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Eternity, immortality, and desire to live longer

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Leon Kass talks about his philosophy of death and aging in his book, Life, Liberty and the Defence of Dignity (2002). He discusses the future possibility of progress in medical technology that may provide us with long life, for example, a longevity of 200 or 300 years or more. He asks whether such longevity, or immortality actually makes us happy, and he answers negatively. He writes as follows:

I aspire to speak truth to my desires by showing that the finitude of human life is a blessing for every human individual, whether he knows it or not. (p.264)

He urges us to think of an immortal being and says:

Moreover, such an immortal someone else, in my view, will be less well off than we mortals are now, thanks indeed to our mortality. (p.265)

And he seems to distinguish between "immortality on earth" and "eternity."

The decisive inference is clear: none of these longings can be answered by polonging earthly life. Not even an unlimited amount of "more of the same" will satisfy our deepest aspirations. ... Mere continuance will not buy fulfillment. Worse, its pursuit threatens -- already threatens -- human happiness by distracting us from the goals toward which our souls naturally point. (p.270)

It is clear that he discusses this topic from the perspective of the Judeo-Christian tradition, however, the core of what he wanted to say reaches my mind directly (though I am agnostic). I think one implication of his words is that we cannot acquire "eternity" in the pursuit of "immortality." Eternity cannot be acquired in an extension of an immortal life. This is one of the most important philosophical questions, I believe, that should be discussed in the field of bioethics or "philosophy of life" in the 21st century. Of course, I don't agree with his opinion about abortion and the value of the family, but nevertheless, I am still very attracted to Kass's philosophy on life and death.

At the same time, I am not satisfied with Kass's philosophy. He seems to underestimate our desire to become healthy and live longer if some existing medication or operation provides us with them. This kind of desire must be shared by Leon Kass himself. We have to think about the nature of this kind of desire and our contemporary social system that incessantly stimulates our desire to live longer, become healthy, and avoid pain & suffering as much as possible. This is exactly what I tried to do in my book Painless Civlization. Kass's works should be complemented, I believe, with the perspective of painless civilization.

(Continues on the next entry...)

Related post: Value of life extension and immortality

Photo: A building near my apartment, Osaka

 -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

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