Surviving Death
Johnston (Mark)
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Cover Blurb

  1. In this extraordinary book, Mark Johnston sets out a new understanding of personal identity and the self, thereby providing a purely naturalistic account of surviving death.
  2. Death threatens our sense of the importance of goodness. The threat can be met if there is, as Socrates said, 'something in death that is better for the good than for the bad'. Yet, as Johnston shows, all existing theological conceptions of the afterlife1 are either incoherent or at odds with the workings of nature. These supernaturalist pictures of the rewards for goodness also obscure a striking consilience between the philosophical study of the self and an account of goodness common to Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism: the good person is one who has undergone a kind of death of the self and who lives a life transformed by entering imaginatively into the lives of others, anticipating their needs and true interests. As a caretaker of humanity who finds his or her own death comparatively unimportant, the good person can see through death.
  3. But this is not all. Johnston's closely argued claims that there is no persisting self and that our identities are in a particular way 'Protean' imply that the good survive death. Given the future-directed concern that defines true goodness, the good quite literally live on in the onward rush of humankind. Every time a baby is born a good person acquires a new face.
  4. Mark Johnston is the Walter Cerf Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University and the author of "Johnston (Mark) - Saving God: Religion after Idolatry".

Amazon Customer Review
  1. The project which Mark Johnston sets himself in this book is to see whether it is possible to accept the finality of death without this fundamentally undermining the importance of goodness.
  2. It is common experience to find that good people go unrewarded (and bad people go unpunished) within this lifetime. The only hope (seemingly) is that they will get what is due to them in an afterlife2. Without an afterlife3, it would seem that injustice is given free rein.
  3. The book itself is based upon a series of five lectures and these form the subject matter of the five chapters. The questions which were asked by the audience have also been incorporated at the end of each chapter.
  4. The first lecture considers how the idea of an immaterial soul was imported into Christianity from Plato, rather than being an essential feature of the New Testament. The Catholic tradition maintained this view but the Protestant tradition set itself the task of removing these pagan imports and restoring the radical vision of bodily resurrection which is more intrinsic to Christianity itself. By the end of the first lecture we have been treated to an exhaustive examination of the Protestant view of bodily resurrection and found that it is logically incoherent. At this point Mark Johnston notes that, if there is to be any hope for an afterlife4, it lies with the Platonic idea of an immaterial soul which has been preserved within the Catholic tradition.
  5. Having established that there is no hope of bodily resurrection, Mark Johnston now turns his attention to the idea of an immaterial soul. As he points out, the idea of bodily resurrection was logically incoherent but, in the case of 'souls' it is towards empirical evidence which we must turn. Once again, he finds that the evidence strongly points to the non-existence of a 'soul'.
  6. By this point, he has established that there is no scope for personal survival of death5. This, of course, threatens our sense of justice and seems to undermine the value of goodness. The author's task is now to try and persuade us that goodness can live on (in an impersonal way) in the generations who will follow us.
  7. Furthermore, what makes death particularly threatening is the challenge it presents to our own sense of separate selfhood - our own egotism. As Mark Johnston points out, for the good person, there is already a softening of this egotism and increased identification with other people. As such, death will be less threatening to the good person.
  8. This is a book which I found very stimulating and interesting. At the same time, there was much which was simply beyond my abilities. Having no background in the philosophy of personal identity, I found some of it very hard going. There were many terms, which were liberally sprinkled around, which I was unfamiliar with (hylomorphic, genidentity, sortals6 etc.) I often had the feeling that there was a much simpler book struggling to get out. In my opinion the author has much to say which is important; it would be a shame if it only reached a narrow audience because of the difficulty of the material. It almost needs a companion version which is written with the lay audience in mind.

    Preface – xi
  1. Is Heaven a Place We Can Get To? – 1
  2. On The Impossibility of My Own Death – 126
  3. From Anatta To Agape – 189
  4. What Is Found At The Center? – 241
  5. A New Refutation Of Death – 305
    Index – 379


"Caldwell (Christopher M.) - Review - 'Surviving Death' by Mark Johnston"

Source: MetaPsychology On-Line: Jul 13th 2010 (Volume 14, Issue 28)

    Johnston provides a detailed and intricate conception of personal identity and then connects that conception to a particular conception of goodness in a unique and intellectual interesting manner. Ultimately, Johnston is attempting to answer the question of why one should be good if death is the end of a particular identity's existence, which is a standard naturalistic claim. By radically reframing the notions of personal identity and life after death1, Johnston is able to provide a unique and conceptually intricate account of how a naturalist can maintain both the importance of living a good life and surviving death.

COMMENT: Review of "Johnston (Mark) - Surviving Death". See Link for full text.

"Johnston (Mark) - Is Heaven a Place We Can Get To?"

Source: Johnston (Mark) - Surviving Death, 2010

  1. In the opening chapter, Johnston articulates why the issue of death needs the philosophical attention which it often lacks. Death threatens the importance of goodness itself. As Johnston states, "Death is the great leveller; if the good and the bad alike go down into oblivion, if there is nothing about reality itself that shores up this basic moral difference between their lives, say by providing what the good deserve, then the distinction between the good and the bad is less important. So goodness is less important." (p. 5)
  2. The threat is clearly evident if one is committed to a form of naturalism as opposed to a form of supernaturalism, as is Johnston. Johnston's goal is thus to address this threat within a naturalistic framework.
  3. Johnston's conclusion that one can survive death through good actions relies upon a particular view of goodness2. Johnston asserts that his view of the good person is one shared by forms of Judaism, Christianity, and Buddhism, namely that a good person lives a transformed life by overcoming her own self and living in such a way as to respond to the needs of others. Johnston's view of the good person is thus of a person who, in his language, has "undergone a death of the self." (p. 14)
  4. After setting up the issue, the opening chapter proceeds to provide a careful discussion of various views of personal identity focusing upon various aspects of Christian views of identity and Neo-Lockean views of the self.
  5. Johnston concludes that the soul3, or some similar substance, does not exist. Importantly, Johnston is committed to overcoming supernaturalism and providing a naturalist account of the self and personal identity that does not rely upon anything outside of the natural realm.

  1. Introduction4
  2. The Popularity5 of the Other World
  3. What Does Death Threaten6?
  4. Death and the Importance7 of Goodness
  5. Can the Threat be Dismissed8?
  6. The Aim9 of These Lectures
  7. The Passage of the Soul10
  8. Locke11 and The Wisdom of Solomon
  9. Locke12 and Personal Identity
  10. The Irrelevance13 of the Soul?
  11. Neo-Lockeanism14 and Survival
  12. Neo-Lockeanism and Christian Mortalism15
  13. Bypassing the Bodily16 Criterion
  14. The Problem of Perimortem Duplicates17
  15. The Argument Anatomized18
  16. Mundane Necessity
  17. "Christian Physicalism"
  18. How Do We Know What We Are19?
  19. Saving Cognitive Labor by Offloading
  20. The Overall Plan of the Lectures
  21. Endurance, Perdurance, and “The Same Thing Again"
  22. The Real Problem with Neo-Lockeanism
  23. The Moral Problem with the Appeal to Neo-Lockeanism
  24. Are We Worms?
  25. Are We Stages?
  26. The Unhelpfulness of Reference Magnetism
  27. Only Souls Can Save Us
  28. Questions and Replies

In-Page Footnotes ("Johnston (Mark) - Is Heaven a Place We Can Get To?")

Footnote 1: From "Caldwell (Christopher M.) - Review - 'Surviving Death' by Mark Johnston".

Footnote 2: Goodness and “death to self”:-
  1. I agree that Johnston’s definition of “goodness” as “death to self” has this illustrious provenance, but there are other definitions consistent with naturalism that have equally august pedigrees – for instance the Aristotelian one whereby the good individual is the one with the right balance of virtues and that fulfils its proper function. In this tradition, a non-self cannot be good.
  2. I also think that while a literal “death of the self” is true of Buddhism, it is not true of Christianity. The good Christian is exhorted to “love his neighbour as himself”, which is not very much unless he loves himself too. Also, the discussion of resurrection – eg. in 1 Corinthians 15 – very much presupposes the survival of the individual.
  3. It is also clear that a “death of self” doctrine is very radical – it is one of the unrealistic elements of a crude consequentialism, where the calculations of the overall net good or bad consequences of an action take no account of who enjoys or suffers which of the consequences (provided the consequences are noted in the widest possible sense, including precedent and such-like).
Footnote 3: There is no obvious reason why the soul might not be natural rather than supernatural.

Footnote 4: Introduction:-
  1. These are lectures, and I worry slightly that, as they still read like lectures, they will not be as rigorous or as complete as is necessary for the subject matter.
  2. Johnston sees the topic as taboo in academic circles because there’s perceived to be a dilemma:-
    • Either the lecturer rehearses materialism – that the mind just is the functioning of the brain, and can’t survive the death thereof. This insults people’s religious beliefs and hopes for themselves and their loved ones.
    • Or, the lecturer provides special pleading for a particular religious tradition – debarred in an academic context.
  3. Since the topic is avoided, the malign impression is given to society at large that “you can believe what you like”.
Footnote 5: The 2003 Barna Research Group Survey of American views about life after death. This appears to be Link (Defunct).

Footnote 6: Three threats posed by death:-
  1. Loss of life with others,
  2. The end of presence, ie. conscious awareness, and
  3. The importance of goodness.
    … I’d add:-
  4. The end of achievement – ie. the cessation of (hopefully worthwhile) projects undertaken by the individual.
Footnote 7: Quotations from:-
  1. Ecclesiastes 2:12-17; 9:2-3: the same fate comes to all, and
  2. Wisdom 3:1-4: an allegedly valid, though unsound argument: given the above, we can act wickedly and get away with it.
Footnote 8: Kantian attempts to show that the argument presented in Wisdom is invalid rather than merely unsound are rejected, since the world itself is deaf to our cries for justice.

Footnote 9: Focus on the relation between death and goodness, so:-
  1. Ignore Epicureanism, whereby death should be of no concern to us as we won’t experience it (being non-existent).
  2. Ignore cryonic life-extension.
  3. Accepts the challenge of Phaedo 63c; that in death, there is something better for the good than the bad.
  4. Survival of death is a matter of degree. Actually (despite the title of the book), Johnston is explicitly talking about overcoming death, rather than surviving it, and this is where “those with a good will” do better than the bad. By “overcoming” he means “diminishing the threat to the one who is dying”, which is easier on those who have already undergone “death of the self” to one degree or another.
  5. For the good person, “my” self is just one of many selves over which I have stewardship, albeit to a higher degree, and to which I have an objective relationship.
  6. agape: the death of one individual (myself) is of much less importance to the good person than the “onward rush of mankind” (Mill).
  7. Woody Allen: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve it by not dying”.
Footnote 10: The Passage of the Soul:
  1. Johnston is not dogmatically anti-supernaturalist – he just takes supernaturalism to be empirically false.
  2. He (also? therefore?) has a methodological commitment to naturalism.
  3. He wants to rescue (“ransom”) salvific religious ideas from their supernaturalist context. As a by-product, this will show what, if anything, supernaturalism adds.
  4. He takes our need for salvation to be an empirical matter, stemming from our “fallen condition”, explained naturalistically – we are referred to "Johnston (Mark) - Saving God: Religion after Idolatry". He sees “large-scale structural defects in human life”, including:-
    • Arbitrary and meaningless suffering,
    • The decay of aging,
    • Untimely death,
    • Our profound ignorance of our condition,
    • The destructiveness generated by our selfishness,
    • The vulnerability of all we cherish to chance, the state, and other massed institutions.
    He doesn’t think these can be remedied by psychological adjustment or natural prudence.
  5. He takes it that supernaturalist salvation was aiming in the right direction – justifying goodness in the light of the above evils – but should now be outgrown.
  6. The trouble is that, however we conceive of the afterlife in a supernaturalist sense, we can’t get there. That is, not on any plausible view of personal identity.
  7. A brief account of the cover painting by El Greco, of the soul of some pious Spanish nobleman being ushered to heaven. This represents the classic western view of post-mortem survival: the soul – the bearer of the identity and psychological qualities (including consciousness, personality and moral qualities) of the individual – is re-housed in a spiritual body for judgement and eternal life in the appropriate place. Corporeality of some form is essential for the soul to communicate. Johnston also states that the view is that heaven is the awakening from the dream-world of the earthly. This sounds a bit Platonic, without Plato’s insistence on the need of the soul to escape the body.
Footnote 11: Supernaturalism:
  1. During the Enlightenment, Hume and Spinoza rejected supernaturalism, but Locke through Kant thought it essential to justify the triumph of goodness.
  2. And (even up to) Anscombe – in "Anscombe (G.E.M.) - Modern Moral Philosophy" – considered that it is only a future divine judgement that gives the power to the “musts” of moral action.
Footnote 12: Locke and Personal Identity:-
  1. Locke is closer than Descartes (or El Greco) to NT Christianity where resurrection, rather than an immortal soul freed of the body, is what awaits the dead. For Locke, no mental or spiritual substance is required to carry the person’s identity to heaven.
  2. This was partly to avoid the Catholic insistence on purgatory, and the indulgences that sparked the Reformation.
  3. Luther derived psychopannychismsoul-sleep – from Ecclesiastes 9:5 (“ … the dead know not anything”) and parallels. This doctrine was accepted by some Catholics – eg. Karl Rahner – in the 1970s, but this was condemned by the now present Pope in the 1980s in his role as head of what used to be called the Inquisition.
  4. Milton, Hobbes and others – in particular Richard Overton – went further to thnetopsychism, the doctrine that the soul is annihilated between death and resurrection (indeed, that man is wholly corporeal).
  5. The wheeze of moving the comma in Christ’s words to the Good Thief “Verily I say unto you today, you shall be with me in Paradise” is down to Milton. Johnston seems somewhat scornful of this syntactical resource, because it is not available to resolve the difficulty posed by the parable of Dives and Lazarus to psychopannychism or thnetopsychism.
  6. There’s an interesting Wikipedia entry on Christian Mortalism (Wikipedia: Christian mortalism) that points out, amongst much else, that psychopannychism – meaning “the all-night vigil of the soul” – is Calvin’s term used to reject soul-sleep, and that the correct term for this idea is hypnopsychism, a term coined sometime after 582 by Eustratios of Constantinople in condemning Christian Mortalism. The confusion came from a mistranslation of Calvin’s Latin into French.
Footnote 13: The Soul’s irrelevance:-
  1. The usual exposition of Locke, which I won’t repeat.
  2. Johnston notes that Locke is neutral when it comes to adjudicating between the “soul sleep” and “soul death” camps.
Footnote 14: Neo-Lockeanism:-
  1. This is the “Wide Psychological View” – otherwise known as “wide psychological reductionism” – which expands Locke’s inadequate “memory criterion” of personal identity to include other psychological qualities and capacities involved in the holding of psychological continuity and connectedness.
  2. The “width” is down to the claim that the normal means of securing psychological continuity – persistence of the same body or brain – is not deemed necessary.
  3. This was the dominant view 20 years ago; Johnston cites as paradigm exponents:-
    … "Lewis (David) - Survival and Identity",
    … "Quinton (Anthony) - The Soul",
    … "Swinburne (Richard) - Personal Identity: The Dualist Theory", and
    … "Shoemaker (Sydney) - Persons and Their Pasts".
  4. Johnston notes that, in the absence of an requirement for a “substrate” for identity preservation, there’s a temptation to suppose that minds are software programs or information-bearing patterns that can be run on different hardware, or re-instantiated having been held in the mind of God. He finds a sophisticated version of the “remembered pattern” idea in Polkinghorne’s The Faith of a Physicist.
Footnote 15: Christian Mortalism:-
  1. Johnston notes that Christian Mortalism, which allows that the mental supervenes on the physical, is not a hostage to fortune concerning increasing scientific demonstration that the mind depends exclusively on the brain.
  2. Additionally, we don’t have to worry how Soul + (material) Body1 is identical to Soul + (spiritual) Body2. Why isn’t that situation better described as the spiritual remnant of the deceased with a new part tacked on? Mind you – it seems to me (and no doubt to Johnston) – at least we have identity of a part; for resurrection, we might not have identity at all. But, for the neo-Lockean, provided the appropriate psychological continuity is there, and there is uniqueness (the difficult issue) we do indeed have personal identity.
Footnote 16: Bodily Criterion:-
  1. The Bodily Criterion view of personal identity seems, at first sight, to fit the resurrection account of life after death. The idea would be that God recreates the very same body that died, and then repairs it into the resurrection body. This requires that intermittent existence of physical objects be coherent.
  2. Johnston seems insufficiently to distinguish supporters of the Bodily Criterion from Animalists. He lists the following supporters:-
    … "Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance",
    … "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Material Beings",
    … "Snowdon (Paul) - Persons, Animals, and Ourselves", and
    … "Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal - Personal Identity Without Psychology".
  3. Johnston sees correctly that this form of Mortalism confuses identity with exact similarity: we have a copy that is exactly similar to the original (even if made up of the exact same atoms in the exact same relations).
  4. He quotes "Van Inwagen (Peter) - The Possibility of Resurrection" to this effect; which uses a reconstituted manuscript as an example. But, Johnston considers the Ship of Theseus as a counter-example, saying that the ship reassembled from its plans would be the original ship.
  5. This illustrates the distinction between what Johnston calls immediate parts (planks, half a manuscript, …) and remote parts (atoms).
  6. He sees an application of this distinction in Pharisaic double-burial where, after the flesh has decayed, the bones of the deceased – presumably considered as immediate parts to which flesh may be added in the resurrection – are re-buried in an ossuary.
  7. Johnston considers a stepwise reconstruction starting from the deceased’s perimortem atoms: building up to molecules, cells, organs, … at each stage the constituents being immediate parts of the higher-level structure.
  8. The problem with this is that the atoms are (over time) shared by multiple organisms that all require resurrection. The classic case is of cannibals, but it applies equally to the transfer via worms to animals to food … to other human beings, as was noted by Robert Boyle in the late 17th century. A solution – whereby there is equitable sharing of atoms, so the resurrected just end up with smaller bodies – is described by Johnston as “even more ludicrous”.
Footnote 17: Perimortem Duplicates:-
  1. Johnston imagines the situation whereby two individuals, separated by 200 years in time, are – either by chance or by divine fiat – composed of exactly the same atoms in exactly the same configuration. Then – on this account of post-mortem survival – both these individuals will be resurrected as the same individual. As Johnston points out, this is a contradiction. He doesn’t use the transitivity of identity but the necessity of distinctness.
  2. We might cavil at this example. If having the same atoms in the same configuration is sufficient for personal identity (as is taken to be the case for the reductio), then the two pre-mortem individuals would “themselves” be identical: we would have a very special case of re-incarnation. I think this would then remove the contradiction, because the case of two identically-configured perimortem individuals could not arise – but see further explanation, and a clear objection, under the next Footnote.
  3. Johnston notes a “conceit” of David Lewis whereby – by treating people as 4-dimensional worms – we do, in resurrection have two co-located individuals that share all their post-resurrection stages. He promises to deal with this notion later (but Click here for Note).
Footnote 18: Johnston’s Perimortem Duplicates argument formalised:-
  1. It’s not necessary to repeat the full formalism in these notes. Johnston claims that it’s not the Bodily Criterion that causes the contradiction, but the auxiliary assumption that a body can be reassembled from its constituent atoms like a disassembled artefact. Consequently, a human body cannot have scattered or intermittent existence.
  2. While I agree with the conclusion, there seems at first sight to be a problem with Johnston’s argument which might mean there’s no contradiction in the first place; in which case the alleged contradiction could not be used to refute the possibility of the intermittent existence of human bodies (though there are other reasons for rejecting this idea).
  3. Let’s imagine a bicycle, say, disassembled, then reassembled 200 years later, then “resurrected”. Since the “two” pre-resurrection bicycles would have been identical, there would be no contradiction that they should “both” be identical to the “resurrected” one. What’s the difference between this TE and Johnston’s about human bodies? He cannot just (at this stage) assume that a body cannot be re-assembled, as that’s what he’s trying to prove – so he has no principled reason for denying that the two pre-mortem bodies are identical, and hence that there’s no contradiction.
  4. Consider his auxiliary assumption:-
      Necessarily, if at some time t after the death of a body x a body y comes together out of simple elements in such a way as to reproduce x's perimortem state then y is numerically the same body as x; that is, y is the very body x come back into existence.
    Now, the two pre-mortem bodies are presumably both perimortem, as they are both to be resurrected in this state. But how did the later one come into being? It came from a natural reassembly of the atoms that had made up the former body into the identical configuration of that former body. So, why is it not identical to that former body? I can’t see how Johnston could, using the principles of the auxiliary assumption, deny their identity, unless he has some objection to supernatural resurrection that doesn’t apply to natural resurrection. So, he needs to come up with some other objection – other than duplication – why scattered or intermittent existence is OK for bicycles but not for human bodies.
  5. Johnston almost considers this objection, as he tries the standard modus tollens versus modus ponens trick to show, given the assumed falsity of the conclusion …
      Necessarily, there are no distinct bodies x and z with the same perimortem state such that y comes together out of simple elements in such a way as to reproduce both x's perimortem state
      and z's perimortem state.
    … that (given the validity of the argument), one of the premises must be at fault.
  6. But, is this conclusion necessarily false? Johnston correctly points out that it’s very unlikely that x and z have the same perimortem state, but that’s neither here nor there. All we need is logical possibility. But the key assumption is that bodies x and z are non-identical, which, I claim, might (at this stage in the argument) be false.
  7. But, we need to consider the claim that the identity-claim for x and z is in fact false. What it amounts to is that because (as I have claimed) x and z are identical at one point in their life-trajectories they are identical tout court. This doesn’t seem impossible given that they live 200 years apart. But, might not their life-trajectories overlap in time? This would seem to be possible – even if we have to extend life-spans beyond the normal – this is a TE, after all. All x’s atoms at time t1 ultimately get replaced and recycled so they, by design or fluke) constitute z at time t2 > t1. But x exists from t0 < t1 until t3; and z exists from t4 < t3 until after t2, so x and z in this telling are clearly NOT identical as they coexist at the same time (between t3 and t4) and we can see that they are not the same individual (we do not allow a single individual to have two bodies). So, there must be something wrong with the claim that the identity of the perimortem states of “two” individuals makes them into one.
  8. So, the objection to Johnston’s argument fails for a similar reason to that which causes Johnston’s argument to succeed – the logic of identity undermines it.
  9. Johnston points out that Peter Van Inwagen (where?) accepts the argument (which?) that denies that a human body can be reassembled, claiming that (in Johnston’s words?)
      The survival of a given body depends on the survival of the particular token dispositions to life functions that maintain that body. When the body dies those particular token dispositions come to an end forever, even if the same type of dispositions are reproduced in a duplicate body reconstructed from the same matter.
    I’m not sure what these “token dispositions” are, but they are important when we consider the lives of organisms.
  10. Johnston deals with the difficulties of the bodily criterion which he (incorrectly, I believe) takes to be Animalism in "Johnston (Mark) - 'Human Beings' Revisited: My Body is Not an Animal".

"Johnston (Mark) - Is Heaven a Place We Can Get To? Addendum: From Corpse Snatching To Identity Voluntarism"

Source: Johnston (Mark) - Surviving Death, 2010

  1. Corpse Snatching
  2. Zimmerman's Way Out
  3. Is This Christianity?
  4. The Metaphysical Objection
  5. Revelation and the Nature of Bodies
  6. The Bone Known as Luz
  7. Resurrection by Replay from Origins
  8. Identity Mysticism
  9. A Reply and a Response
  10. Identity Voluntarism, the Last Temptation
  11. A Body Can't Get There from Here

"Johnston (Mark) - On The Impossibility of My Own Death"

Source: Johnston (Mark) - Surviving Death, 2010

  1. In Chapter Two, Johnston begins by continuing the discussion of various Christian, particularly Protestant, theological attempts to connect this life with the afterlife2. Johnston is committed to the idea that the question of the immateriality of the soul is an empirical one, which follows from his commitment to naturalism. A brief discussion of the failure to provide evidence of the existence of the immaterial soul occurs to remind the reader why it is plausible to deny the existence of such a soul. For Johnston, the denial of the existence of a soul is key to the very possibility of the survival after death. At the end of Chapter One, Johnston only promises that he will explain why later in the book. This claim by Johnston, and the general strategy he employs, is one of the weaknesses of the book. The book is carefully argued, but the payoff for individual threads is continually pushed off until later. Johnston too often states that why something is important or why something is the case will become evident or will be explained later. Although not all aspects of a complex argument can be discussed at once, Johnston adds unnecessary complexity and mystery to his overall argument that could be avoided with some short explanations at a few key points.
  2. Johnston then identifies and explains his view of the self as an "arena of presence and action." The basic idea is that I am, or you are, simply the arena of consciousness out of which I live my, and your, life. One might plausibly think that what will then survive death is the individual arena of presence and action an individual experiences. However, Johnston believes that is clearly not the case. Thus, the overall picture lacks clarity and even appears paradoxical, to Johnston's own admission. Thus, much work must be done to explain how a person can survive death when what is meant by "a person" is "an arena which is experienced," and it is not even that particular arena which survives death. The rest of the chapter attempts to overcome these difficulties. The main idea is that individuals are not concerned about death itself, but about their own death. Once one realizes that there is no self on which to place the concept of death, the concern about one's own death should disappear. As Johnston states, "Our conclusion should then be that one's ownmost death is impossible, because radically undefined." (p. 179) Johnston holds this view after discussing various views of the self and rejecting them while also discussing various types of death, e.g. biological death, subjective death, and the death of the self.

  1. The Faith-Threatening Character of Creedal Religion
  2. What Do We Know Of The Soul?
  3. Absence of Evidence
  4. The Sobering Verdict
  5. The One at the Center
  6. The Arena
  7. Lichtenberg Vindicated
  8. On Discovering That "You" Don't Exist
  9. On Being Me
  10. Calm Down!
  11. Mere Facts Of Identity
  12. Feats Of Autoalienation
  13. Am I Now Contingently Johnston?
  14. Something I (Almost) Always Know
  15. What Is Death?
  16. Johnston's Death and My Death
  17. What Really Matters In Survival?
  18. Self Identity Versus Personal Identity
  19. A Merely Intentional Object
  20. Presence and the Self
  21. The Impossibility of My Ownmost Death
  22. Offloading Again
  23. An Inner Substance?
  24. A False Presupposition of "My Ownmost Death"
  25. The Retreat to the Human Being
  26. The Irrelevance of Substantial Selves
  27. On Having No Self
  28. Summary of an Argument
  29. Questions and Replies
  30. Addendum: The Arena, The Horizon, And The Limits Of The World

In-Page Footnotes ("Johnston (Mark) - On The Impossibility of My Own Death")

Footnote 1: From "Caldwell (Christopher M.) - Review - 'Surviving Death' by Mark Johnston".

"Johnston (Mark) - From Anatta To Agape"

Source: Johnston (Mark) - Surviving Death, 2010

  1. Chapter Three begins with a discussion which highlights the second difficulty of this work. Johnston begins with a discussion of some rather technical philosophical terrain concerning de re thoughts and de se reasons. Johnston includes such discussions in various places throughout the book in a manner that does not clearly further his argument. Although these discussions may be relevant in a certain manner, they often distract the reader from the central concerns of the argument and such is the case here. Johnston is turning to explaining the connection between his commitment to the doctrine of no self and his commitment to a certain kind of life as being the good life. The discussion of de re thoughts and de se reasons seems peripheral, at best.
  2. The substance of Chapter Three is to provide the argument for anatta and then to connect this commitment to the command of agape. The argument for the non-existence of persisting selves is based upon attempting to support the claim that all of the important facts of an individual's experience of her own arena can be described without any reference to any such thing as a self, or some such substance. If the substance of a self does not do any explanatory work, then it is unnecessary and should be eliminated. Johnston's argument here relies quite heavily upon a certain phenomenological account of persons relying upon the notion of an arena of presence and action mentioned earlier. If one accepts this notion, then the argument provided here has a chance to succeed; however, the argument cannot succeed if one does not accept the notion. Johnston then points out that the command of altruism, or agape, makes perfect sense because there can be no personal reasons as there is no personal you. In other words, all reasons must be impersonal so the altruist does not put someone else's interests or reasons ahead of her own, which is how altruism is often construed, but is instead simply doing what reason recommends. Thus, agape is simply the rational course of action in Johnston's conception.

  1. Basic De Se Reasons
  2. "I"-Thought
  3. Not Ambiguity but Synecdoche
  4. Two Kinds of Rigidity
  5. Three Responses to the Paradox of Auto-alienation
  6. An Available Self-Identity Is Always "Strict''
  7. "I*" Denotes A Self
  8. Have We Built Too Much Into "I"-Use?
  9. The Concept of the Self versus the Metaphysics of the Self
  10. The Proviso: An Alternative to Offloading
  11. Tracing Selves versus Tracing Neo-Lockean Persons
  12. Do We Trace Selves Or Trace Persons?
  13. Resurrection Again
  14. A Comparison with Thomas
  15. Self As Determined By Consciousness, But the Bed Not the Stream
  16. Divine Justice and the Self
  17. The "Constitution View2"
  18. Resurrected Selves?
  19. Consciousnesses?
  20. Deferring to the Victim of Hallucination
  21. The Vanishing Importance of the Self
  22. Giving Up On the Self
  23. Is The Birth of Others As Good As Rebirth?
  24. The Incoherence of Non-Derivative De Se Reasons For Action
  25. A Summary of the Foregoing
  26. Questions And Replies

In-Page Footnotes ("Johnston (Mark) - From Anatta To Agape")

Footnote 1: From "Caldwell (Christopher M.) - Review - 'Surviving Death' by Mark Johnston".

"Johnston (Mark) - What Is Found At The Center?"

Source: Johnston (Mark) - Surviving Death, 2010

    Chapter Four begins with some thought experiments2 concerning different kinds of creatures with different kinds of selves. For example, Johnston describes "the Hibernators" as a group of people with a brain chemistry that keeps them awake constantly for 9 months during which they are enormously productive. They then sleep3 for three months. Before going to sleep4 they write down very detailed instructions concerning where to pick up on the various projects they are working on, as they conceive of themselves as different persons. Johnston discusses such a possibility, as well as others, to illustrate that there is no metaphysical justifier, i.e. a soul or self, which can independently justify which parts of nature should be our concern. In other words, nothing outside of the natural world can determine how we ought to organize our lives. Johnston believes that the different conceptions of personal identity all simply work from different starting points, and without any metaphysical justifier to determine which is the right starting point, the best way to conceive of personal identity is as something which constantly changes, i.e. the self is Protean in Johnston's language. Johnston does not believe that relativism about personal identity is coherent, so he instead introduces the notion of the Protean self that can change embodiment. Johnston believes personal identity must be Protean as individuals are able to, at least plausibly based upon the thought experiments5 at the beginning of the chapter, change the arena of presence and action by changing certain dispositions. The conception of identity as Protean is central to Johnston's claim that we are able to survive death. As he states, "Given that we are Protean, following the command of agape would mean that we would thereby implement personal identity in such a way that we would survive wherever and whenever interests are to be found. We would, quite literally, live on in the onward rush of humankind." (pg. 296) Thus, the survival of death6 is about changing one's disposition and changing it in a particular way.

  1. How Did a Human Being Get To Be Here?
  2. Other Narratives: The Hibernators
  3. Still Another Narrative: The Teletransporters
  4. Wrong In Itself?
  5. The Even-handed Treatment
  6. Is Relativism About Personal Identity Coherent?
  7. Personhood and Personality
  8. "Reincarnation" Before Death
  9. The "Forensic" Importance of Personality
  10. What Is Invariant?
  11. The Radical Reversal
  12. The Identity-Determining Disposition
  13. The Solution to Our Problems
  14. A False Sense of Our Essence
  15. Refiguring One's Basic Dispositions
  16. Persons Are Protean
  17. Another Route to the Conclusion
  18. Is the Persistence of Individual Personalities Response-dependent?
  19. The Other World as an Ethical Epiphenomenon
  20. A Summary and a Bridge to the Last Lecture
  21. The Life To Come-Questions And Replies

In-Page Footnotes ("Johnston (Mark) - What Is Found At The Center?")

Footnote 1: From "Caldwell (Christopher M.) - Review - 'Surviving Death' by Mark Johnston".

"Johnston (Mark) - A New Refutation Of Death"

Source: Johnston (Mark) - Surviving Death, 2010

  1. Chapter Five focuses upon giving content to the idea of living on after one is dead through the lives of others, or "in the onward rush of humanity" in Johnston's language. Johnston starts by recapitulating the main ideas he has argued for up to this point. Importantly, Johnston does this repeatedly throughout the book and at times uses very different language to try to capture arguments made previously. The summaries provided are often very helpful, but some readers may find the recapitulations that draw upon different concepts a bit confusing. Johnston certainly attempts to be as helpful to the reader as possible. In attempting to explicate his views, Johnston takes us through discussions of contemporary thinkers, e.g. Derek Parfit2's view of the self; classical thought, e.g. Ovid; and historical thinkers, e.g. Kant, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer. The concluding chapter features a tour including all of these thinkers as well as a touch of Vedantism and the clear debt to Christianity in the notion of agape which was grounded by previous discussions of the New Testament included in the book.
  2. How, precisely, does Johnston think one can survive death? One way to understand it is in the following:
      When it comes to facing death, the characteristic disposition of the good is very helpful. A good person, however well-endowed by nature and nurture, does not see himself as a Sun King, one whose death would remove everything of paramount importance. Nor does a good person feel that his own individual personality is of special importance because it is his. The good value individual personality as such, and they see it continued in their younger contemporaries and in the lives of all those who follow them. In this way the good, and to some extent the good enough, are less threatened by death. Where death looms less over a life, there is more chance that that life will be a genuinely flourishing life. (pg. 356)
  3. A good individual is able to value an individual's life in the abstract, and not only her own life, and thus a good person is able to value the future existences of individuals that are not her own. For Johnston, it is not particular individuals who survive death in the traditional sense of a soul existing in some realm, either this one or another one, but it is that the goodness that an individual participates in continues on and is participated in by future good persons.

  1. A Comparison With Parfit3
  2. Parfit4's New Criterion
  3. So Death5 Is Something To Us
  4. On Being Higher-Order
  5. The Clone6
  6. The Phoenix
  7. How Could a Mere Bird Survive as the Phoenix Does?
  8. Teleporters7 Often "Misfire"
  9. Policing the Dispositions
  10. The Point of the Allegory
  11. What Is a Good Will?
  12. Is Goodness Bounded?
  13. The Dispositions of the Good
  14. How Does "I" Work, if We Are Protean?
  15. Self-Ownership and the Interests Of The Good
  16. Are We Good Enough?
  17. Who Has A Good Will?
  18. A Comparison with Schopenhauer
  19. The Mistake in Tristan Und Isolde
  20. Two Problems with Kantian Vedantism
  21. This World, Not the Other World
  22. Perpetual Return
  23. The Interests of the Good
  24. Reconsidering the Threat of Death
  25. Questions and Replies

In-Page Footnotes ("Johnston (Mark) - A New Refutation Of Death")

Footnote 1: From "Caldwell (Christopher M.) - Review - 'Surviving Death' by Mark Johnston".

"Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Selfless Persons: Goodness in an Impersonal World?"

Source: O'Hear (Anthony), Ed. - Mind, Self and Person

Author’s Abstract
  1. Mark Johnston takes reality to be wholly objective or impersonal, and aims to show that the inevitability of death does not obliterate goodness in such a naturalistic world. Crucial to his argument is the claim that there are no persisting selves.
  2. After critically discussing Johnston's arguments, I set out a view of persons that shares Johnston's view that there are no selves, but disagrees about the nature of reality. On my view, a wholly objective world is ontologically incomplete: Persons have irreducible first-person properties.
  3. My aim is to show that we can (and should) reject selves, but that we can (and should) retain persons and their essential first-person properties as ontologically significant.


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