Immortality: Hume and Boswell

04 December 2014

This week’s show is on immortality.  I thought Philosophy Talk listeners might enjoy Hume’s last thoughts on the subject, as recorded by James Boswell, who visited Hume hoping for a deathbed conversion.

 

An Account of my last interview with David Hume, Esq.
Partly recorded in my Journal, partly enlarged from my memory, 3 March 1777

James Boswell

On Sunday forenoon the 7 of July 1776, being too late for church, I went to see Mr David Hume, who was returned from London and Bath, just adying. I found him alone, in a reclining posture in his drawing-room. He was lean, ghastly, and quite of an earthy appearance. He was dressed in a suit of grey cloth with white metal buttons, and a kind of scratch wig. He was quite different from the plump figure which he used to present. He had before him Dr. Campbell's Philosophy of Rhetoric. He seemed to be placid and even cheerful. He said he was just approaching to his end. I think these were his words. I know not how I contrived to get the subject of immortality introduced. He said he never had entertained any belief in religion since he began to read Locke and Clarke. I asked him if he was not religious when he was young. He said he was, and he used to read The Whole Duty of Man; that he made an abstract from the catalogue of vices at the end of it, and examined himself by this, leaving out murder and theft and such vices as he had no chance of committing, having no inclination to commit them. This, he said, was strange work; for instance, to try if, notwithstanding his excelling his schoolfellows, he had no pride or vanity. He smiled in ridicule of this as absurd and contrary to fixed principles and necessary consequences, not adverting that religious discipline does not mean to extinguish, but to moderate, the passions; and certainly an excess of pride or vanity is dangerous and generally hurtful. He then said flatly that the morality of every religion was bad, and, I really thought, was not jocular when he said that when he heard a man was religious, he concluded he was a rascal, though he had known some instances of very good men being religious. This was just an extravagant reverse of the common remark as to infidels.

I had a strong curiosity to be satisfied if he persisted in disbelieving a future state even when he had death before his eyes. I was persuaded from what he now said, and from his manner of saying it, that he did persist. I asked him if it was not possible that there might be a future state. He answered it was possible that a piece of coal put upon the fire would not burn; and he added that it was a most unreasonable fancy that we should exist for ever. That immorality, if it were at all, must be general; that a great proportion of the human race has hardly any intellectual qualities; that a great proportion dies in infancy before being possessed of reason; yet all these must be immortal; that a porter who gets drunk by ten o'clock with gin must be immortal; that the trash of every age must be preserved, and that new universes must be created to contain such infinite numbers. This appeared to me an unphilosophical objection, and I said, 'Mr. Hume, you know spirit does not take up space'.

I may illustrate what he last said by mentioning that in a former conversation with me on this subject he used pretty much the same mode of reasoning, and urged that Wilkes and his mob must be immortal. One night last May as I was coming up King Street, Westminster, I met Wilkes, who carried me into Parliament Street to see a curious procession pass: the funeral of a lamplighter attended by some hundreds of his fraternity with torches. Wilkes, who either is, or affects to be, an infidel, was rattling away, 'I think there's an end of that fellow. I think he won't rise again.' I very calmly said to him, 'You bring into my mind the strongest argument that ever I heard against a future state'; and then told him David Hume's objection that Wilkes and his mob must be immortal. It seemed to make a proper impression, for he grinned abashment, as a Negro grows whiter when he blushes. But to return to my last interview with Mr Hume.

I asked him if the thought of annihilation never gave him any uneasiness. He said not the least; no more than the thought that he had not been, as Lucretius observes. 'Well,' said I, 'Mr Hume, I hope to triumph over you when I meet you in a future state; and remember you are not to pretend that you was joking with all this infidelity.' 'No, no,' said he. 'But I shall have been so long there before you come that it will be nothing new.' In this style of good humour and levity did I conduct the conversation. Perhaps it was wrong on so awful a subject. But as nobody was present, I thought it could have no bad effect. I however felt a degree of horror, mixed with a sort of wild, strange, hurrying recollection of my excellent mother's pious instructions, of Dr. Johnson's noble lessons, and of my religious sentiments and affections during the course of my life. I was like a man in sudden danger eagerly seeking his defensive arms; and I could not but be assailed by momentary doubts while I had actually before me a man of such strong abilities and extensive inquiry dying in the persuasion of being annihilated. But I maintained my faith. I

told him that I believed the Christian religion as I believed history. Said he: 'You do not believe it as you believe the Revolution'. 'Yes,' said I; 'but the difference is that I am not so much interested in the truth of the Revolution; otherwise I should have anxious doubts concerning it. A man who is in love has doubts of the affection of his mistress, without cause.' I mentioned Soame Jenyns's little book in defence of Christianity, which was just published but which I had not yet read. Mr. Hume said, 'I am told there is nothing of his usual spirit in it.'

He had once said to me, on a forenoon while the sun was shining bright, that he did not wish to be immortal. This was a most wonderful thought. The reason he gave was that he was very well in this state of being, and that the chances were very much against his being so well in another state; and he would rather not be more than be worse. I answered that it was reasonable to hope he would be better; that there would be a progressive improvement. I tried him at this interview with that topic, saying that a future state was surely a pleasing idea. He said no, for that it was always seen through a gloomy medium; there was always a Phlegethon or a hell. 'But,' said I, 'would it not be agreeable to have hopes of seeing our friends again?' and I mentioned three men lately deceased, for whom I knew he had a high value: Ambassador Keith, Lord Alemoor, and Baron Mure. He owned it would be agreeable, but added that none of them entertained such a notion. I believe he said, such a foolish, or such an absurd, notion; for he was indecently and impolitely positive in incredulity. 'Yes,' said I, 'Lord Alemoor was a believer.' David acknowledged that he had some belief.

I somehow or other brought Dr. Johnson's name into our conversation. I had often heard him speak of that great man in a very illiberal manner. He said upon this occasion, 'Johnson should be pleased with my History.' Nettled by Hume's frequent attacks upon my revered friend in former conversations, I told him now that Dr. Johnson did not allow him much credit; for he said, 'Sir, the fellow is a Tory by chance.' I am sorry that I mentioned this at such a time. I was off my guard; for the truth is that Mr. Hume's pleasantry was such that there was no solemnity in the scene; and death for the time did not seem dismal. It surprised me to find him talking of different matters with a tranquility of mind and a clearness of head which few men possess at any time. Two particulars I remember: Smith's Wealth of Nations, which he commended much, and Monboddo's Origin of Language, which he treated contemptuously. I said, 'If I were you, I should regret annihilation. Had I written such an admirable history, I should be sorry to leave it.' He said, 'I shall leave that history, of which you are pleased to speak so favourably, as perfect as I can.' He said, too, that all the great abilities with which men had ever been endowed were relative to this world. He said he became a greater friend to the Stuart family as he advanced in studying for his history; and he hoped he had vindicated the two first of them so effectually that they would never again be attacked.

Mr. Lauder, his surgeon, came in for a little, and Mr. Mure, the Baron's son, for another small interval. He was, as far as I could judge, quite easy with both. He said he had no pain, but was wasting away. I left him with impressions which disturbed me for some time.

 

 

Comments (24)


Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, October 2, 2017 -- 12:47 PM

Immortality has confounded

Immortality has confounded mankind for all the distance traveled by The Arrow of Time. This is as it must be, because, as sentient beings, capable of imagining the impossible, we wonder why immortal life must BE impossible. The European explorer, de Leon, is reputed to have come to what is now Florida, in search of a fountain of youth. As far as we know, he never found it. Tim Leary thought cryogenics was the way. That too appears to have been a pipe dream (this was a metaphor, not a pun...). I have read Hume, along with Voltaire, Rousseau and others of those times. I got the distinct impression that they were realists when it came to such things as God, immortality and such. Should there ever be something resembling immortality, it will likely be a pale imitation of that state of which immortal men dream. I know: never say never. But I, like Hume and his contemporaries, am also a realist. One can dream impossible dreams, or one can make the best of the life we are given and call it good. Seems to me...

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Thursday, December 4, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

Most of what we call life

Most of what we call life never really dies. It reproduces and mutates, but thousands of years hence what remains is the same single-celled organism. Only multi-celled organisms that reproduce sexually die. The complexity of the organism means that only the reproductive cells transmit life. The remainder of the organism is too ?differentiated? to be a direct carrier of the life of the species. The individual, however psychologically or instinctively committed to survival, is biologically bound to death. Radical cell differentiation requires this. And this means that the more sophisticated the form the more bound it is to die, for the more extensive that cell differentiation that commits the bulk of the organism to take only a passing role in reproduction. But if that biological sophistication is accomplished in the commitment to die, it may be that something even more sublime is achieved. Life is more real committed to departure than reproduction by cell-division or fission. What becomes interesting is how that differentiation not only commits the organism to die, but achieves an articulation of roles in the organism as a whole that remains almost entirely mysterious. The bio-physics applied to understanding it is so crude, if not by the lights of our tremendous sophistication in science, but in light of the vastly more sophisticated capabilities of these tiny cells in any advanced organism. Old fashioned reasoning might be a more powerful tool than bio-physics can supply. When a cell divides in its developmental phase, and perhaps at any other stage in life, the resultant cells are each a little further along in the differentiation process. But which is which? Which is more differentiated, and how is this decided? Can it be that each cell is in some sense trying to be the most differentiated? The most committed the whole organism to that death articulated the meaning of its being alive? If so, this puts a new gloss on how systems come into being. For it is incongruous to conventional thinking that a system can be most perfected by an effort of every part to be the most different! And it certainly puts a new light on the question of immortality, for who then would want to live forever, even if psychologically predisposed to cling to life? Imaging an afterlife is merely a variation on the misapprehension that death is purely loss. It is not. It is the most intensive meaning the universe is capable of containing.

mirugai's picture

mirugai

Saturday, December 6, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

LIFE AFTER DEATH

LIFE AFTER DEATH
Gary, your description of biological immutability while scientifically interesting (and probably accurate), illustrates clearly the irrelevance of science to philosophy. Science is about matter; philosophy is about consciousness, and the two do not intersect nor does either help understanding the other. Your interest is in ?how stuff keeps living after some host dies? which is a wonderful subject to investigate, especially around the ?host? question.
But I think you were misled by what I thought was an error in the topic of the show itself. The show was titled ?immortality,? when it should have been about ?consciousness after death.?  You describe biological immortality issues, but you don?t describe any philosophical questions. 
IMMORTALITY
What is the condition of one?s consciousness past the age of 90, say? The health directive is a scam to get hospitals off the hook for liability; I want my plug hard wired into the hospital wall. Keep me alive; that is how dearly I treasure my consciousness.  But I have witnessed deaths of people very close to me, who were fortunate to live to the point that they said ?I?m tired, I?m finished, I want to die now.? And, one way or another, they died then. Believe me, that is what everyone really wants. When someone says ?I don?t want to live to be 90,? I always say ?I will ask you when you are 90.?
The other question about immortality is like the question ?How old will I be in heaven?? When one thinks about heaven, they imagine themselves to be a happy, healthy, what, 30 year old? But if you die at 88, or if you get cryo-froze, you will be 88 when you get re-constituted, right? Ted Williams? old brain will not be able to hit a home run even if he gets grafted onto a 20 year olds? stem cell generated body. There really is no point for a human being to live longer than it wants to live; what we all want is to be able to make the decision about when the end is, at the end. There is no rational (philosophical) reason to expect anyone will want their life to end ?early,? and no one would say ?I want to die? at such and such an age. Everyone simply wants to live until they don?t want to live anymore; there is no sense in getting upset about not being ?immortal??that is not the issue at all.
LIFE AFTER DEATH
By this I mean, the issue of the survival of consciousness after physical death (not Gary?s survival of some biology after death of the host).
This is what the show should have been concerned with, because this is the real philosophical issue that underlies all that ?immortality-talk.? What the hosts and the guest should have been exploring is philosophical ideas about our relationship to the way we view our own future consciousness, and our rational thoughts about if, and what, consciousness transcends death. Alluded to briefly was the notion that probably 99.9% of humans believe in some form of ?life? (i.e., consciousness) after death: whether life in heaven or a nirvana state, or reincarnation, or some other form (best, I like the Jewish idea that a dead person?s consciousness ?lives? so long as the living remember him/her; they ?live on in our memory of them?). This belief is so universal that it could be called a human instinct. It is not a powerful argument for the actual transcendence of consciousness, but for the human instinct. Born of what? Ego, survival, confirmation, social membership?lots to think about here.
If one?s consciousness survives death, won?t that be interesting? What will it be like? What will it be like to be in heaven, or to be a cockroach, or to be in whatever state with some consciousness intact? How cool would that be?
Or, if consciousness does not survive death (and we really don?t know either way, despite what 99.9% believe), then let?s be optimistic: the closest analog to such a state is sleep, and sleeping ?forever? is just fine.
Because of all this, we don?t (or shouldn?t) fear death; but we should do everything we can not to die before we want to die.

MJA's picture

MJA

Saturday, December 6, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

Oh and... as for me, I'll

Oh and... as for me, I'll leave it just like that..

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Sunday, December 7, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

~~Mirugai,

~~Mirugai,
Thank you for addressing me by name. I do believe 'avatars' are inappropriate in a philosophy discussion.
I am not suggesting reproduction, having kids, as a mode of immortality. I am suggesting that immortality is an inadequate mode of being. It is worthless. What nominally lives forever does not live at all, any more than rocks or 'dark matter', whatever that is. (Actually, dark matter is nothing more nor less than an aporia in the calculation of the momentum of an expanding universe)
Another thread asks for a Kant joke, here's a good one, aside from his ridiculously regular habits. It is his square of opposition. Am I the only one to notice that ?A' and ?not A? are not contradictories, but merely contraries? That it requires quantifiers to be contradictory a priori? In other words, a contradiction is not a sentence pair both of which cannot be true, but a sentence pair of which, one, proved false, proves the other true. The only possible real term of such a proof is departure. Death sets up or enables what I call the community in contrariety. It is a system constituted as the opportunity of belonging whole that comes of each part being the differing of it.
What philosophers refuse to face since time immemorial and as much today as ever, is that the logical discernment which one is which is not the same 'one', and is infinitely incompatible with the numerical 'one', whether conceived cardinal or ordinal. It is therefore impossible to do logic and arithmetic within a unified conceptual scheme. It is the community in contrariety which resolves this aporia, by the merit left the remainder through departure and loss. And, by the by, supplies, I believe, the best explanation of what consciousness, and indeed person, is.
The notion of immortality in creating offspring is nonsensical, since, because of the way genetic material gets mixed up between mating pairs, the fellow in the street you never met might have more genetic similarities to you than your children do.
One point off the topic, but still with Hume. Does anyone wonder about Hume's intentions is inviting Rousseau to England? Rousseau seems to have concluded mischief was afoot, and left to study English botany. Does anyone else smell a plot to mislead him down the garden path of English politics?

MJA's picture

MJA

Sunday, December 7, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

After Leaf

After Leaf
A leaf goes out in a blaze of color, in a soft breeze that drifts it slowly away. How perfect!  As for after leaf, so be it a rake, a leaf blower, a plastic bag, or a garbage heap, heaven God bid or even hell God forbid, surely it matters not to a leaf, for a leaf has no uncertain beleaf. =  

MJA's picture

MJA

Sunday, December 7, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

Logically One is One when is

Logically One is One when is or = unite them. The power of equality unites everything even when One measures not   = is

mirugai's picture

mirugai

Sunday, December 7, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

Gary and MJA, now we really

Gary and MJA, now we really have joined the philosophical issues.  For instance, the question: is death an end, or a continuity? Gary, you probably would say "both," and MJA, you would probably say "one." And in each of your posts, you have posited what "both" and "one" mean. This is good stuff! And I might propose if it is "both" and/or "one" then thinking and talking about consciousness/death is just "endless speculation." But that is just what doing philosophy is, at its best. (A scientist criticized philosophy-without-science as "endless speculation.") Gary, your characterization of proof of consciousness issues as flowing from the contrary nature of all conceptual systems, as measured by what you (and I) call a community, is brilliant and so instructive.
TS Eliot:  
"It would be the same at the end of the journey,
 If you came at night like a broken king,
If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
It would be the same, when you leave the rough road
And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade
And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all ...."

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Monday, December 8, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

~~Does the logical A=A mean

~~Does the logical A=A mean the same thing as the arithmetic 1=1? if so, then 1+1=1! Ask yourself, do you still know what ?one? means?
If you learn the calculus from a physicist rather than a mathematician it should be explained to you how Newton justified the reductive logic of the derivative. It is a matter of reducing the numerically indefinable difference to the infinitesimal. George Berkeley argues (cf, The Analyst) that this amounts to using the same value as a positive number through most of the calculation, but as zero where it becomes convenient. A further flaw is that the infinitesimal is not only never really made definable, it is a value as much within as without the calculation. It is a logical contrariety not really one thing or the other (and not really both either!). What it is, is ignored evidence of the incompleteness of the calculation. It is the kind of sleight of mind that is rife in philosophy today. It is rigor truncated just short of teaching us something upsetting. It is in fact displacing the unknown with a flood of the, presumptively, known. It is, as I have said elsewhere, throwing out the baby the better to keep the bathwater.

mirugai's picture

mirugai

Tuesday, December 9, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

I love your discussion of the

I love your discussion of the "problem" of calculus, Gary. But, first, I miss spoke when I said "one"; what I really meant to say was, as one who has learned much about the subject from MJA, "all" or "entirety." "One" puts a quantifier in play, when there is none. As I said, I am more of a dualist, as in "matter" and "consciousness." As for the calculus, I understand your distinction between the physics and the mathematical representations of the unreachable, yet  approachable. In either case, I think of doing philosophy as a dialog (even with one person doing the dialog) in which the problem is never answered, but the process brings the philosopher continually closer to the answer.  This is the "endless speculation" that science condemns, and which you call a "flaw." It is the success of philosophy, to me. You seem to need that there be "definition," which many philosophers use as their method; but I think "definition" is self-serving sophistry and advocacy. Philosophy should not engage in "defining," it should be looking for "meaning" instead. May I say that, lastly, I love the poetics of your post.
 

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Thursday, December 11, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

~~Logic requires us to

~~Logic requires us to ?construe? different meanings of ?is?, but never supplies an adequate justification of this, such that it is hard to read much that passes for philosophy without becoming bewildered in the effort to keep track of what one is supposed to forget. Texts that begin and proceed throughout as a comparison of sentence forms as embodied in a list of examples to refer to overlook one very essential truth, contrary to what some of us learned in school (for my part so long ago that things may be very different today) that ?a sentence is a completed thought?, a sentence is in fact nothing of the sort. There is no such thing as a completed thought. We do not think in 'thoughts', and we certainly do not speak so. The assumption that we have a right to be construed as we believe we have constructed our sentences is a deep conceit that is a brick wall I have been beating my head against for fifty years or more. We are so far from having a right to be understood that the whole project of language is the drama of responding to signs, often not oral, that we precisely do not understand each other precisely. It's how we respond to to signs of incomplete understanding that makes language what it is. It is never unilateral.
I am ?Western? enough (in fact through and through) to relate my perceptions to that tradition, but this hardly means an uncritical embedding in it. It is revealing, or at least responding to the inadequacies of one's received terms that makes the more hidden come to life. Life is differentiation, not replication. But difference per se is anomaly unless it is opportune of a response through which another is freer to itself be differentiating what the system as a whole wold be if replication were the criterion or unifying principle. But if difference is life, the capacity of systems (such as an organism, consciousness, or a political or cultural tradition) to constitute themselves as that anomalous act and anomalous response that, like the infinitesimal in calculus, is neither defined within nor outside the law or logic of the replicating calculation or judgment, and, though neither that act nor response is itself in synchrony to each other as that evidence of the incompleteness of the replicating logic, the completeness of the system in difference, of the community in contrariety, is the completion of that evidencing. But the more completed system is not united or in units, since each part in it is, in a poetic sense, if you will, recommending, not itself the differing, but the differing made welcome therein. Differentiation could be stated as the lost replicate. The system, body mind society, finds its belonging whole as a responsibility of being recognized that loss, and of its worth. Logic doesn't do so well when it comes to recognizing worth. This, obviously, because it is a conviction in the hermetic continuity of the replicate. That is, to number.
That's a mouthful enough, but to continue the motif it needs to be put in the context of the controversy of time over the past two and a half millennia. It has some surprising convolutions and odd alliances, but would take too much space to cover here. But the main theme I would urge is that the quantifier is throughout used as a means of subordinating change to the logic of replication. But if time is the lost replicate, however weird it is to say it, there is no one time is, either as a unitary epoch or as a unity of countable units. Differentiation, as the most articulating term of real systems, is the lost enumerator found that loss as the extremity of rigor proved its logic or rationality or law uncompleted. In a real sense, person is no one.
 

MJA's picture

MJA

Thursday, December 11, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

Dear Gary, "Is" is a complete

Dear Gary, "Is" is a complete thought as = is a complete equation.
Logic led me to: A = B, and B = C, then A = C, but what about B, what can it B? Equal or different, what should it B? To B or not to B? That is the question and philosophy of Aristotle, Shakespeare, and me.
In the above poem, do you see A ,B, and C different or united by an equal sign, One or the same?
Do you not understand the power of equal and is? They are synonymous as equal is One or the same.
And when it comes to equality, equal like truth has the power to unite even the most different, A, B and C. black and white, everything, even contrary you and me.
Surely you must know that equality is synonymous with freedom and that truth or is will set you free.
Just beyond that wall you bang your head against is freedom!
Truth is, much more simple than thought,

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Friday, December 12, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

~~You think that way because

~~You think that way because for the first thousand years of the Christian Era Aristotle was the only philosopher available in translation. His biases were culturally entrenched by the time other thinkers became available. (cf Oakley or Ullmann)
Predication, identity, existence, equivalence. No potential for confusion here? If you had a better grip on what a category is (read Plato and nix Ari!) you wouldn't be so sanguine.
Surely I know no such thing! Hermetic 'equality' is the obligating term, not the emancipator! The rigor of that hermeticism, between the universal qualifier is and is not, in all its senses, is entailing the loss of it as its most extreme term in rigor. That is, its entailing that extremity is its needing its other free of that equality. The only sameness is a transiency revealed as a comparable difference. Same difference cannot be a fundamental equality. This does not imply inequality or subordination. It means freedom is not an equivalence but a need in rigor of its alternative being emancipate of it.

MJA's picture

MJA

Saturday, December 13, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

I think this way because I

I think this way because I found measure to be the flaw in us all. =

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Saturday, December 13, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

measure = "the flaw in us all

measure = "the flaw in us all"?????
How do you measure that?
My point is that person, 'psychologism' and all, is an agent of such greater rigor that only its idiosyncrasies can bring '=' to the point of being recognized its inadequacy in rigor, its uncompleted reason.
 
Hamm. Did you ever think one thing?
Clov. Never.

Daltan's picture

Daltan

Saturday, December 13, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

I just thought of a wired

I just thought of a wired philosophy its were when you die you just get reborn instantly saying your born in 2014 you are born again in 2134 and you dont know it because your conscience dies but you still do the same things in a loop or it . you can die in 2014 and be born instantly in 2890 or in 1893 or it an only go foreword and you can be born into something els like a cell or a virus

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Sunday, December 14, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

David Kuhn, of Closer to

David Kuhn, of Closer to Truth, had a conversation in the episode aired this week in my area in which it was noted that the Hebrews did not believe in and afterlife, that death was just the end, but they evolved a kind of hope in some form of resurrection. The resurrected would not be continuity with the previous life, but a life new and other. Christ makes certain allusion to such a notion in which, if we believe, we are said to await such resurrection 'at the end of days?. That is, that the intervening time we are indeed dead, there is no immediate ascendance to transcendence, as it were. But in Mark, he promises the ingratiating thief a ticket to paradise ?this very day?!

Aristotle was not much respected by his contemporaries. It is evident he was kicked out of the Academy as soon as he was no longer under the protection of Plato. Contrary to conventional belief, the ancient texts were not lost to the early Christian era, they were suppressed, and largely rediscovered long before the usual date assigned to the Renaissance. It was Augustine who resurrected Aristotle to reinforce his contention that humanity is a corrupt invention needing transcendent forms to elevate it to anything worthy of being at all, immortal of otherwise. For a thousand years thereafter institutions vied for the ascendancy once embodied by Rome, and divided between clerical civil and scholarly forces, all of which claimed to be the conduit of that transcendent authority, and all of them speaking in the language of the ancients in a very concerted effort to suppress the naturally democratic instincts of the vast majority of the people. Aristotle's logic or ?dialectics? was, as I seem to recall (from my reading about, not from my presence at the time!) the only text preserved until the abbeys emerged with their insatiable appetite for copying. During the interim the only Plato text available was an abridged version of Timeus, read, of course, as a flat ?idealism?. By the time other texts began to be rediscovered, many of them never really lost, the habit of mind had been set (see Oakley), and learning became the war against democracy it remains to this day. The question of immortality is but a motif in this war discerning, as Jeremiah Burroughs put it, between saints and 'worldlings'. The measures of the worth of a person, and of being deserving of paradise, was the signs of transcendence apparent in one's estate in the world. The poor were but fodder to that mystical authority of the formalism that reigns supreme today. And whether it is the divine authority of sacred tradition, the evident power of civil authority, or the sublime implacableness of impeccably reproduced texts, the right to differ is suppressed and lost. Socrates would not approve. But who minds him?

MJA's picture

MJA

Monday, December 15, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

I don't expect to help you

I don't expect that I can help you understand because understanding is all about Oneself.
But I should try anyway, because try is all we can do.
Measure is the problem and the solution is measureless. Once you remove the uncertainty from the equation the solution becomes crystal clear. Truth is absolute. = 

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Monday, December 15, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

Sounds like the ancient

Sounds like the ancient thematics between "limit and unlimit". The problem is, the most limited is the most unlimited. The least measure is the measureless. The least term of time is all the differing it is. Humanity is more worthwhile than any transcendence, or its supposed maker.The god with the compass is an idiot scribing only its own demise. And nothing is unilateral or alone. Isolation is the derangement of measure, not its perfection.

MJA's picture

MJA

Friday, December 19, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

The limits of the unlimited:

The limits of the unlimited: We are all surely bound by One infinite immeasurable Universe that unites our finite mortality and infinite immortality into the just and beautiful One.  God as is the Universe, as is you and me, is just another name for One, The immortal One with no limits at All. Free at last!  =

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Saturday, December 20, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

Obey and be free! Where have

Obey and be free! Where have I heard that before? Spinoza? The Koran?
 
Actually, the universe is measurable. Where have you been? It is mortality that is unlimited and immortality limited, and rather uninteresting.

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Saturday, December 20, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

The Hebrews had no belief in

The Hebrews had no belief in an afterlife. Life is material and vanishes altogether in death. The Christian era began with this sense of mortality, adding only a distant expectation of a divinely ordained resurrection of the corpse, not of a new life of a "soul substance" already inhabitting the body. There was no such belief at first. It was introduced by Augustine, via Aristotle, in order to counter Pelagius. As the Roman Empire adopted Christianity and, soon thereafter, succumbed to invasions, the newly Christianised Norman and Gothic regimes employed the top-down lawgiving this thesis afforded them. The Church, nobility, and academic guilds, each in ts own peculiar way, adopted the crude and sparse Latin literature as a means to suppress the spontaneous democratic instincts of the people (See the works of Francis Oakley). Even by Hume's time it was still dangerous to be open in one's lack of faith. Even today a public career, outside Europe but most certainly in America, can be ruined by the accusation of "godlessness." So it is remarkable that Hume would be so at ease about it, though many others chafed or otherwise hinted at irritation at the difficulties in being honest about the matter.
 
Just thought I'd remind anyone interested in this discussion of its initial issue.
 
A question for the moderators: Does the 'spell-checker' installed in this system use the Cambridge standard? I remember "Morse" opening a book and identifying its author as a Cambridge man, rather than from the more respectable Oxford, saying "Not a 'zed' in sight!"

Truman Chen's picture

Truman Chen

Sunday, January 4, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

An interesting thing to

An interesting thing to consider when it comes to mortality, is the sociopolitical effect it will have. This pending predicament can be seen in science fiction movies such as Elysium, yet it seems to still evade most philosophical conversation. Today, modern medicine that merely prolongs life has yet to reach the sickly bodies of many humans in the developing world. Thus, if we in fact introduce the "cure to death," I think it safe to assume that only the rich would be able to afford such a cure, and it would take decades if not centuries for immortality to be a given for all citizens of the world. How would such a world be organized? Would it even be moral to introduce it, once put in these terms? There are a whole slew of problems that seem to be still untouched, but in great need of being seriously discussed and thought through before it may be too late.

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Monday, January 5, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

Longevity is rather a

Longevity is rather a different issue from immortality. Malthusian alarmism is usually missing countervailing factors. The rich already get better healthcare, and not just in rich countries. But, oddly, or not so oddly, some of the most long-lived are in the poorest communities.
Compare unending immanence to eternal transcendence. Which is preferable? One would have to make rather vapid assumptions to get started, and so never conclude....,

 
 
 
 

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