Life after death reading around this topic

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Reading around this topic

  • You should aim to study at least two of the following introductory texts. This is not an exhaustive list, but these are easily available works and cover the general discussion well.
  • Peter Cole, Philosophy of Religion, ch. 10
  • Brian Davies, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, ch.11
  • John Hick, Philosophy of Religion, chs. 9 & 10
  • Ann Jordan et al, Philosophy of Religion for A-level, ch. 13
  • Michael Peterson et al, Reason & Religious Belief, ch. 10
  • Mel Thompson, Teach Yourself Philosophy of Religion, ch.5
  • Peter Vardy, The Puzzle of God, ch. 18


  • Jordan, Lockyer and Tate in their Philosophy of Religion for A-level structure their discussion by posing the following questions:
  • Do we have souls?
  • How can we survive death?
  • Do we have more than one life?
  • Is there evidence to support life after death?
  • Is it life after death?

Do we have souls?

  • To answer this you must first decide which view to hold on the mind-body issue:
  • MATERIALISM: Minds are not possible independent of living bodies.
  • IDEALISM: Only minds really exist. Bodies are an illusion.
  • DUALISM: We exist as two separable distinct parts – a physical body and a non-material soul.

How can we survive death?

  • Materialists who accept life after death would require the resurrection of the body, which is probably a replica body (Hick).
  • Idealists say that the illusion of the physical body ends at death and we continue in spirit form beyond it (Hegel).
  • Dualists accept the immortality of the soul. Thus the soul continues after the body dies (Descartes).

Do we have more than one life?

  • This is the view of reincarnation.
  • At death the soul is said to leave the body and start off life in another physical body. This is called the transmigration of the soul.
  • Karma is the term to describe the consequences of individual actions which cumulatively determine your fate.
  • Ideally, the goal is to escape the cycle of rebirth and achieve a state of bliss where personal identity is lost and you become one with the Ultimate Reality. (Moksha / Nirvana / Nibbana)

Is there any evidence to support life after death?

  • This is an a posteriori concern. The relevance of the evidence depends on the kind of life after death being thought of. In each case the so-called evidence needs careful evaluation.
  • ‘Near-death’ experiences NDE’s
  • Regression to past lives
  • ‘Sightings of dead people’
  • Spiritualism

Is it life after death? On defining your terms…

  • Is ‘recollecting’ incidents from my previous life or lives really what I think it is? If not, then this is not life after a previous death at all.
  • Is the notion that I live on in the genes of my descendents in any sense ‘life after death’?
  • If I die, am kept cryogenically, and subsequently revived, is this life after death?

A priori arguments are also relevant in these debates

  • Thomas Aquinasargument that we are made for an ultimate end, happiness, which God will vouchsafe for us in a future life.
  • Kant’s moral argument, in which life after death is a necessary postulate of practical reason.
  • Plato’s argument that the soul is immortal because it is imperishable. Because the soul is simple, it is therefore indestructible.

How to write a good essay on this topic

  • Analyse the question in front of you.
  • Use your material to answer the question in a planned and clearly structured way.
  • Show you understand the range of issues relevant to the question.
  • Outline the various options and their proponents.
  • Give the best arguments for and against each option.

A clear outline of the topic #1

  • Do people live after death? This is surely one of the most important questions that is asked in the philosophy of religion. Naturally there are only two possible answers to it. Either human persons will live after death or they will not.
  • Let us call all theories that deny life after death, ‘Death Ends All’ views. There are three main sorts of theory that affirm life after death: reincarnation, immortality of the soul, and the resurrection of the body.
  • In his introduction to life after death, the philosopher Stephen T. Davis wrote this introduction:

A clear outline of the topic #2

  • Here, we will first consider the claim that life after death is not just false but incoherent. Next, we will consider two philosophical problems that bear on the issue, viz. the relationship between mind and body, and the problem of personal identity.
  • Then we will discuss one important ‘death ends all’ theory. Finally, we will discuss reincarnation, immortality and resurrection respectively.

Some significant contributors to the debate on life after death


  • In article in 1956, “Can a Man Witness His Own Funeral?”, Flew argued that the notion of life after death is incoherent.
  • [1] Statement of surviving death is self-contradictory.
  • [2] LAD is empirically false.
  • [3] ‘People are what you meet’ – bodies plus behaviour.


  • Dualistic theory that a human being = material body (temporary machine) + non-physical mind or soul (permanent essence).
  • Interactionism – mind and body intimately conjoined, but metaphysically cannot be causally interrelated. Pineal gland is site of interaction via ‘animal spirits’.


  • Story of the soul of a prince entering the body of a cobbler. Test case for personal identity. (cf. Bart ‘the fly’ Simpson).
  • Three criteria for PI?
  • [1] Memory criterion.
  • [2] Bodily criterion.
  • [3] ‘Closest continuer’ or ‘Psychological continuity’ criterion.


  • Famous 20th cc ‘Death Ends All’ atheist and materialist thinker. Wrote, “When I die, I rot”. Others include A.J.Ayer & Kai Nielsen. Atheistic Existentialists and ancient Stoics hold this view too. The most notable Stoic was Epicurus (341 –270 BC), who founded Epicureanism.


  • The empiricist epistemology of Epicureanism, allied to a hedonistic ethics advocating pleasure as the one good, led Epicurus to say that being dead will be no worse than not having being born.
  • Central to his view is that because we do not experience being dead, we should not be afraid of it and death should therefore be of no concern to us.
  • Death, the most dreaded of evils, is …of no concern to us, for while we exist death is not present, and when death is present, we no longer exist.”


  • Representative of those who believe in reincarnation. The other sophisticated version is that of Vedantic Hinduism.
  • Reincarnation is the view that the immaterial essense (or soul or jiva) of a person can successfully animate two or more bodies (sequentially not contemporaneously).
  • Best modern supportive evidence in the work of Dr. Ian Stevenson, eg. “Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation”.

Standard objections to reincarnation theory

  • Equivocal nature of the evidence. Alternative explanations of the evidence such as ‘yoga memory’, other than reincarnation, can be found such as telepathy, fraud, lack of verifiability.
  • Philosophical difficulties in the relationship between me and my karmic heir. What links them together, if anything? Is ‘same jiva’ enough for numerical identity / continuity?
  • If karma is true, there is no such thing as undeserved suffering. How does the impersonal karma mechanism work justly?


  • Classical advocate of the immortality of the soul. Post death, the soul has one eternal and uninterrupted life in a spiritual world.
  • Not widely supported today, the heyday of this view was the Victorian era with its interest in spiritualistic phenomena – seances, trance mediumship, automatic writing etc.
  • Nowadays the area is dominated by discussions of OOBE’s and NDE’s. But are these post-death?


  • Kant’s ‘moral argument’ for the God had the immortality of the soul as one of its necessary postulates.
  • H.H. Price’s 1953 article, “Survival and the Idea of Another World” showed that the idea of souls inhabiting an immaterial world beyond death was at least philosophically intelligible and coherent. He was agnostic about its reality.
  • The most serious objection is the ‘mind-body unity’ argument. ie. mind requires a functioning brain.

Resurrection of Jesus

  • The paradigm case of an historical claim that there is embodied life beyond death.
  • Bodily resurrection is believed by Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Within the Christian tradition there are numerous readings of the view: temporary disembodiment; same reassembled and reconfigured matter resurrection; new material resurrection; replication theory.


  • Famous discussion in his “Death and Eternal Life”.
  • Posited the ‘Replica theory’. To solve the personal continuity problem, God recreates a person who has died (just one). This is the ‘same’ person, but in a different space-time. Others would recognise him or her, and he or she would say, I am the ‘same’ person.
  • Persons are indissoluble psycho-physical unities, and the analogy of software running in new hardware may be illuminating here.
  • Ask, what differences would we notice?

A short test

  • In each case you simple answer the question that is, or is not, associated with the figure on the slide in the context of the issue of life after death


  • The Buddha was an advocate of which of the following views?
  • [a] Resurrection
  • [b] Reincarnation
  • [c] Rot & Recycle
  • [d] Spookification


  • Epicurus believed that we should fear death because it was the end of the existence of the self.
  • True or False?


  • Hick advocated which of the following:
  • [1] Reincarnation
  • [2] Immortality of the soul.
  • [3] ‘Replication’ of the person after death
  • [4] Euthanasia.


  • Flew’s religious outlook was that of
  • [a] Hinduism
  • [b] Judaism
  • [c] Jainism
  • [d] Christianity
  • [e] Atheism


  • Descartes advocated which of the following metaphysical positions:
  • [1] Dualism
  • [2] Monism
  • [3] Illusionism


  • Locke offered a fantastical tale in order to explore the issue of personal identity involving
  • [a] A man and his dog
  • [b] A prince and a cobbler
  • [c] An angel and a demon
  • [d] A leper and a pharisee
  • [e] Bart Simpson and a fly.


  • This philosopher was convinced that the ultimate constituent of man was
  • [a] Spirit
  • [b] Matter
  • [c] Number
  • [d] Aether


  • Plato believed that the soul or psyche of human beings was
  • [a] eternal
  • [b] indestructible
  • [c] spiritual
  • [d] pre-existent


  • Kant’s favourite argument for the existence of God which referred to the immortality of the soul was
  • [a] Ontological
  • [b] Teleological
  • [c] Moral
  • [d] Cosmological

Resurrection of Jesus

  • Christians believe that they will be resurrected like Jesus and thus have a heavenly body which will be the form of their post mortem existence.
  • True or False?

LIFE AFTER DEATH The End Or Only Just The Beginning?

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