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

Philosophical Studies 174 (8):2009-2028 (2017)
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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.

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David Beglin
University of California, Berkeley


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