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I was talking to a friend the other day about the reasons for, and importance of

I was talking to a friend the other day about the reasons for, and importance of, remembering the dead. His position was that, whilst the act of remembrance was undoubtedly of some importance, the real reasons for doing it were inherently selfish, centred around making the people who are still alive feel better. "How could they be anything else?", he argued, "after all, the dead are not around to benefit, therefore it is only beneficial as a comfort to those still here". Furthermore -- and with particular reference to World War I -- he reasoned that once the direct connection with the generation that fought and died is broken, we are only really using the act of remembrance to glorify what was a terrible episode and to attempt to reflect some of that glory back onto ourselves -- in addition to trying to make ourselves feel better about it all. So, my question is, are there any other reasons for us to remember to dead beyond self-comfort? I'm particularly interested in non-self centred (i.e. self...

Interesting question. Here is just a start of an answer. There are at least two ways in which remembering the dead, and the way they died (as with war memorials, which you mention) might be beneficial for non-selfish reasons, though part of this depends on what counts as "selfish." First, many philosophers think that it is possible to be harmed, and benefited, even once you no longer exist. Imagine that a loving father, who upheld his fatherly duties throughout his life even at great cost, is slandered after he dies. Suppose it is said about him, falsely, that he committed horrendous crimes against his children. Some would argue that this harms him, that it makes his life--which is no temporally over--worse off than it would had the truth come out about his parenting. If that's so, then you might well think that it makes one's life better if one is remembered fondly, or with honor. Imagine you are somehow given a choice of never being remembered or being revered, after your death, as a great human being. I think most people would choose the latter, and one possible reason is that most people recognize that this life, even once it is over, is better off if it is remembered in the right way. I heard a philosopher, David Boonan, give a talk on this topic once, and you might look him up to see if he has it written. Secondly, remembering, and especially officially memorializing, the dead, not only honors them but potentially teaches the living about their lives. Remember victims of WW1 can serve as a deterrent to future wars, and provides opportunities to reflect on our own, relatively privileged or comfortable lives. This may be "selfish" in the sense that it does not directly affect those who died. But it is not selfish in the ordinary sense of the term. That is, you do not merely or only benefit yourself when you remember the dead in such circumstances: you benefit those around you, and future generations, by increasing awareness of, and hopefully decreasing chances are, similar deaths in the future.
Those are just two reasons to remember the dead. I can imagine others. But I'll leave it to the experts (which I am not) in the field to chime in.
Thanks for an interesting question!

If humans can imagine life before birth, why is life after death so difficult to

If humans can imagine life before birth, why is life after death so difficult to imagine?

I'm not entirely sure I accept the assumption of your question: Is it really any more difficult to imagine life after death than life before death? Many philosophers have argued that it is difficult to imagine being dead because the act of imagination requires that one be alive. In other words, any attempt to imagine being dead is thereby a failure, some have argued. In imagining oneself dead, one must presuppose that there is a consciousness (a living one, presumably), so one cannot coherently imagine being dead — at least if that means imagining oneself being dead. Now if that's correct, then one similarly could not imagine the past before one existed. After all, in attempting to imagine the past, that would require you to be conscious and to be alive, etc. Of course, one might take this reasoning to show that it's not any harder to imagine life after death: Since we can imagine what existed before our birth, we can equally well imagine life after death.

So I'm not entirely convinced of the assumption. But supposing the assumption is correct, why might it be harder to imagine life after death than whatever existed before our births? I can think of two reasons.

The first is that the past is determinate, whereas the future is either indeterminate (what the future will be like has not been settled) or we don't what the future will be like. It's generally much easier to imagine what is determinate than what is indeterminate. It's easier for a parent to 'imagine' the child she already has than it is to easy to imagine the child he will have. Similarly, it's easier to conceptualize the past since we have a much better idea of what it's like: Imagining 1916, say, seems easier than imagining 2116.

Second, imagining life after death may be harder because it's harder to imagine the world after I'm able to exert causal power over it than it is to imagine the world prior to my being able to exert causal power. I have no ability to change the world prior to my existence. While alive, I have the ability to change the world. Once dead, I no longer have that ability. Perhaps there's something difficult about imagining a future state of the world that I cannot affect. After all, throughout my life, I have been able to affect the future. Once dead, despite that being the future, I can't effect it. And perhaps it's tough to imagine a future state of the world without also imagining that one can causally engage it.

(Incidentally, you may the Lucretian asymmetry problem of interest:

Is it irrational or illogical to say that dead people can have their possessions

Is it irrational or illogical to say that dead people can have their possessions "stolen"?

I gather that the worry behind your question is whether the dead really have "possessions" to be stolen: How can a dead person "possess" something? After all, they can't hold it, see it, use it, etc. But it's worth keeping in mind that stealing amounts to taking something that properly belongs to another — something in which that person has a property right. And having a property right and all that entails — having the right to preclude others from using an object, most importantly — does not seem to turn on our physical relation to an object. Whatever moral claim I have on my house, for example, doesn't turn on my actually being present in the house: My property right in the house is, as Kant put it, a matter of "intelligible possession". Others don't have the moral permission to occupy or use my property even when I am not using it or am not in physical possession of it. So I don't see that the fact that the dead are, well, dead and so can't possess their property in a literal sense is any barrier to their having property rights, and so it seems reasonable to think that the dead could have their property rights violated, by (for instance) others stealing their property.

Notice that certain of our social practices seem to depend on the notion that the dead have property rights: The clearest are wills, which provide legal direction regarding how to allocate a dead person's property, and organ donation, which can be understood as providing legal direction regarding what to do with a certain kind of property: one's own organs.

So I don't see any deep conceptual barrier to the dead having property that could be stolen from them. Perhaps the more intriguing question in this area is why the dead retain the property rights they had while alive -- but that's a question for another occasion perhaps.

"Infinity" poses a ton of problems for both science and philosophy, I'm sure,

"Infinity" poses a ton of problems for both science and philosophy, I'm sure, but I would like to ask about a very particular aspect of this problem. What ideas are out there right now about infinitely divisible time and human death? If hours, minutes, seconds, half-seconds, can be cut down perpetually, what does this mean for my "time of death"?

One might mean either of two things by "infinitely divisible time." One might mean merely that (1) any nonzero interval of time can in principle be divided into smaller and smaller units indefinitely: what's sometimes called a "potentially infinite" collection of units of time each of which has nonzero duration. Or one might mean that (2) any nonzero interval of time actually consists of infinitely many -- indeed, continuum many -- instants of time each of which has literally zero duration: what's sometimes called an "actually infinite" collection of instants. I myself favor (2), and I see no good reason not to favor (2) over (1).

Both views of time are controversial among philosophers, and some physicists conjecture that both views are false (they conjecture that an indivisible but nonzero unit of time exists: the "chronon"). But let's apply (2) to the time of a person's death. Classical logic implies that if anyone goes from being alive to no longer being alive, then there's either (L) a last time at which the person is alive or a (F) first time at which the person is no longer alive. If (2) is true, then there can't be both L and F, because according to (2) no two instants of time are adjacent to each other. In other words, if L exists, then there's no earliest instant at which the person is no longer alive; and if F exists, then there's no latest instant at which the person is still alive. According to (2), there are instants other than L that are arbitrarily close to L but no instants right next to L. Ditto for F.

To put it another way: (2) implies that no transition is literally from one instant to the next, because there's no such thing as the next instant. This includes the transition from being alive to no longer being alive. Nevertheless, exactly one of L or F exists. Which one is it? I don't know the answer to that question, but I'm not sure it's a well-posed question anyway.

Can we really be dead? There is no existence where we can be as unborn, and

Can we really be dead? There is no existence where we can be as unborn, and there is no existence where we can be, as dead. We are not born from something and we won't die into something, and therefore we have no awareness before we were born, and we will have no awareness after we die. So to be unborn or to be dead does not exist, it is not created. How can I be dead if there is no existence where I can experience to be dead? It seems that everything is an endless reality, an eternal state of totality where you have ever known and will ever know is this!

Nicely put! I think the answer rather depends on what we mean by 'I', or again, what it is for me to be me (and you to be you), as well as what we mean by 'dead'. Here are some options:

1. If what I am is, as you imply, a psychological subject of experience, then I cease to exist at the point of death (assuming, with you, that dualism is false and there is no afterlife). Because I don't exist any longer, you are right that it doesn't make sense to say that I 'am' anything (even dead). As I don't exist, I no longer have any properties at all. It's this sense of 'I' and 'dead' that gives rise to your puzzle.

2. But perhaps what we mean by saying 'X is dead' is precisely that they have ceased to exist. 'Death', understood like this, isn't a condition someone can be in; it is non-existence. 'X is dead' means 'X does not exist any more'; to 'be dead' is not to be at all. So how can I 'be' dead? Well, one day it will be true for other people to say of me (and each of us) that I am dead. I, however, will never be able to say truly that I am dead!

3. But perhaps what I am is not a psychological subject of experience. Perhaps what I am is a kind of animal - a homo sapien. In that case, for me to be dead is for my body to die. Now, my body will continue to exist (for a while) after I am dead, so we can say that being dead is a condition of my body (me). Death is a change in the functioning state of a biological organism - from living to not living. So I can be dead. But I will only cease to exist when my body finally breaks up (by whatever means).


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.

If you allow someone to die when you are capable of saving they life, but do not

If you allow someone to die when you are capable of saving they life, but do not kill them directly, are you a murderer?

In both the legal and the familiar sense of the word "murderer," the answer is no. You certainly wouldn't be charged with murder in a case like this, and if you were, successfully arguing that you didn't actually kill the person but merely allowed them to die would lead to a "not guilty" verdict. Murder, as it's usually understood, is unlawful killing or, in the non-legal sense, morally unjustified killing.

That said, someone might argue that if you're in a position to save someone's life and you don't, then you're guilty of something just as bad as murder. No doubt we can come up with hypothetical cases where this might be so. For instance: Alex intends to kill Bob; he's got the means and the will. But on his way to do the deed, he discovers Bob unconscious and bleeding by the side of the road. Suppose it's clear that Alex could save him; calling 911 and staunching his wound until help arrives would do. But Alex does nothing except wait for Bob to breathe his last. In this case, we might say that Alex has really just taken advantage of a twist of fate to accomplish what he would have done by himself anyway. We might well think: Alex is as morally guilty as he would be if he'd shot Bob to death. But whatever we say about this case, it's hard to draw general conclusions from it. In general, both the law and common-sense morality distinguish between intentionally harming (or killing) someone and simply not helping them and the fact that there are some cases where the distinction seems untenable doesn't show that it's untenable in general. After all, there might be many explanations for the fact that someone doesn't act to save someone else: shock or fear or confusion, for example. None of those add up to malice, let alone murder.

Just to give you something more to chew on: suppose you could save Rob and could also save Bob, but no way could you save both. You flip a coin and save Rob, letting Bob die. You were capable of saving Bob, but you didn't, but pretty clearly this doesn't make you a murderer. It doesn't even mean that you did anything even slightly wrong. Not the case you had in mind, but a clear example of letting die that's not the moral equivalent of murder.

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.

I have a reoccurance of Base of Tongue cancer, and this is a dehumanizing sort

I have a reoccurance of Base of Tongue cancer, and this is a dehumanizing sort of cancer in that it starts to strip away some our most basic asthetic appreciations: eating food, tasting, swallowing, speaking and sexual intimacy. It is also dreadfully painful. So - I've been having the internal question of, when is enough enough, and I think there was a classical parable of how someone would choose their death.

When is enough enough? Oh my friend, what a hard, hardquestion - a question that when being raised says a lot about life itself. Though I worry about a person being in decent fettle trying to resolve such a question --for me it would be when the pain got so relentless and all consumingthat it devoured my ability to love others – to care about anything outsidemyself – when the pain permanently nailed me to my self.

If the probability of death is 100%, and the probability of being alive tomorrow

If the probability of death is 100%, and the probability of being alive tomorrow is uncertain, does that mean the probability of dying tomorrow is greater than the probability of being alive? If so, why am I so convinced that planning for the future is a good thing? People seem to spend large amounts of time planning for their future lives, but shouldn't they be planning for their unquestionable death?

If the probability of death is 100%, and the probability of being alive tomorrow is uncertain, does that mean the probability of dying tomorrow is greater than the probability of being alive?

No. Let death be represented by a fair coin's landing heads-up. The probability that the coin will land heads-up at least once in the next thousand tosses is essentially 1 out of 1 (it differs from 1 only beyond the 300th decimal place). It's also uncertain that the next toss will land tails-up. Yet those facts don't imply that the probability of heads on the next toss is greater than the probability of tails: it's a fair coin, we're assuming.

Or imagine a lottery with one thousand tickets, exactly one of which is the winning ticket. You have all the tickets gathered in front of you but don't know the winning ticket. There's a 100% chance that the winning ticket is gathered in front of you but only a 0.1% chance that the next ticket you touch is the winner.

Nevertheless, responsible people do plan for their inevitable death: they prepare a will and maybe purchase life insurance for the benefit of their survivors.