Sunday, May 31, 2009

Thanatological explosion

There seems to be a rash of books about the philosophy of death being published at the moment. The following have all been published in the last couple of years, and three of them in 2009. I wonder why. It's an interesting subject, of course, and in the last twenty years there has been a steady flow of articles on the topic and an increasingly tangled set of views. Perhaps the subject has just got to a point now at which it is thought profitable to take stock and present a general overview of the various options and also it has perhaps now made itself on to university course provisions, thereby generating a market for publishers to aim at.

I had a crack at this general area from a more historical perspective, but I have tried my best to keep up with the increasing literature. I wonder whether the topic has reached something of a staging point; propelled initially by reactions to Nagel's 1979 article (in his Mortal questions) and then Parfit's challenging work on temporal asymmetries in Reasons and persons, the current publishing boom is in many ways following the example of Feldman's 1992 Confrontations with the reaper. What next? It seems to me that what is needed now is something innovative to set the discussion off in a new direction. It's not clear precisely where that will come from: empirical psychology, perhaps?

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