There are now two questions before us, one of which depends on the answer to the other. First, does the human soul ever exist in fact in a disembodied condition? Presumably, if it did, it would then be unable to change, and so would be immortal; so the first question is the same as asking whether the human soul is immortal or not. And if this is answered affirmatively, the second question immediately follows: Since, as we saw in Conclusion 1, this disembodied existence would be unnatural, the soul would then be spending for practical purposes all its life in an unnatural condition (because the finite time we live as bodies vanishes when compared to eternity). But how can we make sense out of this?
Well, let us first see what evidence we can muster to try to answer the first question. It is obvious that the human being (the human body) dies, which means that it is not organized with a human form of unifying energy any more. But since the human form of unifying energy is the human spirit in its energy-"reduplication" of itself, then there are two possibilities: (1) Either the human spirit stops acting (and goes out of existence), because, though in principle it could go on existing without its energy-"dimension," it either (a) can't do this in practice, or (b) does not want to do so, and chooses non-existence; or (2) the human spirit drops its energy-"dimension" and from then on exists as pure consciousness, pure spirit.
I think we have already handled the standard reason why people say that the human soul is not immortal. The usual argument against immortality is that the human body is obviously a bundle of energy, united by a form of energy; and since energy is subject to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, even if it made sense to say that the energy uniting the parts (which is, after all, nothing but the interaction of the parts) kept acting when it wasn't any longer uniting the parts, it couldn't act (as it can't in the body, obviously) without dissipating some amount of itself into the universe, and "running down" eventually into heat. And since it has no bodily mechanism to restore this lost energy, it would sooner or later (and undoubtedly sooner, judging by how fast everything deteriorates when we don't eat and breathe) disappear. So even if the soul survived death, it wouldn't survive for long, and it certainly couldn't be immortal.
But that, of course, supposes that the energy uniting the parts of the human body is just energy, and is no different as energy from the energy uniting an inanimate body. But we have seen from the very beginning of this part that the unifying energy of any living body is a peculiar type of energy, and is self-sustaining in a way that (with respect to the organism itself) contradicts the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Otherwise, it would not have its high energy-state as an equilibrium, as it does. And, of course, as we progressed, we showed that it is not possible to explain the act of sense-consciousness (which is the brain's nerve-energy) as merely the brain's nerve-energy. And in the preceding section, it was, I hope, made clear that understanding and choosing have to be spiritual acts, only indirectly related to energy by the energy-"dimension" of the sense acts contained within them.
If the human soul is spiritual as well as energy, then any argument based on the Second Law of Thermodynamics does not prove anything with respect to it. Obviously, if it goes on existing after death, it does not go on in its energy-"dimension," but as a pure spirit (which sounds as if it means "pure consciousness" in some sense); and so there's (a) no problem about an interaction's acting without anything to unite; that aspect of it is gone. Further, (b) as spiritual, it can't dissipate any amount of itself and "run down," because it has no amount at all.
Scientists are fond of adding to this, "Yes, but there's no evidence that any soul did survive death; I mean, all that stuff from seances and religion and ghosts are obvious frauds." They're a little too quick to say this, I think. They're certainly not all obvious frauds; and while they may all be frauds, the only way you can be certain without actually finding out what the fraudulent aspect is is if you are a priori convinced that you don't have to investigate, because the human soul can't survive death. But that begs the question.(1)
Personally, I think that most and possibly all things that happen in seances and ghost sightings are either frauds or mistakes; but what we will conclude will imply that such things are not necessarily impossible, and so it might be that at least some of them are authentic. Certainly the argument above against the soul's survival after death leaves so much about human life and consciousness unexplained and inexplicable that it's shallow grounds indeed for closing off the possibility. After all, there's one man who actually predicted that he was going to come back from the grave and did do so; and so far, the attempts to show that the accounts of Jesus' resurrection are lies or mistakes or legends are considerably more far-fetched when actually applied to the texts than the event the texts purport to describe. But that, of course, is something that belongs to Biblical exegesis, not here.(2)
So let us say that there isn't any real evidence so far that would indicate that the soul doesn't survive death; and if anything (given how widespread things like ghost sightings are) there is a hint in the other direction. But, as I mentioned, the spirituality of the soul doesn't prove that it does survive death. Scholastics think that it does, because if the soul is spiritual, it is simple (i.e., while it may have "dimensions" in that peculiar sense where everything interpenetrates everything else, it doesn't have parts that are distinct from each other); and if it is spiritual, it can't disintegrate. And if it's an act and it can't disintegrate, then (since it contradicts an act not to act), there's nothing inside it which would make it quit acting, and nothing from outside it (like the body it unites) which would make it quit either.
But this doesn't really confront the difficulty that it is the nature and essence of this particular type of spiritual act to be energy uniting a body; and if it dropped its energy-"dimension" it would then eternally exist in an unnatural condition. So if on the one hand, it looks as if, being spiritual, its nature is to exist eternally, on the other hand, being a material spirit, it seems that its nature is not to exist in a disembodied condition. There's as much ammunition on one side of this argument as on the other, it seems to me.(3)
Well, perhaps it exists after death, but in another body.
I think this completely misinterprets what the soul is, making it a "something" that somehow "gets into" a foreign "thing" called a "body." But let us look at this possibility for a minute.
First of all, if the soul were to be reincarnated, the reincarnation would have to be instantaneous, because if it once existed without a body, it would be purely spiritual and could not change; and so there would be no way it could limit itself quantitatively once again (even if only in one of its "dimensions," since they all permeate each other). Presumably, God could miraculously re-limit it (because he has absolute control over it), but it couldn't do this itself.
Secondly, if it were reincarnated, the "other" body wouldn't be another body at all, but the same one. The body is this individual body, not because of the parts (elements) it is made up of (as we saw in the first section of this part, these come and go during any body's life, and it is one and the same body), but because it is organized with this kind of unifying energy limited to this degree. Since the soul of George Blair organizing another body would be the same soul, then that body would be George Blair--not a clone (identical twin), but that same being.
Thirdly, identical twins do not have the same soul, even though they started out with the same soul (because they started out as one organism which was by accident split into two before the body got so complex that the parts couldn't be organized in a living way). If the twins had the same soul, then they wouldn't be just very similar, they would be the same person (certainly they would be if what reincarnationists say were true). But this is absurd, for anyone who knows identical twins. So what would it mean to say that this new body has "the same soul" as some body that died earlier?
Fourthly, since the spiritual acts of the soul are simply latent and not erased when consciousness ceases (either by sleep or by not putting energy into the word-sensation), and reawaken with the recognition of being already known, then it would follow that if there is reincarnation, that new body would recognize itself as the "old" person, just as if it had fallen asleep and waked up again, and something like Plato's theory that knowledge is "remembering" would be true, and be recognized to be true.
Plato (who held a theory of reincarnation) also thought that knowledge of anything was "being reminded" of the concept (which he thought was a kind of intellectual "seeing" of some Aspect), which the soul had once seen in its purely spiritual existence before it ever got into any body, and which it forgot by being blinded by the body's contamination.
But in the first place, if the soul ever was in this purely spiritual condition, how did it ever "sin" in order to get out of it--since moral faults, for Plato, are due to the blinding of consciousness by the body, and are ignorance. The pure spirit cannot be ignorant. So the "fall" from pure spirit could logically never have taken place.
Also, Plato's "demonstration" of his theory in the Meno is more easily explained by the fact that "Socrates" was asking the slave-boy leading questions about a diagram of a triangle he had drawn and practically putting the answers (essentially, the Pythagorean theorem) in his mouth--at least if you can see simple relationships between things. Hence, it does not prove by any means that he was simply reminding the boy of what he already knew.
Further, people do get reminded of things they have forgotten, and for most people this experience is recognized as a different kind of experience from learning something that they (at least thought) they didn't know before. But for Plato they would be the same thing.
And the final remark about Plato's theory is that, as is abundantly clear from the Phaedo, his view of reincarnation rests on his theory of knowledge as being reminded, not the other way round. But there is a simpler explanation, as I said, of intellectual knowledge, that of being conscious of what the relationship is between sensations.
For those reasons, I think that "reminiscence" theories of knowledge don't hold water, either theoretically or based on experience; but they would have to be true if reincarnation were a fact.
The reincarnation theory does have going for it the evidence from amnesia victims and stroke victims, however. These people do not recognize that they once knew things when confronted with them again, and seem to have to relearn them. Amnesia victims do, however, begin to remember sometimes; and I would guess that when they do, they are not using new nerves to learn previously known data, but are finally sending energy into the old nerve-complex. This apparently means that, once a link is established between consciousness and some nerve complex (even a created one like a word), then that consciousness is shut off unless that nerve is re-activated. But that would mean that the spiritual aspect of the soul (which is what is supposed to survive the body and get into another one) is totally inactive when no nerves are active, which would certainly happen at the beginning of the new life before the nerves are even formed. But something that is totally inactive doesn't exist.
So if, for instance, I were miraculously reincarnated by God and given a brain with no information written into its nerve cells, I don't see how there could then be any continuity between my past self and my new self that would establish that they were the same one. So I think that any reembodiment by my developed soul would have to be be the same body's waking up again, with awareness of who I am and my memories intact.
Fifthly, all reincarnation theories I have heard of hold that human souls can become the souls of animals; but this is an entirely different form of existence, in which case, there is no sense in which the donkey's soul is "the same" as the human ass he came from in a previous life. The soul, after all, is not existence, but the form of existence; so it is simple nonsense to talk about a human soul and a donkey's soul as "the same soul." Furthermore, the donkey's soul is immaterial, not spiritual, and so presumably is not immortal (at the very least the burden of proof is on anyone who says it is, and that it's going to be reincarnated as something else). But that would mean that even if a human soul could become a donkey's soul, this would be a one-way street; and once it did so, it would go out of existence when the donkey died.
But sixthly, unless many human beings come from reincarnations of other, non-human living bodies, then reincarnation is not possible, because there are more human beings alive today than the sum total of all human beings of all previous generations, and the population is expanding rapidly. There just aren't enough dead people to be reincarnated as new babies at the rate babies are being conceived.
Seventhly, I suppose you could fix this up by saying that new souls are created for the extra human beings, but then, since some human souls just absolutely began to exist, what is your reason for denying that they all do, and for saying that some others existed previously?
Eighthly, if the soul is immortal and it's organizing this body, why would it want to leave it to get into another one and begin the cycle all over again? And that it doesn't want to leave the body is abundantly evident from the fear of death that we have, even in the most horrible situations in life.
Ninthly, all the theories of reincarnation state or imply that there's a blessed condition where the soul gets free of the cycle of birth and death and rebirth, and either goes back or goes up to a purely spiritual state, where it no longer has to go through bodily life after bodily life. So presumably bodily life is a punishment of sorts. But how can a pure spirit be punished?
And finally, in the tenth place, reincarnation would make setting high goals for yourself absurd (as Buddhism actually seems to hold), and in fact would make being moral absurd if it was to your disadvantage to be moral. These will form evidence for the survival of the soul after death, so I will treat them more at length shortly. But the point is that if I die and then start over again from scratch (a) my unfulfilled goals remain unfulfilled, and so what was the point of making them? Further (b) if I could get to an important goal by violating some less important aspect of my reality (doing something "a little wrong"), why shouldn't I? The "punishment" would be that "my future self" would be, let us say, a retarded person; but he wouldn't recognize (a) that he was I, still less that he was being punished for my sin, because he would have no memory of it. And the thought that my sin is going to mean that some dog or kangaroo is going to be born because of it (while I, as far as my consciousness is concerned, simply go out of existence) is really of very little motivating value. So two of the strongest pieces of evidence that life goes on after death are nullified if the afterlife is a new embodied life.
No, let's face it, this theory of reincarnation is based really on a faulty notion of "the unity of all life," and it supposes that things that are similar have a something in them that is identical ("life," or "soul") and that skips from one body to another. As a kind of ad hominem, I don't notice that many of the people who hold this and reverence all life have a great deal of reverence for rats or spiders or streptococcus bacilli, let alone celery or crabgrass.
There are lots of things that are nice to believe; but please, let's not slip back into that stupidity I talked about in the very first section of the first part, and say, "Well, Blair, maybe reincarnation is not a fact for you, but for me it is, because I'm comfortable with it, and your difficulties don't alarm me one bit." I have no idea why you've read this far if now that I've touched one of your pet notions with facts against it, you're going to hold to your notion and be damned with the facts.
There is no evidence for reincarnation;(4) and anyone who holds it, if he's going to be reasonable, has got to find evidence against all the above arguments--and in fact, refute the whole rest of this part of this book (and a good deal of the first and second parts too). So that's all I'm going to say on this topic.
Where are we, then? So far, we have no reason for saying that the human soul can't survive death. We have a reason for saying that it might not, because the life after death (which can't short of a miracle by God be embodied) is unnatural.
Is there any evidence that would tend to indicate whether or not it actually ceases to act (exist) at death? We can, I think, eliminate from consideration ghost sightings and seances, because, though they might be veridical, as I said, there's plenty of evidence that plenty of them are fraudulent, and ingeniously fraudulent; and this makes all of them suspect.
Nor can we use what are called "near-death experiences" as indicative. There are people whose hearts have stopped and whose brains have shown no activity for a few minutes, and then have revived. Some of them (by no means all) have reported experiences they had during the time when their brains were not functioning; and there is a similarity among many of these experiences (e.g., many report a tunnel going toward a "light" that was not a physical light, meeting dead relatives who were about to welcome them, etc.). But the problem is that if these people revived afterwards, it is more reasonable to say that they were still alive during that brief time when the experiences occurred, not dead; and these experiences might be something that is brought about by the extreme stress they were under in being near death, rather than be an actual witnessing of what was on the "other side," if any. Since this is a plausible explanation of the experiences, then by Occam's razor it is to be preferred over one that supposes an afterlife (at least absent any other evidence).
What I am saying is that things like ghost sightings and near-death experiences might tend to confirm a theory about an afterlife, provided the theory doesn't predict anything inconsistent with these things, or even predicts that something like them would or might happen. But in themselves, they can't be used as evidence, since there are explanations for them that don't involve supposing survival after death.
Then is there any other evidence? Let us be clear again what is meant by "evidence," as I discussed it in Chapter 2 of Section 3 of the first part 1.3.2, where I defined "evidence" as a known effect whose cause is the fact for which it is the evidence. That is, evidence is something known to be true, but which couldn't be true unless this other fact is true. Hence, we are looking at something in the observable world which couldn't be the way it is (would contradict itself) unless human life goes on after death. Actually, if you examine human life, you find that it contradicts itself in three aspects of itself unless it continues after death: (1) as life, (2) as self-determining, and (3) as demanding behavior consistent with its reality (morality). Let us discuss these in order.
First of all, then, why does human life contradict itself as life if it ends with death? After all, every other form of life at least seems to end with death; and so does human life, for that matter. What is it that is distinctive about human life that makes it a contradiction for it to end with death and not these other lives? It is the fact we discovered above that it doesn't have to end with death.
Let us examine this. If we look back at all the living bodies we have so far discussed, we find that their life is equilibrium, and it is a characteristic of equilibrium to stay the way it is. Living bodies die because of their bodiliness, not because their life has a definite term built into it that makes it shut off after a while. At the moment of death, no matter how old the organism is, there is a struggle to stay alive; and this is consistent with the nature of life in a body that it is constantly trying to fight the body's tendency to stop being organized in this living way (since this way is unstable from the point of view of physics and chemistry). Further, that mysterious act called "reproduction" keeps the form of life in existence (though with a different limitation) even though the original body stops living. Now this is, as I said in discussing the subject in the first section of this part, not an actual escape of the soul into another body; but it does indicate that the tendency of any form of life is to keep existing, even beyond the confines of the body itself.
Of course, all other forms of life have, as far as we can tell, no possibility of surviving death; so the best they can do is what Aristotle called their attempt at immortality: reproduce offspring with the same form of unifying energy. But the human soul need not stop existing at death, because it could continue acting in its spiritual "dimension" as pure consciousness.
But if it decided to stop existing just because the body couldn't support this kind of organization any more, or if it had to stop existing for this reason, then this would directly contradict its reality (its essence) as a form of life. Hence, we can draw the following conclusion:
Conclusion 3: Human life must go on after death, because as a form of life it will continue existing if it can, and it can.
That is, if human life does not survive death, then there is something unique about human life as life. In spite of the tendency of every other living body to continue living as long as possible, human life would not have this tendency, but would "want" to shut off as death was reached. But this is contradicted by our experience of dying. No matter when a person faces imminent death, he tries to stay alive--apparently until the very last moment, when there is often a sort of release from the struggle or acceptance of death.
This acceptance has two possible explanations: (1) the life has begun to shut itself down, or (2) the person recognizes that his life is not going to shut down, but will continue. In the first case, it is difficult to see what the point of the great struggle beforehand is; but the second makes perfect sense. The natural condition of an embodied spirit is obviously to be embodied; and it tries to stay embodied as long as possible (forever even, were that possible). Further, its bodily nature, as being a "dimension" of its own spirit, would naturally mean that death would be a wrenching apart of its nature. But if, at the point when this happens, consciousness realizes that it is not destroyed and will continue, then this could easily account for resignation.
Near-death experiences would tend to confirm this. They are consistent with consciousness' realization that all has not ended and there is a kind of "opening" of consciousness into a complete awareness not possible when the brain is restricting it. If the spirit has begun to drop its energy-"dimension," but hasn't completely done so, and at the last moment retains it, then this is consistent with the experience (disappointing in almost all cases) of "having to go back for now."
This is not to say that the near-death experiences prove this, as I said; but on the supposition that sometimes this dropping of the energy-"dimension" of the spirit can be, as it were, incomplete or temporary (because the body couldn't support human life for a moment, but immediately afterwards can do so once again) then you would predict that the state during this time would be one of consciousness, and greatly enlarged consciousness, because the consciousness would then not be dependent on the energy in the brain to select which of its "dimensions" was to be active.
Conceivably this is why it is drowning people who most often seem to experience "their whole life flashing before their eyes," which is just what you would predict the afterlife's consciousness to be, as we will see. A drowning victim can be in that condition for quite a long time and still revive; and this means that the body can still support a human unifying energy if you can once start the parts going again, analogously to cranking an engine that has stalled. If this is so, what might happen is that the spirit stays ready to organize the body again and resume its energy-activities; they are not lost yet, but in abeyance, or at such a low level that they don't affect the conscious "dimension" of the spirit, which is getting ready to free itself in the last change it will experience: death.
So it does seem that, on the supposition that human life could go on after death (and in principle it can, because of its spirituality) it would be inconsistent with its nature as life to stop existing at death.
Counter to this, however, is still the argument that a life after death as nothing but consciousness is an unnatural life, and how could it be consistent with its nature to live in an unnatural condition? There is nonetheless a response to this: We see in the life before death many instances in which a person (or an animal, for that matter) is forced into an unnatural state, such as losing a limb; and rather than die and end the life that is in the unnatural condition, it still tries to go on even in its deprived condition. So taking all of this together, I think we can say that there is at least a weak argument in the direction of human life's surviving death.
As to the second point, if we examine the implications choice and self-determination have with respect to the structure of the human being, we will see that this involves if anything a more radical contradiction if life does not go on after death.
To choose, as I said, means to establish a goal for oneself, and to initiate a process leading to that goal by making oneself unstable with an instability whose purpose is that goal. The first thing that this implies is this, which is significant enough to state as another formal conclusion:
Conclusion 4: There is no built-in biological equilibrium, or purpose, for any human being.
In other living bodies, the mature state which the organism seeks in its early life and tries to maintain for the rest of its life is genetically determined. But in the human being, this is true only in a very narrow sense. There are certain aspects to the physical structure of the adult that are genetically built in: physical height, the basic type of body (fat, muscular, thin), and so on. But even many of the physical characteristics are deliberately modifiable, as weight lifters, dieters, and people with face lifts, tattoos and pierced ears can testify. And as to the rest of our properties, there is no automatic level of learning, activity, social life, or practically anything else that we attain willy-nilly the way we grow to our preordained height, and which we can do nothing about once we get there. Indeed, the fact that there are things like height which are beyond our control only underscores that most of our reality is not pre-programmed for us. All that is "given" in these other areas is a range within which we can do what we please, because any goal within that range can be achieved if we put our minds to it.
Thus, the human being, having no biological equilibrium set for him, cannot avoid setting it for himself by his choices. If there were no biological equilibrium predetermined and none set by the choice, the person would be like the proverbial man who leaped on his horse and rode off in all directions. You simply cannot be in process that is either headed nowhere or headed everywhere; every process has a direction, toward some definite equilibrium.
And, of course, every choice sets up a goal for the person. Even if the choice is not to choose, this is a choice to allow circumstances to set the goal, and is as much a choice as to fight these circumstances.
I am essentially echoing Jean-Paul Sartre's saying that "we are condemned to be free." And his example of "bad faith" is instructive here. He tells, if I recall correctly, the story of a girl sitting on a couch with a man, discussing some neutral subject. The man puts his hand on top of hers. She now is faced with alternatives: respond positively to his advance, respond negatively, or do nothing, letting him decide. If she takes the last alternative, wanting him to be responsible, she has "chosen not to choose,' but what she has actually chosen is to acquiesce in whatever he chooses to do in this situation.(5)
The point is that, once confronted with alternatives, it is impossible not to choose, because to choose not to choose is a choice. But every choice implies some goal; and therefore, it is impossible not to set goals for ourselves.
But these goals, as I said, imply making yourself unstable--physically getting into a self-contradictory condition such that you begin working toward the goal and are not in equilibrium until it is reached. Remember, when we were talking about change in Chapter 3 of Section 3 of the second part 2.3.3, I pointed out that staying in the unstable condition was impossible, because, as self-contradictory, it couldn't exist; and so movement out of it in the direction of equilibrium had to happen as soon as the unstable condition occurred. I also pointed out that this was why change was used by almost all scientists as their most frequent starting-point for investigation; because the body that is changing is in a self-contradictory condition, needing explanation in two senses: how it got there (the efficient cause) and where its equilibrium is (the purpose).
What all this means is that the structure of the human being is such that the genetic structure does not set the biological equilibrium for him, but only limits the range of possible instabilities in the body, and hence restricts the number of choices that can be achieved, without selecting any goal itself. And the choice cannot avoid setting goals and creating instabilities in the body; hence, the actual biological equilibrium is determined by the choice, and there is no escape from determining it by choice.
Now then, if it turns out that everyone's choices are frustrated in one respect or another if life ends with death, what this implies is that biological equilibrium for the human being is in principle unattainable, and so human beings, alone in all creation, are destined to spend their whole existence in a self-contradictory condition without hope of getting out of it.
First of all, if a person sets goals for himself which are within the range of his genetic possibilities, but does not achieve them before he dies, and if death ends his life, then obviously that person's whole life was spent as incomplete and unstable. That much would seem obvious. If this is a more or less isolated instance, it argues nothing about the intrinsic contradiction in humanity itself, however; because human beings in general might still be able to achieve their goals.
But suppose a person conceives modest goals for himself, which are within his powers, and he actually attains all of them. This actually happens with the vast majority of people in our affluent society, who, reaching middle age and still having the opportunity to change, "settle down" to a life, which they may grumble about in various respects but don't choose to do anything about. The things they don't like about their life and complain about imply ideals, but not goals, because they set up no instability within themselves to erase the discrepancy (knowing that they could), but simply go on complaining.
But these same people are vitally interested in security, and in not losing what they have achieved; and so they do have a goal that is a real goal: staying where they are. In one sense, it is a pseudo-goal, because a goal in the strict sense implies a state different from the present one, and sets up an instability to achieve it. But in another sense, it is a true goal, because of the peculiar nature of biological equilibrium, which is constantly "under attack" from the body's tendency toward ground-state equilibrium as well as forces from outside, and so must be actively maintained. Given that new goals can be adopted at any time up to death, this maintenance then must be actively kept up by the human being by actively rejecting any changes in "life style" that would imply a new goal. Hence, there is a goal of staying the same in those who are satisfied with where they are.
But of course, the final attack on this is death, with its prior skirmishes of getting old and losing one's powers. I am a very good friend of an old nun, dead now, who while still in her eighties, bemoaned the fact that she could no longer teach, and that her memory was failing her, and that she could barely walk, and so on. Her goals were still there; but I know of few more frustrated people than she, in spite of the fact that she had such a long career of teaching, which she thinks back on with bitter regret. She has lost her self; she is a shell in hopeless instability now--if life does not continue after death in such a way that these goals will be once again achieved.
Obviously, then, for those who have goals that they have achieved and who have the further goal of staying that way, life's ending with death means that, though they have achieved in one sense their equilibrium, it has not been achieved as equilibrium in its most important sense.
But there is an objection to this. "Well yes," you might say, "but you don't have to be frustrated this way. You're free to enjoy what you are while you're successful, and then accept the inevitable and be happy growing old because you adjust your expectations to the realities of things." Need I say that this is the point of view, by and large, of the young looking at the old? Not being old themselves, they wonder why the old repine at not being young, when "they've lived their lives already." They say, "Why don't they act their age?" Being a bit beyond the threshold of old age myself, my reply to this is that a person mentally is always at the prime of life; before you reach this age, you automatically think of yourself as older than your chronological age, and once you pass it, you think of yourself as still there. This is simply the psychological reflection of the fact that what we call the "prime of life" is just another name for "biological equilibrium," which is what life really is.
Still, there are those who are not actively frustrated with being old and facing death, because they have "accepted the inevitable," and for practical purposes given up the goals. And this is, of course, as the young people too facilely realize, possible. It is possible always to choose to have as a goal the actual situation, and to keep adapting the choice to the reality. And, of course, the point is that this, in the last analysis, is the only way to make sense out of your life if life ends with death. On any other use of your freedom but this, you are bound to be frustrated.
But what does this kind of choice mean, as far as human self-determination is concerned? It means choosing to let circumstances determine what your goals will be. That is, one self-determines oneself to let circumstances determine oneself; and this is another version of what Sartre would call "bad faith," because the self-determination abdicates determining itself and simply accepts what is done to it, letting the goals be determined by circumstance.
Hence, the only way to avoid frustration is to use your self-determination in contradiction with itself as self-determination. If you don't, and you don't accept the inevitable and you struggle against it, then you are doomed to live your whole life as a self-contradiction, because either (a) your goals will not be achieved, and therefore you will die incomplete, or (b) they will be achieved, in which case you will have the goal of not giving them up, which will be frustrated.
So no matter how we use our freedom, we cannot get ourselves into a non-self-contradictory condition, if life ends at death. And yet we cannot avoid using our freedom, as I said.
Conclusion 5: Human life must survive death in such a way that legitimate goals can be achieved or human self-determination and choice contradicts itself.
Why do I say "legitimate" here? Because there is no ontological necessity, obviously, in our being able to achieve goals that are self-contradictory to begin with--which in practice means achieving goals that are beyond the range of the genetically imposed limits of our possible instabilities (what Aristotle would call our "potencies").
Presumably, we know that we are finite beings, and therefore our freedom to exist as this or that is not completely unrestricted.(6)
So if a person deliberately chooses to be something that he knows is in principle impossible for him, such as being a crocodile, then he has no reason to expect that this goal will be fulfilled. Such a goal would be an illegitimate goal, which could only be fulfilled if he were not a human being; and so what he wants is to be a non-human human, and he knows that this goal can't be achieved. Hence, it is only legitimate goals that must be achieved in order for the human being not to be a contradiction simply because he is what he is: a self-determining being.
Of course, if it were in principle impossible for our souls to survive death, and we knew this, then I suppose an acceptance of death would be part of our acceptance of ourselves as finite. But as we have seen so far, there is reason to believe that it is not self-contradictory to believe that our souls go on existing after death. So the argument above does not negate this. (Of course, the argument that legitimate goals must be fulfilled depends, in fact, on life's going on after death--so obviously it doesn't contradict it.)
All of this is a metaphysical way of saying what can also be said in a psychological way:
Conclusion 6: Happiness is not possible for a human being unless life goes on after death in such a way that the person's legitimate goals can be achieved.
Let me make a couple of distinctions here, by defining a few terms:
Success is the actual achieving of one's goals.
Happiness is the factual knowledge of being successful.
Frustration is the knowledge that one has as a goal something that cannot be achieved.
Enjoyment is either emotional satisfaction, or the knowledge that one's ideals are realized.
Disappointment is either emotional dissatisfaction, or the knowledge that one's ideals are not realized.
The terms, as defined, are not quite the usual meanings we give to them, because we tend to conflate happiness and enjoyment and frustration and disappointment. But the knowledge that you are where you have chosen to be is very different from the knowledge that you are where you would like to be (but have no intention of working towards); and similarly, the knowledge that you can't have what you intend to have (and so "must" have or you are not yourself) is very different from the knowledge that you don't have (or even can't have) what it would be nice to have. Since these experiences are so very different, different terms should refer to them; and I chose the terms above.
This means that a person who is sitting in a dentist's chair is basically happy at having his tooth drilled, because he sees that the decay of the tooth is stopped, and the tooth is now "as good as new"; but he is obviously not enjoying himself, because it hurts. He has willingly accepted the pain as a side-effect of the fixing of the tooth, on the supposition that he weighed the pain against having the decayed tooth, and said, "I'll get it fixed, pain or no pain."(7)
And, of course, the pain is not really relevant to the success of saving the tooth (and in fact dentists have minimizing it as one of their goals).
Conversely, a person can be enjoying himself, even enjoying himself greatly, and be unhappy. If you are doing something you know is wrong (inconsistent with yourself), but which you would very much like to be consistent with yourself, then you can be enjoying yourself because your ideal is (in great part) realized; and the emotional satisfaction from the act is, of course, automatic and does not depend on the choice at all. But you are still not happy, because you know that this enjoyment is a contradiction of what you really are. For instance, an adulterer feels the pleasure of his sexual intercourse with the woman he would like to be his wife, but who can't be because he is already married; and so his enjoyment is as if he were married to her. But he isn't happy precisely because he knows that he is not married, and this act he is doing is a pretense that what is not real is real.
To make one final point about the terms, it is possible to be successful and not to be happy, if you don't realize for some reason that you have achieved your goal. There is a young graduate of my wife's university who was drafted yesterday into the National Basketball Association's Golden State Warriors. He had being a professional basketball player as one of his most important goals in life; and during the brief time when the decision to draft him was made and the time when he found out about it, he was successful, but not yet happy. There are stories in history of those who had goals and actually achieved them, but who died frustrated because they weren't aware that they had done so. If life ends with death, these are perhaps the most pitiable of all people.
With that distinction in mind, then, it is obvious that you can only be happy if life goes on after death; because you can't realize that you have achieved your goals unless you have been in fact successful in all of them and know you have been.
But, looking at it psychologically, it is also impossible to avoid pursuing happiness; because every choice you make sets up a goal and defines what your happiness is; and only if you define happiness to be "whatever happens to happen to me" can you guarantee happiness if life ends with death. Of course, in that case you are "pursuing" happiness by simply declaring that you have caught up with it.
And this is why the great existentialist philosophers who think that life ends with death--Sartre, Camus, and Heidegger, to name three--all think also that life is at its base absurd. Camus was the one who said it most explicitly; he refused to believe in a God who would allow the kinds of horrors he saw in Algeria and in Europe during the Second World War; but that meant that this life was all there was; and if so, he concluded, happiness is impossible, and life is absurd; and the most we can hope for is brief moments of enjoyment, but we must accept the fundamental absurdity. As far as happiness is concerned, we are doomed to spend our lives beating our heads against a wall; because we can't avoid setting goals, and we know we won't be able to fulfill them. Life may have its enjoyable moments, but it is essentially frustration: self-contradiction.
But this can't be a philosophy. It can't be reasonable that life is absurd, because "absurd" means "self-contradictory," which is the very antithesis of "reasonable." Why try to show others that the truth is something that cannot be true, because if it's true, it's false?
What underlies this whole book (and all of science, as we will see in the next part) is the conviction that, though things might not be as neat and logical as we would like, they are not positively self-contradictory. And since human self-determination is self-contradictory unless life goes on after death, then life does in fact go on after death. This is like saying that if the huge bones in the La Brea Tar Pits make no sense unless there once were huge animals there, then there were in fact huge animals there.
But this evidence allows us to take a step forward, because it demands that life go on after death in such a way that legitimate personal goals can be achieved.
This means two things: (a) It rules out reincarnation, since if you have to start all over again with a clean slate, then obviously any unfulfilled goals in the previous life remain unfulfilled. Even if they were fulfilled the next time round, this would not actually fulfill them, because the fact that they were goals of the previous life would be completely unknown. Further, (b) it means that personal, individual life must continue after death.
That is, immortality like the Buddhist Nirvana, where we are all absorbed into the Great Everything and lose our individual existence, is fulfillment only for those who actively want it. For everyone else, this kind of thing would be frustration. If goals are freely set, then this necessarily implies that there is nothing wrong with setting a less lofty goal than the highest one possible for you; but the goal implies the instability and defines the happiness; and so if that goal is not fulfilled, even if something in itself higher is given in place of it, then failure and frustration are what happens, not success and happiness.(8)
And this is confirmed by experience. Many of my students are anything but happy having to take a course in philosophy (according to Aristotle--with Blair's concurrence--the highest exercise of the highest ability human beings have), and would far rather take courses that more immediately lead to the goals they actually have, which are, by and large, making more money so that they can have more expensive cars and gadgets. And this seems to be true in general; when a person who has lower goals has "culture" or "the higher things in life" forced upon him, he is bored, not happy--and boredom is simply the realization that you are doing something other than what you would like to be doing.(9)
Let us now see whether the third line of evidence is consistent with this or not. This is the evidence from the obligation we apparently have to act consistently.
We have already touched upon this, in saying that only legitimate goals need be fulfilled; but it needs considerable elaboration.
First of all, I would more or less agree with what I think is the contents of Kant's "categorical imperative" (though I think, as will appear, that a categorical imperative--a simple "you must" with no qualifications or consequences, no "or else"--is a contradiction in terms. What I am talking about here is the contents.). As I understand his "Always act so that the maxim of your action could be made a universal law," it means "Always act consistently with yourself"; and as his examples seem to show, this boils down to "Never deliberately choose something that contradicts what you are."
I have several problems with this. First, I am not over-fond of the "universal law" way he puts it. There are certain things I cannot do morally that deal with me personally, such as go out on dates, because I am married. True, I could make a universal law of "Thou shalt not go out on dates if married," but this is another way of saying, "Thou shalt not do X, Y, or Z, if thou art in my situation," and what's universal about that?
Secondly, especially if the "imperative" is put affirmatively (i.e. "choose to act consistently"), this in effect makes it morally obligatory to accept the present state of myself and not develop. For instance, it is inconsistent with a student as one who does not know that he study and try to make himself over into someone who does know.
Hence, I think the obligation has to be interpreted negatively ("Do not choose what is self-contradictory") and the flexibility of the self (this range within which I can actually do, under the proper conditions, what I choose to do) has to be taken into consideration. Kant is not at all clear on this; and as Hegel has pointed out, if you press him, then either his categorical imperative makes you guilty no matter what you do, or it excuses everything. The whole issue is complicated, and we will leave it to much later in ethics.
Thirdly, in the last analysis Kant has only this to offer to one who deliberately violates the categorical imperative: "You have done wrong." So what? No punishment follows, for Kant; because then you might do the right thing to avoid the punishment, and that would make its motivation base, and so it wouldn't be the right thing. But how in practice does adding just this name "wrongdoer" provide any motivation to a person who has the alternative, "But it's a choice between being rich and being called a wrongdoer, or being a good person and not having enough to eat." Is hunger worse than a bad reputation? Especially since "the dregs of society" usually have a bad reputation along with their hunger.(10)
Still, it obviously makes sense to say that if you choose as a real goal something that, in some respect, you know can't be achieved, then what you are choosing is your frustration, and you know it. Hence, you ought to be frustrated (you inevitably will be frustrated) by choosing such goals. If you define "morality" in terms of not choosing self-contradictory goals, then obviously, you would be better off being moral. So where's the problem in morality?
The problem consists in the fact that we can be frustrated (certainly in this life) by circumstances over which we have no control as well as by deliberately bringing frustration upon ourselves by choosing a goal which in part is not what it is. For instance, I don't see any realistic prospect of getting this book published while I am alive, much as I think it is something people vitally need to be informed about; but it's not the kind of thing people will buy--and if not, publishers won't accept it either. Given that it's one of the most important goals in my life that people be informed of this and convinced by it (if it's true), then the fact that it isn't even going to be available to be read and rejected is frustrating--and not mildly so, considering how long the book is.
That much is obvious to anyone who is more than a year old. But what does it have to do with morality? The answer is that it is all too often the case that deliberately choosing a goal that is self-defeating (and so frustrating) in some unimportant respect can allow one to attain an important goal.
Many is the author, for instance, who pads a novel with some gratuitous sex because otherwise the publishers won't even look at it. Many is the political candidate who engages in chicanery to get elected, because otherwise he hasn't got a chance. Many is the student who glances at his neighbor's test, because otherwise he won't do well when he "already knew it anyway but just forgot."
The very morning I wrote this originally, I left a set of letters in the gym where I worked out, petitioning for the university to install air conditioning in the weight room; and I asked anyone who agreed to sign one and hand it in at the sports center office. One young lad, having signed said, "You want me to forge some more names?" and when I refused, he said, "Well, that'll get you what you want, won't it?" And of course, it would be more likely to, unless people checked the names carefully--which was not probable given the relative unimportance of the issue. But it would be dishonest. We would be pretending that there were more people actively wanting this than there actually were.
The question in this choice is one of balancing whether integrity means more to you than not having to work out three times a week in a room that is intolerably hot. And, for a person who values his integrity, there is no question.(11)
But values are personal, and depend on your goals, which are freely set, and whose hierarchy is also freely set, which means that there isn't any objective betterness to integrity, or anything that would make the person mistaken who preferred the other.
Granted, it's a self-contradictory goal to be one of a large group when in fact you are one of a small group (and are only pretending by forging signatures that it's large). But if you put it that way, you're either going to have to give up the comfort or the integrity, and it's up to your preferences which is going to make you worse off.
And, of course, there are much more serious issues than this. Doing something "slightly" immoral like telling a lie that harms no one can sometimes save you and many others from terrible disaster, as captured soldiers with important information know. What do you do? Tell a plausible lie and save your army and your nation (and yourself), or refuse to talk and have the truth tortured out of you when you finally lose control because of the pain? If you do the right thing, you're going to die a horrible death at best; more probably, you'll die the horrible death anyway, and betray your country while you're at it.
But if this life is the only life, how are you better off for choosing to be a hero and quite probably failing, and winding up in disgrace even if you survive? No one will ever know that you told the lie except your enemy, when they find out too late that they've been lured into a trap. And isn't it the job of the soldier to defeat the enemy?
The pregnant woman who finds out that her child has serious spina bifida and mongolism and is going to be a burden on himself and everyone for years and years and years is not going to have anyone reproach her if she has an abortion. Even if she recognizes that she is killing her child, many will actually praise her for her "courage in making an agonizing choice," and even those who think she did the wrong thing will, by and large, sympathize with her and not hold her in contempt. What does she have to lose? A life. What does she have to gain? Not watching her child, herself, and her family in torture for the next twenty to forty years, until this wretched unfortunate dies of his own accord. It isn't as if he wasn't going to die anyway; the only thing wrong with it, after all, is that she is deciding when he is going to die, and she doesn't have that right. It's not that it won't be good for all concerned.
Everyone can think of examples like this; you do the right thing and you lose your job; through no fault of your own you find yourself in the middle of a drug transaction, and you either go through with it or they kill you; and so on.
But it cannot make sense to violate your own reality in order to fulfill it; it cannot make sense that, in order to avoid frustration, you must deliberately seek frustration. The trouble is that it does make sense in a world which can frustrate us against our will; and often leave us no way out of simply devastating frustration except that of actively choosing a small frustration.(12)
In this, more than in the matter of self-determination, it is clear that life is completely absurd unless it goes on after death in such a way that those who deliberately choose to frustrate themselves will be more frustrated than anything that could happen to them (or those they care about) in this life against their will.
As a matter of fact, this truth is so obvious that the moral world is really split into two basic camps, but with most of us having a foot in each one. First there are the "realists" who have nothing to do with any God or life after death, and who do what is right when it is advantageous and do what is immoral when it is advantageous. They have no quarrel with morality, as long as it gets them where they want to go most efficiently; and many of them have even less of a quarrel with the appearance of morality, like Mr. Pecksniff. Then there are the people who believe in God and the afterlife, and who try with might and main to keep their integrity unsullied--but at what a cost, as the leader and inspiration of many of them, Jesus, can testify! The really nice guys do in fact finish last.
And then there are the rest of us, who are afraid enough that there might be something beyond this life that, like Hamlet, "the native hue of resolution is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought," and we don't do the really bad things that would get us most efficiently to our goals--and so we lose them--but who see the other dishonest people advancing, and in case they might be right, we cut corners here and there. Enough so that we don't finish last; leave that to the hypocrite "nice guys"--another of the "benefits" of being truly honest is that everyone thinks you a hypocrite--but not enough so that we really get ahead, and the real crooks walk all over us leaving us grinding our teeth with rage, because we don't dare to be that intelligent.
And so most of us have the worst of both worlds. Low on the totem pole in this life because we're afraid of an afterlife; but at the same time, guaranteeing misery in any afterlife, if any, by our sordid little attempts at feeble illicit pleasures and gains. And we hope that the Lord will "forgive" us because we've only spat gently in his face and didn't really use a stick to whack him on his thorn-crowned head. If I were the Lord--and you may thank Him I am not--this would be the kind of person I would be most indignant with; and in this connection, I am reminded of that terrible passage in Revelation, "Because you are neither cold nor hot I am going to vomit you from my mouth." God is no fool.
At any rate, if human conduct is not to contradict itself, only one of these alternatives is possible: that there is in fact an afterlife such that moral conduct is fulfilled and immoral choices make you worse off according to your own standards than any gain you would have to forego by being moral.
That is, it is not enough to say that the afterlife for the moral person is in itself higher or "objectively better" than for that of the immoral person. Since standards and "the good" are subjectively created and not objectively discovered, then, as I said, what is objectively higher as an act is positively a disvalue to one whose goal has nothing to do with that act. Hence, even offering the Beatific Vision has no motivating force to a person who couldn't care less if he never saw God face to face ("Why would I want to be staring at God forever?"), but who wants that man's wife for his own. Even King David had problems this way, if you recall.
Therefore, somehow this afterlife has to be more advantageous by the standards of the agent for him reasonably to consider it when confronting a huge advantage in this life as opposed to a tremendous disaster if he acts morally.
To state the moral dilemma perhaps most clearly, there are two senses in which "it is reasonable" to do something (a) that it is consistent with the reality you now are and isn't a pretense that things aren't the way they are, and (b) that it leads you to the goal you want to achieve. The first sense of "reasonable" looks backwards to the agent, and fits the act to it; and this is the sense that Kant saw when he defined morality; the second sense looks to the freely-chosen goal of the act and asks whether it gets there; and this is the sense that Hume used to define morality. Neither philosopher can really handle what happens when the two senses come into conflict; because then what is reasonable is unreasonable, and there is nothing to pick out which sense of the term is the "right" one.
And what I was saying just above is that any theory that is to make moral conduct not self-contradictory has to make what is "reasonable" in the first sense always "reasonable" in the second sense no matter what the person's goal is, and no matter what the priorities of his goals. Only in this way can it make sense to be moral for a being with free choice.
Can this be done? Not by some contrived theory that is jury-rigged to achieve this purpose and be damned to everything else. But if the world we live in is a non-self-contradictory world, then it would have to be the case that our "needs" for a theory of morality would be met by the nature of the world and especially of ourselves. The consequence we desire should not have to be wrenched out of our look at human nature, still less tacked onto it, but should naturally follow from what we have so far seen.
If, then, supposing what we know of this life and what a disembodied, eternal life would have to be like is true, it follows that it is always advantageous to be moral, we have a very very strong argument that (a) there is indeed an afterlife, and (b) that the rest of our theory about human spirituality and so on (and even the nature of spirituality as opposed to energy) is on the right track.
And in fact it follows. Let me just sketch it here and draw the conclusion; and then I will discuss it at greater length, because it gives a clue to the basic meaning of life.
Since the life after death, if any, would be a purely spiritual and unchanging life, and would, as we said, involve a reawakening of every conscious act we have ever had, making each act a "dimension" of the one colossal act of consciousness, "This is all that I am," where each act is part of what "This" means, then let us look at what is involved if a person makes the tiniest immoral choice ever in his lifetime before death.
When he made that choice he knew that in some (perhaps very unimportant) respect, he intended to be something he couldn't be. The woman who has the abortion, as I said, intends not to be the mother of this child; the politician who takes bribes intends to be the good statesman who behaves dishonestly; the thief intends to use what does not belong to him as if it did (implying he intends it for practical purposes to belong to him--and what is belonging if not "for practical purposes"?); and so on.
Now the actual self-defeating (because self-contradictory) goal in such acts may be of very little importance in the person's life in comparison with the goal that is actually (or probably) achieved; but it is there, or the person has made a mistake, not been immoral.
But that means that the person eternally intends to be something he can't be; eternally not only would like, but wants, decides to be, something he knows he can't be. He cannot give up the goal, and he knows he cannot achieve it. He is eternally frustrated. Even if we suppose that all his non-self-contradictory goals are fulfilled, he has this goal forever which cannot be fulfilled and which he forever will be trying to fulfill (because it is a goal, after all, not an ideal).Thus, in some perhaps unimportant part of his life, he is frustrated forever and ever and ever.
Once pure spirit, of course, there could be no getting rid of this one frustration, because (a) the goal cannot be granted to the person, since it is a contradiction in terms and can't exist, and (b) the act of wanting it is not a part of the whole act, but one and the same with the person's whole act of consciousness. If he were to give up the desire, then he would go out of existence, because the desire contains all the rest of him within it, and every other "dimension" of him contains this desire within itself. True, the person with this one frustration is a great deal more fulfilled than frustrated; but he is frustrated, forever.
Now let us take this same person and compare him with what he would be like if he gave up this minor frustration and chose the alternative, which, let us say, was his being tortured to death and the untimely deaths of twenty million other people. If we look at the person himself, he will be everything he was in the other case, except for that nagging frustration; so as far as his eternal life is concerned, he has lost nothing and gained the lack of frustration. The pain he endured, of course, ends, and the years of it vanish into nothingness in the face of an eternity of fulfillment.
And the same goes for those whose deaths were brought about as an unchosen side-effect of his virtuous act (we will see later, as I have hinted, how these can be unchosen). Their pains will cease, and they will be exactly what they have chosen to be--with all their frustrations and fulfillments just what they chose to be--and so his act has not made any eternal difference to them.
Finally, if you compare his frustration to the temporary pain he has caused himself and others to find out if to him it was "worth it" to save the twenty million the agony of their dying, then let us say that by his standards, it takes him a million years of this minor frustration to compensate for the suffering of one of them; before the million years are up, then he considers it "worth it" to bring this frustration on himself and save the pain of the other. But after that million years, if the other's pain were the only thing he had saved by his little immorality, his frustration then would gain the upper hand, and the amount of "evil" would overbalance the "good" he accomplished in the act.
But of course, this is only one person. He saved twenty million from comparable fates. Well, but now that we have a scale, we can see what it takes in his frustration to balance the "good" he has accomplished by sparing them the horrible death. After twenty million times twenty million years, he has now reached the point where, according to him, his act is now "as good as bad" in its effects; and from this point on, according to his own standards, the "bad" that results from it (the small, but oh so prolonged) suffering outweighs the finite good he has accomplished by the act, and so he (and the world) is worse off for doing it.
And, of course, since for eternity, twenty million times twenty million years are as a day, then once this point is reached, his term of being at a disadvantage is just beginning; and after twenty trillion times this number, he is still as far away from the end as ever.
This supposes, of course, that you can measure eternity in time, when in Chapter 6 of Section 3 of the second part 2.3.6 I said you can't; but eternity, though not in time, is greater than time; and so for purpose of this discussion the imaginative picture I have given is valid.
And the point is that, no matter what good for yourself or others you accomplish by being immoral, the eternal damage you do to yourself will ultimately by your own standards make you worse off than choosing horrible, but temporary, agony to avoid it.
And all of this naturally follows if life after death is unchanging and if our consciousness, lacking our brain, continues as total consciousness--which is the only alternative, because partial consciousness depends on the brain, and total unconsciousness means in fact that life does not go on after death.
Conclusion 7: It cannot make sense not to violate your own reality (in situations where this is to your advantage) unless life goes on after death.
And notice that this conclusion fits in nicely with the preceding one; all legitimate goals will be fulfilled, and all illegitimate goals will remain with the person who will forever strive after them and forever, like Sisyphus, be thwarted in attaining them--but not, like Sisyphus, by the spite of some angry god, but simply because the goal itself is not in principle attainable.
Note further, by the way, that if fulfillment is not given to all legitimate goals, it makes sense once again to be immoral; because in that case, the moral person would fulfill forever only the goals he had actually fulfilled in this life (and the most lofty and important would likely be unfulfilled), while the immoral person would have fulfilled his important goals and only be unfulfilled in unimportant respects. Hence, if we can't achieve all our freely set non-self-contradictory goals, and fulfill them eternally, then it is better to violate our reality in unimportant ways to keep circumstances (or even--perhaps especially--others' wrongdoing) from violating those aspects of ourself which are most dear to us.
Then where are we? First, if we have spiritual souls, they can survive death and exist without a body. But if they do, this existence has to be eternal and unchanging, and involve total consciousness. And they do in fact go on in this way for the following reasons: They would contradict themselves as life (which tends to prolong itself) if they stopped existing when it was possible to continue. Second, if self-determination is not to be a sham and a cheat, then this eternal, unchanging consciousness must also be the personal, individual consciousness continuing forever, aware somehow that all its legitimate goals have been fulfilled, as well as totally aware of everything that happened to it during this life. And, third, if it is to make sense to recognize and accept the limits we were given for exercising our freedom, then not only must all goals set within these limits be eternally fulfilled, but all goals which presume to deny our finiteness and go beyond these limits must be eternally frustrated.
Thus, one of the major aspects of life itself (its being equilibrium) and two of the most significant aspects of life as human make no sense unless individual consciousness continues after death.
But how is it possible for the individual consciousness to survive death, if the soul drops its energy-"dimension" and exists as a pure spirit? Since the soul is the form of activity of the human being, then doesn't that mean that what exists afterwards is humanity, not the individual? It is the quantity that limits a given form of activity to being "only this example" of the form of activity, and therefore allows there to be many of the same form of activity. If the energy-"dimension" with its quantity is lost, then all human souls would be identical, and so once you die, your soul would be absorbed into "humanity-itself" (i.e. an act that in itself exhausts what it means to be human), and you would lose your individuality--which contradicts the evidence from self-determination and morality that there is a life after death in the first place.
The solution to this dilemma is that as we go through life, we accumulate acts of consciousness (because our senses, with their energy-"dimension," are acted on by different energies, and we understand new relations based on them), and we create goals by our choices. Hence each of us, at the end of life, has a unique set of acts of consciousness waiting to be unified into one complete act.
Thus, after we die, each of us is not humanity, but the act of consciousness which contains (a) all of the conscious experiences we have ever had, and (b) the knowledge of the fulfillment of all our legitimate choices and that of the impossibility of fulfillment of all our immoral ones--and only this. Knowledge, for instance, that we hadn't acquired before death and that we never chose to acquire, will be forever beyond us (not that we will be frustrated by this, since we did not choose to have it). We will be "with" everyone we have loved in this life, because to love is to have as a goal the other person's (self-defined) fulfillment, and we will know the other as fulfilled.(13)
The fact that we are just this particular set of conscious acts all rolled into one is what really is the "transcendental relation to the body" St. Thomas talked about in reference to disembodied souls, giving them "individuation" even though they had lost their "matter." We acquired this set because we were embodied, and through the energy-"dimension" of the spiritual soul; when this is lost, its effect is that the consciousness is now restricted forever to being less than it would have been if it were a pure spirit in the first place, or in fact if it had not been the same act as the unifying energy of this particular body in the situation in which it had the energy acting on it that produced the particular sense consciousness each of us had during this life on earth.
So it is possible for each human soul to be both a spirit and an individual, and for us not to be absorbed into abstract humanity and lose our identity as individuals.Next
1. I use this in the strict sense of "assuming as one of your premises what you are going to conclude, not in its contemporary bastardized sense of "concluding to a question."
2. I might refer you to my The Synoptic Gospels Compared if you want to see the conclusions a careful analysis of Mark, Luke, and Matthew lead to.
3. And it's interesting that Aristotle came to this conclusion, largely because he held that the soul was the form of a body.
4. I should parenthetically mention the famous case over a half-century ago written up in the book The Search for Bridey Murphy, about a woman who was "brought back" under hypnosis to the memory of her earliest days, and then to a time before she was conceived. She suddenly began to talk with an Irish brogue, and relate events about a place in Ireland (a place she had never been), and call herself Bridey Murphy. The place in Ireland was as she described, and there was a grave of a Bridget Murphy there, as I remember. But it later came out that the Bridget Murphy in question was alive when this woman was a child, and the child used to go over to her porch and listen to Bridey Murphy talk about life in the old sod. The woman did not remember any of this; but apparently her unconscious, to satisfy the hypnotist, called up the memories of Bridey Murphy as if they were her own.
5. Sartre doesn't like this, because she has made herself over into his object instead of being a subject, when she is the subject of what happens; and that is why he calls this "bad faith." Since for him all that we are is absolute freedom, then this "bad faith" is the only inconsistent thing we can do, and so it is the only immorality (though he wouldn't call it that) in the Sartrian system. But the implication is that we can do with ourselves anything we choose, because we are "nothingness"; in which case, I would be interested to see Sartre or anyone else turn himself into a crocodile. But this issue of morality is beside the point here. He is perfectly right in saying that a choice not to choose does not free you from responsibility for what happens because of that choice, however much you might want it to.
6. It is a denial of this that is what is mainly wrong with Sartre's philosophy.
7. Actually, as I mentioned in a previous footnote, this is not actually choosing the pain, because what he has done is rejected the worse alternative of having the decayed tooth and avoiding the pain. So what really has happened is that he has "accepted the inevitable," using the Principle of the Double Effect. But in some sense the pain is there involved in the choice, which is what I was driving at.
8. One could also question, I suppose, whether having as a personal goal the vanishing of oneself into some larger (especially impersonal) something is itself a self-contradictory goal, implying that fulfillment of the self is loss of it. So even those Christians (if any) who have "vanishing into Christ" as their goal have something askew in their ideal, it seems to me. True, Jesus did speak of "One who loses his life for my sake"; but he added "will find it." I will try to show later how the Beatific Vision does not take away our individual lives, any more than Jesus' being God took away from his life as an individual human being. Whether the Buddhist nirvana maintains this individuality in somewhat the same way I am not competent to say.
9. What about the people who are bored no matter what they are doing? I suspect that they are those who have as a goal something abstract like "excitement," and for whom, consequently, anything familiar will be boring. But since such a goal is analogous to wanting to ride off in all directions, I suspect that the afterlife of these people will be eternal boredom, simply because they've defined "satisfaction" as "anything but what I'm doing right now."
10. Of course, Kant does say that there has to be an afterlife precisely to make sense out of the good person's being otherwise worse off than the evil person--which is my point here. But Kant has the peculiar position that you must not let that motivate your choice.
11. For those who care about such things, it turned out that within a couple of years, the air conditioning was actually installed. (As I remember, I pointed out that the university should not wait until some exerciser died of a heat stroke, and that negative motivation spurred the powers that be to do something.)
12. We will see later that there's something legitimate like this in the "Principle of the Double Effect." But the application of this principle precisely excludes the (known) evil effect from the choice itself.
13. And so I "now" (i.e. eternally) know you, reader, supposing you exist, because it's for your happiness I'm doing this--though I realize that you're probably anything but happy having to wade through all this verbiage. How does it feel to have a ghost looking over your shoulder? But don't worry, I won't say "Boo!"