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PHI101_71013_Lecture17_Oct29

PHI101_71013_Lecture17_Oct29 - Russell: October29,2009...

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Russell: “The illusion of immortality” October 29, 2009
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“We seem to need both a body and a brain  to instantiate our consciousness and  personalities… the brain seems to be the  locus of conscious experience. But bodies  and brains die and are disintegrated. What  happens to your consciousness and your  personal identity” (372-373)? 
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In this essay, Russell presents some major  obstacles to the idea of life after death and  argues that it is not reasonable to believe that  our personalities and memories survive death.  Our desire to believe in immorality stems  primarily from our pathological fear of death.  According to Russell, before we can even begin  to tackle the question of whether there is life  after death, we first have to respond to the  question of personal identity. 
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“Before we can profitably discuss whether  we shall continue to exist after death, it is  well to be clear as to the sense in which a  man is the same person as he was  yesterday” (377).  Before launching into questions about  afterlife, Russell reviews the issue at present  life.
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“Philosophers used to think that there were  definite substances, the soul and the body,  that each lasted from day to day, that a soul,  once created, continued to exist throughout  all future time, whereas a body ceased  temporarily from death till the resurrection of  the body.” “The part of this doctrine which concerns the  present life is pretty certainly false” (377).
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Our bodies continually change, matter is in constant  flux; not even atoms retain identity.  Thus, the continuity of the human body is related more  to appearance and behavior than it is to the continuity of  any fundamental matter. Moreover, Russell thinks the same holds true of the  mind: there is no underlying substance that remains the  same, but only emotions, perceptions, etc. “All that constitutes a person is a series of experiences  connected by memory and by certain similarities of the  sort we call habit” (377).
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Russell’s view seems to coincide with  Hume’s proposal: “I may venture to affirm of  the rest of mankind, that they are nothing but  a bundle or collection of different  perceptions, which succeed each other”  (Hume, 365)
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If we are to believe in life after death, we must  somehow believe that our memories and  personalities will continue to exist in an  immaterial state.  It is very unlikely, according to Russell, that our  memories and personalities can exist in such a  disembodied and immaterial state.  Although it is theoretically possible for the pure  consciousness to exist in a disembodied state,  this kind of existence is not what we imagine  (or, hope) afterlife to be.
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