- When Hamlet says, "To be or not to be, that is the question," he really means "To die or not to die, that is the question." .Hamlet apparently supposes that when a living thing dies, it stops existing – it ceases to be. Very many philosophers agree.
- But this "termination thesis" blatantly conflicts with some obvious facts. There actually exist very many dead bodies. Each of these formerly was alive. Hence these seem to be things that died but did not cease to exist.
- In Chapter 6, "The Survival of Death2," I try to unravel this conceptual tangle.
The Termination Thesis 
- For people:
TTp: If a person dies at a time, then he or she ceases to exist at that time.
- Difference between simply ceasing to exist and ceasing to exist as something or other.
- Terminators believe that when a person dies, he or she simply ceases to exist.
- Feldman is a survivalist.
Some Philosophers Who Have Accepted the Termination Thesis 
- Epicurus: "death is nothing to us" because "when death comes, then we do not exist"
- Lucretius: Follower of Epicurus, dualist (more on him below)
- Peter Dalton: "When a man is dead he no longer exists and will never again exist"
- Roy Perrett: appears to ascribe to a broader, biological termination thesis:
- TTo: If a biological organism dies at a time, then it simply ceases to exist at that time.
This could be generalized even further:
- TTu: If a living thing dies at a time, then it simply ceases to exist at that time.
- Jay Rosenberg: on Aunt Ethel:
There is no one thing which both died last week and will be buried tomorrow. What died last week was Aunt Ethel. What will be buried tomorrow, however, is not Aunt Ethel but rather Aunt Ethel’s remains. What will be buried tomorrow is a corpse4, Aunt Ethel’s corpse5. But a corpse6 is not a person. Aunt Ethel’s corpse7 is not Aunt Ethel.
Doubts About the Termination Thesis 
- Problematic cases:
- Frog being dissected: "that object was never alive". "Why is this called biology?"
- Old horse dies: "that object is not my horse. My horse went out of existence a few minutes ago when it died. Thus I have no responsibility for this large object blocking the road."
- Fish: never slept in Chesapeake Bay.
- The point is, that assuming that after death the thing that dies "is no more" leads us to adopt very strange views about the corpse8 that is left behind – that is, that the corpse9 is not the same thing as anything that once lived.
- Why do "terminators" accept such a paradoxical view about death?
The Argument from Definition 
- Perrett’s definition of death:
D1. x dies at t = df. x is a functioning biological organism for some time up to t, and at t, x is annihilated, destroyed, or disintegrated
- The argument from definition
- When an organism dies, it is annihilated, destroyed, or disintegrated.
- When an organism is annihilated, destroyed, or disintegrated, it simply goes out of existence.
- Therefore, when an organism dies, it simply goes out of existence.
- BUT: the definition (D1) is incorrect – same butterfly example from chapter 4. Butterfly is dead but intact.
The Argument from Dualism 
- Lucretius argued for a "personal dualism" – body plus "soul atoms"
- The argument from personal dualism
- When a person dies, his soul separates from his body.
- When a person’s soul separates from his body, he simply ceases to exist.
- Therefore, when a person dies, he simply ceases to exist.
- (a) No reason to believe premise (1) – dualism
- (b) Many terminators reject dualism
- (c) Applies only to persons, but we want a biological conception
- What about the body? What happens to it at the moment of death?
- Consider corpse10 C: what should the dualist say about C? Either:
- C formerly was alive
In this case, the termination thesis is rejected because it implies that a living thing continues to exist after death. OR:
- C was never alive
If the body was never alive even when it was walking around, "One wonders what it takes to count as a living thing"
Corpses11 and People 
- How to explain Rosenberg’s view that Aunt Ethel’s "remains" are not Aunt Ethel? Why is a corpse12 not a person?
- The argument from personality
- When a person dies, he or she ceases to be a person.
- When a person ceases to be a person, he or she simply ceases to exist.
- Therefore, when a person dies, he or she simply ceases to exist.
- Distinguish between two concepts of personality: psychological and biological. They usually overlap (normal human adults are both – they are biological members of homo sapiens, and also they have psychological capacities to act like a person), but BP is not necessary for PP (Martians or Dolphins) and not sufficient (severely brain-damaged individuals)
- This means we can interpret the argument from personality two ways:
- The argument from psychological personality
- When a psychological person dies, he or she ceases to be a person.
- When a psychological person ceases to be a person, he or she simply ceases to exist.
- Therefore, when a psychological person dies, he or she simply ceases to exist.
- Comments: First Premise: O.K.
- Second Premise:
- "Why would anyone think that ceasing to be psychological person entails simply ceasing to exist?"
- Perhaps because of the general principle: "When an F ceases to be an F, it simply ceases to exist"
- BUT: when a boy ceases to be a boy he does not cease to exist. So the principle does not apply in all cases.
- Response: It applies in this case, because every psychological person is essentially a psychological person. (That is, psychological personhood is an essential property of every being that possesses it.)
- BUT: a BP who is also a PP does not cease to exist when it ceases to be a PP, so "however important psychological personality may be to us, it is not a property we have essentially"
- The argument from biological personality
- When a biological person dies, he or she ceases to be a person.
- When a biological person ceases to be a person, he or she simply ceases to exist.
- Therefore, when a biological person dies, he or she simply ceases to exist.
- Now Second Premise becomes plausible, but First Premise doesn’t seem right: it means that a member of a species ceases to be a member of that species when it dies, BUT "a dead chicken is still a chicken"
Death and Nonexistence As 
- While it is TRUE that when a living thing dies it ceases to exist as a living thing and when a psychological person dies it ceases to exist as a PP, living things just are certain kinds of material objects which (generally) continue to exist after death (this is most obviously true in things like dead trees: the tree is obviously still there – it’s just dead).
- GOOD NEWS: most of us will survive death
- BAD NEWS: we will still be dead.
- "We will just be corpses13."
- "Such survival may be of very little value" [duh!]
Footnote 1: Taken from "Feldman (Fred) - Introduction: Confronting the Reaper".
Footnote 3: Taken from "Cushing (Simon) - Fred Feldman: Confrontations with the Reaper".
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)