Death

About the Course

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?

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Course Structure

This Yale College course, taught on campus twice per week for 50 minutes, was recorded for Open Yale Courses in Spring 2007.

The Open Yale Courses Series

For more information about Professor Kagan’s book Death, click here.

Course Materials

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About Professor Shelly Kagan

Shelly Kagan is Clark Professor of Philosophy at Yale. After receiving his B.A. from Wesleyan University in 1976, and his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1982, he taught at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Illinois at Chicago before coming to Yale in 1995. He is the author of the textbook Normative Ethics, which systematically reviews alternative positions concerning the basic rules of morality and their possible foundations, and The Limits of Morality, which challenges two of the most widely shared beliefs about the requirements of morality. He is currently at work on The Geometry of Desert.

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Syllabus

Professor

Shelly Kagan, Clark Professor of Philosophy

Description

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?

Texts

Plato, Phaedo
John Perry, A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality
Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilych

Course Packet:
Barnes, Julian. "The Dream." In History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters.

Brandt, Richard. "The Morality and Rationality of Suicide." In Moral Problems. Edited by James Rachels. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.

Edwards, Paul. "Existentialism and Death: A Survey of Some Confusions and Absurdities." In Philosophy, Science and Method: Essays in Honor of Ernest Nagel. Edited by Sidney Morgenbesser, Patrick Suppes and Morton White. New York: St. Matrin's Press, 1969. pp. 473-505

Feldman, Fred. "The Enigma of Death." In Confrontations with the Reaper: A Philosophical Study of Nature and Value of Death. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992. pp. 56-71

Hume, David. "On Suicide." In Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary.

Kaufmann, Walter. "Death." In The Faith of a Heretic. New York: New American Library, 1959. pp. 353-376

Kaufmann, Walter. "Death Without Dread." In Existentialism, Religion, and Death: Thirteen Essays. New York: New American Library, 1976. pp. 224-248

Martin, Robert. "The Identity of Animal and People." In There are Two Errors in the the Title of This Book: A Sourcebook of Philosophical Puzzles, Problems, and Paradoxes. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2002. pp. 223-226

Montaigne, Michel de. "That to Philosophize is to Learn to Die." In The Complete Essays.

Nagel, Thomas. "Death." In Mortal Questions. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979. pp. 1-10

Rosenberg, Jay. "Life After Death: In Search of the Question." In Thinking Clearly About Death. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1983. pp. 18-22

Schick, Theodore and Lewis Vaughn. "Near-Death Experiences." In How to Think About Weird Things. New York: McGraw Hill, 2005. pp 307-323

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver's Travels, Part III, chapter 10.

Williams, Bernard. "The Makropulos Case: Reflections on the Tedium of Immortality." In Language, Metaphysics, and Death. Edited by John Donnelly. New York: Fordham University Press, 1978. pp. 229-242

Requirements

All students must attend discussion sections. Participation can help raise one's grade, but can never hurt. However, poor attendance or non-participation will lower one's grade.

There will be three short papers. Each should be 5 pages, double-spaced. All papers are worth equally. If papers show improvements over the term, however, the later work will be counted even more heavily.

There will be no final exam.

Grading

Discussion section attendance and participation: 25%
Three short papers: 25% each (total: 75%)

Sessions

Lecture 1 Course Introduction
Lecture 2 The Nature of Persons: Dualism vs. Physicalism
Lecture 3 Arguments for the Existence of the Soul, Part I
Lecture 4 Introduction to Plato's Phaedo; Arguments for the Existence of the Soul, Part II
Lecture 5 Arguments for the Existence of the Soul, Part III: Free Will and Near-Death Experiences
Lecture 6 Arguments for the Existence of the Soul, Part IV; Plato, Part I
Lecture 7 Plato, Part II: Arguments for the Immortality of the Soul
Lecture 8 Plato, Part III: Arguments for the Immortality of the Soul (cont.)
Lecture 9 Plato, Part IV: Arguments for the Immortality of the Soul (cont.)
Lecture 10 Personal Identity, Part I: Identity Across Space and Time and the Soul Theory
Lecture 11 Personal Identity, Part II: The Body Theory and the Personality Theory
Lecture 12 Personal Identity, Part III: Objections to the Personality Theory
Lecture 13 Personal Identity, Part IV: What Matters?
Lecture 14 What Matters (cont.); The Nature of Death, Part I
Lecture 15 The Nature of Death (cont.); Believing You Will Die
Lecture 16 Dying Alone; The Badness of Death, Part I
Lecture 17 The Badness of Death, Part II: The Deprivation Account
Lecture 18 The Badness of Death, Part III; Immortality, Part I
Lecture 19 Immortality Part II; The Value of Life, Part I
Lecture 20 The Value of Life, Part II; Other Bad Aspects of Death, Part I
Lecture 21 Other Bad Aspects of Death, Part II
Lecture 22 Fear of Death
Lecture 23 How to Live Given the Certainty of Death
Lecture 24 Suicide, Part I: The Rationality of Suicide
Lecture 25 Suicide, Part II: Deciding under Uncertainty
Lecture 26 Suicide, Part III: The Morality of Suicide and Course Conclusion

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Course Books and Other Related Titles

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