I. UNIT 1: The Metaphysics of Death (10/3-10/13)


This study group uses as its foundation the PHILOSOPHY 201: The Philosophy of Death course at the Saylor Foundation (www.saylor.org).

You may access the study group materials for Unit 1: The Metaphysics of Death at: http://www.saylor.org/courses/phil201/

Please note that there are additional materials on the Saylor Foundation website for this course.  However, we will only be focusing on the following subunits.  The hyperlinks for the materials are provided within the Saylor Foundation website.  Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpages.

Read, watch and listen to the following materials embedded within each subunit at http://www.saylor.org/courses/phil201/

UNIT 1: THE METAPHYSICS OF DEATH (October 3rd--October 13th)

1.1       What Is Death? What Are Persons?

                            1.1.1    Introducing the Questions

Lecture: You Tube: Yale University: Professor Shelly Kagan’s “Course Introduction” Lecture

                            1.1.2    What Is a Person? The Dualist View

Reading: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Professor Scott Calef’s “Dualism and Mind” Article

                             1.1.3    What Is a Person? The Physicalist View

Reading: The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Professor Daniel Stoljar’s “Physicalism” Article

Lecture: You Tube: Yale University: Professor Shelly Kagan’s “The Nature of Persons: Dualism vs. Physicalism” Lecture 

                             1.1.4  Many Versions of the Soul

                             Reading: New Advent's The Catholic Encyclopedia: Kevin Knight's "Soul"

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

                           1.2.2    What Is Free Will?

                           Reading: University of Tennessee, Martin’s Internet Encyclopedia of

                           Philosophy: Kevin Timpe’s “Free Will”

                           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

                          1.2.4    Near-Death Experiences as Evidence of the Soul?

Reading: The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Professor William Hasker’s “Afterlife” Article

                          1.2.5    How Should Near-Death Experiences be Explained?

Lecture: YouTube: Yale University: Professor Shelly Kagan’s “Arguments for the Existence of the Soul, Part III: Free Will and Near-Death Experiences” Lecture

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.

1.3.2    Plato: Metaphysical Reasons for Embracing Death

Reading: MIT: The Internet Classics Archive’s version of Plato’s Phaedo

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

                            1.3.5    The Soul’s Simplicity

Lecture: YouTube: Yale University: Professor Shelly Kagan’s “Plato, Part III: Arguments for the Immortality of the Soul (cont.)” Lecture

                            1.3.6    Being Alive as an Essential Property of the Soul

Lecture: YouTube: Yale University: Professor Shelly Kagan’s “Plato, Part IV: Arguments for the Immortality of the Soul (cont.)” Lecture

 

DISCUSSION #1 on ACTIVITY WALL

(Initial comments by October 10th; follow-up comments by October 13th)

Core Reading:  Plato’s Phaedo

After completing Unit 1, please post your comments on the following philosophical issues on the P2PU Activity Wall for this study group:

  • 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. 

Post your initial comments on the P2PU Activity Wall by midnight (Eastern time) on October 10th Then, between October 10th and October 13th please make certain to read the comments of other study group members and post a few follow-up comments that engage your colleague’s comments.  Please make sure to reply to the initial posts by midnight (Eastern time) on October 13th.

Task Discussion


  • mimi   21 oktober 2011 18:11

    We are all going to die a physical death. So, the question is what will happen when the inevitable happens? Has anyone died and can tell me? We don’t know.  I think it all comes down to personal belief.

     

    My understanding of Dualism is the difference between physical and non-physical like our brain and our consciousness. I don’t know if once death occurs that the non-physical lives on or does it die all together, this is something I’d like to explore more.   My understanding of Physicalism is anything physical and of sustains that is tangible like our bodies.  So, once death occurs on the biological/physical level, this makes the person completely non-existent.  This is easier for me to except, which makes me think.  Is there a purpose to live?  

     

    I have a hard time grasping the idea of a “soul.” Is the soul our consciousness after we die? Does this consciousness take on a new body like reincarnation or does it go one to live in some sort of an afterlife?

  • C. Redwing, Ph.D.   23 oktober 2011 22:46
    Reageer op:   mimi   21 oktober 2011 18:11

    Greetings and thank you for your post.  Indeed, if life is nothing more than a vast biological struggle without any transcendent dimension, it does lead many to despair or at least existentialism. 

    The soul, for Plato, seems almost intentionally "hard to grasp." 

    It is as if his argument is not logical or philosophical but that it appeals to some other kind of knowledge.  Perhaps it is some esoteric truth rather than one that we can "think" our way towards.

    As you see from the course within the Saylor Foundation, when pure physicalism is embraced, the notion of the purpose of life is deeply called into question.  It is kind of disturbing material.  But Professor Kagan is wonderful and he guides us in a really profound way.

  • C. Redwing, Ph.D.   13 oktober 2011 21:10

    Greetings friends:  It seems that most of us (myself included) are having a bit of a slow start.  A few have just joined us as well.  So, I thought it best to keep the comments going on Unit 1. Why don't we aim for having everyone post and/or reply to comments relating to Unit 1 by the end of this weekend (10/15)?  Please post your comments on the following issues on the Activity Wall: 1) Describe the philosophical questions that surround the inevitable biological event of death; 2)Compare the philosophical notion of mind/body dualism with the idea of physicalism and how these doctrines imply different attitudes about death; 3) Discuss the fundamental arguments that Plato makes in his work Phaedo in regards to the immortality of the soul.

  • simonlsays   13 oktober 2011 16:04

    Interesting readings so far.  Unfortunately, I have to admit that I have not gone through the entirety of the material.  (I also thought the due date was today and not Monday.)  I apologize profusely.  With that said, I will do my best to participate here.  

    1. Describe the philosophical questions that surround the inevitable biological event of death.
    (Skipping this one as Teresa seems to have it covered.)

    2. Compare the philosophical notion of mind/body dualism with the idea of physicalism and how these doctrines imply different attitudes about death.

    The dualist notion of a soul separate from the body, in my mind, gives the person comfort that death of the physical body is only a "step" in the process rather than "The End."  On the other hand, a physicialist doesn't have the benefit of this doubt since they would think that all that embodies that person no longer exists once the physical body stops functioning.  As I was reading, I actually thought the conclusion that could be drawn from both views are quite similar.  For a dualist, "life" in the form of the physical body only serves a transient purpose.  Therefore, life isn't all that important.  It seems logical that this type of person could make a rational case for suicide.  From a physicalist perspective, I believe one could reach a similar conclusion in believing that life is nothing more than a physical body.  After all, what becomes the "purpose" of life if it ceases to exist after the body perishes.  To me both perspectives can rationalize an action as extreme as suicide when thought out.  

    3. Discuss the fundamental arguments that Plato makes in his work Phaedo in regards to the immortality of the soul.

    Argument from Recollection: I find this argument hard to understand.  Is the argument that "instinct" is something that belongs to the realm of souls?  Why can we not be born with some grasp of reality withou the existence of a "soul"?  To me, this doesn't make sense.  

    I find the dualist perspective hard to understand.  Are souls limited to humans only?  Do lions have souls?  Do worms?  Do plants?  If one believes in the theory of evolution, it would follow that other life forms would have souls.  It may even follow that inanimate objects (being all made from the same matter) have souls as well.  Occams Razor makes sense here.  Why the need to add complexity?  

    In general, I find the arguments for a "soul" unpersuasive.  I am eager to continue to explore the discussions otherwise, though.  
     

  • C. Redwing, Ph.D.   13 oktober 2011 21:08
    Reageer op:   simonlsays   13 oktober 2011 16:04

    Greetings friends:  It seems that most of us (myself included) are having a bit of a slow start.  A few have just joined us as well.  So, I thought it best to keep the comments going on Unit 1. Why don't we aim for having everyone post and/or reply to comments relating to Unit 1 by the end of this weekend (10/15)?  Please post your comments on the following issues on the Activity Wall: 1) Describe the philosophical questions that surround the inevitable biological event of death; 2)Compare the philosophical notion of mind/body dualism with the idea of physicalism and how these doctrines imply different attitudes about death; 3) Discuss the fundamental arguments that Plato makes in his work Phaedo in regards to the immortality of the soul.

  • C. Redwing, Ph.D.   17 oktober 2011 00:18
    Reageer op:   simonlsays   13 oktober 2011 16:04

    Indeed, you make some interesting points. Both the physicalists and the dualists argue that when you die, the "body" is done. Yet, for dualists, the soul persists. You ask...do other flora and fauna then have souls? Since science really ends at observable phenomena, we really have only two academic fields that even deal with the issue...philosophy and religion. The great religious traditions (including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism and many related belief systems) seem to offer different answers as well. For the Jew, death sends the soul to Sheol, the shadow land. To Christians and Muslims, there is a heaven and hell that serves as eternal justice for one's choices in life. For eastern traditions, in general, this life is the hell and all suffering is transcended with our reliance on the body and its passions. In philosophy, the arguments for the immortality of the soul do not seem so rational, but perhaps they will get more persuasive as we continue?

  • Teresa   10 oktober 2011 14:02

    I am not sure how simply or deeply my comments are expected to be on the activity wall so I shall start simply and I hope to be led by reading others responses as to what it is that is expected.

    Some of the philosophical questions surrounding the biological event of death are as follows:

    What happens when we die?

    What kind of entity is a person?

    Do we have an immaterial soul, something that might survive our body?

    If death is the end, is death bad?

    Is suicide rational or immoral?

     

    There are basically two different concepts regarding the existence of a soul. One of these is mind/body Dualism.  Dualism is the concept that persons are composed of a body and a soul. Dualist believe that the soul survives after the death of the body.  Plato and Descartes were defenders of dualism. The other concept is Physicalism. Physicalists believe tht everything in the universe is made up of physical material. They believe that human beings do not survive the death of their bodies.  If there is a "soul", it is entirely dependent upon the physical body.

     

    Platos fundamental arguments  regarding the immortality of the soul were as follows:

    Argument from Opposites: Since dying comes from living than living must come from dying. Thus we must come to life again after we die.  Plato contends that the body is a prison to the soul. Death liberates the soul greatly increasing its apprehension of truth.

    Argument from Recollection: The soul must exist prior to birth because we recognize things that could not have been learned in this life.

    Argument from Affinity: Socrates claims composite things can be destroyed or decay like the body. Invisible things are the durable things and will outlast the body. The philosphical soul is immortal.

     

    As an aside I would like to point ot a couple of things I came across in our readings thus far that gave me pause for thought.

    I enjoyed this line in regards to the seperation of mind and body:  Although it makes sense to speak of the left or right side of the brain it makes no sense to speak of half of desire, several pieces of a headache, part of joy or two thirds of belief.

    Also I found this to be a good definition of the soul as it is so hard to define:  The cosmic ether or fire is the subtlest of the elements, the nourishing flame which imparts heat, life, sense and intelligence to all things in their several degrees and kinds.

     

  • C. Redwing, Ph.D.   10 oktober 2011 15:13
    Reageer op:   Teresa   10 oktober 2011 14:02

    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--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 assume that there is no such thing as the soul. This view, known as physicalism, asserts that human beings are entirely physical, once the body dies; there is nothing to sustain our consciousnesses. Do you find Plato's argument for the immortality of the soul convincing?

    In the Phaedo Socrates offers a somewhat “uncertain” theory of the existence of the immortal soul, it does not really prove anything, but does begin a long history of defining the arguments about immortality. Many of the conversants (including Cebes and Simmias) are physicalists, and seem to find it quite difficult to believe that the soul does anything other than disappear upon death into “breath or smoke” (70a). Socrates responds to these physicalist arguments by suggesting that the disembodied soul exists after the death of the physical body and that it is conscious and intelligent. Socrates uses the affinity argument (78b-80b) for the immortality of the soul. The soul has an affinity for the intellect and the body has an affinity for that which is perishable. Socrates suggests that the soul is “naturally” durable but Cebes still is not convinced it is immortal—what if a soul reincarnates many times but is on its last reincarnation? Socrates says “life” is akin to “soul” and thus, immortal.

    In the end of Phaedo, the soul is immortal because it is, in essence, that which animates the body—it is life force. Basically, life itself (an indestructible force) has an affinity for soul and continues to remain within soul, even after bodily death. Life is ensouled and must always remain so, or there would be no life.

  • C. Redwing, Ph.D.   17 oktober 2011 00:22
    Reageer op:   Teresa   10 oktober 2011 14:02

    Great points.  Some are not convinced of the immortality of the soul in philosophical terms because the arguments are often not logical, or simple.  But your overall point, that there are some elegant and even poetic explanations does speak to those of us swayed by eloquence and beauty and transcendental argumentation. I like the notion that the soul is a "cosmic ether" that is subtle and universal.  This speaks to "the flow" so often spoken of in eastern religious traditions. 

  • Teresa   21 oktober 2011 21:23
    Reageer op:   C. Redwing, Ph.D.   17 oktober 2011 00:22

    I used to want to believe in an afterlife.  I wanted to imagine that life experience both positive and negative created a wisdom that would somehow last beyond our human experience. I considered this to be the soul. I would credit this to my childhood experience of my parents religion which they found such comfort in and still do.   I believed as they told me that if I were good I could go to heaven.  This offered great comfort as a child. 

    Now, all these years later, having been exposed to many different religions and spiritual philosophies that perceived comfort doesn't matter like it did.  My path turned from religion to spirituality.  My childhood belief of my "soul" resting in heaven seems a little silly.  It's all in the here and now for me.  I believe heaven and hell are here on earth in this very experience, in our everyday lives.  No reason to wait for anything.  However I still use the word soul, often referring to meeting a "soul friend" or an "old soul".  This, however, does not make me a physicalist yet.  As long as I continue to meet "old souls" and believe that near death experiences happen I will continue to question and wonder. 

  • C. Redwing, Ph.D.   23 oktober 2011 22:42
    Reageer op:   Teresa   21 oktober 2011 21:23

    Interesting and wonderful post Theresa.  Indeed, there is really no way to know for certain--yet.  In the meantime, I think it is quite interesting that a vast range of religions and even philosophical traditions consider this life (and materiality itself) the temporary phase of existence.  For the Buddhists, this life is part of a great wheel of suffering.  For Jews, Christians and Muslims, it is a "trial" of the soul for rewards (or punishments) that are meted out after death.  For the philosophers we are looking at, it seems they either suggest a purely biological stance (I still don't quite understand how they then explain away human consciousness as a biological function) or argue (like Plato) for the immortality of the soul.  Yet, I don't think that on a purely rational plane, those philosophical arguments hold much water.  They are things I "want" to be true, and they are poetic, but they also are quite beyond a logical argument.