Some Considerations Relating to Human Immortality

J. Ellis McTaggart
1903 International Journal of Ethics  
Known as the Early Journal Content, this set of works include research articles, news, letters, and other writings published in more than 200 of the oldest leading academic journals. The works date from the mid--seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. We encourage people to read and share the Early Journal Content openly and to tell others that this resource exists. People may post this content online or redistribute in any way for non--commercial purposes. Read more about Early Journal
more » ... out Early Journal Content at http://about.jstor.org/participate--jstor/individuals/early-journal--content. JSTOR is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary source objects. JSTOR helps people discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching platform, and preserves this content for future generations. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not--for--profit organization that also includes Ithaka S+R and Portico. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. I52 International Journal of Ethics. SOME CONSIDERATIONS RELATING TO HUMAN IMMORTALITY. I DO not propose in this paper to offer any arguments in favor of the positive assertion that men are immortal. I believe that such arguments exist, and that, in spite of the difficulty and obscurity of the subject, they are of sufficient strength to justify a belief in our immortality.* But to expound these arguments would require an elaborate and bulky treatise of technical metaphysics, for they could only be based on a demonstration of some idealist theory of the fundamental nature of reality. My present design is merely to consider some arguments against immortality, which have been based on certain facts of ordinary observation, and certain results of physical science. I shall endeavor to show that these are invalid, and that the presumption against immortality, which they have produced in many people, should be discarded. It is better to speak of the immortality of the self, or of man, than of the immortality of the soul. The latter phrase suggests untenable views. For, in speaking of the identity of a man during different periods of his bodily life, we do not usually say that he is the same soul, but the same self, or the same man. And to use a different word when we are discussing the prolongation of that identity after death, calls up the idea of an identity less perfect than that which lasts through a bodily life. The form in which the question is put thus implies that the answer is to be in some degree negative-that a man is not as much himself after death, as he is before it, even if something escapes from complete destruction. Moreover, it is unfortunately customary to say that a man has a soul, not that he is one. Now if our question is put in the form, "has man an immortal soul ?" an affirmative answer would be absurd. So far as it would mean anything, it would mean that the man himself was the body, or something which died with the body,-at any rate was not immortal,-and that *Cf. My "Studies in Hegelian Cosmology," chap. ii. Some Condercations Relating to Human Immortality. I53 something, not himself, which he owned during life, was set free at his death to continue existing on its own account. For these reasons it seems better not to use the word soul, and to put our question in the form "are men immortal ?" What reasons have we for supposing that our existence is only temporary? I see around me bodies which behave so like my own that I conclude that they are related to other conscious selves in the same way that my body is related to myself. But from time to time I see one of these bodies cease to behave in this way, and become motionless, unless moved from outside. Shortly afterwards this body dissolves into its constituent parts. Its form and identity as a body are completely destroyed. My own experience, and that of others, in the past, leads me to the conclusion that the same thing will happen in the future to every body now existing, including my own. How does this affect the question of my existence? It is clear that if I am a mere effect of my body-a form of its activity-I shall cease when the body ceases. And it is also clear that, if I could not exist without this particular body, then the destruction of the body will be a sign that I have ceased to exist. But, besides death, there is another characteristic of nature which tends to make us doubt our immortality. Of all the things around us, from a pebble to a solar system, science tells us that they are transitory. Each of them arose out of something else, each of them will pass away into something else. What is a man that he should be exempt from this universal law? Thus we have three questions to consider. (i) Is my self an activity of my body? (2) Is my present body an essential condition of the existence of my self ? (3) Is there any reason to suppose that my self does not share the transitory character which I recognize in all the material objects around me? With regard to the first of these questions, it is certain, to begin with, that my body influences my self much and constantly. A large part of my mental life is made up of sensations. Sensations are continually being produced in me as a result of changes in the sense-organs of my body, and, as far as we know, they are never produced in me in any other way. I54 International Journal of Ethics.
fatcat:xgiocyewerbvxapids5w74yhce