Immortality is a central element of many religions and more than one science fiction plot line. But is it desirable? This article looks at the arguments against immortality, from boredom to its paradoxical undermining of what humans want in the first place.
"[In 1973] the English moral philosopher Bernard Williams suggested that living forever would be awful, akin to being trapped in a never-ending cocktail party. This was because after a certain amount of living, human life would become unspeakably boring. We need new experiences in order to have reasons to keep on going. But after enough time has passed, we will have experienced everything that we, as individuals, find stimulating. ... The moral philosopher Samuel Scheffler at New York University has suggested that the real problem with a fantasy of immortality is that it doesn’t make sense as a coherent desire. Scheffler points out that human life is intimately structured by the fact that it has a fixed (even if usually unknown) time limit. We all start with a birth, then pass through many stages of life, before definitely ending in death. In turn, Scheffler argues, everything that we value – and thus can coherently desire in an essentially human life – must take as given the fact that we are temporally bounded beings.
Sure, we can imagine what it would be like to be immortal, if we find that an amusing way to pass the time. But doing so will obscure a basic truth: that because death is a fixed fact, everything that human beings value makes sense only in light of our time being finite, our choices being limited, and our each getting only so many goes before it’s all over. Scheffler’s case is thus not simply that immortality would make us miserable (although it probably would). It’s that, if we had it, we would cease to be distinctively human in the way that we currently are. But then, if we were somehow to attain immortality, it wouldn’t get us what we want from it: namely, for it to be some version of our human selves that lives forever."
Blog sharing news about geography, philosophy, world affairs, and outside-the-box learning
This blog also appears on Facebook: