We in the DoD recognize that, as a French philosophe claimed, thinking about death is like looking at the sun – do it too long and you’ll go blind. Still, we like to live on the edge. So we are delighted to announce a new course on human mortality.
Topics to be covered include:
No one dies alone: the social nature of death. Here we’ll investigate social relations and personal identity, and the ruptures in these bereavement represents.
Grief: What is it good for? Some aspects of grief may be natural, but insofar as one can train oneself into it or out of it, what makes most ethical sense? Is grief a challenge to well-being or a part of it? What, if any, judgments regarding death does grief implicitly sanction?
Identity: Who can you be when you can’t be who you were? Here we’ll investigate the unmaking of personal identity performed by loss and ask what comes next, looking at competing accounts of how and whether continuity in personal identity can be achieved.
Funerals, Part I: Cost. The great funeral expenditure debate: Are funerals a worrisome waste of resources (looking at you, Mozi!) or are they necessary and important ethical goods? By what standards ought we evaluate funerary expenditures?
Funerals, Part II: Corpse Disposal. We’ll investigate the symbolic duality of the corpse – its status as foul matter and beloved person – and assay what one should do about that. Mengzi says if you throw your parents’ corpses into a ditch, you’ll feel nauseous and wrong, but is that so?
Funerals, Part III: Environmental Influence. Given that human practices don’t just express human values and dispositions, but also shape them, what sorts of funerary practice are best and best work to promote values and dispositions we’d want affirmed?
Memory and Imaginal Relations: The dead are gone, so now what? Assuming the dead are beyond reach of our affection, is that the end of the story or are there forms of relation and ongoing memorialization that serve important ethical and philosophically therapeutic ends?
Oh, yeah, you’re going to die too. In which we briefly consider the less compelling view that the problem of death is that I’m going to die. As a gesture at cross-cultural inquiry, we’ll look at some of the abundant Normal sources that focus exclusively on my own death, whether it’s bad for me, etc., etc., and all that. [NB: The semester is jam packed, so chances are we’ll cut this less interesting section.]