Do We Have Epistemic Support for the Existence of Afterlife?


In a paper discussing our attitude towards death, Freud (1915) put forth that it seems impossible to imagine our own death, so much so that in the unconscious we are all 'convinced of our own immortality'. In more recent efforts, Smullyan (2003) explicitly endorsed Freud's hypothesis and took the inability to conceive oneself as non-existing to be the reason for ones belief in afterlife. I suggest that Smullyan's argument aligns with conceivability accounts in the epistemology of modality, which takes the ability to imagine certain scenarios as a guide to their possibilities. Following such view, that we find the non-existence of our own consciousness inconceivable would provide epistemic support for its impossibility. The consequence of this modal statement (that it is impossible for our consciousness to be non-existent) seems to be a commitment to some form of afterlife--that our consciousness must continue to exist despite the death of the body. This paper presumes the truth of the conceivability account, and in turn granting that Smullyan's argument for afterlife is valid. However, I shall suggest two worries of the argument before granting its conclusion. Firstly, I shall examine whether its premise is indeed true--that is, whether we really find the non-existence of our consciousness inconceivable. Secondly, I believe the very same account could turn against afterlife if we start the argument with other appealing premises (such as ones derived from physicalism). Thus, given the truth of the conceivability theory there are at best both evidence for and against afterlife.

Author Information
Tony Tsz Fung Lau, University of Edinburgh, UK

Paper Information
Conference: ACERP2016
Stream: Philosophy - Philosophy and Religion

This paper is part of the ACERP2016 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon