(PHIL 176) There is one thing I can be sure of: I am going to die. But what am I to make of that fact? This course will examine a number of issues that arise once we begin to reflect on our mortality. The possibility that death may not actually be the end is considered. Are we, in some sense, immortal? Would immortality be desirable? Also a clearer notion of what it is to die is examined. What does it mean to say that a person has died? What kind of fact is that? And, finally, different attitudes to death are evaluated. Is death an evil? How? Why? Is suicide morally permissible? Is it rational? How should the knowledge that I am going to die affect the way I live my life?
This class was recorded in Spring 2007.
01 - Course introduction
Professor Kagan introduces the course and the material that will be covered during the semester. He aims to clarify what the class will focus on in particular and which subjects it will steer away from. The emphasis will be placed on philosophical questions that arise when one contemplates the nature of death. The first half of the course will address metaphysical questions while the second half will focus on value theory.
02 - The nature of persons: dualism vs. physicalism
Professor Kagan discusses the two main positions with regard to the question, "What is a person?" On the one hand, there is the dualist view, according to which a person is a body and a soul. On the other hand, the physicalist view argues that a person is just a body. The body, however, has a certain set of abilities and is capable of a large range of activities.
03 - Arguments for the existence of the soul, Part I
The lecture focuses on arguments that might be offered as proof for the existence of the soul. The first series of arguments discussed is those known as "inferences to the best explanation." That is, we posit the existence of things we cannot see so as to explain something else that is generally agreed to take place.
04 - Introduction to Plato's Phaedo; Arguments for the existence of the soul, Part II
After a brief introduction to Plato's Phaedo, more arguments are offered in this lecture in defense of the existence of an immaterial soul. The emphasis here is on the fact that we need to believe in the existence of a soul in order to explain the claim that we possess free will. This is an argument dualists use as an objection to the physicalists: since no merely physical entity could have free will, there must be more to us than just being a physical object.
05 - Arguments for the existence of the soul, Part III: Free will and near-death experiences
Professor Kagan discusses in detail the argument of free will as proof for the existence of an immaterial soul. The argument consists of three premises: 1) We have free will. 2) Nothing subject to determinism has free will. 3) All purely physical systems are subject to determinism. The conclusion drawn from this is that humans are not a purely physical system; but Professor Kagan explains why this argument is not truly compelling. In addition, near-death experiences and the Cartesian argument are discussed at length.
06 - Arguments for the existence of the soul, Part IV; Plato, Part I
The lecture begins with a continued discussion of the Cartesian argument and its weaknesses. The lecture then turns to Plato's metaphysical views in the context of his work, Phaedo. The key point in the discussion is the idea that in addition to the ordinary empirical world that we are familiar with, we posit the existence of a second realm in which the Platonic forms exist. These forms are the abstract properties that we attribute to physical objects, such as beauty, justice, goodness and so on. Since it is the soul that conceives of these Platonic forms and ideas, Plato argues that the soul not only outlives the body but lasts forever. It is perfect, immaterial and indestructible.
Good course with some caveats
I rate these lectures 4 stars with some caveats. First the energy and clarity of the presentation are superb. The first half of the course was outstanding. The main focus was does there exist a soul within a person. Dr. Kagen examines the issue from all sides including what previous philosophers such as Plato thought. The second half of the course was only mediocre. After assuming the materialistic/naturalistic starting point, the search for the value of human life was muddled. Dr. Kagen frequently used phrases such as “it seems to me that …”, “that doesn’t seem right” and “it appears to me”. There didn’t seem to be any foundation of objective human values. He doesn’t address the relativistic approach. Maybe "it seems to me" is relative. It appears that the materialistic worldview can never lead to objective values.
Outstanding discussion of the issues!
Extensive and thorough discussion of death, including rational suicide.
Presented in a manner that even the layperson appreciate.
it is really great
change my view of my life