Philosophical Studies

, Volume 174, Issue 8, pp 2009–2028 | Cite as

Should I choose to never die? Williams, boredom, and the significance of mortality

Article
  • 535 Downloads

Abstract

Bernard Williams’ discussion of immortality in “The Makropulos Case: Reflections on the Tedium of Immortality” has spawned an entire philosophical literature. This literature tends to focus on one of Williams’ central claims: if we were to relinquish our mortality, we would necessarily become alienated from our existence and environment—“bored,” in his terms. Many theorists have defended this claim; many others have challenged it. Even if this claim is false, though, it still isn’t obvious that we should choose to relinquish our mortality, given the option. And this is puzzling. Death is generally regarded as an evil, meriting anxiety, dread, and avoidance. What is it about our mortality that makes us hesitant to relinquish it? In this paper, I aim to explain this hesitancy and to argue in its favor: we should be hesitant to relinquish our mortality. Further, I take my discussion to suggest that most of us probably shouldn’t take this option if we were given it. To make these points, I draw on Williams’ discussion of immortality, developing and extending his thought in order to better understand how mortality shapes the way we relate to our lives, particularly the commitments and values that make them meaningful. Our mortality, it seems, plays a crucial role in our lives standing for something. Relinquishing it thus means risking the loss of this value.

Keywords

Bernard Williams Immortality Death Boredom Commitment Valuing 

Notes

Acknowledgments

Previous versions of this paper were presented to the Immortality Project's Younger Scholar Workshop and to UC, Riverside's long-standing Agency Workshop. Many thanks to the participants of those discussions. I was also the beneficiary of two particularly encouraging and generous reviewers for Philosophical Studies, to whom I am very thankful for their invaluable feedback. Finally, I owe a special debt of gratitude to John Martin Fischer, Monique Wonderly, Meredith McFadden, and Taylor Cyr, all of whom have provided many encouraging and thoughtful comments in both conversation and on multiple drafts of the paper throughout the entire process of writing it.

References

  1. Barnes, E. (2015). What you can expect when you don’t want to be expecting. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 91, 775–786.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Beglin, D. (2016). Fearing death as fearing the loss of one's life: Lessons from Alzheimer's disease. In M. Cholbi (Ed.), Immortality and the philosophy of death (pp. 101–114). London: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  3. Bostrom, N., & Roache, R. (2008). Ethical issues in human enhancement. In J. Ryberg, T. Petersen, & C. Wolf (Eds.), New waves in applied ethics (pp. 120–152). Pelgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke.Google Scholar
  4. Bradley, B., & McDaniel, K. (2013). Death and desires. In J. C. Taylor (Ed.), The metaphysics and ethics of death: New essays (pp. 118–133). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Calhoun, C. (2011). Living with boredom. Sophia, 50, 269–279.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cave, S. (2012). Immortality. New York: Crown Publishers.Google Scholar
  7. Fischer, J. M. (2009). Why immortality is not so bad. In Our stories: Essays on life, death, and free will. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 79–102.Google Scholar
  8. Fischer, J. M., & Mitchell-Yellin, B. (2014). Immortality and boredom. Journal of Ethics, 18, 353–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Frankfurt, H. (2006). Taking ourselves seriously and getting it right. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Harman, E. (2009). ‘I’ll be glad I did it’ reasoning and the significance of future desires. Philosophical Perspectives, 23, 177–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kagan, S. (2012). Death. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  12. May, T. (2009). Death. Stocksfield: Acumen Publishing.Google Scholar
  13. Nussbaum, M. (1994). The therapy of desire. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Nussbaum, M. (2013). The damage of death: incomplete arguments and false consolations. In J. S. Taylor (Ed.), The metaphysics and ethics of death (pp. 25–43). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Paul, L. A. (2014). Transformative experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Rosati, C. (2013). The Makropulos case revisited: reflections on immortality and agency. In B. Bradley, F. Feldman, & J. Johansson (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of philosophy of death (pp. 355–390). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Scheffler, S. (2013). Death and the afterlife. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Setiya, K. (2014). The midlife crisis. Philosophers’ Imprint, 14(31), 1–18.Google Scholar
  19. Smart, J. J. C., & Williams, B. (1973). Utilitarianism: For and against. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Timmerman, T. (2016). Reconsidering categorical desire views. In M. Cholbi (Ed.), Immortality and the philosophy of death (pp. 21–38). London: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  21. Velleman, J. D. (1991). Well-being and time. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 72, 48–77.Google Scholar
  22. Williams, B. (1993). The Makropulos case: reflections on the tedium of immortality. In J. M. Fischer (Ed.), The metaphysics of death (pp. 71–92). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Wisnewski, J. J. (2005). Is the immortal life worth living? International Journal of Philosophy of Religion, 58, 27–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CaliforniaRiversideUSA

Personalised recommendations