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Death be not Proud

The Problem of the Afterlife

Series:

Mark Corner

Might people one day live for ever? Would they want to? What sense can be made of ideas commonly referred to in terms of an ‘afterlife’? What about notions of Heaven and Hell, of Purgatory and reincarnation? And in what sort of state are human beings expected to be during this ‘afterlife’ – immortal souls or resurrected bodies (and does either notion make sense)? What about the fact that any ‘afterlife’ concerns not just the fate of individuals but of society (‘communion of saints’) and even the physical universe itself?
This book tries to survey some of the existing arguments about life ‘after’ death, with chapters on material from Christian tradition (particularly the New Testament and the Early Church) and from the philosophy of religion. It then attempts to reach its own conclusions, drawing on Kant and Barth in order to suggest that death is to be overcome rather than survived.

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Chapter Fifteen The Unavoidable Self 237

Extract

Chapter Fifteen The Unavoidable Self The last chapter concluded that despite the extensive discussions of ‘emer- gent order’ and ‘supervenience’ in recent literature, it is not clear that bodies alone can represent the ‘complex unities’ which make up human beings any more than souls can. Williams’ ‘mad scientist’ dilemma shows that there are dif ficulties both with locating identity in the body and locating it in mental characteristics like memory. Such dif ficulties suggest that we need to adopt a new approach to understanding human identity, changing the language which we use. The next two chapters will attempt to outline such a change. When the philosopher David Hume considered the question of per- sonal identity in his A Treatise of Human Nature, he began by observing that: there are some philosophers, who imagine we are every moment intimately conscious of what we call our SELF; that we feel its existence and continuance in existence; and are certain, beyond the evidence of a demonstration, both of its perfect identity and simplicity. Hume could find no justification for such assurance about what to him was a completely elusive self: For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception.1 1 Hume’s Treatise initially fell ‘stillborn’ from the press...

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