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Rather, it is the tedious, often silly, just-so puzzle cases that dominate it. I read several such passages aloud for my partner, an accomplished art historian. She was mostly incredulous and bemused. I concur with Philip Kitcher's incisive assessment of this way of doing philosophy, as he presents it in his January , New Republic review of Parfit's much more recent book in two volumes , On What Matters.


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The supposed "schematic fictions," as Kitcher calls them, are not analogues of experimental results in science. They do not yield anything remotely like the more precise concepts that are based on the deliverances of experiments. Even worse, there is no standard for doing these puzzle cases well. Often when people encounter these fantastic fictions, even very gifted philosophers, they have no idea what to say about them.

As Kitcher points out:. Readers are pitched into a fantasy world, remote from reality, in which our natural reactions are sharply curtailed by authorial fiat. When we are called to render a verdict, the dominant feeling is a disruption of whatever skills we possess, and a corresponding distrust of anything we might say-often publicly visible when lecturers ask their audiences to respond to some puzzle case: only partisans of some particular theory answer confidently, while the rest sit in uncomfortable silence.

The reader may even be left with a deep sense of unease that matters of life and death are to be judged on the basis of such cursory and rigged information.

Open Yale Course: Philosophy of Death

To his credit, Kagan is no simple partisan for his preferred theories in Death. He painstakingly considers alternative points of view and acknowledges lingering ambiguities and perplexities that attend even what he takes to be the best theories. Otherwise, though, Kitcher's points are remarkably apt in regard to much of the philosophical methodology of Death. Perhaps the worst thing about this methodology is that it leads us to look in the wrong places for help in thinking about the subtleties of death and personal identity. Instead of pondering obscure and often silly artificially constructed puzzles, philosophers should be thinking about and helping others think about the implications of actual research on the brain and how it affects identity, for starters.

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Perhaps we could learn something profound about death, too, if we look more carefully at the kaleidoscope of ways that people have dealt with it and the research that has been done on this and related issues. But that would require us to be much more interdisciplinary in our approach, which is, of course, much more difficult. When I first started reading Death , I was riveted by the topic and very interested in everything Kagan had to say. I found the initial discussions about the soul very interesting and persuasive.

Open Yale Course:Philosophy Death 02

I was actually considering using the book in a course I teach that tackles death as a major subject, and was happy to have fond such a prospect. Then, I must admit, things started going downhill fairly rapidly. In addition to the problems noted above, Death is extremely pedantic and often needlessly repetitive. The book could have been much shorter without any real or significant loss of rigor and clarity. Furthermore, often Kagan is much more interested in puzzles that matter only to other analytic philosophers than ones that interest generally curious people.

When he does tackle common "confused" concerns about "dying alone," for instance, his discussion is borderline boorish. It was a chore, to put it mildly, to finish Death , and not for good reasons. Unfortunately, I would not consider subjecting my students to this book and I do not recommend it except as a kind of source book for philosophical issues and arguments related to death. Brad Frazier, Ph. We feature over in-depth reviews of a wide range of books and DVDs written by our reviewers from many backgrounds and perspectives.

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    Is Science Value Free? When we die, our souls don't live on. It took me quite long time to convince myself that after the last breath exhaled, we just disappeared into the thin air, even though our dead body takes time to decompose, we are medically dead.

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    In what situation can we grant a person to commit suicide? Suicide and abortion actually become moral or religious problem on this earth, but Kagan did an assumption about the possible existing people yet unborn could actually be more than the particles of universe with the combinations of all possible way with all possible given time , we truly are the lottery winners, each of us ever living on earth. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born.

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    The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?

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    About Shelly Kagan. Shelly Kagan. After receiving his B. He is the author of the textbook Normative Ethics, which systematically reviews alternative positions concerning the basic Shelly Kagan is Clark Professor of Philosophy at Yale. He is the author of the textbook Normative Ethics, which systematically reviews alternative positions concerning the basic rules of morality and their possible foundations, and The Limits of Morality, which challenges two of the most widely shared beliefs about the requirements of morality.

    He is currently at work on The Geometry of Desert. Books by Shelly Kagan. No trivia or quizzes yet. Welcome back. Just a moment while we sign you in to your Goodreads account.