Life After Death


Do we have Souls?

To answer this we must first decide which view to hold on the mind-body issue:

  • Materialism - minds are not possibly independent of living bodies. They accept life after death would require resurrection of the body, which is probably a replica of our body (Hick)
  • Idealism - only minds really exist. Bodies are an illusion. They would say that the illusion of the physical body ends at death and we continue in spirit from beyond it (Hegel)
  • Dualism - we exist as two separate distinct parts - a physical body and a non-material soul. They accept the immorality of the soul, thus the soul continues after the body dies (Descartes)
1 of 21

A Dualistic View - Plato

Plato suggests that the soul is distinct from the body. The soul is immortal whilst the body is mortal. At the end of life the soul is set free from the body. Plato has a very negative view of the body, and in "Phaedo" he writes that the soul is "imprisoned" in the body - he believes the ultimiate goal is to reach the world of forms, which can only be seen indirectly in the physical world. 

  • He argues that the real knowledge of the Forms comes from the soul, and when we learn we are merely remembering the knowledge we had before the soul was incarnated into the body 
  • He believes that the body distracts the soul from seeking knowledge of the World of Forms
  • "The body is the source of endless trouble"
  • The true philosopher avoids any distractions from the body and concentrates all energy on gaining knowledge of the Forms 
2 of 21

A Dualistic View - Plato

In "The Republic," Plato describes the soul as "simple" and "without parts." It can't be divided up or split into different sections. However, when he talks about the soul in the body, he describes it as "complex." There are different aspects of the soul, for example like a diamond having difference aspects or faces, but still being a single diamond. 

Plato identified 3 important aspects of the soul:

  • Reason - searches for truth, rules the soul 
  • Spirit - aggressiveness, being honourable, emotion - all aspects that can be trained 
  • Desire or mercenary - the idea of seeking pleasures for yourself 

Harmony of the soul is a virtue - lack of harmony in the soul means not all aspects are working together, this stops someone gaining knowledge of the forms. Injustice comes from disharmony in the soul, for example if parts of the soul do not work in harmony then desire, may over power reason. People that commit crimes are driven by inappropriate desires and lack of reasoning. Things like the habit of stealing are wrong as they destroy harmony in the soul and prevent one from seeking the truth - the World of Forms 

3 of 21

Plato's Proof of a Soul

The soul is immortal and exists before incarnation in the body 

  • The argument from knowledge - learning is a matter of remembering e.g. no one has eer seen the form of "equal" but we know what it is (example of Socrates and the slave boy knowing Pythagoras Theorem)
  • The argument from opposites - the physical world conists of opposites (light and dark). The opposite of living is death. If there is such a thing as "life" then there must be such a thing as "death" - for death to be a thing rather than nothing then there needs to be a soul. This supports the idea of reincarnation as the opposite of being dead is being alive and vice versa - implies a continuous cycle. 

Problems of Plato's views of the Soul

  • Peter Geach - what can it mean for the disembodied soul to see the forms, given that seeing is lined to the body and experience through senses?
  • For many learning requires gaining new knowledge
  • The assumptions that there are opposites could be challenged
  • Part of Plato's defence relies on the theory of the Forms - ther have been many criticisms of this in itself 
4 of 21

The Soul for Aristotle

Aristotle's ideas of the soul is a translation of the Greek word "psyche" - this has many different meanings, they don't correspond with the common idea that the soul is the centre of a person's identity that survives after death. 

The soul is a form and shape of the body, but not a substance like matter. For example, a marble statue is physically a block of marble - but has the form and shape of a statue. The souls is the form of the body, the two cannot be separated. He also gives the example of a wax imprint - the soul and the body can't be separated like the imprint cannot from the wax. 

5 of 21

Aristotle and the Soul

The soul gives shape to the matter which is the body - its the principle of life or activity of the body. He argued that there are various different faculties of the soul, and not all living things have soul with the same faculty. He said there is a kind of hierarchy of the faculties. The faculties are nutrition, perception, desire, locomotion and intellect. 

  • Plants - nutrition 
  • Animals - nutrition, perception, desire 
  • Humans - nutrition, perception, desire, intellect and locomotion 

The fact that human souls have intellect and reason doesn't mean they are rational in their actions. His ideas link with the Four Causes, the soul is the efficient cause of the body and the formal and final cause

Do the Soul arrive after Death?

No, as the soul is inseparable from the body. However, there is a confusion as Aristotle suggests that intellectual thought could be separated from the soul and be eternal. Kenny describes Aristotle's theory as "inconstistent"

6 of 21

Materialism and Monism

This argues against the concept of the afterlife, hwoever they could believe in bodily resurrection. Monists believe there is only 1 substance - matter - and therefore dualism is incorrect since it assumes on the existence of matter and a non-physical substance. 

The identity of a person is lined to the physical body - when the physical body's life ends, the person ends also. Emotions, feelings and thought are mental process in the brain (identity theory - all mean activities are centred in the brain). When our physical life ends, mental activity ceases. 

7 of 21

John Hick's Replica Theory (Materialist)

Concept of resurrection and rejects dualism but belives in bodily resurrection. It starts by saying that humans are a "psycho semantic unity" - this is a unity of physical body and the mind/soul. The two cannot be separated - the soul is not separate. 

The theory says that resurrection is a divine action in which an extract replica of ourselves is created in a different place. The replica is the same as us but isn't on earth - it exists in a "different space" from us thats observable only by God. This could take place instantly at death, or at a time lapse determined by God. It is a replica, not a copy.


  • First he considered the cause of a person disappearing in London and appearing in New York. They must have the same appearance and character in order to be recognised as the same person. 
  • Second, imagine a person who dies in London and is re-created in New York. If a replica exists in New York and a dead body in London, then it is easier to identify the replica in New York. 
  • The resurrected person's do not doubt they are same person as before 
8 of 21

Criticisms of Hick's Replica Theory

  • Hick argued that the for the replica to be you, it has to have the same "consciousness, memory, emotion and volition" however some philosophers would argue that what matters is the physical continuity of the person itself through life - the fact that they are linked to the same physical body. 
  • Some philosophers have suggested there could be multiple replicas so the individuality of a replica would be lost.
  • If someone was to die with a mental illness, does their replica have this also? Do we come back at the age we die or at the our favourite stage of our life?
9 of 21

Christianity and Resurrection

Death isn't the end of human existence, it marks the end to a physical life and the beginning of a new stage in life. The New Testament says that the afterlife is a paradise, a state of continued existence with God after death. Ressurection is a sign that death isn't the end and that God doesn't abandon people even when they are dying.

"God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep" 1 Thessalonians 4:14

The story of Jesus in the Gospel concludes with resurrection - this is the most important and significant event. Importantly - Jesus is somehow changed and different - his followers didn't recognise him, he isn't described as a ghost or vision, and he is risen physically but has transformed.

Christianity believes in resurrection of the body in the same way, not just the soul. Geach said resurrection is the only meaningful way we can talk about life after death. Christian blief is partly dualistic - at death the soul is seperated from the body, awaiting the final resurrection of the body.

10 of 21

The Particular Judgement

Every person is judged at the moment of death and it is personal to the individual. The good go to heaven and the bad go to hell, however "judgement" isn't an accurate term - the Parable of the Last Judgement tells Christians that God accepts people as they are.

The way that you act in life make you who you are, God judged you according to who you choose to be.

Some people believe God forgives them so it doesn't matter what they do - Christians believe God accepts people and forgives if they repent - but forgiveness requires them to admit their wrong doring and make up for it.

11 of 21

Heaven and Hell

Protestant/Liberal Christians - Heaven is where people see God face to face and experience God in a new way

Catholic/Orthodox - Heaven is seeing God face to face and is the Beatific Vision which is the ultimiate goal - people have to desire to do what is good and then actually do it. Hell is a state of separation from God, a place of punishment by God, imagery of fire, pain and torture - John Milton's poem "A dungeon horrible to all sides round."

John Calvin believed in divine election (some people are meant for a relationship with God, others are not) and predestination (people's fate is determined)

12 of 21

Hinduism and Rebirth

This contrasts with the belief in resurrection. The soul of a body is eternal and is reborn into new bodies, generation after generation. A dualistic view, with the status of the body into which is reincarnated depends on the actions of the previous life:

  • The physical world is like a dreamlike state - Brahman, who is divine and transcendent in reality
  • The physical world is temporary
  • In everybody there is an "atman" soul which animates the body and is considered the essence of a person
  • The soul's place in life reflects the law of "Karma"
  • The ultimate goal of the soul is to be reunited with Brahman and escape the cycle of death and reincarnation.
13 of 21

Problems with Reincarnation

  • Evidence that is often put forward for reincarnations is the idea of deja-vu. The problem with this is tht it can be explained in other ways, for example the person may have heard a conversation about a time they weren't there and thats why they know about it or it could simply be a hoax
  • A philosophical problem is the nature of the link between the previous life and the person that inherited the soul. What does it mean to say there's an immaterial soul that links the two?
  • Swinburne argued if there's not continuity between the brain of the new baby and the old person who has died, then there is no way to say that the soul is distinctly the soul of a particular person
  • Stephen Davis said karma is to explain the problem of suffering, but what is the connection of the person suffering and their past? If they cannot remember it then it can hardly be fair making them suffer from it.
  • Geach also criticised, saying the link between the people that died cannot be established.
14 of 21

Arguments against the belief in Life after Death

  • Belief in the afterlife is the product of human wishful thinking
  • There is no empirical evidence - a Verificationist point of view
  • It makes no sense, since a person is a physical entity (Dawkins)
  • Many people fear death as it is unknown, this leads to people believing that there is something after death
  • Flew - people are mortal and the minds of humans are united to a physical body, thus mental processes do not survive physical death
  • Russell - a product of wishful thinking, arguing that a person is the experiences that are connected together in the memory of an individual. Memories are linked to the brain like a river is to a bed. Fear of death is instinctive and the result is belife in life after death. The world is better understood without God and the afterlife.
15 of 21

Evidence to support Life after Death

  • "Near death" experiences
  • Regression to past lives
  • Sightings of dead people
  • Spiritualism
  • Telepathy
  • Mediums
16 of 21

Apriori arguments also are relevant

Aquinas' argument 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 particular reason - the Summum BonumPlato's arguments that the soul is immortal because it is imperishable, the soul is simple therefore indestructible.

17 of 21


Dawkins saw life as DNA and people can only survive through memories - there is no survival post-mortem and the only thing that is potentially immortal are our genes. The role of the body is just to be a "survival machine" for genes, thus he believes its possible to speak of the soul in 2 ways:

  • Soul one, the traditional view that Dawkins rejects, the soul being a separate thing that contains personality.
  • Soul two - intellectual and spiritual power and believs this is the only meaningful way to describe ourselves as long as we now it isn't a separate thing.

H.H Price - life after death isn't an inconceivable concept, it could be disembodied or incarnate - compares it with dreaming, saying we have experiences but are not bound by physical time/space.

18 of 21


Flew - In an article in 1956 "Can Man Witness his Own Funeral?" Flew argued that the notion of life after death is incoherent. Statement of surviving death is self contradictory, it is empirically false and "people are what you meet" bodies plus behaviour

Descartes - A dualistic theory that a human being is a material body (temporary machine) and the non-physical mind/soul (permanent essence). Interactionism - mind and body intimately conjoined, but metaphysically cannot be casually interrelated. Pinela gland is site of interaction via "animal spirits."

Locke - Story of the soul of Prince entering the body of a cobbler. Test case for personal identity, with the criteria of - memory criterian, bodily criterian and "closest continuer" or "psychological continuity" criterian.

Russell - Famous "Death Ends All" atheist and materilaist thinker. Wrote "When I die, I rot." Others include A.J Ayer and Kai Nielson. Atheistic existentialists and ancient Stoics hold this view too. The most notable Stoic was Epicurus who founded Epicureanism.

19 of 21


Epircurus - "Death, the most dreaded of evils, is... of no concern to us, while we exist death is not present, and when death is present, we no longer exist." The empiricist epistemology of Epircureanism, allied to hedonistic ethics advocating pleasures at the one good, led Epicurus to say that being dead will be no worse than not having been born. Central to his view is that because we do not experience being dead, we should not be afraied of it and death should therefore be of no concern to us.

Buddha - representative of those who believe in reincarnation. The other sophisticated version is that of Vedantic Hinduism - reincarnation is the view that the immaterial essence (or soul or jiva) or a person can successfully animate two or more bodies (sequentially not contemporaneously). Best modern support evidence in the work of Dr. Ian Stevenson "Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation"

20 of 21


Plato - classical advocate of the immorality 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 in the Victorian era with its intererst in spiritualistic phenomena - seances, trance mediumship, automatic writing etc.

Kant - Kant's Moral Argument for the existence of God had the immorality of the soul as one of its neccesary postulates - Summum Bonum.

H.H. Price's article "Survival and the Idea of Another World" shows that the ideas of souls inhabiting an immaterial world beyond death was at least philosophically intelligle and coherent. He was agnostic about its reality. The most serious objection is the "mind-body unity" argument e.g. mind requires a functioning brain.

21 of 21


No comments have yet been made

Similar Religious Studies resources:

See all Religious Studies resources »See all Philosophy resources »