Issues – life after death


  • Is talk of life after death meaningful?
  • Problems with continuing after death
  • Two perspectives: materialists vs dualists
  • Problems with spiritual continuity after death
  • Problems with bodily continuity after death

Is talk of life after death meaningful?

The logical positivists argued that statements about life after death could not be verified by sense experience, nor were they verifiable by the meaning of the words involved (they were not analytic). Therefore, they were senseless.

BUT John Hick pointed out that it is possible to verify the claim, but they can only be checked after death. This means, even under the logical positivists’ criteria, statements about life after death are meaningful, since we know how they could be checked – it’s just that we can’t check them until we die.

NB The fact that something is meaningful does not mean that it is true!

Problems with continuing after death

It wouldn’t be particularly encouraging to be told that long after we are dead and forgotten, somebody who bears some resemblance to us will rise from the dead on our behalf to take our place in the next life. In order to believe in a future, post-resurrection life for ourselves, we must believe that the person who rises from the dead is not only like us in an important way, but rather that this person is numerically identical to us – we are one and the same person and them.

The heart of the problem lies in the matter of what constitutes personal identity and, so, what makes a person. For individuals to survive death, the essence of the particular individual must be continued in the afterlife.

Two perspectives: materialists vs dualists

Are we made up of both a body and soul or we are just a body?

The debate is often given as materialists vs dualists. That is, those who think we are just one substance – our bodies – and those who think we are made up of two kinds of substance – body and soul. There is a further question for dualists: if we are both body and soul, can we continue to be as just a soul, or do we require both our body and soul to ‘survive’?

Problems with spiritual continuity after death

There doesn’t at first seem to be a problem with spiritual continuity after death. If man is made up of both body and soul, then not everything dies at death – only the body dies. There is thus no problem with the idea of our surviving death, since the soul does not cease to be at death. And we can continue as ourselves, because it is the self-same soul that inhabited the body that continues after death.

However: What is disembodied existence? We are not talking about ghosts out of Ghostbusters, but immaterial things. We experience physical things, we are located physically, we change physically (grow and decay). How could we continue without all these physical things that seem to form an essential part of us? Aren’t we made of both body and soul according to dualists? For example, if I took the cover off my sofa and burned the rest of the sofa, I could not call the cover the sofa, even though it formed part of my sofa before I burned the rest of it. Ryle’s criticism of dualism. If dualism is wrong, then there cannot be spiritual continuation after death – since there is no spiritual side of us to continue.

Problems with bodily continuity after death

Can matter think or feel? See Locke’s argument. Are we resurrected in the form we had when we died? Do we keep getting older? If we died of nasty diseases, do we have these in the afterlife? If I was born blind am I blind in the afterlife? No? Then how are we continuous with this better body? Our bodies die at death – how can we survive death if all we are is bodies? Where are all the bodies? Bodies are physical, so if we survive, there must be a physical location somewhere where the bodies exist.

  • Hick’s replica theory and a different physical world – BUT: lack of physical continuity.
  • Van Inwagen’s substitution theory – unusual, but only suggested to show logical possibility.








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