One considerable advantage, that arises from philosophy, consists in the sovereign antidote, which it affords to superstition and false religion. All other remedies against that pestilent distemper are vain, or, at least, uncertain. Plain good-
sense, and the practice of the world, which alone serve most purposes of life, are here found ineffectual: History, as well as daily experience, furnishesaffords instances of men, endowed with the strongest capacity for business and affairs, who have all their lives crouched under slavery to the grossest superstition. Even gaiety and sweetness of temper, which infuse a balm into every other wound, afford no remedy to so virulent a poison;
as we may particularly observe of the fair sex, who, tho’ commonly possesspossessed of these rich presents of nature, feel many of their joys blasted by this importunate intruder. But when sound philosophy has once gained possession of the mind, superstition is effectually excluded; and one may safely affirm, that her triumph over this enemy is more compleat than over most of the vices and imperfections, incident to human nature. Love or anger, ambition or avarice, have their root in the temper and affections, which the soundest reason is scarce ever able fully to correct. But superstition, being founded on false opinion, must immediately vanish, when true philosophy has inspired juster sentiments of superior powers. The contest is here more equal betwixtbetween the distemper and the medicine: And nothing can hinder the latter from proving effectual, but its being false and sophisticated.
It will here be superfluous to magnify the merits of philosophy, by displaying the pernicious tendency of that vice, of which it cures the human mind. The superstitious man, says Tully01a, is miserable in every scene, in every incident of life. Even sleep itself, which banishes all other cares of unhappy mortals, affords to him matter of new terror; while he examines his dreams, and finds in those visions of the night, prognostications of future calamities. I may add, that, tho’ death alone can put a full period to his misery, he dares not fly to this refuge, but still prolongs a miserable existence, from a vain fear, lest he offend his maker, by using the power, with which that beneficent being has endowed him. The presents of God and Nature are ravished from us by this cruel enemy; and notwithstanding that one step would remove us from the regions of pain and sorrow, her menaces still chain us down to a hated being, which she herself chiefly contributes to render miserable.
’TisIt is observed of such as have been reduced by the calamities of life to the necessity of employing this fatal remedy, that, if the unseasonable care of their friends deprive them of
that species of death, which they proposed to themselves, they seldom venture upon any other, or can summon up so much resolution, a second time, as to execute their purpose. So great is our horror of death, that when it presents itself under any form, besides that to which a man has endeavoured to reconcile his imagination, it acquires new terrors, and overcomes his feeble courage. But when the menaces of superstition are joined to this natural timidity, no wonder it quite deprives men of all power over their lives; since even many pleasures and enjoyments, to which we are carried by a strong propensity, are torn from us by this inhuman tyrant. Let us here endeavour to restore men to their native liberty, by examining all the common arguments against Suicide, and shewing, that Thatthat action may be free from every imputation of guilt or blame; according to the sentiments of all the antient philosophers.
If Suicide be criminal, it must be a transgression of our duty, either to God, our neighbour, or ourselves.
To prove, that Suicide is no transgression of our duty to God, the following considerations may perhaps suffice. In order to govern the material world, the almighty creator has established general and immutable laws, by which all bodies, from the greatest planet to the smallest particle of matter, are maintained in their proper sphere and function. To govern the animal world, he has endowed all living creatures with bodily and mental powers; with senses, passions, appetites, memory, and judgment; by which they are impelled or regulated in that course of life, to which they are destined. These two distinct principles of the material and animal world continually encroach upon each other, and mutually retard or forward each other’s operation. The powers of men and of all other animals are restrained and directed by the nature and qualities of the surrounding bodies; and the modifications and actions of these bodies are incessantly altered by the operation of all animals. Man is stoptstopped by rivers in his passage over the surface of the earth; and rivers, when properly directed, lend their force to the motion of machines, which serve to the use
of man. But tho’ the provinces of the material and animal powers are not kept entirely separate, there result from thence no discord or disorder in the creation: On the contrary, from the mixture, union, and contrast of all the various powers of inanimate bodies and living creatures, arises that surprizing harmony and proportion, which affords the surest argument of supreme wisdom.
The providence of the deity appears not immediately in any operation, but governs every thing by those general and immutable laws, which have been established from the beginning of time. All events, in one sense, may be pronounced the action of the almighty: They all proceed from those powers, with which he has endowed his creatures. A house, which falls by its own weight, is not brought to ruin by his providence more than one destroyed by the hands of men; nor are the human faculties less his workmanship than the laws of motion and gravitation. When the passions play, when the judgment dictates, when the limbs obey; this is all the operation of God; and upon these animate principles, as well as upon the inanimate, has he established the government of the universe.
Every event is alike important in the eyes of that infinite being, who takes in, at one glance, the most distant regions of space and remotest periods of time. There is no one event, however important to us, which he has exempted from the general laws that govern the universe, or which he has peculiarly reserved for his own immediate action and operation. The revolutions of states and empires depend upon the smallest caprice or passion of single men; and the lives of men are shortened or extended by the smallest accident of air or diet, sunshine or tempest. Nature still continues her progress and operation; and if general laws be ever broke by particular volitions of the deity, ’tisit is after a manner which entirely escapes human observation. As on the one hand, the elements and other inanimate parts of the creation carry on their action without regard to the particular interest and situation of men; so men are entrusted to their own judgment and discretion in the various shocks of matter, and may employ every faculty,
with which they are endowed, in order to provide for their ease, happiness, or preservation.
What is the meaning, then, of that principle, that a man, who, tired of life, and hunted by pain and misery, bravely overcomes all the natural terrors of death, and makes his escape from this cruel scene; that such a man, I say, has incurred the indignation of his creator, by encroaching on the office of divine providence, and disturbing the order of the universe? Shall we assert, that the Almighty has reserved to himself, in any peculiar manner, the disposal of the lives of men, and has not submitted that event, in common with others, to the general laws, by which the universe is governed? This is plainly false. The lives of men depend upon the same laws as the lives of all other animals; and these are subjected to the general laws of matter and motion. The fall of a tower or the infusion of a poison will destroy a man equally with the meanest creature: An inundation sweeps away every thing, without distinction, that comes within the reachreach of its fury. Since therefore the lives of men are for ever dependent on the general laws of matter and motion; is a man’s disposing of his life criminal, because, in every case, it is criminal to encroach upon these laws, or disturb their operation? But this seems absurd. All animals are entrusted to their own prudence and skill for their conduct in the world, and have full authority, as far as their power extends, to alter all the operations of nature. Without the exercise of this authority, they could not subsist a moment. Every action, every motion of a man innovates in the order of some parts of matter, and diverts, from their ordinary course, the general laws of motion. Putting together, therefore, these conclusions, we find, that human life depends upon the general laws of matter and motion, and that’tisit is no encroachment on the office of providence to disturb or alter these general laws. Has not every one, of consequence, the free disposal of his own life? And may he not lawfully employ that power with which nature has endowed him?
In order to destroy the evidence of this conclusion, we must shew a reason, why this particular case is excepted. Is it because human life is of so great importance, that ’tisit is a
presumption for human prudence to dispose of it? But the life of man is of no greater importance to the universe than that of an oyster. And were it of ever so great importance, the order of nature has actually submitted it to human prudence, and reduced us to a necessity, in every incident, of determining concerning it.
Were the disposal of human life so much reserved as the peculiar province of the almighty that it were an encroachment on his right for men to dispose of their own lives; it would be equally criminal to act for the preservation of life as for its destruction. If I turn aside a stone, which is falling upon my head, I disturb the course of nature, and I invade the peculiar province of the almighty, by lengthening out my life, beyond the period, which, by the general laws of matter and motion, he had assigned to it.
A hair, a fly, an insect is able to destroy this mighty being, whose life is of such importance. Is it an absurdity to suppose, that human prudence may lawfully dispose of what depends on such insignificant causes?
It would be no crime in me to divert the Nile or Danube from its course, were I able to effect such purposes. Where then is the crime of turning a few ounces of blood from their natural chanels!
Do you imagine that I repine at providence or curse my creation, because I go out of life, and put a period to a being, which, were it to continue, would render me miserable? Far be such sentiments from me. I am only convinced of a matter of fact, which you yourself acknowledge possible, that human life may be unhappy, and that my existence, if farther prolonged, would become uneligible. But I thank providence, both for the good, which I have already enjoyed, and for the power, with which I am endowed, of escaping the ill that threatens me02a. To you it belongs to repine at providence, who foolishly imagine that you have no such power, and who must
still prolong a hated lifebeing, tho’ loaded with pain and sickness, with shame and poverty.
Do you not teach, that when any ill befalls me, tho’ by the malice of my enemies, I ought to be resigned to providence; and that the actions of men are the operations of the almighty as much as the actions of inanimate beings? When I fall upon my own sword, therefore, I receive my death equally from the hands of the deity, as if it had proceeded from a lion, a precipice, or a fever.
The submission, which you require to providence, in every calamity, that befalls me, excludes not human skill and industry; if possibly, by their means, I can avoid or escape the calamity. And why may I not employ one remedy as well as another?
If my life be not my own, it were criminal for me to put it in danger, as well as to dispose of it: Nor could one man deserve the appellation of Hero, whom glory or friendship transports into the greatest dangers, and another merit the reproach of Wretch or Miscreant, who puts a period to his life, from the same or like motives.
There is no being, which possesses any power or faculty, that it receives not from its creator; nor is there any one, which, by ever so irregular an action, can encroach upon the plan of his providence, or disorder the universe. Its operations are his work equally with that chain of events, which it invades; and which ever principle prevails, we may, for that very reason, conclude it to be most favoured by him. Be it animate or inanimate, rational or irrational, ’tisit is all a case: It’sIts power is still derived from the supreme creator, and is alike comprehended in the order of his providence. When the horror of pain prevails over the love of life: When a voluntary action anticipates the effect of blind causes; ’tisit is only in consequence of those powers and principles, which he has implanted in his creatures. Divine providence is still inviolate, and placed far beyond the reach of human injuries.
’TisIt is impious, says the old Roman superstition03a, to divert
rivers from their course, or invade the prerogatives of nature. ’TisIt is impious, says the French superstition, to inoculate for the small-pox, or usurp the business of providence, by voluntarily producing distempers and maladies. ’TisIt is impious, says the modern European superstition, to put a period to our own life, and thereby rebel against our creator. And why not impious, say I, to build houses, cultivate the ground, and sail upon the ocean? In all these actions, we employ our powers of mind and body to produce some innovation in the course of nature; and in none of them do we any more. They are all of them, therefore, equally innocent or equally criminal.
But you are placed by providence, like a sentinel, in a particular station; and when you desert it, without being recalled, you are guilty of rebellion against your almighty sovereign, and have incurred his displeasure. I ask, why do you conclude, that Providence has placed me in this station? For my part, I find, that I owe my birth to a long chain of causes, of which many and even the principal, depended upon voluntary actions of men. But Providence guided all these causes, and nothing happens in the universe without its consent and co-operation. If so, then neither does my death, however voluntary, happen without it’sits consent; and whenever pain and sorrow so far overcome my patience as to make me tired of life, I may conclude, that I am recalled from my station, in the clearest and most express terms.
’TisIt is providence, surely, that has placed me at present in this chamber: But may I not leave it, when I think proper, without being liable to the imputation of having deserted my post or station? When I shall be dead, the principles, of which I am composed, will still perform their part in the universe, and will be equally useful in the grand fabric, as when they composed this individual creature. The difference to the
whole will be no greater than betwixtbetween my being in a chamber and in the open air. The one change is of more importance to me than the other; but not more so to the universe.
’TisIt is a kind of blasphemy to imagine, that any created being can disturb the order of the world, or invade the business of providence. It supposes, that that being possesses powers and faculties, which it received not from its creator, and which are not subordinate to his government and authority. A man may disturb society, no doubt; and thereby incur the displeasure of the almighty: But the government of the world is placed far beyond his reach and violence. And how does it appear, that the almighty is displeased with those actions, that disturb society? By the principles which he has implanted in human nature, and which inspire us with a sentiment of remorse, if we ourselves have been guilty of such actions, and with that of blame and disapprobation, if we ever observe them in others. Let us now examine, according to the method proposed, whether Suicide be of this kind of actions, and be a breach of our duty to our neighbour and to society.
A man, who retires from life, does no harm to society. He only ceases to do good; which, if it be an injury, is of the lowest kind.
All our obligations to do good to society seem to imply something reciprocal. I receive the benefits of society, and therefore ought to promote it’sits interest. But when I withdraw myself altogether from society, can I be bound any longer?
But allowing, that our obligations to do good were perpetual, they have certainly some bounds. I am not obliged to do a small good to society, at the expence of a great harm to myself. Why then should I prolong a miserable existence, because of some frivolous advantage, which the public may, perhaps, receive from me? If upon account of age and infirmities, I may lawfully resign any office, and employ my time altogether in fencing against these calamities, and alleviating, as much as possible, the miseries of my future life: Why may I not cut short these miseries at once by an action, which is no more prejudicial to society?
But suppose, that it is no longer in my power to promote the interest of societythe public: Suppose, that I am a burthen to it: Suppose, that my life hinders some person from being much more useful to societythe public. In such cases my resignation of life must not only be innocent but laudable. And most people, who lie under any temptation to abandon existence, are in some such situation. Those, who have health, or power, or authority, have commonly better reason to be in humour with the world.
A man is engaged in a conspiracy for the public interest; is seized upon suspicion; is threatened with the rack; and knows, from his own weakness, that the secret will be extorted from him: Could such a one consult the public interest better than by putting a quick period to a miserable life? This was the case of the famous and brave Strozzi of Florence.
Again, suppose a malefactor justly condemned to a shameful death; can any reason be imagined, why he may not anticipate his punishment, and save himself all the anguish of thinking on its dreadful approaches? He invades the business of
providence no more than the magistrate did, who ordered his execution; and his voluntary death is equally advantageous to society, by ridding it of a pernicious member.
That Suicide may often be consistent with interest and with our duty to ourselves, no one can question, who allows, that age, sickness, or misfortune may render life a burthen, and make it worse even than annihilation. I believe that no man ever threw away life, while it was worth keeping. For such is our natural horror of death, that small motives will never be able to reconcile us to it. And tho’ perhaps the situation of a man’s health or fortune did not seem to require this remedy, we may at least be assured, that any one, who, without apparent reason, has had recourse to it, was curst with such an incurable depravity or gloominess of temper, as must poison all enjoyment, and render him equally miserable as if he had been loaded with the most grievous misfortunes.
If Suicide be supposed a crime, ’tisit is only cowardice can impel us to it. If it be no crime, both prudence and courage should engage us to rid ourselves at once of existence, when it becomes a burthen. ’TisIt is the only way, that we can then be useful to society, by setting an example, which, if imitated, would preserve to every one his chance for happiness in life, and would effectually free him from all danger of misery04a" comment="this footnote has no anchor in the text, but this is where it is placed in the posthumous 1777 edition.
Of the Immortality of the Soul
By the mere light of reason it seems difficult to prove the Immortality of the Soul. The arguments for it are commonly derived either from metaphysical topics, or moral or physical. But in reality, it is the gospel, and the gospel alone, that has brought life and immortality to light.
I. Metaphysical topics supposeare founded on the supposition that the soul is immaterial, and that it is impossible for thought to belong to a material substance.
But just metaphysics teach us, that the notion of substance is wholly confused and imperfect, and that we have no other idea of any substance than as an aggregate of particular qualities, inhering in an unknown something. Matter, therefore, and spirit are at bottom equally unknown; and we cannot determine what qualities may inhere in the one or in the other.
They likewise teach us, that nothing can be decided a priori concerning any cause or effect; and that experience being the only source of our judgments of this nature, we cannot know from any other principle, whether matter, by its structure or arrangement, may not be the cause of thought. Abstract reasonings cannot decide any question of fact or existence.
But admitting a spiritual substance to be dispersed throughout the universe, like the etherial fire of the Stoics, and to be the only inherent subject of thought; we have reason to conclude from analogy, that nature uses it after the same manner she does the other substance, matter. She employs it as a kind of paste or clay; modifies it into a variety of forms and existences; dissolves after a time each modification; and from its substance erects a new form. As the same material substance may successively compose the body of all animals, the same spiritual substance may compose their minds: Their consciousness, or that system of thought, which they formed
during life, may be continually dissolved by death; and nothing interest them in the new modification. The most positive asserters of the mortality of the soul, never denied the immortality of its substance. And that an immaterial substance, as well as a material, may lose its memory or consciousness appears, in part, from experience, if the soul be immaterial.
Reasoning from the common course of nature, and without supposing any newnew interposition of the supreme cause, which ought always to be excluded from philosophy; what is incorruptible must also be ingenerable. The soul, therefore, if immortal, existed before our birth: And if the former state of existence no waywise concerned us, neither will the latter.
Animals undoubtedly feel, think, love, hate, will, and even reason, tho’ in a more imperfect manner than man. Are their souls also immaterial and immortal?
II. Let us now consider the moral arguments, chiefly those arguments derived from the justice of God, which is supposed to be farther interested in the farther punishment of the vicious, and reward of the virtuous.
But these arguments are grounded on the supposition, that God has attributes beyond what he has exerted in this universe, with which alone we are acquainted. Whence do we infer the existence of these attributes?
’TisIt is very safe for us to affirm, that, whatever we know the deity to have actually done, is best; but ’tisit is very dangerous to affirm, that he must always do what to us seems best. In how many instances would this reasoning fail us with regard to the present world?
But if any purpose of nature be clear, we may affirm, that the whole scope and intention of man’s creation, so far as we can judge by natural reason, is limited to the present life. With how weak a concern, from the original, inherent structure of the mind and passions, does he ever look farther? What comparison, either for steddiness or efficacy, betwixtbetween so floating an idea, and the most doubtful persuasion of any matter of fact, that occurs in common life.
There arise, indeed, in some minds, some unaccountable terrors with regard to futurity: But these would quickly vanish, were they not artificially fostered by precept and education. And those, who foster them; what is their motive? Only to gain a livelihood, and to acquire power and riches in this world. Their very zeal and industry, therefore, are an argument against them.
What cruelty, what iniquity, what injustice in nature, to confine thus all our concern, as well as all our knowledge, to the present life, if there be another scene still waitingawaiting us, of infinitely greater consequence? Ought this barbarous deceit to be ascribed to a beneficent and wise being?
Observe with what exact proportion the task to be performed and the performing powers are adjusted throughout all nature. If the reason of man gives him a great superiority above other animals, his necessities are proportionably multiplied upon him. His whole time, his whole capacity, activity, courage, passion, find sufficient employment, in fencing against the miseries of his present condition. And frequently, nay almost always, are too slender for the business assigned them.
A pair of shoes, perhaps, was never yet wrought to the highest degree of perfection, which that commodity is capable of attaining. Yet is it necessary, at least very useful, that there should be some politicians and moralists, even some geometers, historians, poets, and philosophers among mankind.
The powers of men are no more superior to their wants, considered merely in this life, than those of foxes and hares are, compared to their wants and to their period of existence. The inference from parity of reason is therefore obvious.
On the theory of the soul’s mortality, the inferiority of women’s capacity is easily accounted for: Their domestic life requires no higher faculties either of mind or body. This circumstance vanishes and becomes absolutely insignificant, on the religious theory: The one sex has an equal task to perform aswith the other: Their powers of reason and resolution ought also to have been equal, and both of them infinitely greater than at present.
As every effect implies a cause, and that another, till we reach the first cause of all, which is the Deity; every thing, that happens, is ordained by him; and nothing can be the object of his punishment or vengeance.
By what rule are punishments and rewards distributed? What is the divine standard of merit and demerit? Shall we suppose, that human sentiments have place in the deity? However bold that hypothesis, we have no conception of any other sentiments.
According to human sentiments, sense, courage, good manners, industry, prudence, genius, &c. are essential parts of personal merit. Shall we therefore erect an elysium for poets and heroes, like that of the antient mythology? Why confine all rewards to one species of virtue?
Punishment, without any proper end or purpose, is inconsistent with our ideas of goodness and justice, and no end can be served by it after the whole scene is closed.
Punishment, according to our conceptions, should bear some proportion to the offence. Why then eternal punishment for the temporary offences of so frail a creature as man? Can any one approve of Alexander’s rage, who intended to exterminate a whole nation, because they had seized his favourite horse, Bucephalus01a?
Heaven and hell suppose two distinct species of men, the good and the bad. But the greatest part of mankind float betwixtbetween vice and virtue.
Were one to go round the world with an intention of giving a good supper to the righteous and a sound drubbing to the wicked, he would frequently be embarrassed in his choice,
and would find, that the merits and the demerits of most men and women scarcely amount to the value of either.
To suppose measures of approbation and blame, different from the human, confounds every thing. Whence do we learn, that there is such a thing as moral distinctions but from our own sentiments?
What man, who has not met with personal provocation (or what good natur’d man who has) could inflict on crimes, from the sense of blame alone, even the common, legal, frivolous punishments? And does any thing steel the breast of judges and juries against the sentiments of humanity but reflections on necessity and public interest?
By the Roman law, those who had been guilty of parricide and confessed their crime, were put into a sack, along with an ape, a dog, and a serpent; and thrown into the river: Death alone was the punishment of those, who denied their guilt, however fully proved. A criminal was tryed before Augustus, and condemned after full conviction: But the humane emperor, when he put the last interrogatory, gave it such a turn as to lead the wretch into a denial of his guilt. You surely, said the prince, did not kill your father02b. This lenity suits our natural ideas of right, even towards the greatest of all criminals, and even tho’ it prevents so inconsiderable a sufferance. Nay, even the most bigotted priest would naturally, without reflection, approve of it; provided the crime was not heresy or infidelity. For as these crimes hurt himself in his temporal interests and advantages; perhaps he may not be altogether so indulgent to them.
The chief source of moral ideas is the reflection on the interest of human society. Ought these interests, so short, so frivolous, to be guarded by punishments, eternal and infinite? The damnation of one man is an infinitely greater evil in the universe, than the subversion of a thousand millions of kingdoms.
Nature has rendered human infancy peculiarly frail and
mortal; as it were on purpose to refute the notion of a probationary state. The half of mankind dye before they are rational creatures.
III. Thephysical arguments from the analogy of nature are strong for the mortality of the soul; and these are really the only philosophical arguments, which ought to be admitted with regard to this question, or indeed any question of fact.
Where any two objects are so closely connected, that all alterations, which we have ever seen in the one, are attended with proportionable alterations in the other; we ought to conclude, by all rules of analogy, that, when there are still greater alterations produced in the former, and it is totally dissolved, there follows a total dissolution of the latter.
Sleep, a very small effect on the body, is attended with a temporary extinction; at least, a great confusion in the soul.
The weakness of the body and that of the mind in infancy are exactly proportioned; their vigor in manhood; their sympathetic disorder in sickness; their common gradual decay in old age. The step further seems unavoidable; their common dissolution in death.
The last symptoms, which the mind discovers, are disorder, weakness, insensibility, stupidity, the forerunners of its annihilation. The farther progress of the same causes, encreasing the same effects, totally extinguish it.
Judging by the usual analogy of nature, no form can continue, when transferred to a condition of life very different from the original one, in which it was placed. Trees perish in the water; fishes in the air; animals in the earth. Even so small a difference as that of climate is often fatal. What reason then to imagine, that an immense alteration, such as is made on the soul by the dissolution of its body and all its organs of thought and sensation, can be effected without the dissolution of the whole?
Every thing is in common betwixtbetween soul and body. The organs of the one are all of them the organs of the other. The existence therefore of the one must be dependent on that of the other.
The souls of animals are allowed to be mortal; and these bear so near a resemblance to the souls of men, that the analogy from one to the other forms a very strong argument. Their bodies are not more resembling; yet no one rejects the arguments drawn from comparative anatomy. The Metempsychosis is therefore the only system of this kind, that philosophy can so much as hearken to.
Nothing in this world is perpetual. Every being, however seemingly firm, is in continual flux and change: The world itself gives symptoms of frailty and dissolution: How contrary to analogy, therefore, to imagine, that one single form, seemingly the frailest of any, and, from the slightest causes, subject to the greatest disorders, is immortal and indissoluble? What a daring theory is that! How lightly, not to say, how rashly entertained!
How to dispose of the infinite number of posthumous existences ought also to embarrass the religious theory. Every planet, in every solar system, we are at liberty to imagine peopled with intelligent, mortal beings: At least, we can fix on no other supposition. For these, then, a new universe must, every generation, be created, beyond the bounds of the present universe; or one must have been created at first so prodigiously wide as to admit of this continual influx of beings. Ought such bold suppositions to be received by any philosophy; and that merely on the pretextpretence of a bare possibility?
When it is asked, whether Agamemnon, Thersites, Hannibal, Nero, and every stupid clown, that ever existed in Italy, Scythia, Bactria, or Guinea, are now alive; can any man think, that a scrutiny of nature will furnish arguments strong enough to answer so strange a question in the affirmative? The want of arguments, without revelation, sufficiently establishes the negative.
Quanto facilius, says Pliny03a, certiusque sibi quemque credere, ac specimen securitatis antigenitali sumere experimento. Our insensibility, before the composition of the body, seems to natural reason a proof of a like state after its dissolution.
Were our horror of annihilation an original passion, not the effect of our general love of happiness, it would rather prove the mortality of the soul. For as nature does nothing in vain, she would never give us a horror against an impossible event. She may give us a horror against an unavoidable event, provided our endeavours, as in the present case, may often remove it to some distance. Death is in the end unavoidable; yet the human species could not be preserved, had not nature inspired us with an aversion towards it.
All doctrines are to be suspected, which are favoured by our passions. And the hopes and fears which gave rise to thethis doctrine, are very obvious.
’TisIt is an infinite advantage in every controversy, to defend the negative. If the question be out of the common experienced course of nature, this circumstance is almost if not altogether decisive. By what arguments or analogies can we prove any state of existence, which no one ever saw, and which no waywise resembles any that ever was seen? Who will repose such trust in any pretended philosophy, as to admit upon its testimony the reality of so marvellous a scene? Some new species of logic is requisite for that purpose; and some new faculties of the mind, which may enable us to comprehend that logic.
Nothing could set in a fuller light the infinite obligations, which mankind have to divine revelation; since we find, that no other medium could ascertain this great and important truth.
(PRICE FIVE SHILLINGS.)
These are all A grade essays with the mark out of 35 given at the end.
“THE CONCEPT OF DISEMBODIED SELF IS COHERENT”. DISCUSS
The concept of disembodied existence can often be taken by advocates of dualism, the belief that humans consist of a body and soul which are separate and can be separated at death, as a coherent explanation for the question of life after death. For a dualist the soul holds the relevant qualities of personhood so that we can say a ‘person’ ‘survives’ death.
However, this theory would be greatly opposed by those who believe in materialism, or monism, the belief that we as humans exist as a single unit of body and soul (or mind) which cannot be separated. It would therefore not be coherent for a monist to believe in disembodied existence as the soul does not have intrinsic value outside of the body. It is perhaps first necessary to look at the nature of personhood and different beliefs on what constitutes a person.
One of the major problems with life after death theories is the problem of continuity and identity and in what way we are said to ‘exist’ after death. It is necessary to look at different opinions on what constitutes a person. Some believe that the only real continuity is bodily continuity and therefore it is our bodies by which we identify who ‘we’ really are. The concept of disembodied existence would therefore be incoherent as there is no bodily continuity and therefore no real existence of a person. Other philosophers such as John Locke argue that it is the memories of man that make up his identity and therefore if memories remain it is coherent to say that that person ‘exists’ even if they do not have a body. This view however does have many problems. Locke insists that as soon as memory is lost identification and personhood is lost but this has inconsistencies, if 1 person, for example, lost their memory due to amnesia or an accident would we not call them the same person they were before?
So the question remains that in what way would disembodied existence seem a coherent possibility after death? Disembodied existence seems to sit comfortable with the classical views of Platonic dualism. Plato believed that the soul was imprisoned within the body and that the ultimate goal of the soul was to be released (at death) back to the world of the Forms where it could be reunited with the Form of the Good (God). Thus the body which is purely material dies for Plato and the soul returns to the world of the Forms and is immortal. However, the concept of disembodied existence does not seem so cohesive with other dualistic models. Descarte’s dualistic model, as interactionism, maintains that bodily states can causally affect mental states and mental states can causally affect bodily events. Thus although the soul or mind has a higher fundamental value, and the body is still matter capable of decay, they do exist within interaction of one another. Therefore, it would be conceivable to conclude that one could not survive without the other? Either they both perish at death or they both survive death. It could also be questioned whether the dualistic model of epiphenomenalism coincides with the concept of disembodied existence. Since bodily states can causally affect mind states, even though mind states are of a higher reality than bodily ones, how would a mind or soul survive without the body? It seems to have little or no control over the body, so how can we suggest that it has an objective existence of its own after death?
Of course the main opposition to the belief in the concept of disembodied existence after death will come from the view of the materialists or monists who hold that body and soul are one and are inseparable. Gilbert Ryle holds this view and criticised Descarte’s thinking calling it ‘the ghost in the machine’. Ryle held that there was no such thing as body and mind as different entities and that the confusion had come about through a ‘category mistake’. Thus when we refer to our ‘soul’ or ‘mind’ we are referring like a collective noun as the way in which our body acts or behaves. Thus there is no such thing as an immortal soul and so the concept of disembodied existence is incoherent and incomprehensible. Since for monists continuity after death must involve bodily continuity, an alternative theory for monists on existence after death is that of resurrection or reincarnation.
However, there do seem to be fundamental flaws in both of these monists views as well. Resurrection implies bodily continuity or similarity argued for in Hicks ‘replica theory’ however Greach argues that bodily similarity is not enough, it has to be exact continuity and therefore a replica theory is rejected. Penelbaum also rejects this theory on the grounds that it does not maintain mental continuity and it also has implications for the theories of ethics and moral judgements. How could a replica be divinely judged for something they did not do? Reincarnation also fails as a plausible theory on existence after death as the reincarnated being bears no resemblance either physically or mental (memories) of its past lives and therefore in what way can we say that it is the same person who previously existed?
Perhaps a coherent view of resurrection can be seen in the teachings of St Paul regarding Jesus’s resurrection. St Paul maintains that after resurrection we change by a spiritual process but are still the same person. Like a plant comes from a seed but does not bear any physical resemblance to that seed so we are at resurrection. Perhaps another good example is of a caterpillar into a butterfly, physical resemblance is not there but it is still the same being. It must be remembered for Christian believers that after his resurrection Jesus was unrecognisable to his friends but was still the same person.
So, it can be seen that disembodied existence can be taken as coherent or incoherent depending on ones views of personhood and what constitutes a person (whether we are a psycho-physical unit that is indissoluble, as Hick believes, or made up of both a body and soul which can separated as dualists believe). Disembodied existence is coherent with Platonic thought however it raises questions in other dualistic models on the nature of the interaction between body and soul. However, attempts to prove corporeal existence after death have also failed as continuity of the body is questionable after the death and decay of the body. Perhaps disembodied existence is not objective but means that we exist only in the mind of God or in the minds and memories of others. This too has problems however when regarded to whether this actually constitutes immorality or existence, in what way are we existing or participating in the Mind of God? This would also mean that the mind of God was tainted with our sins. Perhaps the only real evidence of disembodied existence can be brought forward through ESP (extra sensory perception) or the existence of telepathy or clairvoyance. However, these all have dubious grounds and cannot be counted on for reliable evidence for the cohesive concept of disembodied existence. Personally I therefore reject the statement that ‘The concept of disembodied existence is coherent’ as the arguments for any form of after life experience fail unless we presuppose an existence of God which requires faith and cannot be empirically verified. (29/35)
Disembodied existence is an incoherent concept. There is a long standing division in the debate of what the human being consists of – whether it be a composite of body and soul or a indistinguishable unity. This impinges on what kind of existence, if there is any, will occur after death. However, evidence on either side is slim – how can we ever know until we die? Which is a notion put forth as an escatalogical verification/falsification of the after life.
However, before we can begin to tackle the question of what kind of existence there is, we must first establish the identity of self and personhood. Flew notes that personal pronouns such as “I”, “you”, “they” and so on apply on to physical entities so if I was to speak of Miriam, I am identifying her as a physical being. I can see, hear and touch her rather that a substance or spiritual self. However, what Flew does not consider is the difference in the application of the word “I”. When one is in use of the personal pronoun, they are not simply talking of physical characteristics, but are referring to something beyond that. For example, I can refer to my self as if my body is separate to me, in phrases such as “my bottom looks big in this dress” or “my body looks fat” so its almost as if your mind can have an objective view of your physical self. On the other hand, your physical characteristics do affect your personality. For example, Mrs Wilson is a short, firey woman with purple hair. If she was tall and blond her personality would be different because her loudness and firey nature are a product of her height – there is a need to compensate in some way to retain control. In the same way, we can see ourselves in this light.
With this in mind, we must run alongside identity with continuity so that we can ask the question, if we do exist after death, how? And how of “me” is there (how am I identified)? In the case of monism, we face many difficulties. In term of subjective immortality, there is , as the traditional Christian church put forth, a resurrection of the dead with Jesus Christ. This would mean that your physical body on earth would die, then your soul would be placed in a new body so you could enter into heaven. However, we have problems with this in relation to our concept of heaven – is that a physical state, requiring physical bodies, and if so why? And to what extend can my new body be me. John Hicks poses that, as we a psycho-physical entities, when our earthly body dies ( as we know occurs because of observation of decay in science), our soul is placed into another body – a replica of what we looked like in our previous life. However, in terms of judgement, how can God condemn or reward our new selves/body on the basis of the behaviour of our previous bodies. This seems unfair. Moreover, a replica is a replica; if I had a replica of the ‘Mona Lisa’ it still would make it the original painting, despite its similarities. Again, to what extent is this truly “me”?
With dualism we do not face so many difficulties in terms I continuity. Firstly, we have disembodied existence. This can however take a number of forms. We, as humans can have a resurrection of the disembodied self. Whereby your substance/soul or form continued to existence after the death of your physical body. In terms of what structure that existence will take, the is a theory that existence could exist objectively, in the awareness of God since God is infinite and immortal, and human being are not. But what kind of existence is this? Surely an omnipotent, benevolent God would be interested in the individuality of His people. After all, it is not our immortality. Furthermore, where sin is concerned – does God then allow sin to enter with Him? We could suggest that He is a compassionate God but then God would be temporal because He would be changed every time somebody else came into His awareness – this is not the simple God of Aquinas.
On the other hand, it is possible that we could exist as a commune of minds, thoughts and dreams. So our after life would consist of all of our ‘paradise-like’ dream and desires. But what happens when the desires of one person conflicts with another? It seems that although disembodied existence does contribute greatly to the discussion of life after death, it appears to be the most incoherent in all of its forms.
Yet, maybe there is a alley that we have forgotten. Reincarnation is a form of life after death that helps to overcome some of the obstacles monists face and that of disembodied existence. Reincarnation bases its belief on the immortality of the soul. The body ceases to exist in the phenomenological world, as Kant put it – whilst the soul transports or is incarnate into another body. However, like all of the theories we have assessed, we are back where we began, with the idea of personhood. Which of the bodies in reincarnation is your ‘self’? – the first, second, third, fourth or fifth? Though some may say that memory of past lives is evidence for the existence of reincarnation – this is not enough. Maybe it is better to take the view of Duns Scotus …… ………; we can never know whether there is an existence of an after life and what form it takes until we die. (30/35)
The argument for the concept of disembodied existence being coherent is largely followed by dualists, who believe the body and mind are two separate entities and the soul can live on eternally. However, the argument against dualism is monism that sees the body and mind as one. Flew in particular argued that it was incoherent according to language to conceive the concept of disembodied existence as he saw it as a contradiction in terms and likened it to the phrase “Dead survivors”. This essay will now examine in more detail the arguments for and against the concept of disembodied existence being coherent.
Disembodied existence can be considered coherent from the argument of dualism. Plato believed the mind was separate from the body and from the world of Forms. The mind, for Plato, was seen as immortal, and was what continued to live on after death, whilst the body ceases to exist. Another argument was added to dualism by Descartes and became known as ‘cartesian dualism’. Descartes famously said ‘Cogito, ergo sum’ – ‘I think, therefore I am’. For Descartes the mind can continue a disembodied existence. The body and mind interact with each other at all times. There has been evidence to prove that the body produces states on the mind, as well as the mind producing states on the body. But how can something non-spatial effect something spatial? And also if there is so much interaction, would the idea of the mind continuing without the body not be seen as illogical?
Gilbert Ryle saw Descartes model as a ‘ghost in a machine’ with the belief of the mind in the body. The misunderstanding of dualism was seen by Ryle as a category mistake as we are in fact a mind and body unity. To show this he used an example of a foreigner looking at all the colleges and buildings that make up the university and asking where the university was. Ryle swathe university as the mind, and all the colleges and buildings as brain patterns of behaviour. But what about brain states that do not provoke a pattern of behaviour such as lying or pain?
But perhaps disembodied existence is incoherent. Following the beliefs of Richard Dawkins perhaps we are just bytes of digital information and there is in fact no concept of a soul. However, it must be asked then what is our purpose here on earth? The reason put forward by Dawkins that we are here just from successful DNA replication seems to be missing something. Disembodied existence linguistically does seem a contradiction of terms, likened by Flew the same as ‘Dead Survivors’, but the evidence of near death experiences seem to show a pattern in the description of yourself out of your body looking down. Schlick too argues that viewing your own funeral as an after-death experience is imaginable as well as being conceivable.
However, problems with language arise here. Are you really viewing yourself, or just an empty vessel of what is left of your body? Flew believes you cannot even imply the words ‘you’, ‘her’, and ‘I’ to a possible after-life as they are only coherent in this physical world. However, we cannot know for certain that that is the case. A J Ayer believes the words could still be applied to another possible reality. If we are to have disembodied existence, we may still be recognisable. Also, the use of ‘I’ can be seen as distinctly different to other pronouns such as ‘her’ and ‘you’ as it involves a sense of self knowledge, argued also by Badham.
Perhaps what must be argued is if there is continuation after death, what form of life is it? Maybe it is not disembodied existence and we are in fact reincarnated with a new body. In this way the problem disembodied existence is removed, but others still arise. If we are reincarnated how are we continuing as we would be different? The argument against this view is that our soul is still however continuing and able to develop. But one major problem arises if there is to be judgement at the end of time is it morally fair to punish the ‘new’ body because of its soul? So perhaps an after-life consists of another form of existence. We could continue to exist as a product of the mind living from our basic desires, a view held by H Price. But this seems to imply no sense of community, but rather isolation and an after-life created by ourselves could be difficult. People may be driven by selfish desires.
Therefore, the concept that disembodied existence is not coherent (held by monists such as Aristotle and Dawkins) is argued from the view that the mind and body are one, and one cannot continue without the other. But the challenge against this is that there is continuation after death with evidence stemming from the bible. But the term disembodied existence does bring difficulties with language, but just because there is confusion does not mean it could not be conceivable. However, perhaps a solution is brought forward by Hick’s replica theory. Hick saw people as a psyche-physical unity so the mind and body cannot be separated. So maybe an exact replica of ourselves becomes apparent after we die. (29/35)