Language, Metaphysics and Death: A Metaphysical Reader
Donnelly (John), Ed.
This Page provides (where held) the Abstract of the above Book and those of all the Papers contained in it.
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The edition on the Heythrop Philosophy and Religion Reading List is the first edition – and some of the “priority” articles have been purged in the 2nd edition. I had (or have) acquired these from elsewhere. The “missing” articles (with “priority” ones indicated) are:-

  1. "Chisholm (Roderick) - Coming Into Being and Passing Away: Can the Metaphysician Help?",
  2. (*) "Van Evra (James) - On Death as a Limit",
  3. "Donnelly (John) - Suicide and Rationality"
  4. (*) "Donnelly (John) - Death and Ivan Ilych",
  5. "Nagel (Thomas) - The Absurd",
  6. "Geach (Peter) - Immortality",
  7. "Puccetti (Roland) - Conquest of Death",
  8. (*) "Sutherland (Stewart R.) - Immortality and Resurrection".

Cover Blurb
  1. This standard work in thanatology is updated with ten essays new to the second edition, and features a new introduction by Donnelly. The collection addresses certain basic issues inherent in a philosophy of death. Donnelly orients the presentation of the essays with the view that a philosophy of death illuminates the questions of existence and the nature of life. The principal themes explored are the meaning of death, the nature of the soul, and the prospects for immortality. This collection contains various viewpoints from authors of different persuasions, each offering, if not solutions, then enlightenments, making this edition an accessible and valuable survey of this perennially interesting question.
  2. The contributors are: Thomas Nagel, James M. Cameron, Paul Edwards, Michael Slote, Amelie Oksenberg Rorty, Stephen E. Rosenbaum, Fred Feldman, John Donnelly, Bernard Williams, Richard Taylor, Roderick M. Chisholm, John Hick, A. J. Ayer, Kai Nielsen, Grace M. Jantzen, H. H. Price, Stephen T. Davis, Raymond Martin, and John J. Clarke.
  3. John Donnelly is Professor of Philosophy at the University of San Diego.
    Preface – vii
    Introduction – 1
  1. Thomas Nagel – Death – 2
  2. James M. Cameron – On Death and Human Existence – 30
  3. Paul Edwards – Existentialism and Death – 43
  4. Michael A. Slote – Existentialism and the Fear of Dying – 80
  5. Amelie Oksenberg Rorty – Fearing Death – 102
  6. Stephen E. Rosenbaum – How To Be Dead and Not Care: A Defense of Epicurus – 117
  7. Fred Feldman – Some Puzzles About the Evil of Death – 132
  8. John Donnelly – The Misfortunate Dead: A Problem for Materialism – 153
  9. Bernard Williams – The Makropulos Case1: Reflections on the Tedium of Immortality – 170
  10. Richard Taylor – De Anima – 188
  11. Roderick M. Chisholm – On the Observability of the Self – 195
  12. John Hick – Biology and the Soul – 211
  13. A. J. Ayer – My Death – 226
  14. Kai Nielsen – The Faces of Immortality – 237
  15. Grace M. Jantzen – Do We Need Immortality? – 265
  16. H. H. Price – Survival and the Idea of "Another World" – 278
  17. John Donnelly – Eschatological Enquiry – 302
  18. Stephen T. Davis – Traditional Christian Belief in the Resurrection of the Body – 320
  19. Raymond Martin – Survival of Bodily Death: A Question of Values – 344
  20. John J. Clarke – Mysticism and the Paradox of Survival – 367
    Select Bibliography – 383


Fordham University Press; 2nd Revised edition (31 Oct 1994)

"Donnelly (John) - Language, Metaphysics and Death: A Metaphysical Reader"

Source: Donnelly (John) - Language, Metaphysics and Death: A Metaphysical Reader

Preface (Full Text)
  1. This Second Edition of Language, Metaphysics, and Death deletes eight essays from the first edition, retains nine, and adds eleven. The authors of the twenty essays analyze various fundamental themes inherent in a metaphysics of thanatology, involving the meaning and nature of death and dying and the prospects for survival and postmortem existence.
  2. Despite Epicurus' admonition in his "Epicurus - Letter to Menoeceus" that we "become accustomed to the belief that death is nothing to us," most of us are skeptical about his caveat and even a few of us, in his words, "crave for immortality." The volume's contributors are at one with Plato, who reminds us in the Phaedo that true philosophers are regularly occupied in the practice of dying. Construed as a descriptive statement about the philosophical life, the Platonic view is no doubt false, yet interpreted as a regulative prescription, it would appear profoundly insightful. In facing foursquarely our own mortality and reflecting on the meaning of death and dying formally analyzed as the irreversible loss of those characteristics that are essentially significant to a living human being, we are simultaneously enabled to ponder the meaning of life and living.
  3. Metaphysics is a difficult subject to study and to teach. And a course that explores the metaphysical issues inherent in thanatology is perhaps even more pedagogically burdensome, not just because of its somewhat rarefied themes and puzzles, but also due to the fact that typical undergraduate students are often reluctant to engage in serious reflection upon death-related issues. Granted: abortion1, euthanasia, suicide, and capital punishment pass conventional muster as highly discussable socio-moral issues involving public policy (and staples of undergraduate courses in applied ethics); but as Tolstoy reminds us in his novella The Death of Ivan Ilych2 ("Tolstoy (Leo) - The Death of Ivan Ilyich"), a young person can easily grasp the hackneyed example of a paradigmatic deductive argument that Socrates is a human being, human beings are mortal, therefore Socrates is mortal, yet not realize that this now-trite example is not really so vacuous after all. Somewhat repressing the thought of a first-person account of death, a young person often vicariously acknowledges that, of course, Socrates in the abstract was mortal, but I'm not Socrates but a creature quite set apart. Feeling invincible, if not immortal, young people see death as something that happens to others. Unfortunately, death is no stranger to even the young, as but witness the tragedies of AIDS, suicides, accidental deaths, and personal and institutional forms of killing.
  4. In general, human beings are both fascinated and horrified by the topic of death. What Kierkegaard said about dread we might also say of death — namely, that toward it we have a sympathetic antipathy and an antipathetic sympathy. We are somewhat perversely intrigued by the behavior of serial killers, the media reports of random killings in our streets and neighborhoods, and our children's high-tech glee over the video game "Mortal Kombat," etc. Despite the surrealism of it all, we are also repulsed by death, often sheltering the young from witnessing the death of relatives, adamant that legal executions not be televised, and so ever fretful about mortal dangers that we arm ourselves to the hilt, etc.
  5. We often prettify death, euphemistically referring to relatives and friends that have "passed away," "been called home," no doubt as the result of a "negative patient outcome" at a hospital or nursing home. Among college students, sex is hardly a taboo subject, but direct language about the metaphysical aspects of death is surely muted, however ironically bountiful in non-thanatological vernacular contexts, as in "I was dead drunk at the party," "The Professor's lecture was deadly," or "I sat next to a drop-dead redhead in class."
  6. In the years between these two editions of Language, Metaphysics, and Death, death has certainly been no stranger to me. I have lost my beloved parents, my two Jesuit uncles John and Philip Donnelly, my uncle Harold Norton, and my aunts Evelyn Norton and Gladys Cove. I learned much from their character and courage in facing their human mortality, and dedicate this volume to their memory. And amid the sadness and bereavement of death, I have been blessed by the births of my beloved son and daughter, Colin and Maria Donnelly, whose integrity and scholastic and athletic skills never cease to amaze and delight me.
  7. I am grateful to those students in my "Death and Dying" course at the University of San Diego who have wrestled with me on various thanatological problems (despite the pernicious Southern California ethos that would vaporize death), and I wish to acknowledge the fine secretarial assistance I have received from Leeanna Cummings, Vivian Holland, and Monica Wagner.

"Sutherland (Stewart R.) - Immortality and Resurrection"

Source: Religious Studies, Vol. 3, No. 1 (1967), pp. 377-389

"Van Evra (James) - On Death as a Limit"

Source: Analysis, Vol. 31, No. 5 (Apr., 1971), pp. 170-176

  1. Phenomenally speaking, dying is simply a matter of ceasing to think and experience, and death presumably is the state of such experiencelessness. But while it seems perfectly reasonable to describe death in this way, to do so invites some potentially troublesome questions. For instance, it might be asked whether there need be anything which (phenomenal) death as a state characterizes. In describing death as a state, that is, are we tacitly committed to accepting the personal survival of death1, in the sense that we need something of which we can say that it once thought and experienced, but, while still existing, does no longer? On the other hand, if we do not recognize the existence of experienceless selves, can sense be made of talking about phenomenal death as a state at all?
  2. In this paper, I shall develop a view in which death is seen to be a state which characterizes absolutely nothing, and hence requires no commitment to the belief in selves which survive death. At the same time, the concept of death will be shown to retain all of its "ordinary" significance.
  3. The heart of the view to be presented is an elaboration of Wittgenstein2's view that death is like a limit, in the sense that we can approach it, but cannot reach it. The elaboration consists in pointing out that, like states which serve as hypothetical limiting constructs in science, death gains what significance it has, not by serving as a state characterizing things, but as a function which orders members of the series limited. In this way, the significance of the concept of (phenomenal) death can be retained, while the need to recognize the existence of things characterized by death can be rejected.
  4. The paper is divided into three parts: first, Wittgenstein3's basic analogy will be considered. This is followed by a discussion of the extension of the analogy, just outlined. Finally, the significance of the expanded view for more traditional views of death will briefly be considered.

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