Lecture 5 - Arguments for the existence of the soul, Part III: Free will and near-death experiences

author: Shelly Kagan, Department of Philosophy, Yale University
recorded by: Yale University
published: Feb. 12, 2010,   recorded: January 2007,   views: 7428
released under terms of: Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives (CC-BY-ND)

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Professor Kagan discusses in detail the argument of free will as proof for the existence of an immaterial soul. The argument consists of three premises: 1) We have free will. 2) Nothing subject to determinism has free will. 3) All purely physical systems are subject to determinism. The conclusion drawn from this is that humans are not a purely physical system; but Professor Kagan explains why this argument is not truly compelling. In addition, near-death experiences and the Cartesian argument are discussed at length.

Reading assignment:

How to Write a Philosophy Paper [text]

Schick, Theodore and Lewis Vaughn. "Near-Death Experiences." In How to Think About Weird Things. New York: McGraw Hill, 2005. pp 307-323


Figure 5.1 [PDF]

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Reviews and comments:

Comment1 Joseph VanderStel, July 15, 2010 at 3:16 a.m.:

Kagan's final argument in the lecture pertaining to the distinctness of the mind and body seems questionable, and perhaps he develops it further in the proceeding videos. Claiming the mind must to be separate because we can imagine it as such is like claiming a leg or arm must be separate because we can imagine it so. Might the mind be a mere constituent of the physical body as is the leg? Indeed, conceptualizing the absence of the body is as easy as conceptualizing a fairy

Comment2 Paul B., July 6, 2013 at 8:10 a.m.:

The lecturer jumps from NDEs to seances and dream experiences. Quite a leap. And then says, “We don't have the time to examine everything (paraphrasing),” and “When *I* review these explanations, the better argument is.... "

My response, with all due respect, as the term is usually applied (meaning, with politeness and sincerity) is that Prof Kagan needs to ‘review’ more material on NDEs. Also, he needs to review the bona fide literature and studies with regard to SDEs (shared death experiences). Prof Kagan may want to review the bona fide experiences of persons who have been blind from birth, who after their resuscitation for the first time in their lives said they ‘saw’ things, and were even able to describe what they ‘saw’ happening away from the immediate locus of their physical body (e.g. what was happening in an adjacent room of the hospital).

There are literally thousands of NDE and SDE experiences that have been reported and no doubt many more times those experiences that have not been openly reported (for fear of being ridiculed, etc). In fact there is an ever growing movement of medical professionals who are finally beginning to come forward to share their personal experiences with regard to NDEs without fear of being censored by their colleagues or administrative overseers (which, as I learned, was what would usually happen, and maybe still does in many cases).

In conclusion -- the REAL conclusion -- is that I, along with my wife, ***at the same time*** had the same, wide awake, *physical* experience one week following the death of our nineteen year old son. The conclusive ***evidence*** is that Matt still exists. I don’t know where he is, or with any exactness what state his ‘personhood’ is now, but he still exists as a sentient ‘being’ and what still essentially makes him the same ‘person’ we knew him to be, although not a physical person comprised of gross matter that can be touched and felt by currently living mortals.

Neither I, nor my wife, need any more evidence than what we experienced to conclusively *know* that we survive our physical deaths, although I might also say that the NDE literature, which ratifies in many ways what we experienced, is still somewhat a comfort, or perhaps better stated: a wonderment. No religion nor any type of esoteric belief system can even come close to giving us what we experienced. My personal *belief* notwithstanding, is that the more loving and good we are and do *probably* will make things better for us in our ‘next life’ (phase of existence). But that’s a separate issue for discussion, I suppose.

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