Course Dates: Open-ended
Enrollment Dates: Enroll Anytime
Who can Enroll: Anyone
Course Language: English
Price: FREE

About the Course

There is one thing I can be sure of: I am going to die. But what am I to make of that fact? This course will examine a number of issues that arise once we begin to reflect on our mortality. The possibility that death may not actually be the end is considered. Are we, in some sense, immortal? Would immortality be desirable? Also a clearer notion of what it is to die is examined. What does it mean to say that a person has died? What kind of fact is that? And, finally, different attitudes to death are evaluated. Is death an evil? How? Why? Is suicide morally permissible? Is it rational? How should the knowledge that I am going to die affect the way I live my life?


Plato, Phaedo
John Perry, A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality
Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilych

Course Packet:
Barnes, Julian. “The Dream.” In History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters.

Brandt, Richard. “The Morality and Rationality of Suicide.” In Moral Problems. Edited by James Rachels. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.

Edwards, Paul. “Existentialism and Death: A Survey of Some Confusions and Absurdities.” In Philosophy, Science and Method: Essays in Honor of Ernest Nagel. Edited by Sidney Morgenbesser, Patrick Suppes and Morton White. New York: St. Matrin’s Press, 1969. pp. 473-505

Feldman, Fred. “The Enigma of Death.” In Confrontations with the Reaper: A Philosophical Study of Nature and Value of Death. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992. pp. 56-71

Hume, David. “On Suicide.” In Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary.

Kaufmann, Walter. “Death.” In The Faith of a Heretic. New York: New American Library, 1959. pp. 353-376

Kaufmann, Walter. “Death Without Dread.” In Existentialism, Religion, and Death: Thirteen Essays. New York: New American Library, 1976. pp. 224-248

Martin, Robert. “The Identity of Animal and People.” In There are Two Errors in the the Title of This Book: A Sourcebook of Philosophical Puzzles, Problems, and Paradoxes. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2002. pp. 223-226

Montaigne, Michel de. “That to Philosophize is to Learn to Die.” In The Complete Essays.

Nagel, Thomas. “Death.” In Mortal Questions. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979. pp. 1-10

Rosenberg, Jay. “Life After Death: In Search of the Question.” In Thinking Clearly About Death. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1983. pp. 18-22

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

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels, Part III, chapter 10.

Williams, Bernard. “The Makropulos Case: Reflections on the Tedium of Immortality.” In Language, Metaphysics, and Death. Edited by John Donnelly. New York: Fordham University Press, 1978. pp. 229-242 

About the Professor

Shelly Kagan is Clark Professor of Philosophy at Yale. After receiving his B.A. from Wesleyan University in 1976, and his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1982, he taught at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Illinois at Chicago before coming to Yale in 1995. He is the author of the textbook Normative Ethics, which systematically reviews alternative positions concerning the basic rules of morality and their possible foundations, and The Limits of Morality, which challenges two of the most widely shared beliefs about the requirements of morality. He is currently at work on The Geometry of Desert.

License Information

Shelly Kagan, PHIL 176: Death (Yale University: Open Yale Courses), (Accessed March 13, 2015). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

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