- There are five main claims that may be made about life after death:
- We are reincarnated in the self-same body we had in life.
- We are reincarnated in another body. (For my purposes in this paper it is a matter of indifference whether this is thought of as reincarnation in another world, or as reincarnation in this world: the arguments I shall be examining apply equally to either case. Throughout the paper the term 'reincarnation' used without qualification should be taken to mean 'reincarnation in a different body'.)
- We are revived, or continue to live (or to have conscious existence) in a disembodied form.
- We are not exactly reincarnated, because this life is a kind of dream which we are having, and a future life, whether a bodily life or not, will involve waking up (as it were) from this dream or dream analogue.
- There is no life after death.
- It is not difficult to find subscribers, present and past, to each view. Picking more or less at random, for
- we have, for example, St Paul (on some readings, at least), St Thomas, Peter Geach, and a number of other modern writers;
- we have Pythagoras, Plato sometimes, John Hick, and apparently1 a very large number of Eastern thinkers;
- we have Plato in another mood (or perhaps Socrates), Descartes, and - at least for the logical possibility - Peter Strawson;
- we have, primarily, Kant2;
- we have Lucretius, Spinoza, Voltaire, and a wide variety of contemporary thinkers: perhaps most practising philosophers in the western tradition.
- Identity requires a continuant, and there are a number of well-known arguments in the literature which show that the incorporeal soul is not acceptable in this role.
- Thus option (c) above is not a live option.
- Given that, I shall argue that option (b) is also untenable.
- Writers who eschew (c), such as John Hick, Terence Penelhum, Langtry, and an earlier version of myself, cannot consistently opt for (b), even as a logical possibility.
- If (c) is untenable, it will follow that (b) is as well3.
- We will thus be left with the orthodoxy of (a), the implausibility4 of (d), or the truth (as I believe) of (e).
- Can we tell a coherent, non-question-begging story in which reincarnation in a different body occurs?
- At first glance it seems clearly possible.
- Do a little digging, add some elementary identity theory, and it seems impossible.
- Dig a little more, relativize identity, and we see that retaining the impossibility seems to require an assumption - that human beings have essential properties - that not all philosophers are prepared to make.
- Finally, we shall see that this seeming requirement is indeed merely a semblance, and that relativizing identity does not, in fact, save reincarnation as a logical possibility.
See "Noonan (Harold) - The Possibility of Reincarnation" for a reply.
- I say 'apparently', for in his interesting article "Perrett (Roy W.) - Rebirth" (Religious Studies XXIII (1987), 41-57) Roy W. Perrett argues persuasively that in Indian religions the type of rebirth that is invoked does not (and could not) involve personal identity.
Footnote 3: Footnote 4:
- Kant offers this possibility in the first Critique (A778=B806 – A780=B808).
- He emphasizes that it is merely a possibility, one which cannot be known to be true : but it seems likely that it represents his belief about the matter.
- See "MacIntosh (J.J.) - The Impossibility of Kantian Immortality", 1976.
- In 'The Impossibility of Kantian Immortality', op. cit., I have argued that Kant's version of this story is not only implausible but impossible, but my argument there does not touch the general case.
- (Indeed, I do not think that there is a sound argument available that defeats the general case.)
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