Athens Philosophy Café in English
Our Philosophy Café is a monthly meeting to discuss some of the most challenging questions of philosophy at Lexi-Logos, a charming Language & Culture Center in Plaka, downtown Athens.
Wednesday April 9, 2014 (8-9 pm):
Is there an afterlife? Platonism and Christianity on the immortality of the soul
The question whether we continue to exist after death has worried human beings since the dawn of time. Interestingly, each culture has formulated a different answer. For example, in some civilizations the issue of afterlife became crucial. It was supposed that future life was more important than this life and, consequently, that one should live in such a way as to deserve immortality. On the contrary, in other societies the question of ‘what comes next’ was rather secondary. Present life was considered to be something valuable in its own right – no matter what followed death.
Notice that in all those cases the beliefs were articulated in religious systems. But philosophy’s task is to rationally analyze and examine beliefs. So, are there good arguments for the belief in the afterlife? Are we immortal? Or is our belief in immortality just an expression of a wish – and perhaps also a means to quiet our fears down?
In our next meeting we are going to discuss a doctrine that has been fundamental to Western culture. During many centuries, theologians assumed that Platonism and Christianity basically agreed on the same doctrine: the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. In a nutshell, the doctrine maintains that human beings consist of a body and a soul; whereas the body is perishable, the soul is indestructible. Because our personal identity resides in the soul, we are immortal. Death is just the death of the body, not of the person. In fact, the soul continues to exist for ever. The afterlife can be a blessing or a miserable existence depending on the person’s behavior in this life. The only difference between Platonism and Christianity in this topic was thought to lie in the way they accessed the true doctrine: Platonism arrived at it through rational thinking and Christianity thanks to faith.
What does contemporary philosophy say about that doctrine? Are human beings made up of a perishable body and of an immortal soul? Are body and soul two radically different substances? And even if we assume the controversial premises that there is an immaterial soul and that it is the seat of our identity, how can it be proved that it is indestructible and thus immortal? And last but not least: is not possible for the Western culture to accept that death is the end of our existence and that it is nonetheless possible to live a happy and meaningful life? These are the issues we are going to tackle in our next talk.
Although Platonism became central to Christian theology, it is true that Plato himself was not always persuaded of the immortality of the soul. Indeed, in his first dialog, Apology, he is rather skeptic. But in Phaedo, a later dialog on which we will focus our discussion, Plato advanced the doctrine that eventually became decisive to his philosophy and to Christianity.
One last remark: As it was shown in the last century by some theologians and historians, early Christendom did not share the Platonic view. At least for the first generations of Christians, human beings were not the union of a body and a soul. And for them, the promise of the afterlife was the resurrection of our own body such as we know it.
Our next meeting is on Wednesday, April 9th, 2014, at Lexi-Logos. I am looking forward to meeting you there.
Our philosophy café is open to everyone interested in philosophy.
Marcos Breuer is a Doctor of Philosophy. He studied Philosophy at the University of Cordoba, Argentina, and obtained his master's degree with a work on Norbert Elias’ philosophy of culture. He did his PhD at the University of Dusseldorf, Germany; in his dissertation he discussed the sociological assumptions underlying the current debate between utilitarianism and contractualism. After a three-year stay in Rome, he moved to Athens in 2009 where he works as a freelance author. He has published two books and many articles in different languages on ethics, philosophy, and literary criticism. He is currently working on a book about the ethical debate on euthanasia. Marcos Breuer regularly organizes private workshops on philosophy and Spanish language & culture, and works as a consultant in the field of cultural event management.