Philosophical series-Immortality of the Soul (2)

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Reconstitution Doctrine: This second doctrine is, in its purest form, extremely simple and direct. It consists in urging the resurrection of the body or, more accurately, the reconstitution of the person. This doctrine recognizes that to be truly a human person, I have to have the corporeal human form. It then relies on an act of sheer omnipotence to produce immortal me.

Shadow-Man Doctrine: It is the claim that a person is a kind of shadow man, sufficiently human and corporeal to overcome the problem of identification with the familiar flesh and blood person and at the same time sufficiently ethereal and elusive to have no difficulty in escaping unnoticed from the ordinary earthly body which is destined to be burned or buried. A similar view is also held by some modern spiritualists— “the astral body” detaches itself at death to proceed on its “journey to the Summerland.”


At first sight, the third doctrine might appear to be the most promising way to avoid the initial difficulty. However, the doctrine is bold precisely where the other two are discreet. By insisting upon the essential incorporeality of the soul, the first neutralizes all the ordinary weapons of empirical inquiry; the second, by deferring the corporeal resurrection to an unspecified time and place, indefinitely postpones any occasion for their deployment. The crucial and probably insoluble dilemma for the shadow-man doctrine is to provide a specification of the nature of an astral body in which an astral body remains sufficiently like an ordinary flesh and blood person to avoid difficulties of identification and at the same time to ensure that the claim that there are such things would be verified.


The difficulties inherent in the traditional concept of immortality, coupled with a pervasive human fear of death, have led to non-traditional conceptions that affirm immortality even while denying the survival of the person after death.

(1) Curing Death. Advances in biomedical technologies suggest that death is a disease to be cured. Immortality thus is conceived as prolongation of human life. Whereas it may be theoretically possible to postpone death indefinitely (through technologies such as cryogenics

or genetic engineering), the desirability of prolonging life indefinitely is a significant ethical question that raises troubling questions about human nature and the purpose of life. Leon R. Kass (2001) argues that deferring death would radically change social institutions and undercut the universal human drive to procreation and protection of offspring, even to sacrifice on their behalf. Kass urges us to “resist the siren song of the conquest of aging and death” (p. 24). Regardless of the merits of Kass’s argument, it is doubtful that many of us would embrace immortality if it were just “more of the same.” Would this not be what Bernard Williams called “the tedium of immortality”?

(2) Cybernetic Immorality. Assuming that the mind—thoughts, memories, feelings, dispositions—is not an immaterial substance but is reducible to patterns of neural activity, advances in computer science (nanotechnology, quantum computing) offer the prospect of transferring the entire contents of one’s brain to a computer chip—far less likely to wear out than an organic body, and easily transferred again if chip failure becomes imminent. Ray Kurzweil predicts such immortality will be achieved by uploading the contents of our brains into ever-better computers. Frank J. Tipler proposes similar cybernetic immortality. Granting for sake of argument that a computer program could instantiate Jones’s mind, would the software offer immortality to Jones? Not only do familiar problems of personal identity plague this scenario, but it seems that (at least normally) humans are relational creatures who interact with their environment and with other persons by means of their bodies. In what sense then would the silicone-chip Jones be human? And if not human, how could it be Jones?

(3) Antirealism. An antirealist view of immortality sees “eternal life” as a matter of quality, not quantity, of life. There seems to be a rather widespread sense that death is somehow transcended through one’s projects or progeny. But this surely is not immortality traditionally conceived. Nor is the antirealist theological view of D. Z. Phillips, according to which eternal life is participation in the life of God—that is, personal transformation in this temporal life.

(4) Reincarnation. John Hick melds Christian and Eastern ideas to reinterpret immortality, resurrection, and reincarnation as “the divine creation in another space of an exact psycho-physical ‘replica’ of the deceased person.” Hick sees such divine recreations as occurring multiple times and indifferent “spaces” within a multiverse. Critics of Hick’s view grant that God would have the power to create an exact replica, but deny that the replica would, in fact, be the person who died. The right sorts of connections that would preserve identity through recreation do not obtain. Further, the possibility of multiple replicas raises both metaphysical and epistemological reasons to deny that the replica is identical to the original in any interesting sense

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