Should I Choose To Live Forever? A Debate

I have just been made aware of a new book, Should I Choose To Live Forever? A Debate

The book is a debate between the philosophers Stephen Case–who answers the question in the negative, and John Martin Fischer—who answers in the affirmative. The book also includes a Foreword by Lord Martin Rees, the current Astronomer Royal of the United Kingdom.

While I have only read excerpts from the book I am familiar with the writing on this topic by both of these philosophers. And, as my readers might also know, I am firmly on the side of those who argue for having the choice to live forever—as I wrote in my 2014 Salon essay “Death Should Be Optional.”

What I did notice in the book’s early pages was Case’s helpful distinctions between

a) moderate life extension – increasing our current longest lifespans by about 40 years;

b) radical life extension – eliminating aging such that one could only die from some outside force such as a meteor hitting the planet;

c) contingent immortality – being immortal from any possible cause and living forever unless one chooses to die;

d) true immortality – one cannot die from any cause and one cannot choose to die.

My view that death should be optional falls into group c. I find option d quite undesirable since it condemns one to live no matter what. Even a god might want to die. Moreover, many people worry about radical life extension or contingent immortality for the same reason—in such states, they will be unable to choose to die. For example, we might be tortured indefinitely by malevolent beings, unable to put an end to our miserable existence. So I think the allure of death is that no matter how bad life is there is some way out. People find that comforting.

I don’t know how to ameliorate these worries. Yet the option to be immortal which includes an escape clause that could be exercised at any time seems best. In that case, we are immune to aging, disease, accidents, etc. but we can die if we want. (Yes, I do realize that this is currently fantasy.)

I do look forward to reading the book and if any of my readers get to it first please share your findings.

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5 thoughts on “Should I Choose To Live Forever? A Debate

  1. I would assume that, as a philosopher, there would be a special place in your heart for “The Good Place”, the TV series on Netflix offered as a comedy but presenting a sidewise angle on some interesting philosophical issues. The episode on the trolley problem is hilarious. I was struck, however, by the ending, in which the characters, having finally attained The Good Place, each individually decide after seeing its inhabitants to terminate their existence. If you haven’t seen it, I think it’s worth at least a few months’ subscription to Netflix to see. I suspect that it will provide an interesting perception on the matter of living forever.

  2. Jane and I watched all of the “good place.” Fun show and great recommendation for my readers.

  3. Well as you say Doctor John, ” (Yes, I do realize that this is currently fantasy.)”

    It is a fantasy, a fantasy that I can’t indulge in because, I don’t believe it is possible and because I do believe Human attempt to ‘improve’ the human creature by genetic manipulation will end in disaster for mankind, Humans just aren’t as smart as we can imagine we are. There are no Gods on Earth just delusional people who think they are!

    I am also aware that my, I’ll admit emotional response, doesn’t mean that it will never happen, but I think it precludes my participation!
    Humans by their study of the Physical World and their mastery of Mathematics have created wonders well beyond the imaginations of earlier people, wonders that are, or could be, of great benefit to mankind.

    I, in my humble opinion, think that we should put better ideas in the Heads of Mankind, not computer chips, better ideas could change our direction and make life more enjoyable, if we survive this present era of Narcissistic Nihilism and it’s child, the impulse to destroy, perhaps we will emerge into the light again with our optimism renewed eager to set a new course towards a new Utopia, a new Utopia which will also, eventually, disappoint us, but at least we may have a generation or two of peace and progress!

  4. I tend to agree with Mr. Russell’s line of thinking.

    Some time ago I came up with the line (or stole it from somewhere and forgot that I didn’t originate it!) ” Man is clever, but He is not wise”. Beware the Sorcerer’s Apprentice!
    His comment’s first full paragraph pretty much sums up my (admittedly emotion driven) thoughts on the matter.

    As a bonus, we seem to share a similar distrust of attempts at Utopia.

    Do basic world views….a personal priori….lead us to predestined conclusions even though we attempt to be objective in our thinking?

  5. Lyle T asks; Do basic world views….a personal priori….lead us to predestined conclusions even though we attempt to be objective in our thinking?

    I think they probably do Lyle T, Our basic World views are the filter we sift our perceptions through as we attempt to be objective in our thinking.

    Marcus Aurelius’s Wisdom; “You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

    As Marcus also said; “The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.”

    Thank you for your comment Mr. T, corroboration is a sign that we are moving in the right direction.

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