Curt J. Ducasse

C. J. Ducasse

(1881-1969), French-born, highly respected Professor of Philosophy at Brown University. Awardee of the Carus Lectures prize (American Philosophical Association). Contributed to the "Journal Information for Philosophy and Phenomenological Research", "Causation", "Immortality" (Edited by Paul Edwards), "Philosophical Dimensions of Parapsychology" (edited by James M. O. Wheatley). Ex-student of Josiah Royce. Pursued a career in philosophy but retained a strong interest in logic - so much so that he took the initiative to create the Association for Symbolic Logic with its Journal of symbolic logic. Among his many important papers on survival are "How the Case of The Search for Bridey Murphy Stands Today" Journal of the ASPR 54: 3-22, and "What Would Constitute Conclusive Evidence of Survival After Death?" Journal of the SPR 41: 401-406. His books included "A Critical Examination of the Belief in Life After Death", "Paranormal Phenomena, Science and Life After Death" (Monograph), "A Philosophical Scrutiny of Religion", "Nature, Mind, And Death", "Truth, Knowledge and Causation", "Philosophy As a Science: Its Matter and Its Method" and "Philosophy of Art".

A Critical Examination of the Belief in a Life After Death


 - Curt J. Ducasse -

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          THE QUESTION whether there is, or can be, or cannot be a life after death for the individual is seldom formulated unambiguously, or approached with a genuinely open mind, or discussed objectively on the basis of the relevant empirical or theoretical considerations. Persons in whom survival after death is an article of religious faith generally assume that it and other dogmas of their religion are, as such, authoritative; and hence that the point of engaging in discussions of the matter is not to try to find out whether or not survival is a fact, but only to convince others that it is a fact - or at least to show them that the reasons which lead them to doubt or to deny it are invalid.

Persons, on the other hand, who have had training in science, or at least those among them who do not lay aside their scientific habits of thought when subjects reputedly religious are concerned, commonly take it for granted today that the progress of physiological and behavioristic psychology has finally proved that the consciousness and personality of man is - as they are wont to phrase it - a function of the nervous system and of certain other constituents of the living human body; and hence that there cannot possibly be for the individual any life or consciousness after the body has died.

A position in some ways intermediate between the two just described is that of the Spiritists or Spiritualists. Survival of the personality after death is held by them to be not an article of faith but a matter of knowledge. That is, they hold it as something for the truth of which they have adequate empirical evidence in the communications, received through the persons they call mediums, that purport to emanate from the surviving spirits of the deceased. Thus, irrespective of whether or not that evidence really proves what it is alleged to prove, the fact that empirical - or more specifically testimonial - evidence is what Spiritualists appeal to for support of their belief means that, in so far, they conceive the question of survival as a scientific rather than as a religious one.

On the other hand, two factors have cooperated in making Spiritism or Spiritualism claim for itself also the status of a religion. One of these factors has been the need to protect the activities of mediums from the application of ordinances or laws against fortune-telling. The other has been that, because of the widespread vagueness as to what questions are or are not essentially religious, and because of the fact that most religions have asserted that there is for the individual a life after death, therefore belief or knowledge as to such life has uncritically been assumed to be religious inherently, rather than perhaps only instrumentally.

In the present book, the question as to the possibility, reality, or impossibility of a life after death is approached without commitment, explicit or implicit, to any one of the three positions concerning it just described. What the book attempts is a philosophical scrutiny of the idea of a life after death. That is, it attempts to set forth, as adequately as possible, the various questions which, on reflection, arise on the subject; to purge them both of ambiguity and of vagueness; to point out what connection the subject does, and does not, have with religion; to examine without prejudice the merits of the considerations - theological or scientific, empirical or theoretical - which have been alleged variously to make certain, or probable, or possible, or impossible, that the human personality survives bodily death; to state what kind of evidence would, if we should have it, conclusively prove that a human personality, or some specified component of it, has survived after death; and to consider the variety of forms which a life after death, if any, could with any plausibility be conceived to take.

Needless to say, this ambitious program is not likely to be carried through with complete success. Nor - in view of the prejudices and the wishful thinking either on the pro or on the contra side which infect the great majority of persons who take some interest in the question - is much of what will be said likely to be found agreeable by all readers; for the sacredness of a number of the "sacred cows" which have influenced the beliefs or disbeliefs entertained on the subject of survival after death will have to be questioned.

Moreover, at a few places, the issues to be considered cannot, by their very nature, be discussed with any prospect of deciding them in a responsible manner unless they are first formulated with greater precision, and their implications then developed more rigorously, than has usually been done in discussions of the question as to a life after death. But precision and rigor - even when utmost care is taken, as it will be, to make its literary form as psychologically painless as possible - entails the need on the reader's part of closer attention than many are willing to give. For it is much easier to jump to conclusions than to draw them responsibly - to jump to conclusions provided they be favorable, if one is moved by wish to believe; or to jump to conclusions provided they be adverse, if one is moved by wish to disbelieve.

The issues involved, however, are ultimately so important that wishful thinking, on either side, will, to the best of the author's ability, be excluded in this book from his consideration of their merits.

The author's obligations to the works of the various writers discussed or referred to in the text are indicated by the footnotes. Some portions of the text have appeared as articles in periodicals. Several Sections of Chapter XI formed part of a communication presented by the author at the 1957 Interamerican Congress of Philosophy, which later appeared in the journal, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, as an article entitled "Life, Telism, and Mechanism." Chapter XVI borrows extensively from an address by the author at the celebration in 1956 of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the founding of the American Society for Psychical Research, which, with the other addresses, was published in the Society's journal. Chapters XX and XXV were published as articles, respectively in the International Journal of Parapsychology, and in the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research. Grateful acknowledgement is here made to the editors of these periodicals for permission to incorporate into the text the materials mentioned.


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Contents | Preface | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 | Chapter 18 | Chapter 19 | Chapter 20 | Chapter 21 | Chapter 22 | Chapter 23 | Chapter 24 | Chapter 25 | Chapter 26

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