This class provides an in-depth introduction to the philosophical problems surrounding death. It takes its starting point in the fact that everyone, eventually, will die. This is one of the few facts that human beings can be absolutely sure about. Given this certainty, however, death still presents us with many difficult and pressing questions. What does it mean to die in the first place? Who or what is the “person” that dies? Is it merely a physical body, or is it also something like a soul, and, if so, does the existence of a soul indicate that there is some hope of immortality? Moreover, what should our attitude toward death be? Should we think of it as a good thing or a bad thing? And what effect should it have on the way we live our lives? At some point in our lives, we all grapple with these questions. This course uses the doctrines and arguments of a number of prominent philosophers concerning death as a means to investigate these and other questions. The course is organized around the lectures of Shelly Kagan, Professor of Philosophy at Yale University, who develops his own philosophy of death over the length of the course. Its major purpose, aside from familiarizing you with the writings of major philosophers on the subject of death, is to teach youhowto think about death philosophically—to decide for yourself what you believe about death and to provide careful and convincing arguments for those beliefs.This course is divided into three long units. The first unit covers metaphysical questions about death, i.e., questions about what death is, what persons are, and the existence of the soul. This unit includes material about the positions of dualism and physicalism, various arguments for the existence of the soul, as well as a close reading of Plato’sPhaedo, one of the most influential arguments for immortality. The second unit deals with questions about how we ought to value death.We will address the views that personal identity is rooted in the soul, in the body, and in the “personality” (understood as a cluster of psychological properties). We will also consider the possibility that death has little or nothing to do with the death of the “person,” but can be accounted for in purely physical terms. We will conclude the unit with a look at Leo Tolstoy’s novellaThe Death of Ivan Ilyich.In the third unit, we cover topics such as the (alleged) badness of death, how the fact that we will die should influence the way we live, and whether it is ever appropriate to bring about our own death prematurely. We will consult with several important contemporary philosophers, as well as with the great Renaissance essayist Michel de Montaigne, the Enlightenment philosopher David Hume, and the late existentialist Walter Kaufmann.
Days of the Week:
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday
- Level of Difficulty: All Levels
- Size: One-on-One
- Cost: Free
- Institution: Saylor
- Topics: Philosophy