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The Afterlife Samuel Scheffler The Tanner Lectures on Human Values Delivered at University of California, Berkeley March 13–15, 2012 Samuel Scheffler is University Professor and Professor of Philosophy and Law at New York University, where he joined the faculty in 2008. He was educated at Harvard and Princeton, and from 1977 to 2008 he taught at the University of California, Berkeley. He works primarily in the areas of moral and political philosophy. His publications include four books: The Rejection of Consequentialism (1982), Human Morality (1992), Boundaries and Allegiances (2001), and Equality and Tradition (2010). He has been a Visiting Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, and has been awarded Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships . He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. [131] Lecture I The title of these lectures is, I confess, a bit of a tease. Like many people nowadays, though unlike many others, I do not believe in the existence of an afterlife as normally understood. That is, I do not believe that individuals continue to live on as conscious beings after their biological deaths. To the contrary, I believe that biological death represents the final and irrevocable end of an individual’s life. So one thing I will not be doing in these lectures is arguing for the existence of the afterlife as it is commonly understood. At the same time, however, I take it for granted that other human beings will continue to live on after my own death. To be sure, I am aware that human life on earth could, via a number of different routes, come to a sudden and catastrophic end at any time, and that it will, in any case, come to an end eventually. Still, I normally take it for granted that life will go on long after I myself am gone, and in this rather nonstandard sense, I take it for granted that there will be an afterlife: that others will continue to live after I have died. I believe that most of us take this for granted, and it is one of the aims of these lectures to investigate the role of this assumption in our lives. It is my contention that the existence of an afterlife, in my nonstandard sense of “afterlife,” matters greatly to us. It matters to us in its own right, and it matters to us because our confidence in the existence of an afterlife is a condition of many other things that we care about continuing to matter to us. Or so I shall try to show. If my contention is correct , it reveals some surprising features of our attitudes toward our own deaths. In addition, I will argue that the importance to us of the afterlife can help to illuminate what, more generally, is involved in something’s mattering or being important to us, or in our valuing it. Finally, the role of the afterlife sheds light on the profound but elusive influence of time in our thinking about ourselves, and it affords a convenient point of entry I am greatly indebted to my commentators at Berkeley—Harry Frankfurt, Seana Shiffrin, and Susan Wolf—for their generous responses and thoughtful challenges. Earlier versions of this material were presented to a number of audiences, and I am grateful to the members of those audiences, as well as the audience at Berkeley, for valuable discussion. I am conscious of specific debts to Selim Berker, Eugene Chislenko, Ronald Dworkin, Samuel Freeman, Pamela Hieronymi, Dale Jamieson, Hyunseop Kim, Christine Korsgaard, Liam Murphy, Thomas Nagel, Derek Parfit, Philip Pettit, Adam Scheffler, Michael Smith, and David Wiggins for helpful comments and questions. And I am particularly grateful to Monika Betzler, Agnes Callard, Ruth Chang, Hannah Ginsborg, Stephen Guest, János Kis, Niko Kolodny, Orsolya Reich, John Tasioulas, and Katja Vogt for valuable written comments. The Tanner Lectures on Human Values 132 for investigating the various strategies we use for coming to terms with the temporal dimension of our lives. Most of the attitudes I will discuss, both toward the afterlife and toward what happens during our lives, are in one sense very familiar, almost embarrassingly so. There is very little that I will be saying in these lectures that we don’t, on some level, already know. Nevertheless, I believe that the attitudes I will discuss can bear additional scrutiny. As I have tried to suggest, I think that we can learn something about ourselves by reflecting on them, and...


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