Life after death


Life after death

Beliefs in the body and soul:

Materialism/Monism- The belief that human beings are a single unity of body and mind. The minds existence is dependent upon the body.

Dualism- The belief that a human consists of 2 distinct elements; the mind/soul and the body. The mind/soul is immaterial and the body is physical.

Epicuras- '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'

Aristotle- 'To attain any assured knowledge of the soul is one of the most difficult things in the world'

Anthony Kenny- 'Aristotles writings about the intellectual faculty of the soul are described as 'inconsistent''

Dawkins- 'There is no spirit-driven life force'

Dawkins- 'Life is just bytes and bytes of digital information'

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Plato was a dualist.

The allegory of the Charioteer:

The soul is simple yet complex.

  • Reason- searches for truth and rules the soul
  • Spirit-includes aspects that can be trained, such as aggressiveness, honour and emotion
  • Desire- seeking pleasure for yourself, desire for what is necessary, like food, or unnecessary like luxury items

Physicalcan only learn through physical sense experience, in a constant state of change, cannot be a source of knowledge.

Soulknows the truth through reason, unchanging and immortal, not only does it exist after death but pre-existed before birth.

The Phaedo (Socrates vs Simmias & Cebes)- the soul is immortal and exists before the body.

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Plato continued

Argument of opposites:

  • For death to be a thing rather than 'nothing' the soul must exist so it is possible to talk of life and death as opposites

Argument from recollection:

  • Learning is just remembering things we know a priori

Argument from affinity:

  • The soul is immortal and immaterial
  • Simmias says it is like the attunement of an instrument- the attunement can only exist if the instrument exists
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Criticisms of Plato

 Criticisms of Plato:

  • Peter Geach- What can it mean for disembodied souls to see the forms as seeing is linked with sense experience?
  • Peter Geach- Is existence without a body really human existence?
  • Is learning really a matter of remembering? For many people learning concerns acquiring new knowledge and is not an act of remembering.
  • Does the argument of opposites demonstrate the existence of the soul? Many people have questioned whether an argument from opposites can demonstrate the existence of anything, since the assumption that there are pairs of opposites can be challenged.
  • Part of Plato's defence of the existence of the soul relies on the theory of the Forms- there are many challenges to hs theory of the forms and if it is debatable, this also undermines his theory of the soul.
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Aristotle was a weak dualist

Beliefs about the soul:

  • Centre of a persons identity
  • Survives after death
  • It is the form and shape of the body

The soul is not a substance like matter because matter can be given a form and be many different things, but what gives matter its shape and function is its form.

-He uses the example of an eye 

--If the eye were a body, its soul would be the capacity to see

---Soul cannot be separated from the body

Life after death is unlikely

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Aristotle continued

Aristotle's hierarchy of soul functions:

NUTRITIONplants, animals and humans

PERCEPTION- animals and humans

DESIRE- animals and humans

LOCOMOTION (movement)- animals and humans

INTELLECT (reasoning, intelligence)- humans

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Criticisms of Aristotle

Criticisms of Aristotle:

  • Confusion has been caused by the fact that Aristotle also suggested that intellectual thought could possible be separated from the sould and could be eternal

      - Even if thought can survive after death, this is not the same as saying that one's personal  id         identity survives death.

  • Aristotle's writings about the intellectual faculty of the soul are described as 'inconstant'  by Anthony Kenny

     -   What Aristotle thought about the soul surviving death is unclear and some of these ideas                 conflict with other ideas of his.

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Descartes was a dualist and a sceptic- hyperbolic doubt


  • Can be known a priori
  • Unextendable
  • Indubitable
  • Indivisible
  • Takes up no space
  • What does the thinking within the body


  • Extended
  • Dubitable
  • Can be known a posteriori
  • Divisible
  • Takes up space
  • It is logically possiible to doubt the existence of the body
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Descartes continued

He had a book called 'Meditations'- tried to prove what he knew

'The only thing I cannot doubt is 'Cogito ergo sum''

---'I think therefore I am'

Relationship between body and mind:

  • They are independent substances
  • They can exist apart and will be separated at death
  • In this life they exist in casual interaction with each other
  • They communicate with each other using the pineal gland in the centre of the brain
  • Although distinct substances, they are a ultimate union
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Gilbert Ryle- criticised Descartes

Ryle was a monist

Descbribes Descartes model as 'a ghost in the machine'

Accused Descartes of making a category mistake- categorising the body and soul in the wrong way and assuming there is something additional to the body and it's behaviour

Ryle illustrated a category mistake with an example of gloves - you may say you bought a left hand glove and a right hand glove, but you wouldn't say you bought a left hand glove, a right hand glove and a pair of gloves.

Ryle argued for philosophical behaviourism

He saw all supposed 'mental' events as really a way of referring to complex patterns of behaviour.

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Descartes and Ryle

Strengths of Descartes:

  • It seems as though your mind is more than just your brain - mental and physical realms have different properties
  • There is no place in the brain where electric simulation can cause a person to believe or decide
  • Life after death may be possible

Strengths of Ryle:

  • Brain damage caused by trauma or disease compromises our mental power
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materialist view

Dawkin's beliefs:

  • Does not believe in the existence of a soul
  • There is no chance of life after death
  • The mind dies with the physical body
  • We are just bytes of information with nothing supernatural about us
  • There is no part of a person that is non-physical
  • Consciousness cannot be separated from the brain- nothing exists except matter
  • Once the brain dies, consciousness dies
  • Humans are nothing more than survival machines
  • Completely discounts the idea that humans have any kind of soul
  • Humans are like other creatures, a vehicle of change
  • Human beings do not have an immortal soul and are just a mixture of chemicals
  • 'Survival machines'- robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve molecules known as genes

'meme' is a word used by Dawkins to refer to a cultural idea or belief  that is passed on from person to person and can function like a virus.

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Dawkins continued


  • The traditional view of a principle of life, a real separate thing, spiritual & contains personality
  • Separate from the body
  • Non-physical
  • Vital principle
  • Non-material
  • Survives after death
  • Spiritual

Soul 2:

  • Dawkins argues that Soul 2 is a meaningful way of describing ourselves provided we are clear that this does not refer to a separate thing
  • Intellectual or spiritual power
  • High development of the mental facilities
  • Deep feeling and sensitivity
  • Your unique characteristics
  • Your creative side
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Criticisms of Dawkins


  • There is no evidence for a soul


•      People can hide their feelings and can mimic the behaviour of another emotion
•      Are these not a conscious decision of the person? More than just a chemical response? Or environmental stimuli?
•      Dawkins' theory about evolution and the selfish gene, however, does not explain things like emotions. According to his theory, emotions would be a mistake since they are usually inefficient, and often only get in the way of genetic progress

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John Hick

He was a monist, materialist

Believed it is possible to have life after death

Rejects substance dualism

The soul is the value of our whole selves

Humans are a 'psycho-somatic unity' - humans are a unity of physical body and the mind/soul- they cannot be separated

Replica theory:

  • God can create the whole person in another realm after death
  • 'Psycho-physical replica'
  • You don't need a disembodied soul to have life after death
  • There is no problem of heaven being a physical recreation
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Criticisms of Hick


  • There is a break in continuity between the original body and the new body

        - difficult to say it is the same person

  • It is logically possible that many replicas could be created  

        - which of them would be 'me'?

  • Identity is not just about memories, a person with Alzheimers disease is still the same person
  • If we die in a grusome way, which form us will be the replica

        - us in our perfect form? In that case which form of us is perfect?

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For and against the soul

For the soul:

  • Explanatory gap- facts about the soul cannot be explained completely physically
  • Inner conflict and freewill- we are intuitively aware by experience of an inner conflict at times
  • Descartes and divisibility- our bodies are divisible, but I (my soul) cannt be divided. Therefore we are separate from our bodies.

Against the soul:

  • The problem of interactionism- how do the mind and body interact?
  • Science- we know more about the workings of the brain
  • The brain is redundant- what is our brain for?
  • Category mistakes
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You get to heaven by following commandments, being a follower of Jesus and treating others well

Heaven is union with God, eternal happiness away from suffering

If you have been bad in your physical life your soul will go to hell, which is eternity without God and eternal suffering


Roman Catholics- You go to purgatory before heaven which purifies you

Hick- universal salvation, everyone goes to heaven through purgatory, shows God's omnibenevolence

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Monistbody is required for redemption

From the latin 'resurrectus' meaning 'raised up again'

The promise of post-death existence in a re-created human body

St Paul:

  • 1 Corinthians 15- St Paul argues in favour of the body being 'raised imperishable'
  • In favour of resurrection- Jesus was resurrected- Christians should hope to be too
  • God created many types of body in nature- he is able to make human bodies perfect

Aquinas adopted Aristotle's idea that the person has no truly independent soul- because the body and soul are together and the body is physical, heaven must be physical too

  --where would this physical heaven be?

         --how big would it be?

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Disembodied resurrection

Rowan Williams- resurrection lies 'on the frontier of any possible language', it is a difficlt mystical idea, but a part of the Christian faith

Richard Swinburne:

  • believes we can survive without a body
  • surviving outside the body is a logical concept- because we can imagine it, it is possible
  • our use of language points to the body and soul being separate- 'I have a body, not I am a body'

Brian Davies criticises Swinburne- disembodied existence is illogical, just because we can imagine something, it doesn't mean it is possible

H H Price:

  • the afterlife is like having a dream- it feels real to us and we have experieces- we are not bound by time and space
  • mental images of the afterlife are so strong that we don't even know we are dead
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Evaluation of disembodied resurrection


  • Overcomes the physical problem of where heaven is/how big
  • Uses platonic ideas of dualism
  • The problem of what gets resurrected is overcome


  • Dreams come from the brain
  • Inconsistent with the same biblical references to resurrection
  • What about those who cannot/do not dream?
  • Dreams are made up of experiences. What if someones life is made up of suffering?
  • Van Inwagen believes that a reconstructed body is not the same as a physical body
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Near Death Experiences

A dissociation from painful reality, and an 'embracing of another reality to feel safe'

Who has them?

  • Kenneth King- psychology professor
  • Suicide survivors
  • Illness survivors
  • Status, culture, relligion, age and race had no influence on who had near death experiences


  • Ineffability
  • Peace and quiet
  • Dark tunnel
  • Life review
  • New view of death
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Near Death Experiences continued

Biological approach:

  • Increase in NDE's with increase in resuscitation technology
  • Oxygen starvation to brain and release of pain-killing chemicals

Karl Jansen:

  • London psychiatrist
  • Replicate NDE's through chemicals like Glutamate
  • Concludes that NDE's are a result of a chemical imbalance in the brain

Susan Blackmore (1993):

  • Identified chemical responsible for feelings of bliss and peace
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