Journal of Philosophy of Life

An international peer-reviewed open access journal dedicated to the philosophy of life, death, and nature, supported by the Project of Philosophy and Contemporary Society, Advanced Research Center for Human Sciences, Waseda University


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Death to Death
: Descartes, Living Bodies, and the Concept of Death

Susan Mills

Journal of Philosophy of Life Vol.7, No.2 (August 2017):338-360




Descartes’ philosophy is instructive in revealing and resolving a puzzle about death. Specifically, it is the puzzle of carving a concept of death out from an ontologically sparse metaphysics of matter that does not provide a clear and obvious grounding for a concept of life. As I argue in this paper, we ultimately find resolution to this puzzle in Descartes’ philosophy once we realize that we should stop looking for the nature of death in his metaphysics of matter; it does not exist there, and it has no grounding there. In reality, death is nothing to no thing for Descartes. Furthermore, I recommend that Descartes’ lesson applies to attempts in the contemporary scholarship of the philosophy of death to analyze death as a materialist concept and, in doing so, it stands to dissolve the debate between the survivalist and annihilationist positions on post-death survival.

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