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Survival of Bodily Death: a Question of Values

  • Raymond Martin (a1)


Does anyone ever survive his or her bodily death ? Could anyone? No speculative questions are older than these, or have been answered more frequently or more variously. None have been laid to rest more often, or — in our times — with more claimed decisiveness. Jay Rosenberg, for instance, no doubt speaks for many contemporary philosophers when he claims, in his recent book, to have ‘demonstrated’ that ‘ we cannot [even] make coherent sense of the supposed possibility that a person's history might continue beyond that person's [bodily] death’.



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1 Thinking Clearly About Death (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1983), p. 96, emphasis added.

2 See especially Parfit, Derek, ‘Personal Identity’, The Philosophical Review, LXXX (1971), 327, and his Reasons and Persons (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), part in;Shoemaker, Sydney, ‘Persons and Their Pasts’, American Philosophical Quarterly, vii (1970), 269–85, and his ‘Personal Identity. A Materialist Account’ in Shoemaker, Sydney and Swinburne, Richard, Personal Identity (Basil Blackwell, 1984), pp. 69152; and Nozick, Robert, Philosophical Explanations (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981), ch. 1.Stevenson's, early investigations are summarized in Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation (Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1966; 2nd edn, 1974), but he has since (with associates) published additional data in four thick volumes - Cases of the Reincarnation Type: vol. 1 (1975) vol. 2 (1977); vol. 3 (1980); vol. 4 (1983) - as well as in his Unlearned Language: New Studies in Xenoglossy (1984), and Children Who Remember Previous Lives (1987), all of which were published by The University Press of Virginia. Children Who Remember contains a bibliography of Stevenson's many additional articles on cases suggestive of reincarnation, including ones inInternational Journal of Comparative Sociology (1970), Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease (1983)and American Journal of Psychiatry (1979).

3 Wiggins, David, Identity and Spatio-Temporal Continuity (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1967), p. 50.

4 The Presumption of Atheism (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), p. 104; Flew repeats this dismissive move, in almost the same words, in his Gifford Lectures, published as The Logic of Mortality (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1987), pp. 23.

5 See my, ‘Identity, Transformation, and What Matters in Survival’, in Kolak, Daniel and Martin, Raymond, eds., Self and Identity (New York: Macmillan 1991), pp. 289301.

6 For a sample of the literature on commissurotomy, see Kolak and Martin, Ibid.

7 Shoemaker, , ‘Personal Identity: A Materialist Account’, op. cit. p. 119.

8 Lewis, David has questioned whether fission undermines identity by arguing for a multiple occupancy view of persons, in ‘Survival and Identity’, in Rorty, Amelié, ed., The Identities of persons (Berkely: University of california Press, 1976), reprinted, along with ‘Postscripts’ in Philosophical Papers, vol. I (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983) and in Kolak and Martin, op. cit.Perry, John has questioned the transitivity of identity in ‘Can the Self Divide? Journal of Philosophy, LXIX (1972), 463–88. I have argued that, so far as the importance of identity is concerned, not much depends on whether identity is lost in fission, in ‘Identity, Transformation, and What Matters in Survival’, op. cit.

9 The Jasbir case is described in Stevenson's, Twenty Cases, op. cit. and also in his Children Who Remember, op. cit.

10 Interestingly, philosophers sometimes argue on a priori grounds, apparently without considering the empirical evidence to the contrary from the psychological study of dissociation, that the blending of memories from different psychologies is impossible. See, for instance, Wollheim, Richard, The Thread of Life (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1984.), pp. 112ff (to which I have responded in ‘Memory, Connecting, and What Matters in Survival’, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, xxiv (1987), 8297) andSchechtman, Marya, ‘Personhood and Personal Identity’, Journal of Philosophy, LXXXVII (1990), 7192.

11 In addition to the references in note 2, see Stevenson's, Three New Cases of the Reincarnation Type in Sri Lanka With Written Records Made Before Verifications’, summarized in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, CLXXVI (1988), 741, and presented fully in Journal of Scientific Exploration, II (1988), 217–38.

12 Criticism of Stevenson may be found in Wilson, Ian, Mind Out of Time (Victor Gollancz, 1981), pp. 5860;Roll, William G., ‘The Changing Perspectives on Life after Death’, in Krippner, Stanley, ed., Advances in Parapsychological Research (New York, 1982), vol. 3;Chari, C. T. K., ‘Reincarnation Research: Method and Interpretation’, in Ebon, M., ed., Signet Handbook of Parapsychology (New York: New American Library, 1978); and Edwards, Paul, ‘The Case Against Reincarnation’, a four-part article in Free Inquiry, vols. 6–7, (19861977).

13 See, for instance, Patterson, A. S. Pringle, The Idea of Immortality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1922), p. 107, and Gauld, Alan, Mediumship and Survival (London: Heinemann, 1982), pp. 172–87.

14 Children Who Remember, op. cit. p. 147.

15 Twenty Cases, 2nd edn, op. cit. p. 333. See also Stevenson's, discussion of fraud in Cases, vol. 3, op. cit. pp. 343345.

16 Children Who Remember, op. cit. pp. 150–1.

17 Ibid. p. 152.

18 Ibid. p. 153.

19 Gauld, op. cit. p. 185.

20 Ibid. p. 131.

21 Ibid. p. 136.

22 This sort of example is discussed by Parfit, , Reasons and Persons, op. cit. pp. 199–200, and by Nozick, op. cit. p. 41.

23 I am grateful to several people who offered criticisms and suggestions when I talked on the topic of reincarnation at the University of New Mexico, in March, 1991, and also to John Barresi and Ian Stevenson for written comments on an earlier version of this paper.


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