• Apollodorus
    531
    I think there was a discussion on reincarnation some time ago. However, supposing we accept reincarnation either as fact or as theoretical possibility, how would we convincingly justify it in philosophical terms?

    Edit: Some useful arguments include the following ones suggested by @Bartricks.

    There are at least three distinct mutually compatible cases. First, a case from indivisibility.

    Our minds are strongly indivisible. Half a mind makes no sense. As our minds are strongly indivisible, they have no parts. An object that has no parts does not come into being - for there is nothing from which it can be formed - and thus if it exists, it has always existed. Thus our minds have always existed. As our lives here had a beginning, we - the minds undergoing them - must have existed previously, for we have always existed.

    Second, a case from free will or retributive moral responsibility. To be retributively morally responsible for one's behaviour one needs to be its ultimate originator. One will not be its ultimate originator if one has come into being, for then the causal chain extends outside of oneself to external antecedent causes. Thus, to be retributively responsible requires existing but not having been caused to exist. We are retributively responsible, thus we have not been caused to exist and must always have existed.

    Third, a case from God. An omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being - God - exists. Life here is dangerous and we who are living such lives are ignorant of most things. God, being all powerful, let that be the case. But God, being omnibenevolent, would not have subjected innocent persons to such a life. Thus we are not innocent. But when we are born we have performed no actions in this life. Thus the moral crimes for which this life is a punishment must be ones we performed in a past life. Thus we must have lived previously.
  • Pantagruel
    1.6k
    If you view consciousness as a form of energy then it can be explained empirically. If it is a natural occurrence then it doesn't require "justification". Only what could have been otherwise than it is is subject to justification. Unless you stipulate that it is voluntary....
  • Gary Enfield
    142


    Hi Apollodorus

    I don't understand your question.
    What is there to philosophise about?
    It either exists or it doesn't. The only thing that can determine that question is evidence, not philosophy.
    You asked us to suppose that it exists as a fact or possibility - so what's left?
  • Wayfarer
    12.1k
    There is copious evidence of children who remember previous lives. This evidence was gathered by a researcher who followed up accounts of children who claimed to recall previous lives, typically by insisting, as soon as they could talk, that they weren't who their birth families said they were, and providing accounts of a remembered life. Researchers would then investigate and try and find evidence of this supposed past-life recall.

    It doesn't matter, though. There is a strong prejudice against such claims, so that no matter what the evidence, it can always be denied. And it's not really a subject for philosophy, at least since about the 4th century AD, when belief in 'metempsychosis' was anathematised by the early Church.

    Those interested can google Dr Ian Stevenson and read about him. I wouldn't regard the wikipedia entry as a credible source, however. But it's really not worth discussing on this forum it will only result in acrimony.
  • Gary Enfield
    142

    Hi Wayfarer

    I totally agree that Stevenson's work was brilliant, even if it couldn't be held as conclusive.
    I also agree that the Wikipedia article is grossly misleading and should be withdrawn.

    Academia, through the University of Virginia and onwards to wider peer reviews, has accepted Stevenson's methods of data gathering as matching high scientific standards. The only things under dispute are the causes of the phenomenon he uncovered.

    Anyone who reads the research and sees the tv programmes about this will see that the evidence from 'out of body experiences' to reincarnation are genuine cases with honest victims of this effect.
    Whether this is down to reincarnation and the spirt, or something more mundane, is where the real debate should be happening.

    Once again, the so-called scientific community has tended to try and smear the evidence rather than debate its nature.... and why? Dogma.
  • Apollodorus
    531
    I don't understand your question.
    What is there to philosophise about?
    Gary Enfield

    Hi there. It wasn't "philosophizing" I was talking about. I meant more something like "justification" in the sense of what would amount to "proof" from a philosophical or reason-based perspective as opposed to a religious or faith-based one.
  • 180 Proof
    3.4k
    "It's like déjà vu all over again." ~Yogi Berra

    "Reincarnation" represents merely waking up again each day – but religiously(?) generalized into a metaphor about 'birth-awareness-death' – the arc of daily living from sleep to sleep again (Sisyphus-like) with each yesterday (like) a different "past life" ... esapecially due to vagueries of memory (thus, why Alzheimer's syndrome is such a horror vacui). Experientially, each day, and each year, and each decade, one was not quite the same person as one is today.... All the same, and yet, tomorrow never knows, does one? :victory:♡ So taking this metaphorical "reincarnation" literally just misses the existential plot, at least as I grok it, and substitutes other-worldly woo (à la religious neurosis) for this-worldly today, living attentively in the moment.
    Look out, kid
    It's somethin' you did
    God knows when
    But you're doin' it again
    — Robert Zimmerman
  • Apollodorus
    531


    Personally, I do tend to accept reincarnation as many Platonists and even non-Platonists do. Obviously, I can't say it's a "fact" as I don't remember experiencing it. However, I believe that it's a very strong theoretical possibility and, as you say, there may be scientific evidence to support this.

    Here's one (my) way of looking at it.

    If someone asks you (or you're asking yourself) about reincarnation, you might answer "I don't know". But that answer doesn't take you anywhere as ignorance isn't really a basis for knowledge.

    In contrast, if you were to answer "I don't remember", this might take us a small step forward.

    For example, we could take "I don't remember" to really mean "I remember not existing before" which tends to change the situation. We now have a subject/agent who remembers and "not existing before" may refer to the current incarnation, which actually makes sense: you can't remember not existing at all as there would be no "you" to remember, but you can remember existing as something or somebody other than what you are now however vague that memory may be.

    This would be comparable to waking up from deep sleep and saying "I don't remember a thing". But what you are actually saying is that you remember being in a state of deep sleep where your consciousness was not aware of the normal experiences of everyday life - not that your consciousness was nonexistent.
  • Wayfarer
    12.1k
    Once again, the so-called scientific community has tended to try and smear the evidence rather than debate its nature.... and why?Gary Enfield

    It's up there with astrology, ghosts and UFO research, all generally categorised under the heading woo-woo.

    I accept the possibility, but I don't think too much about it.
  • Manuel
    638


    Well one route to go would be many worlds. Perhaps in some other world there are copies of us. We wouldn't be able to interact in any manner.

    Perhaps as energy, we might be lucky enough to interact with other persons in some obscure manner. It's not necessarily woo, nor is life after death in some wonderful realm, but the evidence is not terribly convincing.

    Some people say they remember previous lives, but what about those who don't. Is it that they have not reincarnated or is it a matter of lack of memory? Or maybe some people are able to, and others not.

    I may be repeating myself of this point but, as far as I can tell when I apply any possible word or concept to the state prior to my birth such as "joy", "grief", "length (of time)", "good", "bad", etc., I find that none apply at all. That's as much evidence, if it can be called that, that I can get for the transcendent. Why would after death be any different: before birth nothing applies, after death nothing applies: the state is the same.

    We come back to testimonies. But is it this world in which such memories apply or what? Even putting science aside, the reasons why such a thing could occur doesn't make much sense to me. Then again, at bottom, nothing does.
  • baker
    1.3k
    It's up there with astrology, ghosts and UFO research, all generally categorised under the heading woo-woo.Wayfarer
    In Western cultures where the metaphysical norms are derived from Abrahamic religions.
    In contrast, go far East, and it would be woo not to believe in reincarnation/rebirth.
  • baker
    1.3k
    However, supposing we accept reincarnation either as fact or as theoretical possibility, how would we convincingly justify it in philosophical terms?Apollodorus
    First answer why it would be necessary to "convincingly justify it in philosophical terms".
  • Wayfarer
    12.1k
    Stevenson observed that in the West, many would say ‘why study this issue? Everyone knows it’s just folklore.’ In the East, many would say, ‘why study this issue? Everyone knows it happens all the time.’

    We come back to testimonies.Manuel

    The point about testimonies is that they can be tested against evidence.
  • baker
    1.3k
    The concept of reincarnation/rebirth has primarily an ethical importance, in several ways. One is that it helps to make sense of the world and it puts injustices into perspective. Related to that is the motivational-ethical aspect, because with reincarnation/rebirth, life still seems worth living, even though this time around, one has fallen on hard times.

    With a one lifetime conception, those who have hard lives now are doomed to hopelessness and resignation.
  • Manuel
    638
    The point about testimonies is that they can be tested against evidence.Wayfarer

    The kind of evidence they provide is less solid than evidence found in other branches of science. Personal accounts are quite less reliable that direct observation.

    Doesn't mean it's not evidence, it can be. It's just more problematic.
  • Wayfarer
    12.1k
    Personal accounts are quite less reliable that direct observation.Manuel

    Corroborated.
  • Apollodorus
    531
    I accept the possibility, but I don't think too much about it.Wayfarer

    Neither do I, don't get me wrong. I was just saying that philosophy ought to be able to come up with something a bit better that just quasi-religious belief.

    At the end of the day, either reincarnation is real or it isn’t. If it is, then it necessarily involves memory, remembrance and recollection.

    The reason we don’t normally remember past lives is probably because it would interfere with our normal, everyday life. People having different intellectual capacities, it seems reasonable to assume that those at the lower end of the spectrum might be overwhelmed by memories from past lives whereas those with a more developed intellect would handle it without major difficulties.

    In the Indian (Buddhist and Hindu) traditions there are numerous references to precisely this ability to remember past lives among those with a more evolved intelligence and this seems to be an ability that can be acquired, or reawakened, through specific forms of mental training.

    For example, the Abhidharmakosa of Vasubandhu (4th-5th century CE) says that those wishing to develop their power of recollection of past lives should start by taking hold of the thought that has just passed and then of that immediately before it, and so gradually proceed back through the successive states of their present existence to the very moment of their conception and beyond (VII 123).

    Obviously, this requires training and it would happen in the context of meditation or contemplation, when the body is completely motionless and there is a maximum of mental clarity and focus. But the texts mention many who can actually remember their past lives as a result of the above technique (or of spiritual development in general) and there is no reason to assume that this is just empty talk in all cases.

    See also Visuddhimagga

    Normally, when we’ve misplaced something, we often find it useful to mentally trace back our actions until we remember where we last placed it. What is different (and interesting) in the above-mentioned technique is that not actions but thoughts are used to stimulate and awaken memory.

    Memory is equally important in Greek philosophy even though for slightly different reasons. Platonists believe that learning is a process of remembrance and we find a similar stance in Platonic-influenced Christian thinkers like Augustine of Hippo.

    So, it would seem that attention to “the present moment”, useful though it may be in itself, may also be the gate to the past and, possibly, to the future. Instances of people with “paranormal abilities” aren’t entirely unheard-of.

    There may be other ways to “justify” belief in reincarnation. For example, if God is just as is generally admitted, then it stands to reason that he might give us a second chance and not judge us after just one life. In discussions with Christians and Muslims I’ve found that they are often prepared to accept reincarnation on these grounds.

    As @baker said, there are also ethical considerations.
  • Gnomon
    1.4k
    I think there was a discussion on reincarnation some time ago. However, supposing we accept reincarnation either as fact or as theoretical possibility, how would we convincinglyjustify it in philosophical terms?Apollodorus
    I'm not well read on the topic of Reincarnation, but I do have a general hypothesis for why the theory of body-hopping souls arose among philosophers & sages concerned with Ethics. Almost all cultures on Earth have devised some explanation for the inequalities and injustices of the world : The Problem of Evil. For example, ancient Greek cultures were feudal societies. "As above, so below" : they typically assumed that humans were like slaves or servants to their feudal Lords in heaven. In that case, humans were subject to the mercurial whims of their whip-wielding slave-owners, and free-will was a pathetic illusion of the downtrodden. So, the Greeks, both slaves & lords, tended to be fatalistic, and/or pessimistic, about their long-term future prospects, and held no hope for any afterlife beyond the grave. Thus, they saw no reason to expect personal justice in this life or any other. Those "typical" Greeks also tended to be materialistic & deterministic about the mechanics of the world, in which humans were mere grinding cogs.

    However, atypical idealistic philosophers -- most of whom were independent-minded upper-class slave-owners themselves --could hold a more optimistic worldview, in which personal freewill could alter the course of Fate to some degree. Also, their god-models were more abstract -- more like general principles than specific persons. As leaders of society themselves, this allowed them to have more individual influence on the course of events. Plus, they believed that humans had individual personalized Souls, instead of the generic animating force of ancient Animism. Therefore, it made sense that, since even these leaders of men were subject to fatal forces beyond their control, their world was still characterized by injustice. Which contradicts the Platonic notion of God as the eternal epitome of Goodness. Yet, even if the gods were not powerful enough to fight Fate, they could conceivably give their human subjects a second chance in an afterlife.

    So, my theory is that Plato's principle of Reincarnation was an attempt to justify the goodness and justice of the gods, despite all the evidence against it in the real world. If at first you don't have a life of peace & justice, just try-try again in a series of after-lives. Originally, the Hebrews also seemed to believe in arbitrary Fatalism, and the finality of the grave. But that didn't fit their image of Yahweh as a loving father. Consequently, like the Greek philosophers, Jewish thinkers gradually came to believe that the cruelties of reality were not the intention of God for his beloved creation. But his best intentions were countered by his old nemesis : Satan. So, as a compromise, God made arrangements for postmortem Justice, not in a series of reincarnations, but in one triumphant victory over the evil god of fickle Fate.

    Unfortunately, both of these solutions to the Problem of Evil depend on Faith in future Justice, instead of the blessed experience of Justice in the Here & Now. For those of little faith though, "justice delayed is justice denied". :sad:


    Gods subject to Fate :
    Whereas the Hebrews blamed humanity for bringing disorder to God's harmoniously ordered universe, the Greeks conceived their gods as an expression of the disorder of the world and its uncontrollable forces. To the Greeks, morality is a human invention; and though Zeus is the most powerful of their gods, even he can be resisted by his fellow Olympians and must bow to the mysterious power of fate.
    https://www.auburn.wednet.edu/cms/lib03/WA01001938/Centricity/Domain/2205/Fate%20reading.pdf

    In the opening of Paradise Lost, Milton invokes his Muse, the Holy Spirit, to grant him “Eternal Providence” that he may achieve his goal for the epic: to “justify the ways of God to men

    "Job also had an unquenchable thirst for God in the midst of his sufferings. His friends were troublesome enemies and his tears were his food day and night. He longed for God's justice in his suffering. He realized he needed more than a therapeutic God and gospel. He longed for deliverance from his pain, as well as assurance of his reconciliation with God. This is what sets the stage for Job's lamentations, a yearning for God's mercy and justice."
    https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/smith_don/job/whirlwind08.cfm

    Justice delayed is justice denied. ___William E. Gladstone
  • Bartricks
    3k
    I believe in reincarnation on philosophical grounds.

    There are at least three distinct mutually compatible cases. First, a case from indivisibility.

    Our minds are strongly indivisible. Half a mind makes no sense. As our minds are strongly indivisible, they have no parts. An object that has no parts does not come into being - for there is nothing from which it can be formed - and thus if it exists, it has always existed. Thus our minds have always existed. As our lives here had a beginning, we - the minds undergoing them - must have existed previously, for we have always existed.

    Second, a case from free will or retributive moral responsibility. To be retributively morally responsible for one's behaviour one needs to be its ultimate originator. One will not be its ultimate originator if one has come into being, for then the causal chain extends outside of oneself to external antecedent causes. Thus, to be retributively responsible requires existing but not having been caused to exist. We are retributively responsible, thus we have not been caused to exist and must always have existed.

    Third, a case from God. An omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being - God - exists. Life here is dangerous and we who are living such lives are ignorant of most things. God, being all powerful, let that be the case. But God, being omnibenevolent, would not have subjected innocent persons to such a life. Thus we are not innocent. But when we are born we have performed no actions in this life. Thus the moral crimes for which this life is a punishment must be ones we performed in a past life. Thus we must have lived previously.

    I believe all of these arguments are sound, though only one needs to be.
  • Apollodorus
    531
    I believe all of these arguments are sound, though only one needs to be.Bartricks

    They definitely seem worthwhile looking into. Obviously, we'll need to see how we define things like "mind" etc. But I must say your arguments come very close to what I meant by "philosophical justification". So, maybe we are getting somewhere.
  • 180 Proof
    3.4k
    Hmm déjà vu – guess I'm the skunk at the woo party again.
  • bert1
    714
    Our minds are strongly indivisible. Half a mind makes no sense. As our minds are strongly indivisible, they have no parts. An object that has no parts does not come into being - for there is nothing from which it can be formed - and thus if it exists, it has always existed. Thus our minds have always existed. As our lives here had a beginning, we - the minds undergoing them - must have existed previously, for we have always existed.Bartricks

    I think this is the most persuasive of your three. It contains the fewest assumptions perhaps, or at least the assumptions are intuitively self evident on reflection.
  • Bartricks
    3k
    Yes, it is also the most well known as both Plato and Descartes made it (though the latter only to establish the immortality of the mind, not its aseity - probably because if he'd explicitly drawn that conclusion he'd have been burned as a heretic as it contradicts the idea that God created us).
  • Banno
    12k
    As our minds are strongly indivisible, they have no partsBartricks

    Apart from memory, intent, sensation, ratiocination...
  • Bartricks
    3k
    Those are states of mind or processes involving minds. Obviously. You do not divide water by freezing it, even though that changes its state. Likewise you do not divide a mind by changing its state from thought to desire or whatever.
  • Apollodorus
    531
    Those are states of mind or processes involving minds. Obviously. You do not divide water by freezing it, even though that changes its state. Likewise you do not divide a mind by changing its state from thought to desire or whatever.Bartricks

    I tend to agree with that. They are not "parts" stricto sensu, they're functions of the same one thing.

    But how can we formulate the mind argument to render it more acceptable to official Christianity?
  • Apollodorus
    531
    Hmm déjà vu – guess I'm the skunk at the woo party again.180 Proof

    The original question said "supposing we accept reincarnation either as fact or as theoretical possibility"
  • Apollodorus
    531
    If you view consciousness as a form of energy then it can be explained empirically.Pantagruel

    Any chance of expanding on that a bit?
  • Banno
    12k
    But mind is not a thing so much as a process. And a process has parts.

    SO a further objection would be that it is not obvious that a mind is an object.

    Then there's the treating of being as if it were a predicate.

    All this to say, the road is not as clear as has been presumed.
  • Apollodorus
    531
    All this to say, the road is not as clear as has been presumed.Banno

    Well, I did say we need to look into how we define "mind". But my feeling is that we're on the right track.
  • Janus
    10.1k
    You do not divide water by freezing it, even though that changes its state.Bartricks

    Actually you do; frozen water will always consist in a discrete chunk. For that matter even bodies of water, parts of which might freeze are generally discrete.And water vapour may form separate clouds.
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