A Materialist Conception of Death
Feldman (Fred)
Source: Feldman - Confrontations with the Reaper, Chapter 7
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract1

  1. Chapter 7, "A Materialist Conception of Death," contains my proposed conceptual scheme for death and related concepts.
  2. I try to explain the central concepts ("death," "dying," "a death," "dead," "person," etc.) and I defend some answers to fundamental metaphysical questions involving these concepts. Can a person survive death? Can a person die more than once? Can a person get out of life without dying? Can something die if it never lived?
  3. This chapter provides a summary of a proposed materialistic conceptual scheme for death.

Analysis2

A New Approach to Death [106]
  1. Instead of trying to define it (tried that in chapter 4 – failed), this approach involves formulating general principles that locate the connection between death and concepts like dying and life:
  2. Thus, although I will not be attempting to explain what death is, I will be attempting to explain where the biological concept of death is located in a certain materialist conceptual scheme. [107]

The Lifeline [107]
  1. See diagram on p. 108: Adam goes from conception at t0 to death at t6 and finally cremation at t7.
  2. Twice Adam is dying2: at t2 and t4. But he recovers at t3.

Death Itself, "a Death," and Being Dead [108]
  1. D1. x is dead at t = df. x died at some time earlier than t
  2. But what about the possibility of revitalization? To rule out that:
    • D1'. x is dead at t = df. x died at some time earlier than t and x has not been alive since then
  3. Two senses of death – the success sense (death1):
    • D2. e is the death1 of x = df. e is the event such that, necessarily, e occurs precisely when x dies
    and the process sense (death2):
    • D3. e is the death2of x = df. e is the event such that, necessarily, e occurs precisely when x is dying2
  4. Thus we can say:
    • Adam’s death1 took place at t6, but his death2 lasted from t4 to t6.
  5. Puzzle about the moment of Adam’s death (t6): at that time he is neither dead nor alive. If he was dead then, then he would have been dead when he died, and if he was alive, he would’ve been alive when he died, and neither makes sense.

Death and Life [110]
  1. From D1′ we get the following:
    • Necessarily, nothing is both alive and dead at the same time.
  2. Adam goes through stages when he’s alive (t0-t6) and dead (t6-t7). Thus:
    • Possibly, something is alive at one time, and dead at another time.
  3. The possibility of "deathless exits from life" (like Alvin the Amoeba’s) give us:
    • Possibly, something is alive at a time even though it does not die at any later time.
  4. Jerry Lewis thinks the following:
    • [Possibly, something is alive at a time even though it died at an earlier time. ]
  5. This allows life after death3. Is this possible? Even if not, the following is true because of suspended animation4:
    • Possibly, something is alive at a time even though it ceased to be alive at some earlier time.

Death and Existence [113]
  1. Obviously you can’t be alive and not exist, so:
    • Necessarily, if a thing is alive at a time, then it exists at that time.
  2. Obviously also, there are many dead things that don’t exist (except to the extent that their component atoms are still around), for example, the dinosaurs. So:
    • Possibly, a thing is dead at a time even though it does not exist at that time.
  3. However, also, despite what Epicurus says, chapter 6 (the dead horse, especially) shows that you can be dead and exist:
    • Possibly, a thing is dead at a time even though it does exist at that time.

Deaths, Lives, and Histories [115]
  1. What is "the life" of somebody?
  2. Suggestion 1: the length of time they’re alive
    PROBLEM: If two identical twins5 are killed at the same moment, then, by this definition, they have identical lives, because they were alive for exactly the same time.
  3. Suggestion 2: the property of being alive
    PROBLEM: this is even worse! It implies that everybody alive has the same life.
  4. Solution:
    • x’s life is the complex event containing all the events that happen to x in the period x is alive.
      Thus: Adam’s life: t0-t6
    • x’s history is the complex event containing all the events that happen to x in the period x exists.
      Thus: Adam’s history: t0-t7

Death and Humanity [117]
  1. Can one’s history as a human continue after one’s death? Yes, if humanity is simply membership in the species homo sapiens.
  2. Humanity is neither NECESSARY (non-human living things) nor SUFFICIENT (human corpses) for life.
  3. Possibly, a thing is a human and dead at a time.

Death and Personality [118]
A Materialist Way of Death [123]
    So far as we know, every biological person eventually dies. Since, in the materialist view, these biological persons are their bodies, and in most cases the bodies continue to exist after they die and continue to be members of the human species, it would be correct to say that death does not necessarily mark the end of the history of an object as a biological person…[but] death…does seem to mark the end of the history of an entity as a psychological person. [124]



In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Taken from "Feldman (Fred) - Introduction: Confronting the Reaper".

Footnote 2: Taken from "Cushing (Simon) - Fred Feldman: Confrontations with the Reaper".


Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)



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