Loading...

PHIL201: The Philosophy of Death

Unit 1: The Metaphysics of Death   There are two ways we can begin to think about the nature of death.  One way is to suppose that human beings are composed of a body and a soul. This is known as a dualist view.  If we possess a soul, then we can imagine that while the body dies, the soul may continue to exist in some fashion.  Of course, having a soul is no guarantee that this is true, but it does appear to be a necessary condition for surviving the death of the body.  The other way we can think about death is to start out with the assumption that there is no such thing as the soul.  This view, known as physicalism, asserts that human beings are entirely physical or that they depend so completely on their physical bodies that, once the body dies, there is nothing to sustain our consciousnesses (or our “selves”).  In this unit, we will attempt to determine which of these views is the most plausible.  We will consider a wide range of arguments for and against the existence of the soul, as well as arguments for and against the idea that the soul is immortal.  In order to answer these questions, we will consider a number of related topics, such as whether we can really imagine existing without a body, the nature of near-death experiences, and whether computers can have free will.  We will also become intimately acquainted with Plato’s arguments for the immorality of the soul in his dialogue, Phaedo.

Unit 1 Time Advisory
This unit will take you approximately 17 hours to complete.

☐    Subunit 1.1: 5 hours


☐    Sub-subunit  1.1.1: 1 hour

☐    Sub-subunit  1.1.2: 1 hour

☐    Sub-subunit  1.1.3: 1 hour

☐    Sub-subunit  1.1.4: 1 hour

☐    Sub-subunit  1.1.5: 1 hour

☐    Subunit 1.2: 5 hours

☐    Sub-subunit  1.2.1: 1 hour

☐    Sub-subunit  1.2.2: 1 hour

☐    Sub-subunit  1.2.3: 1 hour

☐    Sub-subunit  1.2.4: 0.5 hour

☐    Sub-subunit  1.2.5: 1 hour

☐    Sub-subunit  1.2.6: 0.5 hour

☐    Subunit 1.3: 7 hours

☐    Sub-subunit  1.3.1: 1 hour

☐    Sub-subunit  1.3.2: 2 hours

☐    Sub-subunit  1.3.3: 1 hour

☐    Sub-subunit  1.3.4 1 hour

☐    Sub-subunit  1.3.5: 1 hour

☐    Sub-subunit  1.3.6: 1 hour

Unit1 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:
 
- Describe the philosophical questions that surround the inevitable biological event of death. - Compare the philosophical notion of mind/body dualism with the idea of physicalism and how these doctrines imply different attitudes about death. - Discuss the fundamental arguments that Plato makes in his work Phaedo in regards to the immortality of the soul as well as philosophical reactions to Platonic notions of immortality.

1.1 What Is Death? What Are Persons?   1.1.1 Introducing the Questions   - Lecture: YouTube: Yale University: Professor Shelly Kagan’s “Course Introduction” Lecture YouTube: Link: Yale University: Professor Shelly Kagan’s “Course Introduction” (YouTube)
 
Also available in:
Quicktime, Flash, MP3, Transcript (HTML)
 
Instructions: Watch this YouTube video lecture introducing the course (46 minutes).  Alternatively, you may select the Flash or Quicktime video link that is appropriate for your Internet connection to launch the video.  You can also hear the lecture as an .mp3 file, or read the transcript.  Feel free to skip the end of the lecture, where Professor Kagan lays out the grading requirements, because we will be using different assessments.  Professor Kagan distinguishes the philosophical questions about death from those that are sociological, psychological or therapeutic, and outlines the content of the course.  He also presents a useful summary of “common views” about death that will be scrutinized during the course.
 
Terms of Use: This video is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License. It is attributed to Shelly Kagan and Yale University.

1.1.2 What Is a Person? The Dualist View   - Reading: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Professor Scott Calef’s “Dualism and Mind” Article Link: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Professor Scott Calef’s “Dualism and Mind” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read this article for a general outline of the dualist view of what a person is.  Dualism is the view that persons are composed of both a body and a soul.  Depending on the discussion at hand, terms like “consciousness” or “mind” may be substituted for “soul,” and “physical substance” (or “material”) for “body.”   For instance, one might think that whether we have a soul in addition to a body depends on whether consciousness is just a property of the brain, or whether it is something “extra.”
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.1.3 What is a Person? The Physicalist View   - Reading: The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Professor Daniel Stoljar’s “Physicalism” Article Link: The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Professor Daniel Stoljar’s “Physicalism” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read this article for a general outline of the physicalist view of what a person is. Physicalism is the doctrine that everything in the universe, including persons, is wholly made up of only one “type of stuff”—namely, physical material.  As such, it is a special version of monism, a metaphysical view which has just as interesting and elaborate a history as does dualism.  If physicalism is true, then there can be no possibility of human beings surviving the death of their bodies.  If the soul, or consciousness, or whatever you might call the part of us that does the experiencing, is wholly dependent on the physical body, then it will disappear as soon as the body dies. 
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Lecture: YouTube: Yale University: Professor Shelly Kagan’s “The Nature of Persons: Dualism vs. Physicalism” Lecture Link: YouTube: Yale University: Professor Shelly Kagan’s “The Nature of Persons: Dualism vs. Physicalism” (YouTube)
     
    Also available in:
    Quicktime, Flash, MP3, Transcript (HTML)

    Instructions: Watch this YouTube video lecture about the nature of persons (42 minutes).  Alternatively, you may select the Flash or Quicktime video link that is appropriate for your Internet connection to view the lecture.  You can also hear the lecture as an .mp3 file, or read the transcript.  In this lecture Professor Kagan tries to get clear on the question “Could I survive the death of my body?”  To do so he introduces several possibilities including dualism, (the view that souls and bodies both exist, alongside one another), physicalism (the view that the only things that exist are physical), and idealism (the view that the only things that exist are “mental”), and outlines the major consequences of each view for the question of the soul’s survival.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.1.4 Many Versions of the Soul   - Reading: New Advent’s The Catholic Encyclopedia: Kevin Knight’s “Soul” Link: New Advent’s The Catholic Encyclopedia: Kevin Knight’s “Soul” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read this encyclopedia article about the concept of the soul.This article surveys the diversity of ways in which the soul is understood in many different philosophical, cultural, and religious traditions, but focuses on Christian notions of the soul.  Also, notice the Hindu inclinations towards mind/body dualism and the ancient Greek conflation of “soul” with “mind,” as well as “being alive.”  When we ask the question, “Does the soul survive the death of the body?”, can we be sure that we all understand that question in the same way?  Is there perhaps a common “minimal” conception of the soul?
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.2 The Existence of the Soul   1.2.1 The Soul as “The Best Explanation”   - Lecture: YouTube: Yale University: Professor Shelly Kagan’s “Arguments for the Existence of the Soul, Part I” Lecture Link: YouTube: Yale University: Professor Shelly Kagan’s “Arguments for the Existence of the Soul, Part I” (YouTube)
 
Also available in:
Quicktime, Flash, MP3, Transcript
 
Instructions: Watch this video lecture about the “best explanation” argument for the existence of the soul (46 minutes).  This lecture is also accessible via Yale University’s Open Yale Course website at: Philosophy of Death with Professor Kagan (Adobe Flash and Quicktime).  Alternatively, you may select the Flash or Quicktime video link that is appropriate for your Internet connection to launch the video.  You can also hear the lecture as an .mp3 file, or read the transcript.  In this lecture, Professor Kagan considers a number of ways that one might go about arguing for the existence of the soul.  He starts with the idea that the soul is something we cannot, strictly speaking, see.  But scientists prove the existence of things we cannot see all the time—things like gravity, atoms, and germs.  Perhaps we can agree that souls exist because we “need” them in order to explain other facts about the activity of bodies.  On the other hand, maybe everything about the soul can be explained in physical terms—just like smiles can (arguably) be explained purely by reference to the physical parts of the mouth.
 
Terms of Use: Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.2.2 What is Free Will?   - Reading: University of Tennessee, Martin’s Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Kevin Timpe’s “Free Will” Link: University of Tennessee, Martin’s Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Kevin Timpe’s “Free Will” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read this encyclopedia article about the concept of free will. You may wish to explore any of the hyperlinks embedded within the text that you are unfamiliar with or curious about as this will deepen your understanding of the topic.  This article provides an overview of the various positions that philosophers have adopted on the question of free will.  As we will see in the next lecture, free will is the basis for one argument for the existence of the soul.  But do we have free will?  Or might our actions be determined by external forces?  And are these two basic options even mutually exclusive?  
 
Terms of Use: Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.2.3 The Soul as the Source of Free Will   - Lecture: YouTube: Yale University: Professor Shelly Kagan’s “Arguments for the Existence of the Soul, Part II” Lecture Link: YouTube: Yale University: Professor Shelly Kagan’s “Arguments for the Existence of the Soul, Part II” (YouTube)
 
Also available in:
Quicktime, Flash, MP3, Transcript
 
Instructions: Watch this video lecture about the free will argument for the existence of the soul (49 minutes).  This lecture is also accessible via Yale University’s Open Yale Course website at: Philosophy of Death with Professor Kagan (Adobe Flash and Quicktime).  Alternatively, you may select the Flash or Quicktime video link that is appropriate for your Internet connection to launch the lecture.  You can also hear the lecture as an .mp3 file, or read the transcript. In this lecture, Professor Kagan continues his line of reasoning from about “best explanation” arguments for the existence of the soul.  The hypothesis is that the possession of a soul is what sets human beings apart from physical objects, even really sophisticated ones like chess-playing computers.  But why should we think that a person is fundamentally different from a computer?  One answer is that, unlike computers, human beings have free will.
 
Terms of Use: Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.2.4 Near-Death Experiences as Evidence of the Soul?   - Reading: The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Professor William Hasker’s “Afterlife” Article Link: The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Professor William Hasker’s “Afterlife” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read Section 4 of this article (“Empirical Support for Survival? Parapsychology and Near-Death Experiences”) about the question of whether human beings, in whatever form, might survive death.   This article introduces the idea that reports of near-death experiences might supply evidence of an afterlife (and, by extension, a soul).  Experts are divided on just how such evidence should be interpreted.  A great number of people report having near-death experiences, and there is a certain amount of coherence among their accounts, but variations in detail, as well as comparisons with other related experiences, suggest that such reports do not furnish evidence of an afterlife.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.2.5 How Should Near-Death Experiences be Explained?   - Lecture: Yale University: Professor Shelly Kagan’s “Arguments for the Existence of the Soul, Part III: Free Will and Near-Death Experiences” Lecture Link: Yale University: Professor Shelly Kagan’s “Arguments for the Existence of the Soul, Part III: Free Will and Near-Death Experiences” (YouTube)
 
Also available in:
Quicktime, Flash, MP3, Transcript
 
Instructions: Watch this video lecture about whether positing the existence of the soul is necessary in order to explain near-death experiences (48 minutes).  This lecture is also accessible via Yale University’s Open Yale Course website at: Philosophy of Death with Professor Kagan (Adobe Flash and Quicktime).  Alternatively, you may select the Flash or Quicktime video link that is appropriate for your Internet connection to launch the video.  You can also hear the lecture as an .mp3 file, or read the transcript.   In this lecture, Professor Kagan considers near-death experiences as evidence for the existence of the soul.  One way to defuse the idea that near-death experiences provide such evidence is to offer alternative explanations for them, i.e., physicalist explanations.  And while convincing physicalist explanations may not be forthcoming, they cannot be ruled out as possible explanations any more than the dualist explanation can.  Professor Kagan also introduces Descartes’ influential argument for dualism.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.2.6 Descartes’ Argument for Dualism   - Reading: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Professor Justin Skirry’s “René Descartes (1596-1650): Overview” Article Link: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Professor Justin Skirry’s “René Descartes (1596-1650): Overview” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read the front matter and sections 4 (“The Mind”) and 7 (“Mind-Body Relation”) of this encyclopedia article about Descartes.  Descartes argued, in essence, that the mind and body must be two distinct things, because it is so easy to imagine the mind existing without the body.  In fact, according to Descartes, if we limit ourselves only to our most basic and unshakeable beliefs, we will see that we identify ourselves purely with our minds and the activity of thinking—and not at all with the body.  This argument has been extremely influential because of its first-person formulation: anyone can try out the experiment and decide whether he or she thinks Descartes is right.

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

1.3 Plato’s Arguments for the Existence of the Soul   1.3.1 Evaluating Descartes’ Argument for Dualism and Introducing Plato   - Lecture: YouTube: Yale University: Professor Shelly Kagan’s “Arguments for the Existence of the Soul, Part IV; Plato, Part I” Lecture Link: YouTube:Yale University: Professor Shelly Kagan’s “Arguments for the Existence of the Soul, Part IV; Plato, Part I” (YouTube)
 
Also available in:
Quicktime, Flash, MP3, Transcript

 Instructions: Watch this video lecture critiquing Descartes’
argument for dualism and introducing Plato’s *Phaedo* (35 minutes). 
This lecture is also accessible via Yale University’s Open Yale
Course website at: [Philosophy of Death with Professor
Kagan](http://oyc.yale.edu/philosophy/death/) (Adobe Flash and
Quicktime).  Alternatively, you may select the Flash or Quicktime
video link that is appropriate for your Internet connection to
launch the video.  You can also hear the lecture as an .mp3 file, or
read the transcript Much of what Plato has to say about the soul has
to do with his metaphysical views.  Plato believed that, beyond the
ordinary world of sense perception, there exists the “real” world of
forms.  Plato thinks of human beings as being part of both worlds at
once, and therefore consisting of both a body and a soul.    
    
 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

1.3.2 Plato: Metaphysical Reasons for Embracing Death   - Reading: Plato’s Phaedo Link: Plato’s Phaedo (PDF)
 
Also available in:
HTML
ePub format on Google Books
 
Instructions: Read Plato’s Phaedo dialogue in its entirety.  This reading will cover subunits 1.3.2-1.3.6.  In the Phaedo, Plato dramatizes his mentor Socrates’ final day of life, during which he speaks with several of his friends about death and the nature of the soul.  Plato relates, through Socrates, a number of arguments for the soul’s immortality, and presents these as reasons why the philosopher should be cheerful in the face of death, and not disappointed or afraid. 
 
Terms of Use: This material is in the Public Domain.

1.3.3 The Soul and the Forms   - Lecture: YouTube: Yale University: Professor Shelly Kagan’s “Plato, Part II: Arguments for the Immortality of the Soul” Lecture Link: YouTube: Yale University: Professor Shelly Kagan’s “Plato, Part II: Arguments for the Immortality of the Soul” (YouTube)

 Also available in:   
 [Quicktime, Flash, MP3,
Transcript](http://oyc.yale.edu/philosophy/phil-176/lecture-7)  

 Instructions: Watch this video lecture about Plato’s theory of
forms and how it lends support to the idea of an immortal soul (47
minutes).  This lecture is also accessible via Yale University’s
Open Yale Course website at: [Philosophy of Death with Professor
Kagan](http://oyc.yale.edu/philosophy/death/) (Adobe Flash and
Quicktime).  Alternatively, you may select the Flash or Quicktime
video link that is appropriate for your Internet connection to
launch the video.  You can also hear the lecture as an .mp3 file, or
read the transcript.  Plato’s first argument for the immortality of
the soul is an extension of his general theory of forms.  Plato
argues, basically, that human beings have two kinds of knowledge:
knowledge of the sensible world, which we get through our sense
organs (i.e., our bodies), and knowledge of the forms, which we get
through our souls.  Because the souls are “more like” the forms than
our bodies are, our souls must also be unchanging and eternal. 
Professor Kagan also discusses Plato’s related “argument from
recollection,” in which he lays out his curious theory of memory and
reincarnation.  If the soul existed before we were born, would that
fact not strongly suggest that it will exist after we die?    
    
 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Reading: Wikipedia’s “Theory of Forms” Article Link: Wikipedia’s “Theory of Forms” (PDF)
     
    Also available in:
    HTML
     
    Instructions: This is an optional assignment.  Read this encyclopedia article for an overview of Plato’s theory of forms.  This article explains Plato’s basic framework for thinking about reality and the objects of knowledge (the forms).  It may be helpful to consult it since, in the Phaedo, Plato takes for granted that we already know something about what forms are.
     
    Terms of Use: The article above is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0 (HTML).  You can find the original Wikipedia version of this article here(HTML).

1.3.4 Some Background on Plato’s Idea of the Soul   - Reading: The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Professor Hendrik Lorenz’ “Ancient Theories of the Soul” Article Link: The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Professor Hendrik Lorenz’ “Ancient Theories of the Soul” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read sections 1-3 of this encyclopedia article about how the ancient Greeks conceived of the soul.  This article provides some helpful background knowledge about the idea of the soul that Plato inherited from Greek culture, as well as an overview of the idea of the soul as it appears in his dialogues Phaedoand Republic.  Some of his ideas, such as reincarnation and the idea that knowledge is recollection, are rooted in Plato’s culture, while other aspects of his view, such as the soul’s relation to the forms, are wholly his own.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.3.5 The Soul’s Simplicity   - Lecture: Yale University: Professor Shelly Kagan’s “Plato, Part III: Arguments for the Immortality of the Soul (cont.)” Lecture Link: Yale University: Professor Shelly Kagan’s “Plato, Part III: Arguments for the Immortality of the Soul (cont.)” (YouTube)
 
Also available in:
Quicktime, Flash, MP3, Transcript
 
Instructions: Watch this video lecture about Plato’s “argument from simplicity” for the immortality of the soul (50 minutes).  This lecture is also accessible via Yale University’s Open Yale Course website at: Philosophy of Death with Professor Kagan (Adobe Flash and Quicktime).  Alternatively, you may select the Flash or Quicktime video link that is appropriate for your Internet connection to launch the video.  You can also hear the lecture as an .mp3 file, or read the transcript.   In order for something to be destroyed, it must be possible to break that “something” into parts.  According to Plato, the soul has no parts and therefore cannot be destroyed.  In this lecture, Professor Kagan considers this argument for the soul’s immortality, as well as a number of convincing counter-arguments.  Should we believe that invisible things cannot be destroyed?  How would we know?  Simmias’ analogy of the soul with a harmony is raised as a counterexample.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.3.6 Being Alive as an Essential Property of the Soul   - Lecture: Yale University: Professor Shelly Kagan’s “Plato, Part IV: Arguments for the Immortality of the Soul (cont.)” Lecture Link: Yale University: Professor Shelly Kagan’s “Plato, Part IV: Arguments for the Immortality of the Soul (cont.)” (YouTube)
 
Also available in:

[Quicktime](http://openmedia.yale.edu/projects/media_viewer/video_viewer2.php?window_size=small&type=mov&title=PHIL%20176%20-%20Lecture%209%20-%20Prof.%20Shelly%20Kagan&path=/courses/spring07/phil176/du/phil176_09_021307_REF.mov)
(Low Bandwidth/Slow Connection)  

[Quicktime](http://openmedia.yale.edu/projects/media_viewer/video_viewer2.php?window_size=large&type=mov&title=PHIL%20176%20-%20Lecture%209%20-%20Prof.%20Shelly%20Kagan&path=/courses/spring07/phil176/mov/phil176_09_021307.mov)
(High Bandwidth/Fast Connection)  
 [Adobe
Flash](http://openmedia.yale.edu/projects/media_viewer/video_viewer2.php?window_size=medium&type=flv&title=PHIL%20176%20-%20Lecture%209%20-%20Prof.%20Shelly%20Kagan&path=%252Fcourses%252Fspring07%252Fphil176%252Fflash%252Fphil176_09_021307)  
 [Transcript](http://oyc.yale.edu/transcript/703/phil-176) (HTML)  

[Mp3](http://openmedia.yale.edu/projects/media_viewer/video_viewer2.php?window_size=audio&type=mp3&title=PHIL%20176%20-%20Lecture%209%20-%20Prof.%20Shelly%20Kagan&path=%252Fcourses%252Fspring07%252Fphil176%252Fmp3%252Fphil176_09_021307.mp3)  
    
 Instructions: Watch this video lecture about Plato’s “argument from
essential properties” for the immortality of the soul (50 minutes).
 This lecture is also accessible via Yale University’s Open Yale
Course website at: [Philosophy of Death with Professor
Kagan](http://oyc.yale.edu/philosophy/death/) (Adobe Flash and
Quicktime).  Alternatively, you may select the Flash or Quicktime
video link that is appropriate for your Internet connection to
launch the video.  You can also hear the lecture as an .mp3 file, or
read the transcript.  In this lecture, Professor Kagan considers
Plato’s final argument for the immortality of the soul.  Plato
argues that being alive is an essential property of the soul, like
being physical is an essential property of a pencil.  That is, if it
is not physical, it is not a pencil, and similarly, if it is not
alive, it is not a soul.  Professor Kagan concludes that since none
of the arguments for the soul have been convincing, we must now
attempt to confront death from a physicalist point of view  
    
 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.