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The Presuppositions of Survival

  • Antony Flew (a1)


1. Nowadays, I am told, many popular novels have anti-heroes not heroes. So perhaps it accords with the spirit of the times for my sermon to have not a text but an anti-text. This is taken from the first chapter of Our Knowledge of the External World by Bertrand Russell. It reads: ‘All the questions which have what is called a human interest—such, for example, as the question of a future life—belong, at least in theory, to special sciences and are capable, at least in theory, of being decided by empirical evidence … a genuinely scientific philosophy cannot hope to appeal to any except those who have the wish to understand, to escape from intellectual bewilderment … it does not offer, or attempt to offer, a solution to the problem of human destiny, or of the destiny of the Universe’..



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1 Russell, B. A. W., Our Knowledge of the External World (London: G. Allen and Unwin, 1914), 28.

2 For a vindication of this form of historical representation see the Introduction to Antony Flew (Ed.) Body, Mind and Death (New York and London: Macmillan and Collier-Macmillan, 1964); and compared Rational Animal (Oxford: Clarendon, 1978), passim.

3 The formulation of the first quotation in this sentence is that of my letter of invitation to participate in the symposium on ‘Issues of Consciousness and Survival’ mentioned in note 33

4 This campaign started with the first publication—in Philosophy for 1951—of ‘Locke and the Problem of Personal Identity’ and, later in the same year—in the long since defunct and always purely local journal University—of ‘Death’. This latter, with a note of other previous publications, was reprinted in Antony, Flew and Alasdair, Maclntyre (eds) New Essays in Philosophical Theology (London: SCM Press, 1955). Most material fit for salvage from these earliest papers was recycled into Chapters 8—11 of The Presumption of Atheism, a book recently reissued as God, Freedom and Immortality (Buffalo: Prometheus, 1984).

5 Waley, Arthur, 770 Chinese Poems (London: Constable, 1918), 38.

6 The Philosophical Works of Descartes, rev. edn, translated by Haldane, E. S. and Ross, G. R. T. (Cambridge University Press, 1931), Vol. I, 101.

7 Ibid., 100: compare, on ‘Descartes on “Thought”’, John Cottingham in the Philosophical Quarterly for 1978.

8 See Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Ch. VI, and Through the Looking Glass, Ch. IX; pp. 67 and 223 in the Complete Works of Leu;is Carroll, Woolcott, Alexander (ed.) (London: Nonesuch, 1939).

9 I remember discussing this question with Gilbert Ryle after some examiner had set it in Finals. But I cannot now recall which of us was the first to suggest how a first—class answer should begin.

10 Enquiries concerning Human Understanding and concerning the Principles ofMorals, 3rd edn, Selby-Bigge, L. A. (ed.) (Oxford: Clarendon, 1976), 152.

11 See especially the originally suppressed essay ‘Of the Immortality of the Soul’.

12 A Treatise of Human Nature, rev. edn, Selby Bigge, L. A. (ed.) (Oxford: Clarendon, 1977), I (iv), 6. Respect and affection for ‘the good David’ shall not inhibit us from commenting that such talk is, of course, utterly preposterous. Perceptions of the mind cannot be ‘loose and separate’. Pains, sense data, and the rest can be identified only by reference to those experiencers whose (logically private) experiences they are.

13 See Ryle, Gilbert, The Concept of Mind (London: Hutchinson, 1948).

14 See note 8, above.

15 For evidence of these assertions see my ‘Parapsychology: Science or Pseudo—Science’ in Hanen, M. P., Osier, M. J. and Weyant, R. G. (eds), Science, Pseudo-Science and Society (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1980); reprinted in the Pacific Philosophical Quarterly Vol. LXI (1980), and again in Grim, P. (ed.), The Occult, Science and Philosophy (Albany, New York: SUNY Press, 1982). Or compare my A New Approach to Psychical Research (London: C. A. Watts, 1953), passim. However, by the time the present paper gets into permanent print, if it ever does, a much better and more accessible source for all such material will be Flew, Antony (ed.), Philosophical Issues in Parapsychology (Buffalo, New York: Prometheus, 1986).

16 I have, in the article mentioned above in note 15, and elsewhere, argued that this too must be impossible for such—as I believe—nonentities.

17 See Irving Thalberg, ‘Immortality’ in Almd 1983, 105–113.

18 In his Dissertation ‘Of Personal Identity’, Bishop Butler wrote: ‘Whether we are to live in a future state, as it is the most important question which can possibly be asked, so it is the most intelligible one which can be expressed in language. Yet strange perplexities have been raised about the meaning of that identity of sameness of person, which is implied in the notion of our living now and hereafter, or in any two successive moments.

19 Mackie, John, The Miracle of Theism (Oxford: Clarendon, 1983).

20 See my ‘Can a Man Witness His Own Funeral’, in the Hibbert Journal for 1956; reprinted in J. Feinberg (ed.), Reason and Responsibility (Belmont, Ca: Dickenson, 1971); W. J. Blackstone (ed.), Meaning and Existence (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972); F. A. Westphal (ed.), The Art of Philosophy (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1972); and P. A. French I (ed.), Exploring Philosophy (Morristown, N.J.: General Learning Press, 1975). P. A. French also includes a remarkably similar piece under his own name in another of his collections, Philosophers in Wonderland (Saint Paul, t Minn: Llewelyn, 1975). For final good measure I myself added my own improved rewrite for The Presumption of Atheism (London: Pemberton/Elek,. 1976); a book reissued in 1984 by Prometheus of Buffalo as God, Freedom and Immortality.

21 Swinburne, Richard, The Coherence of Theism (Oxford: Clarendon, 1977), 54.

22 Republic 614Bff.

23 Paul, and Badham, Linda, Immortality or Extinction (London: Macmillan, 1982), 7.

24 Ibid., 10.

25 Ibid., 11.

26 Hamlet III (i).

27 On this and related issues see my ‘Locke and the Problem of Personal Identity’, first published in Philosophy for 1951; reprinted, in variously t revised versions, in Martin, C. B. and Armstrong, D. M. (eds), Locke and Berkeley (New York: Doubleday, 1968), in Brody, B. (ed.), Readings in the Philosophy of Religion (Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall, 1974), and in I my The Presumption of Atheism. (See note 4, above).

28 The Coherence of Theism, 110.

29 Penelhum, Terence, Sunrial and Disembodied Existence (London: Routlcdge and Kegan Paul, 1970), 70.

30 Compare, in the Dissertation mentioned above in note 18, Butler's contention that ‘though consciousness of what is past does. ascertain our i personal identity to ourselves, yet to say, that it makes personal identity, or is I necessary to our being the same person …’ is a ‘wonderful mistake’. For ‘one should really think it self-evident that consciousness of personal identity presupposes, and therefore cannot constitute, personal identity; any more than knowledge, in any other case, can constitute truth, which it presupposes’. I There is little, if anything, which can usefully be added to a refutation so terse, so elegant and so decisive.

31 We must not fail to distinguish primary from secondary senses of ‘same person’. For it is only when we are sure that someone is in the primary sense the same person as—say—joined the French Foreign Legion that we can go on to assert that he is as a result of this now quite a different person!

32 Compare, again, the article mentioned above in note 27. It was in that article, I believe, that this amoeba example made its first appearance in print.

33 This paper was written for and first presented at a symposium on ‘Issues of Consciousness and Survival’ held in Washington, DC, during October 1985. I thank the organizers for their permission to publish it here.

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The Presuppositions of Survival

  • Antony Flew (a1)


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