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Identity and Immortality (John Perry and Thomas Aquinas)

Phil 317 Tobias Hoffmann


Immortality and Personal Identity: John Perry

Concerning life after death, there are two possible strategies: To argue that one can prove that life after death is a fact To argue that one can prove that life after death is possible, i.e. conceivable (not contradictory). In his book A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality (Indianapolis, 1978) John Perry attempts merely to prove that life after death is possible. To this goal, he mostly discusses identity: if identity after death is impossible, then individual survival is surely impossible; if identity after death is possible, then survival seems not impossible. The different views of whether or how life after death is possible depend on the views of human nature: What is the human being or the human person? (1) Essentially only a soul/mind (i.e. the definition of a human being would be: the human being is a soul and one would say of oneself: I am my soul). The body would be considered incidental to the human being. (2) Essentially only a body (one would say of oneself: I am my body). Mental activities (thinking, wishing, willing etc.) would be considered to be purely material phenomena. (Materialists who consider mental activities to be the defining features of human beings may argue that the human person is essentially a brain and its activities.) (3) Essentially soul/mind and body: the soul informs the body; they are not two substances, but they together form one substance. What do these views imply regarding survival? Re (1) survival may not be hard to account for, but the relation of the invisible soul to the visible body is unclear. Re (2) survival would mean that the body would have to be reconstitutedbut how could a replica of my disintegrated body be really me? Re (3) the soul would guarantee identity, and the body could be reconstituted by divine power. Survival and identity Outline of Perrys book: 1. (First night) Identity is grounded upon the mind/soul. The soul does not die. 2. (Second night) Identity is founded upon memory. 3. (Third night) Identity is not in the body, but in the brain. (This is discussed independently of the problem of survival after death.)

Phil 317 Teaching notes (excerpt)

The setting: Miller, a chaplain, is challenged to show to Weirob, a dying philosophy teacher, the possibility of life after death. Cohen, a former student of Weirob, enters the discussion towards the end. The discussion turns on identity. Weirob holds that identity is founded upon the body alone (= her view throughout). Miller first argues that it is founded upon the mind/soul. (First night) Miller then argues that it is founded upon memory. (Second night) Cohen argues that identity is rooted in the brain. (Third night) The importance of identity for immortality Why is the hypothesis of merging with being not a comforting perspective? Real survival implies anticipation and memory, i.e. identity, survival of the individual, not of the species or of being. How can there be identity when the body ceases to exist? What is the foundation for identity? Example: a burned box of Kleenex is replaced by a similar one. But similarity is not sufficient to account for identity. Identity as grounded in an immaterial soul? Miller suggests that the identity of the person is guaranteed by an immortal soul (p. 6, 2nd ). Weirob: This means that I am not really this body, but a soul or mind or spirit? (p. 7, 2nd ) problems: Could the same soul be in different bodies? In this case, would it still be the same person? (p. 7) could the same body be inhabited by different souls? (p. 7) seeing only my body, how do you know that I am the same as p. 8, 3rd ff. last week? (p. 8) Miller: Same body, same self (p. 8) Weirob: Same body, same self implies different body, different person since this body will be destroyed, there is no possibility of keeping the identity, even if there will be a new body no survival. (p. 9) How do you establish the principle same body, same self in the p. 11, 3rd last first place? You dont see the soul. (Analogy: candy with swirl on top suggests that there is caramel insideHow do you come to know this?By induction.But the soul is invisible the correlation same body, same soul cannot be discovered by induction, pp. 1011) Judgments about identity are judgments about souls, but there is no way to observe sameness of soul (pp. 1112)
Phil 317 Teaching notes (excerpt)

Perry, 3, last p. 4, l. 4

Perry, 5, 3rd 2nd last line of p. 5

Miller (new attempt): Same psychological characteristics, same self (p. 12) Weirob: Just because you judge as to personal identity by reference to similar states of mind, it does not follow that the mind, or soul, is the same in each case. (p. 14) In other words: personal identity can be accounted for without positing an identical soul. Example: you recognize a river without that the water is identical to when you last saw it (Blue River, pp. 1314). How do we know that there is just a single soul which would guaran- p. 17, 1st line end of tee our identity from this life to the next? Sameness of body?We cannot establish the correlation body soul. Sameness of thoughts?Thoughts are a constant flux. Identity as founded upon memory? (Second night) Miller: The person has no one substance underlying it, but person-stages, flows of thoughts and feelings (p. 25). The identity is guaranteed by a unified memory (p. 26). Weirob: Then how do you distinguish actually remembering from seeming to remember? (Fools think they are Napoleon and pretend to remember the battle at Waterloo) (p. 27). Summary of the position that identity is founded upon memory: in p. 29, last p. 30 heaven there would be a person with the same memory content of the earthly person. Criticism: This heavenly imposter would only seem to remember, not actually remember my thoughts (p. 29). (New point): Two such persons could be created. Which one is me? (p. 32). Identity as grounded in the brain? (Third night) This does not solve the problem of life after death, but of a different kind of survival: through brain transplantation! A novel by Barbara Harris, Who is Julia? (New York: David McKay Company, Inc., 1972): Two women die: Julia has a healthy brain but a destroyed body Mary Frances has as a healthy body but a destroyed brain A brain surgeon transplants Julias brain into Mary Frances body. A person cannot be identified with the body (against Weirob), because Julia had two bodies (p. 39). Is it Julia who survives? Is Mary Frances still Mary Frances or Julia? Is the survivor the brain donor or the body donor?
Phil 317 Teaching notes (excerpt)

Weirob: if my brain is transplanted into another body, this person would not be me (p. 39). ( Weirob cannot survive by being offered a brain transplantation). Rejuvenation therapies by replacing a worn-out brain with a duplicate does not help prolong ones life, because it does not preserve personal identity. In fact, there could be two such duplicates, then which one is me? (p. 47)


Aquinas on Immortality and the Resurrection of the Body

If life after death presupposes bodily existence, one can at best prove its possibility. If life after death requires only the soul, one can argue that it is not only possible, but necessary: one may argue that the immortality of the soul can be proven.

Aquinas on the immortality of the soul Notice that for the ancient and medieval thinkers, the word soul extends to plants, animals, and human beings. Soul is the principle of life. It accounts for: nutrition and growth (in plants, brute animals, and humans) (= vegetative soul) sense perception and feelings (in brute animals and humans) (= sensitive soul) understanding and willing (only in human beings) (= intellectual soul) Animals do not have two souls, however, and humans do not have three souls. The animal soul accounts for both sense operations and vegetative operations, and the human soul accounts for intellectual operations, sense operations, and vegetative operations. Those who defend the immortality of the soul (e.g. Aquinas) merely defend the immortality of the intellectual soul. only human souls are immortal, not the souls of brute animals (SCG [= Summa contra Gentiles] 2.82) [likewise not those of plants]. Is the intellectual soul immortal? For this, two questions have to be answered: (1) Does every activity or operation of the soul finish with the death of the body? (SCG 2.80)In order to answer this question, another one has to be answered: (2) Is there an activity or operation in us that is not material? Why does the second question help solve the first? Why does the immateriality of the soul imply its immortality? If one can show that immaterial things are simple (i.e. not composed of separable parts), it is shown that they are not destroyable. What is destruction? A breaking apart: a wineglass is destroyed = its broken into parts. Breaking into parts seems to be characteristic of material things, and only of material things, because immaterial things are not composed of different parts (e.g. an idea is not composed of two parts that could be separated). To answer the above questions:
Phil 317 Teaching notes (excerpt)

Re (2) Aquinas: yes, there are activities that are not material: understanding and willing (SCG 2.81) Exemplification (not strictly following Aquinas, but in his spirit): Do these characteristics (see left column) apply to the following Characteristics of material things examples of understanding and willing? (see below) tangibility divisibility has three dimensions can be measured: location, weight etc. an idea (e.g. of justice) understanding a geometrical demonstration, judging that something is the case; loving someone a decision etc.

No; it seems that the characteristics of material things do not apply to understanding and willing. Re (1) Aquinas: understanding and willing (since they are immaterial and not corruptible into parts) do not end with the death of the body (which is material) (SCG 2.81). Objection: It seems that understanding and willing do end with the death of the body, becauseeven granted that understanding and willing is not materialit requires the body to operate. Examples: When your body is tired, you cannot think well. People who had a stroke may lose their memory and their capacity to speak. When the brain is injured by an accident, the intellectual capacities diminish. Aquinas: Understanding and willing, being immaterial, do not as such require the body, but during the union of soul and body in this life, one cannot exercise intellectual activities without using imagination (i.e. which is a function of the sensitive soulwhich is material: imagination is linked to concrete images, situations, facts in space and time). Examples: In order to understand the characteristics of a triangle, you must imagine a triangle. In order to understand what justice is, you have to think of concrete cases of justice or injustice. (You may, for example, think about the case in England many years ago: a person, sentenced to death and executed, was later found to be innocent.) The close link between understanding (ideas, judgments) and imagination (thinking about concrete cases) underscores that body and soul are closely connected (see above, p. 1, 3rd position: the human person is essentially soul and body). Aquinas on the Resurrection of the Body The resurrection of the body can only be demonstrated by faith (i.e. it can be shown to be witnessed by Scripture and the Tradition of the Church, and hence that it belongs to the Christian faith). (Aquinas gives such a theological demonstration in SCG 4:79 and 4.8189.) Does this mean that philosophy has no business discussing this? (Remember what Aquinas said of the role of philosophy in sacred doctrine!)
Phil 317 Teaching notes (excerpt)

Aquinas, In BDT 2.3 co.: Philosophy can show that the content of the faith is not contradictory. He gives a philosophical demonstration of the possibility of resurrection by refuting a series of objections. Objections to the possibility of resurrection Aquinas lists seven arguments against the resurrection of the body (SCG 4.80). Here are three arguments: (3) What does not exist without interruption cannot keep its identity (i.e. identity presupposes continuous existence). The body ceases to exist, hence the same body cannot resurrect. (4) If the human person is restituted his or her body, this should be with all the body ever had, even with that which we cut away: the fingernails and hair. This seems absurd. (5) There may be cannibals who only eat human flesh. And these cannibals may have children. Then the same flesh would be found in several human beings; but the flesh can only resurrect in one person, not in many. Replies to these objections (SCG 4.81) According to Aquinas, resurrection is possible because it is not inconceivable. (Aquinas argues on theological grounds that it will in fact occur because Christ has destroyed death by the merits of his passion. Thanks to Gods omnipotence the body will be revived and made immortal.) Re (3) The human person, consisting of body and soul, has its existence thanks to the soul. Since the soul does not die with the dissolution of the body, it can again unite with the body after the bodys resurrection. Hence the continuity and the identity is guaranteed by the survival of the soul. Re (4) Even throughout life, the human body is not made of the same material parts. The adult has different material than a child, but he or she is not a different person from the child. Hence not all the material that once belonged to the body of the person has to resurrect, but only so much as is required by the quantity due to the person. If some material is lacking to the quantity due to the person, it will be provided from elsewhere through Gods power. Re (5) The fact that not all material parts that ever belonged to a person have to be present in the resurrected body also helps to resolve the problem of the cannibals. Missing material will be supplied by God from elsewhere. Yet Aquinass answer implies that at least a minimum of bodily material must be identical from before. If bodily material made up the body of different persons in earthly life, it will be integrated at the resurrection into the body of the person to whose perfection it belonged the most.

Phil 317 Teaching notes (excerpt)