Life after death essay

Evaluate the claim that there can be no disembodied existence after death.

The claim that there can be no disembodied existence after death is based on a monist or materialist conception that there is no soul distinct from body. For someone to survive the death of their body and to live on without a physical body some form of dualism would have to be accepted , where the soul mind or spirit is seen to be a separate entity from the body, or at the very least capable of detaching from the body. My aim is to establish that disembodied existence is plausible.

There are some philosophers who claim that even the notion of ‘surviving one’s death’ is literally non-sensical , as death means the end of life and thus survival . Antony Flew takes such a view. This however, seems to beg the question of what death is – of course it is the end of physical life but the question remains as to whether life comes down to simple biological processes. As Ayer says : there is no “reason why the meaning of words should be indissolubly tied to the context in which they were learnt” .

In order to show that there can be disembodied existence we would need to first show whether it is reasonable to believe in an identity or me that exists in this world – if there is not really a me in this world then it would be hard to claim that I exist in another (although some kind of post – death survival occurs in Vedanta Hinduism in which atman or self ceases to exist as an illusion and gets dissolved in Brahman or ultimate reality).

Materialists claim that we are our bodies, and that consequently there is no soul. However this is problematic – Swinburne gives the example of the two hemispheres of the brain being divided and transplanted into two different bodies – could you choose which was to be tortured and which to be made happy ? Swinburne says the fact that it is unclear how to establish which transplant will be you shows although a body is a critical part of our current existence, it is not all we are. Locke also shows this with his analogy of the cobbler and the prince- if the cobbler awoke in the princes body and vice versa how would you establish which constituted identity, body or memory? Memories and states of consciousness themselves are also not enough to constitute us as persons – you can have false memories , awareness can be altered with drugs, we can forget things, and yet we do not cease to exist as persons , so it seems clear from the above that the soul or self is something other than body , memory, thought or feeling – those are all things I have , whereas a soul is what I am.

However there are real problems with the idea of a soul or self- Hume said “I can never catch myself at any time without a perception, and never observe anything but the perception”. What I think of as me is simply a name I give to a stream of experiences – there is no underlying reality to it. Ryle has a similar notion – the soul is a ‘category mistake’ it is the name we give to a collection of experiences , and then assume that that has an independent existence apart from the collection. This he says is like looking for Oxford university after having been shown all the college buildings that comprise it.

These are attractive views but they have problems. For behaviourists like Ryle there would be no such thing as a private experience or inner mental states at all these are all just propensities to act in a certain way. Keith Ward points out that alongside intentionality ‘interior’ mental events are very hard to define as precursors to behaviour. Ward gives the example that sometimes his wife thinks he is asleep when he’s actually thinking very deeply about something.

So perhaps dualism is correct and there is a self or soul separate from the body. The problem with this is that it seems to be a superfluous hypothesis – why posit a me apart from the physical, and how would this me exist ‘within’ the physical frame? Descartes with interactionism said that the body and mind affect each other – the problem here is how is the non- spatial supposed to affect the spatial? Emergent dualism doesn’t claim that the soul is some kind of divine addition to the body but that it emerges from physical according to the complexity of the creature, so many creatures will have varying degrees of consciousness and thus souls of differing complexity. Keith Ward holds something like this view and says that a divine consciousness that wants good would have very good reasons to create a universe where minds evolve that were free and able to contemplate their position in the universe. This view would be a post-Darwinian theory, as evolution takes a role in it even though its teleological dimension would be unpalatable to many biologists. The priest and palaeontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin , however considered that mind or the ‘noosphere’ evolved out of the biosphere, this is truly dualistic as mind is not ultimately reducible to the biological but is ontologically prior to it.

If we cannot show how disembodied existence might function then we cannot decide whether it does. H H Price believed that it is a coherent concept and tried to show this by positing the idea that the next world would consist of souls with mental images about which they have dreams and desires. If we can have some kind of life when we are physically asleep and therefore unconscious through dreams, then it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that when dead our world would be similarly composed of mental states interacting with other mental states through telepathic communication. As we shall see this theory is severely limited by the closeness of brain events and mental states such that it is hard to see how mental states might continue with the death of the brain – but this is not to say that it can’t happen in some way unexplained to us.

Criticisms of the soul concept.

Alternatives to the soul. ( materialist/monist)

3 a priori and 3 a posteriori arguments for disembodied existence.

Conclusion – materialism cannot account for qualia, intentionality, the soul could survive death.