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Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    There is one thing we can be sure of: we are all going to die. But once we accept that fact, the questions begin. In this thought-provoking book, philosophy professor Shelly Kagan examines the myriad questions that arise when we confront the meaning of mortality. Do we have reason to believe in the existence of immortal souls? Should we accept an account according to which people are just material objects, nothing more? Can we make sense of the idea of surviving the death of one's body? If I won't exist after I die, can death truly be bad for me? Would immortality be desirable? Is fear of death appropriate? Is suicide ever justified? How should I live in the face of death?

    Written in an informal and conversational style, this stimulating and provocative book challenges many widely held views about death, as it invites the reader to take a fresh look at one of the central features of the human condition-the fact that we will die.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18342-9
    Subjects: Philosophy, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Thinking about Death
    (pp. 1-5)

    This is a book about death. But it is a work of philosophy, and what that means is that the topics that we’re going to discuss are not identical to the topics that other books on death might try to cover. So the first thing I want to do is to say something about some of the subjects that wewon’tbe discussing, things that you might reasonably expect or hope that a book on death would talk about, so that if this is not the book you were looking for, you’ll realize that right away.

    What I primarily have...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Dualism versus Physicalism
    (pp. 6-23)

    The first question we want to discuss has to do with the possibility of surviving death. Is there life after death? Is there at least the possibility that I might still exist after my death?

    Now on the face of it, at least, it seems that if we are going to answer this question we’ll need to get clear on at least two basic issues. The first is this: what, exactly,amI? Whatkindof a thing am I? Or generalizing—because, of course, we want to know not just about my own chances of surviving death, but everyone’s...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Arguments for the Existence of the Soul
    (pp. 24-56)

    I’ve introduced two basic positions concerning the nature of persons: the dualist view and the physicalist view. Both, I take it, are familiar views, regardless of which one you accept. Just as we all know dualists, people who accept the existence of an immaterial soul, we also all know physicalists, people who deny the existence of souls and insist that people are just bodies. Both positions are familiar. But the question we need to ask is: which of these two views should webelieve?

    In choosing between these two views, the crucial issue, obviously enough, is whether we should believe...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Descartes’ Argument
    (pp. 57-68)

    Our various attempts to use inference to the best explanation so as to argue for the existence of the soul have been unsuccessful. Does that mean that we need to abandon dualism? Not quite. For there is a rather different type of argument for dualism that is also worth considering.

    This “new” argument actually comes from the writings of René Descartes, the great seventeenth-century French philosopher (though I’ll be spelling out the details of the argument in my own way).¹ One striking feature of the argument is that it is purely philosophical: it doesn’t seem to have any significant empirical...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Plato on the Immortality of the Soul
    (pp. 69-97)

    When I first introduced the idea of dualism (in Chapter 2), I noted that even if one accepts the existence of a soul—an immaterial substance, distinct from the body—it doesn’t yet follow that the soul is immortal. Indeed, it doesn’t even follow that the soul can so much assurvivethe death of the body. It might be, instead, that when the body dies, the soul is destroyed as well.

    Of course, I have been arguing that we have no compelling reason to believe in souls in the first place. And obviously enough, if the soul doesn’t even...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Personal Identity
    (pp. 98-131)

    Plato offered us a series of arguments for the immortality of the soul. But I have claimed that although some of these arguments are worth taking seriously, none of them are successful. And I hardly need remind you that our discussion of Plato came on the heels of two previous chapters in which I argued that attempts to establish the veryexistenceof an immaterial soul were unsuccessful as well. As far as I can see, then, the various arguments that might be offered for the existence of an immaterial soul, let alone an immortal soul, simply don’t succeed.


  10. CHAPTER 7 Choosing between the Theories
    (pp. 132-169)

    In the last chapter, I introduced three rival theories about the key to personal identity: the soul view, the body view, and the personality view. But which one is right? Since I don’t myself believe in souls, it’s hardly going to surprise you to learn that I don’t think the soul theory of personal identity is right. For me, it boils down to a choice between the body theory of personal identity and the personality theory of personal identity. Of course, in real life, they go hand in hand. In ordinary cases, at least, if we have the same body,...

  11. CHAPTER 8 The Nature of Death
    (pp. 170-185)

    According to the physicalist, a person is just a body that is functioning in the right way, a body capable of thinking and feeling and communicating, loving and planning, being rational and being self-conscious. A body that isP functioning, as I have sometimes put the idea. According to the physicalist, a person is just a P functioning body.

    If we accept this idea, what should we say about death itself? Whatisit to die, on the physicalist account? That is the question I want to turn to next. And we can approach that question by thinking about a...

  12. CHAPTER 9 Two Surprising Claims about Death
    (pp. 186-204)

    Since my body will eventually break—like countless others have done before it—I am going to die. Indeed, I take it to be a commonplace and familiar observation that we areallgoing to die. We all know it, or so it seems. Yet sometimes this last idea—that we all know we are going to die—gets denied. Indeed, some have suggested that somehow, at some level, nobodyreallybelieves that they’re going to die at all. That’s a rather surprising claim. Is there any good reason to believe it?

    Of course, having distinguished between what I have...

  13. CHAPTER 10 The Badness of Death
    (pp. 205-233)

    Let’s take stock. Broadly speaking, up to this point we have been engaged in metaphysics. We tried to get clear about the nature of the person so that we could get clearer about the nature of survival, which in turn allowed us to reach a better understanding of the nature of death.

    I have, of course, defended a physicalist view, according to which, essentially, people are just bodies capable of doing some fancy tricks, bodies capable of P functioning. And details aside, death is a matter of the body breaking, so that it’s no longer able to engage in the...

  14. CHAPTER 11 Immortality
    (pp. 234-246)

    If death is bad because it deprives us of the good things in life, does it follow that the best thing of all would be to live forever? Given the deprivation account of the badness of death, does it follow that it would be better to be immortal?

    It is natural to think that it does follow. Suppose, for example, that I get hit by a truck next week and die. That’s bad, according to the deprivation account, because if only I hadn’t gotten hit by a truck I might have lived another twenty or thirty years. I would have...

  15. CHAPTER 12 The Value of Life
    (pp. 247-263)

    I have been arguing that death is bad, when it’s bad, because of the fact that it deprives us of the good things in life, insofar as we would have continued to get good things had we not died. But if life would no longer have anything good on balance to offer you—if what you would have had, had you not died, would have been something negative overall instead of something positive—then at that point dying isn’t actually a bad thing, but a good thing. Death is bad insofar as it deprives you of a chunk of life...

  16. CHAPTER 13 Other Aspects of Death
    (pp. 264-281)

    According to the deprivation account, the central way in which death is bad for us—when it is bad for us—is that it deprives us of something good. Initially, of course, I presented this idea by saying that death deprives us of the good thingsinlife, but now we have seen that some may want to modify this slightly, so as to take note of the possibility that life itself may be good as well. But regardless of the details, we can capture the basic idea by saying that the central badness of death lies in the fact...

  17. CHAPTER 14 Living in the Face of Death
    (pp. 282-317)

    It is natural to think that the fact that we are going to die should have a significant influence on the way we live our lives. But perhaps that’s just not true. So the very first question we need to ask may be this: should we really be thinking about all of these issues at all?

    I realize of course that for you, my dear reader, it is too late. If you have made it this far in the book, then it is probably too late in the day to be asking whether it is really such a good idea...

  18. CHAPTER 15 Suicide
    (pp. 318-361)

    In the last chapter I asked how the fact of our mortality should affect the way we live. I considered various possible suggestions, but there is one possible reaction that we have not yet considered: suicide. Mortality opens the door toendingone’s life.

    Strictly speaking, I suppose, being mortal, per se, does not guarantee that suicide is an option. If we all lived exactly eighty years, for example, and could do nothing about it, we would still be mortal, but suicide would be impossible. Indeed, even if there was variability in how long we lived, as long as we...

  19. CHAPTER 16 Conclusion: An Invitation
    (pp. 362-364)

    At the start of this book, I invited you to think about the nature of death. Most of us try very hard not to do that. Death is an unpleasant topic, and we try to put it out of our mind. We don’t think about it, even when it is staring us in the face. How often, for example, have you walked past a cemetery without even noticing it? How often do you stop to think about the fact that we are on this Earth for a little while, and then we’re not? Most of us just don’t like to...

  20. Notes
    (pp. 365-368)
  21. Suggestions for Further Reading
    (pp. 369-370)
  22. Index
    (pp. 371-376)