To Bite or Not to Bite: Twilight, Immortality, and the Meaning of Life

In Rebecca Housel & J. Jeremy Wisnewski (eds.), Twilight and Philosophy: Vampires, Vegetarians, and the Pursuit of Immortality. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 79-93 (2009)
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Over the course of the Twilight series, Bella strives to and eventually succeeds in convincing Edward to turn her into a vampire. Her stated reason for this is that it will allow her to be with Edward forever. In this essay, I consider whether this type of immortality is something that would be good for Bella, or indeed for any of us. I begin by suggesting that Bella's own viewpoint is consonant with that of Leo Tolstoy, who contends that one could not have meaningful life without immortality, because only immortality could allow one to make a permanent difference in the world. I argue that this characterization of a meaningful life is problematic, however, insofar as (1) immortality is neither sufficient nor necessary for having such an impact and (2) there is little reason to think that having such an impact is constitutive of a meaningful life. I go on to consider Edward's fear that vampires lack a soul as it relates to Martha Nussbaum's claim that immortal beings would be less capable of certain paradigmatic human values and virtues such as courage, love, or self-sacrifice. I suggest, contra Nussbaum, that Carlisle provides an example of an immortal who displays recognizably human virtues. However, the possibility of Carlisle's being virtuous in this way depends on the existence of other creatures who are mortal. I close by considering the problem of boredom, as articulated by Bernard Williams. According to Williams, a meaningful human life is constituted by certain categorical desires such as the desire to raise children or to create art. The projects aimed at accomplishing these desires are necessarily finite in length, and cannot be repeated indefinitely without losing their value. I argue that many, though perhaps not all, of the immortals described in the series suffer from such boredom. For example, Edward and Rosalie struggle to find meaning in their lives and most werewolves choose to age and die normally after a certain time. Perhaps more significantly, many of the non-"vegetarian" vampires seem to have become entirely divorced from any recognizably human projects or values, and have become focused entirely on satisfying their immediate desires. These examples provide some reason to think that many of Bella's reasons for living, which are essentially tied to her mortality, are not likely to be met by becoming immortal. While this does not show that her choice to become a vampire will leave her ultimately unhappy, it does suggest that her doing so represents a considerable sacrifice.
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