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Life After Death Essay, Research Paper

An undeniable statement by all, philosophers or not, is that our earthly life will one day cease to exist and every living individual will one day meet their death. A simple definition of death would be the complete annihilation of one self, where the life or awakeness one would feel in their brief life would be no more. Basically, the opposite to life.

However, even the definition of death may be open to argument by many. Some may believe that death is not the end of life or not the opposite of life. Some may believe that we do live on through the passing on of our genes or through stories being told about you after the process of death. Some may believe that we are reincarnated after our soul leaves the body. Some may believe that the soul is an eternal entity and never stops living. All of these are however open to argument. There is not even factual proof that a soul even exists so how would it be possible for such an entity to hold so much value in this argument.

The three main theories that will be discussed in this essay will stem from the Materialism perspective, the Idealism perspective and the Dualism perspective. The materialists? beliefs are opposed to the idea that there is a life after death and the other theories support the idea of a life after death. I shall also discuss in this essay the possibilities of reincarnation and if it possible to have more than one life. Some religions will also be briefly looked at in this regard. Another commodity that will be looked at will be evidence to support the idea of life after death and the value of this evidence. I shall then conclude by summing up the theories and discussing the theory closest to my opinion in relation to this subject.

First-century Sadducees claimed that man is wholly material, having no spirit, so at death he simply ceases to exist. Modern materialists and Humanists likewise say we evolved by natural forces from animals, so like the animals, we simply cease to exist at death. Materialists believe that a human is nothing more than a living physical creature and once gone is gone. Every action is a result of a chain of events and that over time science has found more and more answers and eventually, science will also be able to answer the controversy surrounding life after death. Just as there is no more to a dress sewn from a few yards of cotton, there is no more to a person than a brain attached to a body with a nervous system.

Gilbert Ryle argues that the soul should not be considered as something that is separate to the mind or body. Any talk of a soul was talk about the way in which a person acted and integrated with others and the world. It was not something that was separate or distinct. When one says that ?he bought me a left shoe and a right shoe? he would not say ?he bought me a left shoe, a right shoe and a pair of shoes?. This is what Ryle would call the dogma of the ghost in the machine. He said:

?When two terms belong to the same category, it is proper to construct conjunctive propositions embodying them?

Hard materialists have solid beliefs that there a living creature is just like a chemical. If there is nothing that can be seen, it does not exist. The consciousness of a man in nothing more than just mere brain activity and once the body dies, so does the brain. However, opposed to this there are soft materialists. Soft materialists although believe in the mainstream argument that materialists believe, they are less harsh in thinking that all characteristics are not physical ones. Consciousness is more than just a brain process although the mind and body are related and do not act independently of each other. The common factor between hard materialists and soft materialists is that when the body dies, so does the mind.

In short, as the soul cannot be seen or scientifically proven, materialists do not believe in the existence of it. As the body is matter alone, a soul cannot exist and when and if proven by science, this view may be reconsidered. Therefore there is no life after death according to the materialists.

However, not all materialists accept that death is the ultimate end. Because they believe that the physical body cannot be separated from the mind (soul) the only way there can be a life after death is if the whole body could continue after death. For example, the whole body is somehow resurrected even from ashes or decay by a superior being i.e. God. However the problem with this theory would then be how a body or in what form it is resurrected. If a person was to die at the age of 93 and was normally buried and she was to be resurrected, what age would she be resurrected as? If in fact at this age then what would then be the case if she was senile and had lost half of her memory, and if she were to be resurrected at the age of 35, what would become of her memories between the age of 35 and 93? It would obviously be in such a form that the person is recognisable and if indeed in her old age or have been cremated, then this would cause a problem. If the person were not recognisable then this would erase that person?s identity.

Idealism is based on the premise that nothing exists except minds and spirits and their perceptions or ideas. A person experiences material things, but their existence is not independent of the perceiving mind and those material things are hence, mere perceptions. The thesis of Idealism is that what exists is spirit, or at least is penetrated by spirit. Therefore, there is a great possibility for life after death as it is the spirit that is the important factor for life and this can survive death.

Leibniz said that the true atoms of nature were souls and that nothing existed except minds. Berkeley claimed that sensible things have no existence without the mind and that it is the spirits that experience and there are the contents of their experiences, but there is no independently existing world of matter. Both Leibniz and Berkeley were “subjective” Idealists, they conceived of reality in terms of the experiences of individual minds.

Hegel suggested that our minds are ultimately unreal and that there is a separate underlying ?absolute spirit? which is regarded as the rational soul of the universe. It is from this spirit that our minds and other things in the world come. Hegel?s idealism has been adapted by many philosophers as proof for life after death, however on the other hand, has been used by many to discard such an assumption.

Historically, the vast majority of Christians have believed and still believe today that human nature is dualistic, consisting of a material, mortal body, and an immaterial, immortal soul. At death, the soul allegedly detaches itself from the body and survives in a disembodied state. This is the dualism theory of life after death.

A famous dualist was Plato who stated that the soul belonged to a level of reality that was higher than that of the body. His belief was that there was a perfect idea of everything, for example, for every woman there is an ideal woman, for every school there is an ideal school an so on and everything that is in existence runs through this thought. As ideas are not physical things they belong to a spiritual realm of reality which are in fact more actual than the material realm. Therefore in terms of a soul, it is an immaterial substance and has more reality than the body, which is a material substance.

Rene Descartes introduced the idea of Cartesian Dualism. Descartes believed that anything that is not physical, for example, thoughts, feelings etc. is part of the mind, which is not a part of the brain as the mind is not physical like the brain. Whatever one thinks is what one is. ?I think therefore I am? and even though the mind and body interact, they are distinct from one another. He claimed that in contrast to the mind, the body is that which is extended. It has a material form which can be described in forms of extensional features, for example, size, shape etc?

The mind is a personal substance that only the individual can experience and the body?s actions are observable to all. Descartes concluded that as our minds and bodies are separate substances, it is very possible for us to survive death and remain with the same identity. He stated:

?Our soul is of a nature entirely independent of the body, and consequently it is not bound to die with it and since we cannot see any other causes which destroy the soul, we are naturally led to conclude that it is immortal?..?

Dualism does however raise some questions as to the validity of the theory. One would be that if our identities are only the result of memories and actions in our mind and were completely separate from our bodies, what would come if we had different bodies. Would this not change others reactions towards you or how you behave. For example, if you were really deprived of good looks and this affected your personality to a very high extent as others would react coldly towards you in contrast to having really good looks. Bernard Williams stated that identity came from physical characteristics as well and it was not right to believe that the physical body had nothing to do with the mind. Another question would be what about the use of substances such as drugs and alcohol that are physical but affect the mind, which is not physical, to an extent where they do change personality.

A majority of monotheistic religions all have the common belief that there does exist life after death and this is controlled by the all-powerful superior being God. This falls in line with the idealistic approach to life after death where the soul is immortal. Some polytheistic religions, namely Hinduism believes in reincarnation. This is what you call the process where the individual?s soul inhabits a new body, which is totally different from that in their previous life. Each life is influenced by the karma from the previous lives. The aim is to achieve perfection so that the need to be reborn ends and a state of bliss is achieved. It is a form of soul evolution. The main criticism of reincarnation is that if the identity of the soul is erased through each transmigration, how can one know that it really them who transmigrate.

The best way to tie up an argument is to produce evidence and in this case to prove life after death. There are quite a few constituents that may be looked at in regards to this. Many people have claimed to have had near death experiences.

The supporting evidence to these experiences was the common features to the experience. A study conducted by Dr Raymond Moody realised that the descriptions by these people of what had happened to them while they were ?dead? were so similar that they must have been more than just a mere coincidence. For example, absence of physical pain, a sense of indescribable bliss and peace, the floating above the body, the moving towards a light etc?

Each scenario, no matter how it is interpreted or what kind of imagery it encompassed, is absolutely and totally and completely real to the one who experienced it. What happened, happened. No one’s belief or disbelief can change that simple fact

It is inconceivable to the conscious mind that any other reality could possibly exist beside the earth-world of matter bounded by time and space. We are used to it. We have been trained since birth to live and thrive in it. We know ourselves to be ourselves be the external stimuli we receive. Life tells us who we are and we accept its telling

However, the near-death experience has not gained general acceptance by scientists and academics as being any sort of an encounter with the Divine by a “soul” that survives death. In fact, a fairly extensive literature has developed criticising contending the contrary. The trouble with these critics, though, is that not all agree on exactly what the cause of the experience might be. Theories range from the influence of an unusual flow of brain chemicals; to the reaction of the dying brain to reduced levels of oxygen; or to purely psychological factors such as dreams, hallucinations, or wish fulfilment.

The subject of the belief of life after death is a very difficult one to debate. There are so many conflicting theories that is easier to believe bits of each one. My personal opinion is closest to the idealistic one, the immortality of the soul but also hold a small percentage of the materialist believe that the body is required to survive death. I believe that God resurrects you in an identifiable state with all of your memories and thoughts. If God can create humanity then there should not be a problem for God to recreate in this state.

In some way it would be in the interest of the population to believe in life after death in the sense that one will be judged for their actions after their death. This would be to control one?s moral behaviour. If one knows that they are answerable to a higher authority, then they would try harder to act morally right.

It is a subject that is too complicated to sum up. There is little or no factual evidence to support life after death in the physical reality. However, if it is the mind that counts, then there is plenty of evidence. It is really dependant on personal beliefs and opinions even if it is arguable at almost every level.

Peter Vardy – What is Truth? 1999

A Companion to Philosophy of Religion – Quinn and Taliaferro -2000

Philosophy of Religion- Brian Davies 2000

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