PHIL 176: Death
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PHIL 176 - Lecture 14 - What Matters (cont.); The Nature of Death, Part I
Chapter 1. Introduction: A Case for the Same Evolving Personality [00:00:00]
Professor Shelly Kagan: At the end of last class, I began to raise the question as to whether or not we should distinguish two questions that we would normally be inclined to run together. We’ve been asking ourselves, what does it take for me to survive, for me to continue to exist? But it’s possible, I suggested, that we really shouldn’t focus on the question, what does it take for me to survive? but rather, what is it that I care about? What is it that matters in survival?” Because it’s possible, logically speaking, that there could be cases in which I survive, but I don’t have what I normally have when I survive, and so I don’t have what matters. I don’t have what I wanted, when I wanted to survive. It could be that in the typical cases of survival I’ve got that extra thing. But we can think of cases in which I would survive, but I don’t have that extra thing, and so I wouldn’t have everything that matters to me. So as it were, we might say, it might be that mere survival or bare bones survival doesn’t really give me what matters. What I want is survival plus something else.
And I tried to motivate this question by having you think about perhaps the possibility, if the soul view was the truth about personal identity, but imagine a case of complete irreversible amnesia, while nonetheless, it’s still your soul continuing. But the soul is going to then, having been scrubbed clean, get a brand new personality. A new set of memories, new set of desires, new set of beliefs. No chance of recalling your previous, current, personality. And when I think about that case, I find myself wanting to say, all right, I’ll survive, but so what? I don’t care. It doesn’t matter that it’s me, in that case. Because I don’t just want it to be me, I want to have there be somebody that’s me with my personality.
Similarly, suppose we thought that the body view was the correct view and we imagine, again, some sort of case of complete amnesia. And so then we get a new personality and you say, “Oh look, that’s going to be you, your body, your brain. You’re still around.” And I say, “It could be true, but so what?” It doesn’t give me what I want, when I want to survive. What I want isn’t just for it to be me. I want it to be me with my personality.
So should we conclude, therefore, that what really matters is not just survival but having the same personality? Would that — Suppose the personality view of personality identity was correct. Would that then give us not just personal survival, but what matters? I think that’s close, but no cigar. Not quite good enough.
To see that, recall the fact that according to the personality view, as a theory of personality identity, the crucial point isn’t that my personality stay identical. It’s not that I have to keep all exactly the very same beliefs, desires, and memories. Because of course, if we said that, then I’d die as soon as I got a new belief. I’d die as soon as I forgot anything at all of what I was doing 20 minutes ago. No, according to the personality theory, what personal identity requires isn’t item-for-item the same personality, but rather the same evolving personality. I gain new beliefs, new desires, new goals. I may lose some of my previous beliefs, lose some of my previous memories, but that’s okay as long as it’s a slowly-evolving personality with enough overlap.
Okay, so now let’s consider the following case. I start off. Here I am. I’ve got a set of beliefs, a set of — I believe I’m Shelly Kagan, a set of memories about growing up in Chicago. I have a certain set of desires about wanting to finish my book in philosophy and so forth. And I get older and older and older. And I get some new memories and some new desires and some new goals. Suppose that I get very, very, very old. I get 100 years old, 200 years old, 300 years old. Somewhere around 200, suppose that my friends give me a nickname. They call me Jo-Jo. Who knows why, they call me Jo-Jo. And after a while, somewhere the name spreads and by the time I’m 250 years old, everybody’s calling me Jo-Jo.
Nobody calls me Shelly anymore. And by the time I’m 300, 350, 400, I’ve forgotten anybody used to call me Jo-Jo [correction: Shelly Kagan]. And I no longer remember growing up in Chicago. I remember things about my youth when I was a lad of 100. But I can’t go back to what it was like in the early days, just like you can’t go back to what it was like to be four or three. And suppose that all this is going on as I’m getting older and older. My personality is changing in a variety of other ways. I lose my interest in philosophy and take up an interest in, I don’t know, something that completely doesn’t — organic chemistry holds no interest to me whatsoever. I become fascinated by the details of organic chemistry.
And my values change. Now I’m a kind — now, over here — I’m a kind, compassionate, warm individual who cares about the downtrodden. But around 300, I say, “The downtrodden. Who needs them?” And by the time I’m 500, I become completely self-absorbed and I’m sort of a vicious, cruel, vile person. Here I am, 800 years old, 900 years old.
Methuselah, in the Bible, lives for 969 years. He’s the oldest person. So okay, here I am, 969 years old. I’m like Methuselah. Call this the Methuselah case. And the crucial point about the case is that we stipulate that at no point was there a dramatic change. It was all gradual, slow, evolving. In just the way it happens in real life. It’s just that as Methuselah, I live a very, very, very long time. And by the end of it, and indeed, let’s say somewhere around 600 or 700, I’m a completely different person, as we might put it. I don’t mean literally. I mean in terms of my personality.
Now, remember, according to the personality theory of personal identity, what makes it me is the fact that it’s the same evolving personality. And I stipulated that it is the same evolving personality. So that’s still me that’s going to be around 600 years from now, 700 years from now. But when I think about that case, I say, “So what? Who cares?” When I think about that case, I say, “True, we’ll just stipulate that will be me in 700 years. But it doesn’t give me what I want. That person is so completely unlike me. He doesn’t remember being Shelly Kagan. He doesn’t remember growing up in Chicago. He doesn’t remember my family. He has completely different interests and tastes and values.” I say “It’s me, but so what? It doesn’t give me what I want. It doesn’t give me what matters.”
When I think about what I want, it’s not just that there be somebody at the tail end of an evolving personality. I want that person to be like me, not just be me. I want that person to be like me. And in the Methuselah case, I’ve stipulated, it ends up not being very much like me at all. So it doesn’t give me what I want. When I think about what I want — and I’m just going to invite you to, each one of you, to ask yourself what is it that you want, what matters to you in survival? — when I think about what matters to me, it’s not just survival. It’s not just survival as part of the same ongoing personality. It’s survival with a similar personality. Not identical, item for item, but close enough to be fairly similar to me. Give me that, and I’ve got what matters. Don’t give me that, and I don’t have what mattes.
In fact, I’m inclined to go a little bit further. Once you give me that, give me that there’s somebody there with my similar personality, I think that may be all that matters. Up to this moment, I’ve been saying, okay, survival by itself isn’t good enough. You need survival plus something else. And I’m now suggesting that in my own case at least, the something else is, something extra, is same, similar personality. It might be that I get what matters to me even if I have, as long as I have, similar personality, even if I don’t have survival.
Suppose — I don’t believe in souls, but suppose there really are souls. And suppose the soul is the key to personal identity. And suppose the thing that Locke was worried about really does happen. Every day at midnight God destroys the old soul and replaces it with a new soul that has the very same personality as the one before midnight, similar personality, same beliefs, desires, and so forth and so on. If I were to discover that’s what was happening metaphysically and the soul view was the true theory of personal identity, I’d say, “Huh! Turns out I’m not going to survive tonight. I’m going to die. Who cares? There’ll be somebody around tomorrow with my beliefs, my desires, my goals, my ambitions, my fears, my values. Good enough. I don’t really care whether I’m going to survive. What I care about is whether there’ll be somebody that’s similar to me in the right way in terms of my personality.”
So it might be that the whole question we’ve been focusing on, “What does it take to survive?” may have turned out to be misguided. The real question may not be “What does it take to survive?” but “What matters?” And it might turn out that although, normally, having what matters goes hand in hand with surviving, logically speaking, they can come apart. And what matters, or so it seems to me, at least, isn’t survival per se, but rather having the same personality.
Chapter 2. What Is It Like to Die? A Breakdown of Functions from a Physicalist’s View [00:10:48]
Since I’m inclined to think that the body view is the correct theory of personal identity, I want to say, look, somebody around tomorrow, if overnight God replaces my body with some identical looking body and keeps the personality the same, that won’t be me, but all right. It’s good enough. What matters to me isn’t survival per se. Indeed, isn’t survival, strictly, at all. It’s having the same personality.
Still, what does that leave us? That leaves us with the possibility that there could be cases where you die and you don’t survive. Maybe God swoops me up upon death. My body dies, but he sort of swoops up my information about my personality and recreates somebody up in heaven with that similar personality. It won’t be me, if it’s a different soul. It won’t be me, if it’s a different body. But still, I want to say, it will give me what matters!” That’s a possibility. But I don’t, in fact, think it’s going to happen. I believe — I’ve told you I’m a physicalist — I believe that what’s going to happen is, at the death of my body, that’s going to be the end.
Now, what I’ve been arguing is that, logically speaking, even if you are a physicalist, that doesn’t rule out the possibility of survival. Suppose you believe in the personality theory. Your body’s going to die, but your personality could continue. Or it might be, even as a body theorist, I’ll cease to exist but what matters will continue. These are possibilities. But for what it’s worth, I don’t in fact believe they’re actually what’s going to happen. Of course, these are also theological matters, and so I’m not trying to say anything here today to argue you out of the theological conviction that God will resurrect the body or God will transplant your personality into some new angel body, but if you believe in the personality theory, that will be you, or what have you. I’m not — it’s not my goal here to argue for or against these theological possibilities, having at least taken the time to explain philosophically how we could make sense of them.
But I do want to report that I don’t believe them. I believe that when my body dies, that’s it for me. There won’t be anything that’s me afterwards. There won’t be anything that’s — even though what I want per se isn’t survival. Not only won’t I survive, I believe after my death what matters to me in that situation won’t continue either. There won’t be somebody with a similar personality to mine after the death of my body.
All right, so having spent all this time getting clearer about the nature of personal identity, and getting clearer about what people are, and the possibilities of survival, and so forth, having argued against the existence of souls, and for a physicalist view — physicalism seems compatible with both the body view and the personality view, leave it to you to decide between them, I myself currently favor the body view — let’s ask, “So just what is death, anyway, on the physicalist view?”
It might seem as though it’s fairly straightforward. A person, after all, is just a body that’s functioning in the right way so as to do these person tricks. It’s P-functioning, as we’ve put it at one time or another. And so a person is just a P-functioning body, whether you emphasize the body side there or the personality side of that equation.
What exactly is it to die? When do I die? Let’s turn to that question. When do I die and what is death? Roughly speaking, the answer, presumably, on the physicalist view, is going to be something like — if I’m alive when we’ve got a P-functioning body, roughly speaking, I die when that stops happening, when the body breaks and it stops functioning properly. That seems, more or less, the right answer from the physicalist point of view, although as we’ll see probably later today, we need to refine it somewhat.
But first, let’s ask a slightly different question. Which functions are crucial in defining the moment of death? After all, we’ve got the idea that here’s the body, here’s a functioning body. Here’s one in front of you. Each one of you has got one. You’re a functioning body. There’s a variety of functions that your body’s engaged in. Some of them have to do with merely digesting food and moving the body around, and making the heart beat, and the lungs open and close. Call those things the bodily functions. And there’s also, of course, in each one of our cases, there’s these higher mental cognitive functions that I’ve been calling the person functioning, there’s the B-functions and there’s the P-functions.
Well, roughly speaking, I die when the functioning stops, but which functions? Is it the body functions or the personality functions? So let’s take a look at the normal situation. Here’s the existence of your body. And during most of the existence of your body, it’s functioning. The body functions. Over here, it’s no longer functioning. It’s a corpse. During some of the period when your body’s functioning, it’s doing the higher cognitive stuff. The personality functions. Now, this is the very early stuff when your body’s still developing and your brain hasn’t turned on yet, or your brain is turned on, but it hasn’t actually become a person yet, right? At least in the case of the fetus, it’s not self-conscious. It’s not rational. It’s not able to communicate. It’s not creative and so forth. That comes later.
All right, so there’s Phase A. There’s Phase B. There’s Phase C. [See Figure 14.1] That’s the normal situation, the normal case. The body exists. It functions for a while before the P-functioning begins. And then after a while the body and P-functioning are both going on. And then after a while they stop. In the normal case, I’m in a car accident or whatever it is, and my body stops functioning, my personality stops functioning, and you’re left with a corpse.
When did I die? Well, the natural suggestion is to say I died here. I’ll draw my little star, an asterisk. In the normal case, I die when my body stops functioning, in terms of the body functions. And it stops functioning in terms of the personality functions. That’s the normal case. But we could still ask the philosophical question. Since what we had here was simultaneously losing both the ordinary body functioning and the special personality functioning, which loss was the crucial one in terms of defining the moment of my death? Let’s come back to that question in a minute.
Chapter 3. Identifying the Moment of Death for the Body [00:19:24]
First, I want to ask a slightly different question. When did I cease to exist? Or, to put it slightly differently, do I exist during Phase C, when the body has stopped functioning? Both in terms of body functions and personality functions, I’m just a corpse. Do I exist?
Now, let’s suppose we believe the personality theory of personal identity. According to the personality theory of personal identity, for something to be me, it’s got to have the very same personality, the same evolving, but still the same set of beliefs, desires, goals, so forth. Now, during period C, there’s nothing with my personality, right? Nobody thinks they’re Shelly Kagan. Nobody has my memories, beliefs, exact desires, goals and so forth. Pretty clearly then, on the personality theory, I don’t exist at Phase C. That’s why it’s natural to point to the moment of star when we say that’s when my death occurs. I don’t exist at Phase C.
But interestingly, things look rather different if we accept not the personality theory, but instead, the body theory. After all, according to the body theory of personal identity, for somebody to be me, they’ve got to have my body. Follow the body. Same body, same person. All right, here we are. Here’s my corpse. What is a corpse? It’s a body, and indeed, my corpse is my body. So follow the body means follow the person. The corpse is still around. It means my body’s still around. It means I’m still around. It’s like, I mean, I’m dead, but I still exist. It’s like a bad joke, right?
So here’s the question we started the class off with. Will you survive your death? Will you still exist after death? Well, there’s good news and there’s bad news. Since I believe in the body theory, the good news is, you will exist after your death. The bad news is, you’ll be a corpse. That seems like a bad joke, but if the body theory is right, it’s not a joke at all. It’s literally speaking the truth. I will exist, at least for a while. Eventually, the body will decay, turn into atoms or whatever it is, decompose. At that point my body no longer exists. At that point, I will no longer exist. But at least for a while,during period C, the body theorist should say, “Yeah, you will exist. You will exist, but you won’t be alive.”
It just reinforces the point that I was trying to make a few moments ago that the crucial question is not survival per se. The crucial question is, what did you want out of survival? And one of the things I wanted out of survival was to be alive. All right, so on the body view, I exist here, but I’m not alive, so it doesn’t give me what matters. On the personality view, I don’t exist when I’m a corpse.
Let’s go back and ask the question, well, so which is it? Which is the one that’s the crucial for defining the moment of death, right? Even on the body view, the fact that I exist isn’t good enough, because I’m not alive. I want to know, when am I alive? When am I dead?
So what’s crucial for defining the moment of death? Is it body functioning or personality functioning? Well, you can’t tell by thinking about the normal case, because the B-functioning and the P-functioning stop at the same time. But suppose we draw the abnormal case. All right, here’s C with the corpse again. Here’s a period when the body’s been functioning and goes like this. Here’s the period back here, A, where the body’s been functioning, but the personality hasn’t started yet. And now imagine, so this is personality. Over here we’ve got body. We’ll call this B again. [See Figure 14.2]
What I’ve done is imagine a case in which the personality functioning stops before the rest of the body functioning stops. Obviously, the phases are no longer in alphabetical order, but I introduced D in the middle so the other phases could keep their same labels. Well, here’s a case where — When does the body functioning stop? End of D. When does the personality functioning stop? End of B. So we’ve got two candidates. Star one and star two. Star one says death occurs when personality stops functioning. Star two says no, no, death occurs when bodily functioning stops.
Well, again, the question is, what should we say? I think we’re going to perhaps be drawn to different answers, depending on whether we accept the body view or the personality view. Suppose we accept the body view. Well, look, if the relevant question is “When do I die?” and I am a body, then presumably the straightforward answer at least is going to be “I die when my body stops functioning.” When is that? Star two. During period D, I’m still alive, but I’m no longer functioning as a person. I am no longer a person. That’s interesting. It’s not just that I exist. In C, I can exist without being a corpse; or rather, without being alive, as a corpse. In D, I’m alive but I’m not a person.
You recall when we talked about Plato, we introduced the notion of essential properties. And it seems that if we accept the body view, we have to say being a person is not an essential property of being something like me. It’s not one of my essential properties that I’m a person. I am, in fact, a person, but that won’t always be true of me. When I’m a corpse, I will cease to be a person, but I’ll still exist. And if we have this unusual case in which my brain has a stroke, loses its higher cognitive functioning, so that the body continues to breathe, eat, respirate, and so forth, the heart continues to pump, but there’s no longer anything capable of thinking, reasoning, we say, look, I still exist. Indeed, I’m alive, but I’m not a person. Being a person is something you can go through for a period of time and cease to be. In the same way that being a child is a phase you can go through for a period of time and then cease to be. Or being a professor is a phase you can go through and then cease to be. You can still exist without being a professor. I can still be alive without being a professor.
Well, on the body view, we have to say the same thing about being a person. Being a person is something that I, namely my body, can do for a while. It wasn’t doing it back here in A. It certainly won’t be doing it in C. And it won’t be doing it in D either. Being a person is something on the body view that I am only for part of my existence and indeed, only for part of my life.
Well, that’s what it seems we should say on the body view. What if instead we accept the personality theory? Then — actually, one more remark about the body view. Notice that if you accept this account of what the body view should say about when death is, my death is when I cease to be alive. I am my body. So my death occurs at star two, loss of bodily function. And being a person is just a phase.
Notice that if we say that, then there’s something somewhat misleading about the standard philosophical label for the problems we’ve been thinking about for the last couple of weeks. We’ve been worrying about the nature of personal identity. That is to say, what is it for somebody to be me. But notice that that label, “personal identity,” “the problem of personal identity,” seems to have built into it the assumption that whatever it is that’s me is going to be a person. Is it the same person or not? Now, it turns out that that assumption, standardly built into the usual label, may be false. On the body view, it could still be me without being a person at all. So the problem of existence through time, or persistence through time, shouldn’t be called the problem of personal identity, but just the problem of identity. You know, a footnote.
Chapter 4. When Does Personality Begin or Cease to Exist? [00:30:26]
Turning now again to the personality theory. If we accept the personality theory of personal identity, then for someone to be me, they’ve got to have the same personality. And so for something, for me to exist, my personality has to be around. Well, that’s why we said up here that in Phase C when there’s a corpse, I don’t exist. There’s nothing with my personality. As a corpse, I no longer exist.
What should we say about Phase D, on the personality theory? Here, my body is functioning, but my personality has been destroyed. Nothing exists with my beliefs, memories, desires, fears, values, goals, ambitions. Well, if I just am my personality, then I don’t exist in Phase D, because there’s nothing there to be me, nothing with my personality. According to the personality theory, follow the personality. The personality ended at star one. So I don’t exist at Phase D on the personality theory.
Okay good. I don’t exist. But what should we say? Am I alive or not? Well, my body’s still alive. So should we say that I’m alive? After all, my body’s still functioning until star two. During Phase D, my body seems to still be alive. Should we say that I’m alive? That’s rather hard to believe, right? Think about what it would mean to say that. We’d being saying on the personality theory, I don’t exist, but I’m alive. That seems like a very unpalatable combination of views. How can I be alive if I don’t even exist? So it seems we have to say I’m not alive during Phase D. Not only don’t I exist during Phase D, I’m not alive either. Yet, my body is alive; that’s the whole stipulation.
So it looks as though the personality theorist is going to have to introduce a distinction between my being alive, on the one hand, and my body being alive, on the other. In the normal case — up at the top, those two deaths occur simultaneously. My body stops being alive at the very same moment that I cease being alive. But in the abnormal case, the personality theorist needs to say, or so it seems to me, the two deaths come apart. The death of my body occurs at star two. My death occurs at star one. Notice that the body theorist didn’t need to draw that distinction. Because if I just am my body, then well, I’m just my body. My death occurs at the death of my body.
But still, even the body theorist needs a different distinction. We already learned, by thinking about the corpse case, that existence wasn’t good enough for the body theorist. He wanted to be alive. And when I think about Phase D, I want to say something more. It’s not good enough that I’m alive. I want to be a person. So what matters to me isn’t just being alive, but being back here during Phase B. So then it needs something like the same distinction. Not, my death versus my body’s death, but perhaps the death of the person, if we could talk that way, versus the death of the body. My death, for the body view, occurs with the death of my body. But in terms of what matters, it’s the death of the person and that’s star one, not star two.
Now, I want to take just a couple of minutes and mention some other puzzles, or at least questions, worth thinking about in terms of the physicalist picture. I’m only going to point to them, rather than explore them. But I’ve been focused on the question about the end of life. We might ask as well, what about the beginning? What should we say about Phase A, when the body is turned on and functioning, developing, but the brain has not yet gotten to the stage at which it’s turned on, or perhaps it hasn’t yet become, well, it’s not doing person functioning. It’s not reasoning. It’s not communicating. It’s not thinking. It’s not aware. It’s not conscious. There’s going to be some Phase A like that. What should we say about that phase? Do I exist during that phase or don’t I?
Well, on the body view, I suppose we should say I do exist. Being a person is a phase. We happen to have, in Phase A, the stage of my existence before I become a person.
Of course, if we take the version of the body view that what I am, essentially — the crucial body part — is my brain, then we really would have to subdivide A into two parts: early A and late A. In very, very early A, the brain hasn’t even developed yet. It hasn’t been constructed yet. If I just am my brain, in effect, then early A, I don’t exist yet. Not until late A, when the brain gets put together, that I start to exist. There is something there. It’s my body, but it’s not me, in early A. It seems sort of hard to believe, but maybe that’s the right thing to say.
In any event, the fans of the personality theory shouldn’t be laughing too hard, because they’re going to have to say something similar. Remember, if you accept the personality theory, follow the personality. Don’t got the same personality? I cease to exist. That’s why we said on the personality theory, as we went ahead in time, once the P-functioning stops, I don’t exist anymore. That’s what the personality theorist said.
But we can raise that same point going backwards. When did I begin to exist on the personality theory? Not until my continuing, evolving through time personality started. And that certainly wasn’t true way back at the start of A, as the fertilized egg first begins to split and multiply, subdivide and make organs. It’s a good long time till any kind of mental processing occurs at all. So on the personality theory, I did not exist when that fertilized egg came into being, when the egg and the sperm joined. That’s still not me, on the personality theory.
Clearly, these issues are relevant for thinking about the morality of abortion. I’m not going to pursue them here, but you can see how they’d be relevant. If we want to worry about when, if ever, is an abortion justified, it might be worth getting clear on, when do creatures like us start? Interesting question, but having noted it, let me put it aside. Ah, question.
Professor Shelly Kagan: The question was: Would it be plausible to say that at the early phases of A, strictly speaking, the body’s not functioning, because it’s so utterly dependent on help from the mother’s body. It needs the mother for respiration, for nutrients, and so forth and so on. That’s a great question. And it’s the sort of question and the reason why I said I wanted to glance in this direction without really going there. That’s a nice example of it. We might wonder, just when should we say the body functioning really does start? How much independence does it take? We could draw yet another picture of a different way a life could come to an end. Imagine a body towards the end of life, on life support machinery. Do we want to say the body’s functioning or not functioning? Well, hard cases there. So similarly, there’s going to be hard cases about the very, very early stages. And although they’re great questions and I’m happy to discuss them with you further, I don’t want to pursue them here and now.
Chapter 5. What Has the Right to Live – Me or My Body? [00:40:09]
I want to point to a different question that — I think it’s a crucially important question. My unwillingness to discuss them isn’t a matter of my judgment that they’re unimportant, just trying to keep at least roughly on track. Come back to the end of life. Think some more about Phase D and ask. All right, so this is something that’s — If the personality function’s been destroyed, can’t be recovered, can’t be fixed, but the rest of the bodily functioning is still going on. The heart’s pumping, the lungs are breathing and so forth. The body’s able to digest food. There we are in Phase D, in something like, perhaps, persistent vegetative state.
Now, imagine that we’ve got somebody who needs a heart transplant or a kidney transplant, liver transplant. And tissue compatibility tests reveal this body’s compatible, suitable donor. Can we take it or not? Well, you might have thought we answer that by asking “Am I still alive?” Well, rip out the heart, it’s going to kill me, right? So if I’m still alive, you can’t do that sort of thing. It’s killing me. Well, if we take the personality theory, we have to say, my body’s still alive, but I’m not still alive. That’s what we seem to want to say. If I’m not still alive, all we’d be killing isn’t me, but my body.
So now we have to ask, who or what has the right to life? Do I have the right to life, or does my body have the right to life? Or we might say, look, certainly I have a right to life. But is it also true that in addition to me, my body has a right to life? Is there something immoral about removing the organs during Phase D when the person is dead and the only thing that’s still alive is the body?
Don’t be too quick to assume the answer that’s got to be yeah, it’s still wrong. After all, on the body view, I still exist when I’m a corpse. But of course, there’s nothing wrong about taking my heart, even though I still exist. After all, I’m a corpse. Why not then say, similarly, even though my body’s still alive, nothing wrong about removing the heart if the person is dead. At least, the personality view opens the door to saying that.
What about the body view? On the body view, of course, I just am my body. I’m still alive. Now is it wrong? Well… Just like, with the body view, we wanted to say, “Being alive is not all it’s cracked up to be,” the real question is not, am I alive, on the body view? An interesting question is, “Am I still a person?” And indeed, although I’m alive on the body view, I’m not still a person. Maybe it’s not so much that I have a right not to be killed. Maybe I have a right not to be depersonified, to have my personality destroyed. If that’s the real right, then again, there’d be nothing wrong with removing the heart in D. Well, again, clearly, very, very important and very, very complicated questions. But having gestured toward them, I want to put them aside.
Instead, I want to raise the following question. So look, what I’ve just been talking about for the last half hour or so is the fact that we’ve got to get clear, in thinking about the nature of death, as to whether or not the crucial moment is the moment when the personality functioning stops or the moment when the bodily functioning stops. As we saw by thinking about the abnormal case, these things can come apart and we can have Phase D. But in the normal case, they happen at the same moment. And I’ve drawn a lot of different distinctions about what would you say if you’re a personality theorist to deal with this? What would you say if you’re a body theorist to deal with this? Having drawn all those distinctions, I’m going to just ride roughshod over them and put them aside. And let’s just suppose that we’re dealing with the normal case, where the body functioning stops at the same time as the personality functioning stops.
So what is death? What’s the moment of death? What is it to die, on the physicalist view? Well, at first glance, you might think the answer is, look, you exist, you’re alive, whatever it is — ;as I said, I’m just going to be loose now, I’m going to put aside all the careful distinctions I just drew — I’m still around as long as my body is P-functioning. And when my body’s not P-functioning, I’m not still around. Either I don’t exist or I’m not alive or I’m not a person, whichever precise way we have to put it. That seems like the natural proposal for the physicalist to make. To be dead is to no longer be P-functioning. But that can’t quite be right. Because imagine, don’t just imagine, just remember what happened to you last night around 3:20 a.m. Let’s just suppose that at 3:20 a.m. you were asleep and indeed, you weren’t dreaming. You weren’t thinking. You weren’t reasoning. You weren’t communicating. You weren’t remembering. You weren’t making plans. You weren’t being creative. You were not engaged in P-functioning.
If we take this simple straightforward view and say you’re dead when you’re not P-functioning anymore, then you were dead, on and off and on and off, last night. Well, that clearly doesn’t seem to be the right thing to say. So we’re going to have to revise the P-functioning or the end of P-functioning theory of death. We’re going to have to revise that theory. We’re going to have to refine it to deal with the obvious fact that you’re not dead all the times when you’re unconscious and not dreaming. But refining in just the right way is going to turn out to be a surprisingly not straightforward matter, at least that’s how it seems to me. At any rate, that’s the question we’ll turn to next time.
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