Belief in Embodied Afterlife: A Philosophical Justification?

1- Christian belief in resurrection- outline Jesus’ resurrection after death- Link to hicks idea of the replica. 3- The only meaningful way to talk about survival after death is to say that souls can be reunited- Peter Geach 5- Characteristics and memories can be changed and falsified- Bernard William Descartes said ‘ My essence consists solely in the fact that I am a thinking thing’.

This, if true, implies that our consciousness is separate from our bodies and so we must be able to exist without said bodies.

This of course would then falsify the statement as disembodied life after death would be possible. Indeed, there are many who dispute this argument and one who would agree with the given statement is Bernard William who claims that characteristics and memories can be falsified. He would argue that because our memories can be lost and altered with certain drugs, accidents and illnesses such as Alzheimer’s; the main part of what makes us- us is the link between our minds and our physical form (our bodies).

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It would then follow that the only plausible after-death-existence would be embodied. It is the first point made by Descartes and many others which this essay will lean towards as it will be argued that disembodied existence is as philosophically plausible, if not more so than embodied. Many would claim that Christianity can be used to argue both sides of this issue. An example of where it may be used to support embodied life after death is in the resurrection stories.

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In Thessalonians 4, we find a much talked about quote among philosophers; ‘..Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again..through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.’

This verse gives us a clear idea that the early Christians believed in full, embodied resurrection. Although it is unclear as to whether or not some would have also agreed with a disembodied afterlife before judgment day and resurrection, many devout Christians only accept the embodied resurrection at the end of days. The verse tells us that at first Jesus’ followers didn’t recognise him, as he had changed somehow but the main message is of fully embodied resurrection. However, due to the complexity of the bible, it is difficult to completely understand whether or not there is a state between death and resurrection and many may feel the argument is far from philosophically justifiable.

There has of course also been a long tradition of belief in disembodied afterlife. The Greek philosophy Plato believed we have separate souls which leave our bodies at death in order to join another. In the Phaedo, he recorded a response from Socrates to a question put forward by Crito; ‘In what fashion are we to bury you?’ Plato’s answer clearly shows his belief in the afterlife. It is important to understand that Plato believed in the soul because he believed innate knowledge must just be memories from previous existences.

Furthermore, Plato was part of the chain of thought that says that everything has an opposite but they are always in a cycle, hot becomes cold for cold to then become hot and living things die just for new life to emerge. Believing in the cycle of opposites makes it clear why Plato would have believed in some kind of disembodied soul. Returning to the question put to Plato mentioned at the start of this argument, we see his response makes his belief in the afterlife clear. ‘He imagines that I am the dead body he will see in a little while… but… when I drink the poison I shall no longer remain with you, but shall go off and depart for some happy state of the blessed…’

On the other hand, however, The philosopher; Peter Geach was a strong believer that any talk of life after death where the soul and body are separate is totally meaningless. Geach described the idea of a separate soul and body as a ‘savage superstition’ and he believed that the genius of Plato and Descartes had given the superstition an undeservedly long lease of life. Geach, along with many other modern philosophers argue that the idea of a separate body and soul has come from misunderstanding of scriptural language. In his book, ‘What do we think with’, Geach wrote ‘thinking is a vital activity of a man, not any part of him, material or immaterial.’

This shows quite clearly Geach believed that a human is a single entity which needs to think, rather than a body and a separate mind which just happens to have consciousness. Geach believed that the only reasonable theory of the soul was the Aristotelian idea that the soul is the form of a living body. Many would say that Geach’s argument is fairly week as there is little evidence to back it up and he seems to be ‘piggy-backing’ off other philosophers, namely; Aristotle. Reincarnation, or rebirth (afterlife in a physical form),are a key feature at the heart of Hindu beliefs. Hinduism teaches that every person has an essential ‘self’ known as an atman. They believe the Atman to be eternal and something which seeks to be united with God.

Hindu’s believe that God manifests himself in the atman if each individual, and through a number of births, deaths and rebirths, the person comes to understand a relationship of the atman with God. Once this realisation of unity is reached, the atman no longer needs to continue in the cycle and so is released (moksha). For the Hindu, physical bodies are nothing more than a container for the atman, the atman which holds the persons nature. This means that after going round the cycle a few times, the atman (or soul) is released from the container and moves on to disembodied life after death. Hinduism is the oldest spiritual tradition in the world and there is evidence that it flourished long before recorded history in India which means that the idea of a separate body and soul could have been the original belief.

Descartes is one of the most famous philosophers and dualists and his belief on life after death was that what makes us, us is our ability to think; our consciousness. His conceivability argument leads us to wonder whether or not we need our bodies at all. The argument was laid out with 3 steps, it begins with the premise that a thinking thing can imagine existing without a body. The argument goes onto say that anything which can be conceived is possible and from this that if X can exist without Y then X and Y aren’t identical. The result of the argument is that a thinking thing is not identical with its body and so, they must be separate.

Descartes most famous quote to sum his arguments up is that ‘I think, therefore, I am’ For Descartes, being able to think about not having a body, but not being able to conceive of not thinking at all means our minds must be separate from our bodies and therefore, if we are to believe in an afterlife then there is no logical reason why our minds would die with our bodies. Many believe this Is a fantastic argument for disembodied life after death as it gets the opposition thinking about not thinking and so leaves them at a blank. I feel that the strongest argument covered in this essay is that put forward at the start and the end.

For many, the fact that we cannot think of our minds not existing is a far stronger argument than that of say, Peter Geach as looking back over past scriptures is just like copying off of someone in a test who has made their answers up, we would just be looking at something which may or may not be true. While I was slightly swayed by the first argument in favour of the given statement, due to its use of past events and a tradition of belief, however in then end, I have maintained my view that it is just as philosophically feasible to think of a disembodied life after death then an embodied one., possibly more so.

Updated: May 03, 2023
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Belief in Embodied Afterlife: A Philosophical Justification?. (2016, May 06). Retrieved from

Belief in Embodied Afterlife: A Philosophical Justification? essay
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