortal wound, and yet the ambulance driving your victim to the hospital is in a terrible accident and the person dies.

In the course of dying if the patient undergoes a radical loss of memory, a change of personality, etc, could it be that the person has already died, though they are still suffering in some kind of shattered fashion?

I am sure this is only scratching the surface, but I hope it is enough to entice you into exploring some of the above!

Almost from the very beginning, philosophers have reflected on death and dying. Here are some questions that have exercised philosophers (and I am sure the list is incomplete): Is the death of a person physically a matter of the person ceasing to be or is it possible (or even likely) that there is life after death (or, putting it differently) life after life? If so, what shape may it take? Reincarnation? Heaven or Hell? If a materialist view of persons is correct, might there still be an afterlife through, say, resurrection or God's re-creating a person? If death is the ceasing to be of the person, and if we have reason for thinking this is true, what bearing does this have on our ethics? Religious beliefs? Our sense of the meaning of life? Should death be feared? Why or why not? When is a person dead? At one time, we measured death with the ceasing of the heart to function. Now we tend to go with the irreversible loss of consciousness. But could it happen that a person in New York...

Why do so many people insist so strongly, even aggressively, that without death,

Why do so many people insist so strongly, even aggressively, that without death, nothing would have any value? What's the big deal?

That's a great question! I suppose the idea is that without death, there would be urgency or boundary to our lives. Perhaps people think that part of what makes relationships important is that they will end. Maybe, too, there is a general, biological point, it would be hard for anything to live without death even a vegetarian needs to live on plants that are no longer alive. But the question might be adjusted somewhat: granted there is (perhaps inevitably there has to be death, but is it inevitable or necessary that that there can be no afterlife (at least for persons)? Is an afterlife possible (as is believed by billions of people historically and today, certainly in some of the great world religions) and what impact would an afterlife have on our values in this life? There is a fascinating literature on this. Bernard Williams has a famous essay to the effect that an afterlife would be (ultimately boring and so it would be irrelevant to the values of this life. I have a less famous essay "Why we need immortality" to the effect that if we love this life and people we should hope for more life. You can track both down by just doing a google (mine is in two anthologies and originally appeared in Modern Theology. You can find Williams' through the entry on his in the online Stanford Encydlopedia of Philosophy. Perhaps the truth lies inbetween, though I still commend the more up-beat view on an afterlife.

Your question is most often discussed under the topic The Meaning of Life. Stewart Goetz has a terrific book under that title with Continuum you might find helpful and illuminating!

That's a great question! I suppose the idea is that without death, there would be urgency or boundary to our lives. Perhaps people think that part of what makes relationships important is that they will end. Maybe, too, there is a general, biological point, it would be hard for anything to live without death even a vegetarian needs to live on plants that are no longer alive. But the question might be adjusted somewhat: granted there is (perhaps inevitably there has to be death, but is it inevitable or necessary that that there can be no afterlife (at least for persons)? Is an afterlife possible (as is believed by billions of people historically and today, certainly in some of the great world religions) and what impact would an afterlife have on our values in this life? There is a fascinating literature on this. Bernard Williams has a famous essay to the effect that an afterlife would be (ultimately boring and so it would be irrelevant to the values of this life. I have a less famous essay "Why we...

Hi

Hi A common response to the question of life after death is that it can't exist because of an identity problem- i.e. if I was reincarnated I would no longer have my memories and therefore not be me...However isn't this more a problem of perception rather than identity. When I go to sleep at night I am still 'me', even if I have bizzare new memories and have taken on some odd new shape and form. Similarly, if I forget a large part of my dreams, is this some form of mini death?

Great question and suggestion! While some philosophers (most notably John Locke) have claimed that the key to personal identity is memory, probably the majority of philosophers today do not. Most grant that you might endure as the self-same subject despite all kinds of memory loss and replacement.... So, if it is a fact that no one does remember their past lives, it would not follow (on many accounts of what it is to be a self), this may be only a problem of epistemology and we cannot from that alone assume that reincarnation is false. Probably one reason why some today think reincarnation cannot occur is because they think that for reincarnation to occur, a person (self, subject, soul, mind) would need to switch bodies. Those of us who are dualists or who think there is something to persons more than the material body, may well grant that it is possible for a person to come to have a new body. But materialists who think that you and I are our bodies will have grave doubts about whether we can survive the destruction of our bodies.

Great question and suggestion! While some philosophers (most notably John Locke) have claimed that the key to personal identity is memory, probably the majority of philosophers today do not. Most grant that you might endure as the self-same subject despite all kinds of memory loss and replacement.... So, if it is a fact that no one does remember their past lives, it would not follow (on many accounts of what it is to be a self), this may be only a problem of epistemology and we cannot from that alone assume that reincarnation is false. Probably one reason why some today think reincarnation cannot occur is because they think that for reincarnation to occur, a person (self, subject, soul, mind) would need to switch bodies. Those of us who are dualists or who think there is something to persons more than the material body, may well grant that it is possible for a person to come to have a new body. But materialists who think that you and I are our bodies will have grave doubts about whether we can...

If you personally cannot slaughter an animal by your own hand or even imagine

If you personally cannot slaughter an animal by your own hand or even imagine doing so, then should you still eat meat? Do you still have the natural right to eat meat?

Good question! If one could not imagine oneself slaughtering an animal for food under any circumstances, then perhaps one should reflect on whether one's reluctance stems from a realization (deep down) that there is something morally disquieting or even wrong about killing animals for food. Still, the reason for the reluctance might rest on non-moral grounds (due to a childhood accident, one cannot stand the site of blood) and reflect a deep personal preference (perhaps one cannot imagine ever being a plumber or sanitation worker, but one still believes that the vocation of being a plumber or sanitation worker are good and vital for society).

Flipping the question around, though, it might be noted that even if one can conceive of oneself slaughtering animals for food, and doing so happily, that alone would not be a reason to think that such slaughtering is good or morally permissible.

Good question! If one could not imagine oneself slaughtering an animal for food under any circumstances, then perhaps one should reflect on whether one's reluctance stems from a realization (deep down) that there is something morally disquieting or even wrong about killing animals for food. Still, the reason for the reluctance might rest on non-moral grounds (due to a childhood accident, one cannot stand the site of blood) and reflect a deep personal preference (perhaps one cannot imagine ever being a plumber or sanitation worker, but one still believes that the vocation of being a plumber or sanitation worker are good and vital for society). Flipping the question around, though, it might be noted that even if one can conceive of oneself slaughtering animals for food, and doing so happily, that alone would not be a reason to think that such slaughtering is good or morally permissible.

Is man mortal given he assumes new forms of life even if he is reduced to dust

Is man mortal given he assumes new forms of life even if he is reduced to dust (from dust sprouts new vegetative forms of life which in turn sustains animal life)? But what about the people who are cremated; they cannot make the mother earth richer. The only remains left of them may be their spirit (if there is one). Do they still live through their spirit or other etheric or esoteric bodies? In short the question is whether man is reduced to naught after death?

A question of the ages! Most philosophers in the west and east who believe that persons survive the death of their bodies either believe that there is more to being a person than their body there is a soul, for example and when the body dies, the soul endures, or they believe in some kind of physical resurrection or material re-embodiment. Both positions have defenders today. For a defense of the first, see work by Stewart Goetz or Richard Swinburne. For a defense of the latter, see Peter van Inwagen or Trenton Merricks. As for the notion of a person having some kind of extended life after death if her body nurtures future animal and vegetative life, this seems problematic for after a certain point of disintegration there will be no meaningful way to identify the person or her body as a thing or subject. The question about the coherence and plausability of a person surviving bodily death would ultimately need to take up large philosophical questions about the nature of reality involving both theistic and non-theistic accounts of persons and the cosmos.

A question of the ages! Most philosophers in the west and east who believe that persons survive the death of their bodies either believe that there is more to being a person than their body there is a soul, for example and when the body dies, the soul endures, or they believe in some kind of physical resurrection or material re-embodiment. Both positions have defenders today. For a defense of the first, see work by Stewart Goetz or Richard Swinburne. For a defense of the latter, see Peter van Inwagen or Trenton Merricks. As for the notion of a person having some kind of extended life after death if her body nurtures future animal and vegetative life, this seems problematic for after a certain point of disintegration there will be no meaningful way to identify the person or her body as a thing or subject. The question about the coherence and plausability of a person surviving bodily death would ultimately need to take up large philosophical questions about the nature of reality involving both...

How might a person who does not subscribe to any organized religion and does not

How might a person who does not subscribe to any organized religion and does not believe in an afterlife find meaning in his or her death—that is, the cessation of his or her personal existence? Or, perhaps another way to ask the same question: if there is no afterlife—no continuation as a soul, consciousness or personal identity upon the cessation of physical life—how might one’s life continue to have meaning after death? And if we only live on in the memories of friends and loved ones, or perhaps in some other concrete contribution to culture or society, are not these too ultimately ephemeral?

Good question(s)! I suggest the idea of a person living on in the memories of others is somewhat problematic, especially given that (assuming you are correct) death involves a person ceasing to be. But it may be that your life still has meaning in at least two ways: while you would not live on in others' memories, the significance of your life and the values you had might well live on with others. Of course if modern astronomy is correct all life on earth will end in about 4 billion years, so this bit about living on indefinitely will be a bit tricky. A second way to approach your question would be to refer to the point of view of the universe or the point of view of some ideal observer. This is also a little problematic, however, as it seems that the universe cannot (literally) have a point of view and if the ideal observer is merely hypothetical (viz. there is no God) and so this might also be a difficult foundation to secure meaning. Perhaps thre is a third option: four dimensionalism. According to this account, all moments are equally real. On one version it will always be the case the you are having a meaningful life in 2010. The wikipedia entry for 'four dimensionalism' is reliable, so check that out as a third option. Of course you might also take another look at the prospects of the soul in a theistic framework, but that can be the subject of another exchange.

Good question(s)! I suggest the idea of a person living on in the memories of others is somewhat problematic, especially given that (assuming you are correct) death involves a person ceasing to be. But it may be that your life still has meaning in at least two ways: while you would not live on in others' memories, the significance of your life and the values you had might well live on with others. Of course if modern astronomy is correct all life on earth will end in about 4 billion years, so this bit about living on indefinitely will be a bit tricky. A second way to approach your question would be to refer to the point of view of the universe or the point of view of some ideal observer. This is also a little problematic, however, as it seems that the universe cannot (literally) have a point of view and if the ideal observer is merely hypothetical (viz. there is no God) and so this might also be a difficult foundation to secure meaning. Perhaps thre is a third option: four dimensionalism. According...